In the busy market of buzzwords, technology convergence doesn’t have a place, at least not yet. Maybe, what may come out of the conjunction of these two words isn’t yet that apparent to the human mind.
What our reality makes obvious is that technology, notably the one based on bits, microchips and tons of data, is evolving at breakneck speed and already defining what comes next for individuals, businesses and society as a whole (but we may not know it yet).
Generally speaking, technology convergence is the combination of two or more different technologies to create a new product, one that has the potential to disrupt established markets, and, if successful, create new ones. However, when we refer to technology convergence in this article, we think of “The Essential 8” mingling among them, working in tandem, more powerfully. Think of blockchain together with artificial intelligence and IoT working seamlessly, resulting in something new.
History gives us a few good examples of this phenomenon, one of them being the car. It’s, in fact, the merging of a horse carriage with a steam engine, which results in a horseless and fast carriage. Another conspicuous example is the mobile phone.
We may be living the prequel of an era where the most promising digital technology solutions will arrive, conquer and reign because of their transforming possibilities to do business better, create new markets and advance societies.
This article, based on our podcast episode TechTalk The One on Technology Convergence with Scott Likens, Emerging Technology Leader for US, China, and Japan at PwC US, tackles the essential eight technologies and how their convergence is unlocking the next wave of innovation, yielding new business solutions greater than we’ve seen before.
What technology have meant to us
Since the dawn of humanity, technology has been key to us. However, what digital technology is managing to do—become an intimate element of our lives, one that’s making us more vulnerable and dependent —is unsettling for many individuals and businesses alike.
During the times of pandemic, digital technology has become an indispensable support to human lives, and it continues to be so.
Habit changes we’ve gone through due to technology over the past decades are almost countless: looking for a job online instead of in a newspaper; calling from a mobile phone instead using a home phone; watching a series when we want and on the device we want, broadcasted by streaming services and not by traditional TV channels. All these apparently “little” developments have had a major impact on our way of living. And now, the era of robots has come, creating a trepidation feeling when we think of them walking among us.
According to the PwC Hopes and Fears Report 2020, 53% of workers believe that technology will significantly change their jobs –or make them obsolete– within 10 years.
Solutions coming out of any technology convergence have no intention to erase “the human factor” and take over. On the contrary, it’s about using technology for the better of humans, to enhance their life and the environment they live in, to create solutions to solve both local and global problems such as global warming.
The essential eight technologies
The new value equation
AI + AR + Blockchain + IoT + VR + 3D Printing + Robotics + Drones
Some years ago, after a thorough assessment process, PwC came up with a concise list of essential technologies that are changing the way we live, work and do business. When they performed the research, they “started by looking into what had really influenced or changed clients’ business”, says Scott in the podcast episode. Still now, these eight techs have the greatest business impact:
- Artificial intelligence (AI), software algorithms that automate complex decision-making tasks to mimic human thought processes and senses.
- Augmented reality (AR), a visual or audio “overlay” on the physical world that uses contextualised digital information to augment the user’s real-world view.
- Virtual Reality (VR), an interface in which viewers can use special equipment to interact with a three-dimensional computer-generated simulation in realistic ways.
- 3D printing, a machine that creates three-dimensional objects based on digital models by layering or “printing” successive layers of materials.
- Internet of Things (IoT), a network of physical objects — devices, vehicles, appliances — embedded with sensors, software, network connectivity and computing capability that enable them to collect, exchange and act on data, usually without human intervention.
- Robotics, the use of machines with enhanced sensing, control and intelligence used to automate, augment or assist human activities.
- Blockchain, a distributed digital database or, more broadly, a digital ledger that uses software algorithms to record and confirm transactions with reliability and anonymity.
- Drones, which, depending on their design, can operate and navigate semi-autonomously via remote control or fully autonomously through onboard computers, and be used in surveillance, surveys, cinematography and delivery.
While there’s still a long way to go for these eight technologies to reach their full potential, the number of tangible use cases has grown exponentially over the past few years. We hear about AI and how businesses are using it to automate their processes. We learn on a daily basis how businesses across industries are adopting blockchain, from financial services and manufacturing to the entertainment and retail industry.
But there is more. Over the past three years, we’ve seen and maybe even experienced the power of these technologies coming together. This is what we call “convergence”.
What happens when the essential eight technologies converge
Having the eight technologies in mind, let’s take a step further and explore how they can work in tandem or converge and, therefore, augment each other, creating something greater than the sum of their parts.
