Amid all the forecasts that permeate the technology trade press this time of year, I thought it might be helpful to take a look at the long game unfolding in the development lab these days. The systems emerging over the next year, after all, will have ramifications far beyond the next few quarters, or few years, affecting the way we live well into the coming century.
As well, rather than look at what is already on the radar – since advancements like artificial intelligence and the IoT have been covered to death – let’s take a look at some of the less-developed technologies that stand a good chance of upending things all over again, once the current advancements have made their marks.
Topping my list is quantum computing. Long the stuff of hopes and dreams rather than working reality, QC has made dramatic leaps forward in the past few years as companies like ionQ unravel the mysteries of transporting data using atomic or even photonic particles. IonQ is working on a system that utilizes trapped ions to foster improved reproducibility of data, as well as extremely long lifecycles and finely tuned laser control, says Science Magazine’s Gabriel Popkin. Similar technology is now advanced enough that it is attracting venture capital, as well as the interests of leading tech companies like Google and IBM. Still to be solved, however, is a way to maintain superpositions and entangled states of matter that can withstand the rigors of a normal physical environment.
A bit closer to reality, although no less revolutionary, is the idea of memory-driven computing, in which a single pool of memory can supply an untold number of processing cores simultaneously – essentially pushing the idea of parallel computing to an entirely new level. HPE recently debuted a working prototype of the “Machine” that the company hopes will give new life to Moore’s Law by harnessing vastly distributing computing power rather than etching more transistors on a silicon die. The platform is eventually expected to employ the X1 memory chip that is said to improve connectivity speeds between connected devices and perhaps foster improved server footprints through vertical board designs. (Disclosure: I provide content services to HPE.)
Still other developments are shifting computing power away from actual computers and other hardware devices and into things like paper, clothes and even artificial skin. According to Future Markets, multiple variations of nanotechnology are about to hit the textile industry, opening up the possibility that even as we consciously interact with our data environment to get things done, all manner of behind-the-scenes communication will be going on all around us. Applications range from health care monitoring and diagnostics to manpower management and worker safety. Leading the development pack are carbon nanotubes, silver nanowire graphene, and various 2D materials that sport a range of electronic and photonic properties that can support digital data.
To push this to an even further extreme, how about downloading your brain into a computer? Sounds crazy? Not to Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering, who told Chirp News earlier this year that just such a thing could be feasible by mid-century. Granted, it would require a system capable of maintaining 100 trillion connections, but we’re talking about another four decades’ worth of research and development, perhaps leading to breakthroughs in the same kind of electro-chemical transfers that power a living brain and giving rise to what theorists call the “substrate-independent mind” (SIM).
It may sound scary, but no scarier than a world full of nuclear weapons would seem to a 19th Century scientist. So far, technology and humanity have always found a way of maintaining symbiosis of sorts: Each new technology changes the habits and attitudes of its creators, who then go about developing the next new paradigm shift.
For the enterprise, these kind of forward-looking exercises have a way of putting today’s advancements into perspective: No matter how amazing, or frightening, they may seem today, they are but small steps toward an even more incredible tomorrow.
Happy Holidays everyone. I’ll be taking a break from this blog for the next two weeks and restarting in the new year.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.