The technologies of the new decade
Opinion article by João Bessa Technology Manager at Fibrenamics – University of Minho
“Necessity is the mother of innovation.” (Plato). Talking about innovation nowadays is no longer something different because everyone is trying to achieve it, but it is something challenging, as the way to seek and achieve it is decisive for success.
Since the dawn of human history, in fact, innovation has often been promoted and led by necessity, having originated the so-called Industrial Revolutions. It was so in the 18th century with the discovery of the utility of coal as an energy source and the consequent appearance of the steam engine, triggered by the need to increase the productive capacity of various sectors, such as textiles, and the respective expansion of international businesses. This was the case in the 19th century with the discovery of electricity, the production of metal-based materials, such as steel and aluminum, and the modernization of industry, in order to allow the semi-automation of mass production systems, providing acceleration and growth of the world economy, advances with a special impact in the automotive and war areas. It was also like this in the 20th century when the tendency for an exponential growth of the population began to take place, leading to the need to renew economic, political and social processes that were configured in the combined use of different energy sources, in the discovery of the area of information technology. and the first concerns related to the impact of technological development on the environment.
Until we reached a fourth wave of the Industrial Revolution in the 21st century, typically called Industry 4.0, a term that appeared publicly for the first time in 2011, in Germany.
it is good to remember that the world population has grown by about 285% in the last 89 years, from 2 billion in 1930 to 7 , 7 recorded in 2019
This new industrial model is based on the digitalization trend that currently emerges in the most varied development sectors, having as main objective to connect and interconnect equipment, systems and assets, through intelligent technological networks, with the objective of improving the processes of monitoring and decision making of the human being. Thus, this new phase is being driven by a set of disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, synthetic biology, big data, augmented reality, nanotechnology, IoT (Internet of Things), 3D printing, among others, where more and more devices, equipment and objects will be connected to each other, establishing fundamental synergies for the definition of advanced production systems, capable of optimizing processes according to the needs of users and the consumption of material and energy resources.
In this context, with the development of technology occurring at a rate close to that recorded in population growth (it is good to remember that the world population has grown by about 285% in the last 89 years, from 2 billion in 1930 to 7 , 7 recorded in 2019), and after the advances made at this level in recent years, many expectations have been created for the next decade, in which this fourth industrial revolution is expected to reach its peak. As an example, it is curious to recall the expectation present in the 1949 edition of Popular Mechanics magazine, when it pointed out that “in the future, computers can weigh no more than 1.5 tons.”! Only 70 years later, in 2019, portable computers weighing less than 1 kg were already available on the market.
About the many innovations and technologies that promise to mark and dominate our attention in the next decade, perhaps the following can be listed as some of the most important ones: IoT, 5G, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and smart cities.
Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things (IoT), although currently a dominant concept, is not yet implemented in a massive and effective way in organizations and in society, it is expected that in this decade it can take a decisive step towards that goal. From these smart devices, companies will have the possibility to capture data in greater detail, allowing for a better analysis in real time and decision making in relation to certain problems and unforeseen events.
Already announced on a recurring basis as one of the main innovations to emerge at the beginning of this decade, 5G promises to bring great improvements to companies, especially about reducing latency, also contributing to a strong boost in the IoT area. On the other hand, the development and implementation of this technology in the market will also contribute to the reduction of network and power cables, which are still widely used for the establishment of communications.
With advances in the field of Artificial Intelligence, computers are becoming faster and more intelligent than humans. This trend can change the way we work since several professions may, soon, become obsolete due to the development and introduction of robots in the performance of these functions. In an industrial context, it is estimated that the production line will be almost entirely automated, significantly reducing the human labor force in the factories. According to recent statistical data, process automation can eliminate up to seven million industrial jobs in the most developed countries in the world.
After Tesla pioneered in this field, several companies have been working in this direction, with the aim of achieving this technological goal. The implementation and maturation of this technology will certainly increase safety by reducing the number of road accidents. This evolution will be relevant if we bear in mind that, currently, 95% of road accidents occur due to human error. On the other hand, the reach of this technological target will make it possible to foster new business opportunities for companies in order to occupy the respective travel times.
Although concerns about cybersecurity are increasing due to the evolution of computer programming systems, the development of smart cities, is one of the main technological developments underway, since it is expected that in 2050 70% of the world population will be living in urban areas. Through different types of electronic sensors, and as a natural consequence of the IoT, it is intended to collect and integrate all the information generated by different resources and assets in order to be able to be managed more efficiently, as for example in the monitoring of traffic and transport systems.
Of course, other technological concepts could also be highlighted in this article. However, there is something that will be transversal to almost all of them, the materials, as the necessary substrate for the development and integration of new functionalities, capable of transporting innovation to our daily lives. However, the means and ends with which we can develop them will be fundamental for the success of this innovation path, in an economy and society in which the risks of social inequality can be exponentiated. So that we can effectively be consistent with the idea that “we are now on the path to launch the most ambitious European research and innovation program ever in 2021, shaping the future for a strong, sustainable and competitive European economy, benefiting all regions of Europe.” (Carlos Moedas, former European Commissioner, 20 March 2019).