From: ramnath narayanan
2015 was a tipping point for six technologies that will change the world
By Vivek Wadhwa
To the average person, it may seem that the biggest technology advances of 2015 were the larger smartphone screens and small app updates. But a lot more happened than that. A broad range of technologies reached a tipping point, from cool science projects or objects of convenience for the rich, to inventions that will transform humanity. We haven't seen anything of this magnitude since the invention of the printing press in the 1400s. Here are the six:
1. The Internet and knowledge
In the developed world, we have become used to having devices that connect and inform us and provide services on demand, and the developing world has largely been in the dark. As of 2015, however, nearly half of China's population and a fifth of India's population have gained Internet connectivity. India now has more Internet users than does the U.S., and China has twice as many.
Smartphones with the capabilities of today's iPhone will cost less than $50 by 2020. By then, the efforts of Facebook, Google, OneWeb, and SpaceX to blanket the Earth with inexpensive Internet access through drones, balloons, and microsatellites will surely bear fruit. This means that we will see another three billion people come on line. Never before has all of humanity been connected in this way.
This will be particularly transformative for the developing world. Knowledge has always been a privilege of the rich; tyrants rule by keeping their populations ignorant. Soon, everyone, everywhere, will have access to the ocean of knowledge on the Internet. They will be able to learn about scientific advances as they happen. Social media will enable billions of people to share their experiences and help one another. Workers in the remotest villages of Africa will be able to offer digital services to the elite in Silicon Valley. Farmers will be able learn how to improve crop yields; artisans will gain access to global markets; and economies based on smartphone apps will flourish everywhere.
2. Doctors in our pockets
All of this has been made possible by advances in computing and networks. In a progression called Moore's Law, computers continually get faster, cheaper, and smaller, doubling in speed every 18 months. Our $100 smartphones are more powerful than the supercomputers of the 1970s—which cost millions of dollars. With faster computers, it becomes possible to design more powerful sensors and artificial-intelligence (A.I.) systems. With better sensors, we can develop sophisticated medical devices, drone-based delivery systems, and smart cities; and, with A.I., we can develop self-driving cars, voice-recognition systems, and digital doctors. Yes, I am talking about applications that can diagnose our medical condition and prescribe remedies.
In 2015, smartphone-connected medical devices came into the mainstream. Most notably, Apple released a watch that, using a heart-rate sensor and accelerometer, can keep track of vital signs, activity, and lifestyles. Through its free Research Kit app, Apple provided the ability to monitor, on a global scale, the use of medicines and their efficacy. Microsoft, IBM, Samsung, and Google too, as well as a host of startups, are developing sensors and A.I.-based tools to do the work of doctors. These technologies are expensive and geared for the developed world; but companies in China, India, and Africa are working on inexpensive versions. The sensors that these devices use, and the computing and storage that A.I. systems need cost very little. Previous generations of medical advances were for the rich; now all can benefit.
3. Bitcoin and disintermediation
One of the most controversial technology advances of late is Bitcoin, an unregulated and uncontrolled digital currency. It gained notoriety for its use by criminals and hackers and the fall of its price from a peak of about $1100 to $250. Yet, in 2015, it gained acceptance by retailers such as Overstock.com. And the technology that underlies it, blockchain, became the basis of hundreds of technology-development efforts.
The blockchain is not useful just for finance. It is an almost incorruptible digital ledger that can be used to record practically anything that can be digitized: birth and death certificates, marriage licenses, deeds and titles of ownership, educational degrees, medical records, contracts, and votes. It has the potential to transform the lives of billions of people who lack bank accounts and access to the legal and administrative infrastructure that we take for granted.
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They will be able to learn about the latest advances in science and technology, obtain Masters degrees from top universities, learn best practices in agriculture, sell their crafts and services to the world, and demand better governance. Never before has India — and the rest of humanity — been so connected.
In the 2020s, a billion Indians will have access to —and will be able to afford — the most advanced health devices, robots and 3D printers. By 2030, the most remote corners of India will have abundant clean energy through solar cells and battery storage units.
This is not science fiction. It is all happening. And just as Indians are leading scientific research and technology companies in the US, they will be doing this at home — without any government assistance and despite all the obstacles that they face. They will be solving not only India's problems, but also those of the rest of the developing world.
A few years ago, I wrote about how India is about to undergo an internet boom and create billiondollar companies and people thought that was unrealistic. India now has several billion-dollar startups, whose value is about to reach in the tens of billions of dollars.
What's making this possible are technology advances, in everything from smartphones to medicine to solar. These are being powered by the progression of computing: Moore's Law. Every year, computers get faster, cheaper and smaller. And they become more widely available, as smartphones have become. Our smartphones are already more powerful than the supercomputers of yesteryear.
With faster computers, it becomes possible to design new technologies such as sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) systems. With better sensors, we can develop sophisticated medical devices, drone-based delivery systems and smart cities. With AI, we can develop self-driving cars, voicerecognition systems and computer systems that can make humanlike decisions. With acombination of smartphones, AI and sensors, we can develop digital tutors and revolutionise agriculture.
Almost everything is becoming digital — information technology (IT). And India has tens of millions of experienced IT workers, many of whom are tired of working for western corporations and are ready to branch out on their own to solve problems.
Just as Flipkart and Snapdeal took advantage of the nascent e-commerce opportunities, thousands of others will. They will create marketplaces for rural artisans to design and create custom crafts for customers worldwide; apps for fruit-sellers, sweet shops and restaurants to showcase their products and take orders from neighbourhood customers; tools for merchants to provide services and delivery.
India's sharing economy will also bloom, not only in taxi- and three-wheeler-sharing, but also in cycle-rickshaws and buses. And then in skills, education and personal goods. We can expect the informal economy — labourers, technicians, maids and painters — all to be offering their services through apps. As a result, quality, wages and availability will increase since ratings systems will lead to increased accountability.
With Aadhaar having provided an identity to hundreds of million people who had none, we will see digital currencies and virtual banks, as well as crowdfunding of local ventures, houses and education. A new digital economy will emerge that allows communities to uplift themselves.