The future beckons through emerging technologies
The 4th Industrial Revolution will cause disruptions to the way we work, live and play, and is expected to have far-reaching impact on shaping the industries of tomorrow.
A key aspect of this revolution lies in it being a confluence of cutting-edge technologies united by the cloud, data and powerful analytics.
Microsoft recently commissioned a survey of about 1,500 business decision makers across Asia Pacific to understand their digital transformation journey.
I’d like to share some interesting findings from the study about the top 5 emerging technologies that business leaders are interested to explore in the coming months, along with some interesting examples of how these technologies are transforming industries across Asia.
1. Artificial intelligence
The quantum leap in computing and analytics, coupled with pervasive data through cloud has brought a renaissance in Artificial Intelligence (AI) today.
This unprecedented access to computing ability is important for AI, as data is the primary way that machines learn.
A great local example is in Sparkle, a virtual concierge chatbot by CapitaLand, one of Asia’s largest real estate companies. Sparkle is designed to complement the shopper journey through conversational commerce and it can understand shoppers’ queries and respond via short message exchanges within the CapitaStar app.
Sparkle is able to decipher localized linguistic cues while understanding and remembering the context. It is also learning automatically through intelligent feedback scoring algorithms.
This makes conversations smarter along the way.
As AI technologies improve, we can look forward to scenarios where robots are all around us, perhaps not in physical forms, but embedded in devices of all shape and sizes. This will enable us to be more productive and connected.
AI will ultimately lead to a paradigm shift in customer service, optimization of operations and even shape revenue models.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is about embedding data sensors in computing devices to collect and analyze data in new ways to uncover actionable insights.
IoT isn’t new, though every other day we’re discovering innovative ways of how a network of sensors can solve real business problems.
Take, for example, the age-old oyster farming trade in the Australian state of Tasmania.
Being filter animals, oysters are highly susceptible to water quality. Increased rainfall can lead to flooding into the estuaries where oysters grow. This can cause them to pick up contaminants that could make people ill after consumption. Traditionally, the oyster farming industry has relied on rainfall gauges to assess when to shut farms down until water conditions improve.
This can cost farmers an estimated AU $120,000 in lost revenue per day.
Agriculture technology business The Yield worked with the Tasmanian Government and oyster farmers in 14 of the State’s estuaries, deploying a new system that uses in-estuary sensors, cloud computing and machine learning to offer a much better outcome for oyster farmers.
Data from in-estuary sensors is crunched in the cloud alongside national weather data.
Oyster farmers are now able to better understand what’s happening on riverbeds at any given time, as well as being better equipped to plan for the future, with data empowering better decision-making.
3. Wearable technologies
Beyond smart watches and fitness trackers, wearable technologies can also help digitally transform traditional processes.
Take Australian engineering firm Laing O’Rourke, who leveraged IoT technologies to design a “smart hardhat” that uses a sweatband sensor and data-collection array retrofitted in a conventional hardhat.
The smart hat monitors everything from the temperature and heart-rate of wearers to external temperature and humidity — something that is crucial for construction sites in remote areas or under extreme temperatures.
The data is then uploaded to the cloud via low-power radios where data analytics tools can identify patterns that show an employee is close to heatstroke.
It will then notify the employee to go and cool off if necessary.
At the same time, the system also keeps managers in the know to ensure the workers’ safety.
4. Virtual/ augmented/ mixed reality
The current hot topics in technology circles are virtual, augmented and mixed-reality.
Essentially, these are technologies that enable the merging of real and virtual worlds into new and immersive experiences.
And devices like Microsoft’s HoloLens as well as consumer-facing VR solutions, such as HTC’s Vive and the Oculus Rift are already capturing the public’s attention as the next big technology leap to look forward to.
Japan Airlines (JAL) developed internal training programs for engine mechanics and flight crew trainees using HoloLens.
Now, engine mechanics have a detailed hologram in front of their eyes that will display cockpit devices and switches that they can operate themselves, with visual and voice guidance provided through HoloLens.
This accelerates the training process which traditionally depends on the limited availability of airplanes.
5. Quantum computing
Looking ahead to the future, imagine an even smarter cloud, one with the ability to solve seemingly intractable problems.
This intelligent cloud will be exponentially more powerful than anything that is currently available, and it will have the ability to address some of the world’s most pressing problems, from climate change and hunger to a multitude of medical challenges.
Quantum computing is able to achieve all of these and more, ushering in a new technology age with data capabilities that far exceed the power of today’s super-computers and intelligent cloud.
It is an area that we are investing heavily in.
There’s Station Q Santa Barbara, a Microsoft Research lab located at the University of California, that is studying topological quantum computing.
The lab combines researchers from mathematics, physics and computer science and collaborates with academic researchers globally to understand how topological phases of matter can be used to build a robust, scalable quantum computing architecture.
Of course, computer scientists will often point out that when researchers invented the first transistor, they had no way of conceiving of an application like a smartphone. And in many ways, that’s where the current state of quantum computing research sits; we don’t yet necessarily know how this technology will be used.
But we can be sure that quantum computing will change our world by redefining what is possible to compute.
These emerging technologies are dazzling in their potential to transform how we work, live and play.
When researchers invented the very first transistor, they would have never imagined that their work would ultimately create devices like the smartphone.
Similarly, digital transformation is not just technology-led. It is also shaped by our imaginations, and more importantly, our ambitions.
The future beckons!
This commentary was contributed by Mr Ralph Haupter, President of Microsoft Asia and Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Corp. The views expressed are solely the contributor’s own, and do not reflect any official position of GovTech.