Technology in 2020

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Every year, the World Economic Forum recognizes leading start-ups that are blazing new trails to change the world. In 2014, there were 24 of these ‘technology pioneers,’ and we sat down with a few of them to hear their predictions for the near future.

Source: www.weforum.org

The ‘humanized’ internet

The evolution of modern connectivity is often summarized as: the internet, the world wide web, mobile devices, big data/the cloud, and the internet of things. Going forward, it seems inevitable that there will be even more personalization. What we refer to as the ‘internet of things’ will be central. However, more than simply connecting humans with devices, the next stage in connectivity will include ‘humanized’ interfaces that constantly evolve to understand the user’s patterns and needs and, in a sense, self-optimize. This would include the functions and features on our devices, as well as the selection and curation of information we receive. It may not be the kind of artificial intelligence found in science fiction, but I expect this injection of personalization will bring monumental changes as our level of connectivity continues to grow.

Sirgoo Lee,
Co-CEO of Kakao

The end of the 19th-century grid

One of the biggest changes we will see by 2020 (or at least have made substantial progress towards) is global electrification. In the US and Europe, most people take electricity for granted. But that is not the case in many parts of Latin America, Africa, and Asia. More than 1.3 billion people are still not connected to the grid. More than 1.5 billion people still lack regular access to electric light; they use oil lamps, which are a safety hazard. Even where the grid exists, it is fragile; power blackouts are a major problem in many megacities. Power theft also plagues Brazil, India, and South Africa. Safe, reliable power will have a transformative effect on these countries. Not only will there be near-term benefits such as greater productivity, but we will see long-term quantum leaps in educational achievement, healthcare, and quality of life. These communities do not have power now because our 19th-century grid is too expensive. The advent of new technologies is changing both the business models and use-case scenarios to make it possible. In a few years, the world will finally be truly wired.

Amit Narayan,
CEO of AutoGrid

The end of scarcity

The world said humans were not meant to fly. Hundreds of years of human invention were unable to achieve such a feat. But in a small bicycle-repair shop, two brothers with no government funding and only a basic education had a vision, and a will to invent. And in 1903, thanks to the determination of these two unsuspecting inventors, humans flew. The distance of the first human flight was 120 feet. Years later, one of these inventors would marvel if he saw the wingspan of modern airplanes, which are now longer than the entire distance his first plane flew. Technology’s potential is limited only by our imagination and our will. An abundance of water, food, clean air, and even peace – the end of scarcity in the supply of our basic needs is possible. Perhaps that won’t happen by 2020, but it starts with a dream, the determination to turn dreams into reality, and the understanding of a truth embodied in the invention and development of human flight: all things are possible.

Mark Herrema,
CEO of Newlight Technologies

Fewer fancy phones, more fulfillment

The world we live in is changing at an exciting pace. Innovation is generating new gadgets, more convenient services, and greater opportunities. But many of these changes target only a small percentage of the world’s population. In the villages I’ve worked in, nobody has seen an iPhone or can download an app. However, there is tremendous room for entrepreneurs to adapt innovations intended for the wealthy to serve the world’s poor. Solar panels and LED lights, designed for sale in rich nations, are stimulating growth in commercial off-grid electrification in India and Africa. Mobile telecommunication is being used to facilitate financial inclusion in developing countries across the world. Once-expensive medical procedures can now be done amazingly cheaply. Even the financial sector is innovating in order to reach the world’s poor – investors are looking for opportunities that not only help them increase their net worth, but also improve the world. Better financing opportunities are opening up for social entrepreneurs who build businesses to serve the poor profitably. I see a slight but significant shift in innovation: instead of producing fancier phones, we will create more fulfilling lives for people who were previously ignored.

Nikhil Jaisinghani,
Co-founder, Mera Gao Power

Cheaper, more widespread solar power

By 2020, solar technologies could account for a significant portion of global power generation, helping economies and businesses guard against rising energy costs and the impact of climate change. However, finding opportunities to further reduce the cost of solar technologies will be crucial to unlocking this potential. Because polysilicon, the primary raw material used by solar module manufacturers, is the single largest cost in the solar supply chain, it represents the most significant opportunity for cost reduction. Over the next several years, new lower-cost methods of polysilicon production will commercialize, providing the solar industry with a more affordable source of raw material. In turn, these cost improvements will trickle down the solar supply chain, accelerating the adoption of solar energy around the world and helping the industry realize its global potential.

Terry Jester,
CEO of Silicor


THE INTERNET of things no longer about things

Just about every business will become an ‘internet of things’ (IoT) business. The convergence of the digital and physical worlds makes this inevitable. When the products that companies sell are connected 24/7/365, dynamic and ever-improving value can be delivered to customers throughout the product’s life cycle. This will become the norm. Therefore, launching a successful IoT business requires a fundamental shift, a transition from product-centric to service-centric business models. Companies looking to capitalize on IoT will become IoT service businesses. Operations dependent on one-time product sales will become obsolete as business value moves from products to the experiences they enable. This transformation will fundamentally change how businesses operate, interact with customers, and make money. Those who recognize that the internet of things isn’t about things but about service will be positioned to meet these new customer demands, unlock new sources of revenue, and thrive in this connected world.

Jahangir Mohammed,
CEO of Jasper Technologies

New cures from bacteria that live in the human body

In life sciences, we’ll soon have a greater understanding of how our microbiome – the tiny organisms, including bacteria, that live in the human body – influences various systems in our body, including our immune systems and metabolic processes. This will result in seminal discoveries related to a variety of conditions, including autoimmune diseases, pre-term birth, and how our metabolism is regulated. Regenerative medicine approaches to creating new tissues and organs from progenitor cells will expand significantly. Finally, the long-awaited ability to employ precision medicine, providing specific treatments to specific patients, will become much more common.

Mark Fischer-Colbrie,
CEO of Labcyte

The beginning of the end for cancer

By 2020, the emergence of real-time diagnostics for complex diseases will mark the beginning of the end of their debilitating reign. The ability to monitor cancer, the dynamic immune system, intestinal flora, and pre-diabetes in real-time will change the nature of medicine and usher in a new era of human health, where wellness is protected instead of illness treated. As a result, fundamental shifts in healthcare will occur, causing it to become largely preventative rather than about putting out fires. It’s far more productive and economical to stop a fire from happening in the first place than to rebuild something after the fire has taken its course.

Helmy Eltoukhy,
CEO of Guardant Health

Data-driven healthcare

The amount of data available in the world is growing exponentially, and analyzing large data sets (so-called ‘big data’) is becoming key for market analysis and competition. Analytics will shift away from reporting and towards predictive and prescriptive practices, dramatically improving the ability of healthcare providers to help the ill and injured. Even more importantly, it will create the possibility for truly personalized healthcare by allowing providers to have an impact on the biggest determinants of health – including behaviors, genetics, and environmental factors.

John L. Haughom,
MD, Senior Advisor, Health Catalyst

Water is one of our most precious resources, yet our infrastructure is failing. By 2020, I predict that a new class of distributed systems – powered by advances in our ability to use biotechnology to extract resources, such as energy from waste, and the dropping cost of industrial automation – will begin to change our approach to global water management. Rather than a liability, wastewater will be viewed as an environmental resource, providing energy and clean water to communities and industry, and ushering in a truly sustainable and economical approach to managing our water resources

Printable organs

Today, we are already at a turning point in our ability to 3D ‘bioprint’ organ tissues, a process that involves depositing a ‘bio-ink’ made of cells in precise layers, resulting in a functional living human tissue for use in the lab. These tissues should be better predictors of drug function than animal models in many cases. In the long-term, this has the potential to pave the way to ‘printing’ human organs, such as kidneys, livers, and hearts. By 2020, our goal is to have the technology in broad use by pharmaceutical companies, resulting in the identification of safer and better drug candidates and fewer failures in clinical trials.

Keith Murphy,
CEO of Organovo

The ‘internet of everywhere’

We are on the verge of the ‘internet of everywhere.’ It will be far more democratic – accessible to everyone, rich and poor. The excitement of the internet of things will be a small footnote in history as the internet of everywhere becomes our reality. Do you remember the old movie, Minority Report, with Tom Cruise? It predicted that ultra cheap, internet-enabled, solar-powered screens with HD resolution would be at bus stops, in shopping centers, at tables in restaurants – and all operating on a centralized advertising model. Gone are the days of the static acetate poster on the wall of a shopping mall. And eventually, since these HD monitors have beacons, they will dynamically change content as your phone passes by, telling the monitor all your preferences.

Yobie Benjamin,
COO of Avegant

What we refer to as the ‘internet of things’ will be central. However, more than simply connecting humans with devices, the next stage in connectivity will include ‘humanized’ interfaces that constantly evolve to understand the user’s patterns and needs and, in a sense, self-optimize. This would include the functions and features on our devices, as well as the selection and curation of information we receive. It may not be the kind of artificial intelligence found in science fiction, but I expect this injection of personalization will bring monumental changes as our level of connectivity continues to grow

Renewables will power mobile networks

We have become dependent on mobile communications in our daily lives, but the dirty secret is that mobile networks around the globe are notoriously energy inefficient. In fact, we are stuck with outdated mobile network technology that basically performs as poorly as incandescent light bulbs, resulting in 70% of the energy used being wasted as heat. By 2020, we predict that pioneering innovations in radio engineering will have a positive impact on the world’s economy, environment, and quality of life. We even foresee a time when advances will allow renewable energy to power the mobile industry, helping to bridge the digital divide and extend communications to the 1.7 billion people living off-grid.

Mattias Astrom,
CEO of Eta Devices

Learning on the job will never stop

The skills gap is actually an information gap. The problem is not that workers are unskilled; it’s that workers don’t know what skills employers need. Technology is already disrupting existing jobs, and creating new jobs that never existed before. In fact, the top 10 in-demand jobs in 2010 did not even exist in 2004. Change is happening so rapidly that 65% of today’s grade school kids in the US will end up at jobs that haven’t even been invented yet.

How will our educational institutions keep up? Today, there is a disconnect between education providers and employers.

In the future, however, technology will enable education and training to respond dynamically to real-time labor market changes. With widespread access to training and courses online and available on-demand, workers can be informed of skill updates while they work, and will regularly top up their education with the skills they need to remain relevant in the workforce.

Alexis Ringwald,
Co-founder and CEO of LearnUp

Wastewater is an asset, not a liability

Water is one of our most precious resources, yet our infrastructure is failing. Driven by global population growth and rising water scarcity, the UN reports that 75% of the world’s available freshwater is already polluted. Under-investment in water management is exacerbating the problem, causing serious impacts on human health and the environment. A key challenge is the high capital cost, and high energy requirements, of current wastewater treatment and management systems.

By 2020, I predict that a new class of distributed systems – powered by advances in our ability to use biotechnology to extract resources, such as energy from waste, and the dropping cost of industrial automation – will begin to change our approach to global water management. Rather than a liability, wastewater will be viewed as an environmental resource, providing energy and clean water to communities and industry, and ushering in a truly sustainable and economical approach to managing our water resources.

Matthew Silver,
CEO of Cambrian Innovation

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