Like Scott explained during his podcast, these convergences have the power to re-shape human reality for the better, if only they’re employed correctly.
Without further ado, here is a short summary of the main technology convergences:
Converging technologies: AI + Blockchain + IoT
Businesses can become more transparent by ensuring data authenticity and identification verification all throughout the supply chain. Blockchain cann not only facilitate processes to prepare the products but also their delivery and distribution. AI can provide a detailed analysis of the financial markets, and the impact and implications of the purchases and the product(s) itself on the market and on customers.
By being transparent, businesses are proactively building trust with customers, promoting a feeling of security and appreciation among stakeholders.
Learn more about this convergence with this podcast.
Converging technologies: AI + AR + VR + IoT
By expanding user interaction using virtual worlds and data overlays, businesses have the power to increase empathy and confidence among their workforce through innovative training and product making. We’ve all seen, and some of us even tested, immersive devices that allow us to interact with a human-looking AI programme, or explore places and cities on the other side of the world. For businesses, these immersive devices can create a common space for product design, allowing different people to stand in the same virtual space and work together regardless of their locations.
This convergence has the potential to make us evolve as humans, changing the way we learn and work for the better, allowing us to gain experience and knowledge faster, and collaborate in a completely different way.
Converging technologies: AI + Blockchain + IoT + Robotics + Drones + 3D Printing
This is most likely the convergence that worries working people the most. However, transitioning from manual processes to digital is something that has been happening for the longest time. By unlocking the immense value of automation —robotics and intelligent systems operating in unison— businesses can completely transform the way they work and how they deliver their products.
This convergence brings together almost all the essential 8, having AI —an intelligence machine that will help humans make better decisions and analyse big amounts of data in record time— at the core. But we can’t exclude IoT and blockchain which provide live-time data, necessary to better understand both physical and virtual environments. In turn, implementing robotics throughout the whole business can bring these techs together in a way that is both secure and efficient.
Converging technologies: AI + Robotics + AR + VR
This convergence is all about natural and frictionless communication with technology. To achieve this level of “connectedness”, we go beyond interacting through a keyboard or voice recognition. It’s the machine or several of them, instead, that sense and react to emotions, full body movements, brain waves and human behaviours.
This is something we’ve all experienced before, one way or another. Sports apps can tell you how many kilometers or how many steps you take each day. Sleeping apps can identify your sleeping patterns and recommend a pre-sleep routine based on the gathered data.
While this isn’t something truly new, the use of human attributes make the recovered data more accurate, enhancing the user experience as well. Imagine, for example, a software or machine that, based on the emotions they detect through your voice, proposes the most appropriate content to you.
This convergence has the potential to help us connect more and better with other people, removing all the intermediary devices from the equation, such as smartphones and computers.
Converging technologies: AI + Blockchain + IoT + Drones + AR + VR
By having a virtual replica of a real world product or process, businesses will be able to test actions against real-time scenarios to predict an immediate outcome or inform business decisions. We’ve reached a point when digital reflection can be done in real time, through the use of live-data. By processing that data, we can simulate decisions based on a real system.
This is becoming more and more important not only in physical applications, such as solving a mechanical problem, but also for financial systems. Just imagine the impact on the decision-making process if there was a simulation of investment decisions’ possible outcomes.
This podcast digs into digital reflection convergence.
Converging technologies: AI + Blockchain + IoT + Drones
The importance and usage of big data has already moved from a trend to a must-have.The use of cloud technologies has given us almost infinite access to data and data processing. What we need next is to optimise the speed at which the information is processed, and to find environmentally-friendly ways for the cloud ecosystem.
That can only be achieved through hyper-connected networks, using automation to enable real time decisioning and real time services. This is the result of managing and responding to actionable and distributed intelligence.
There is one technology development that’s being adopted worldwide right now, the 5G, that is an enabler to these hyperconnected networks. While our lives didn’t change much with the move from 3G to 4G, 5G brings a bigger shift, allowing an exchange of information faster than ever seen before.
In addition, this convergence supports all the previously mentioned by providing a solid and secure base for data processing, exchange and storage.
The future is now. It may sound like a cliché bon marché, but we truly mean it.
The global pandemic has unleashed an unprecedented wave of technology developments, especially digital, and quick adoption has followed as we’ve learnt how to live in the “new normal”. The economic pressure both local and globally, has accelerated the use of innovations, with businesses adopting emerging technologies to remain resilient and competitive in a market disrupted on several fronts.
This is all leading to more mature convergence as technologies that were originally unrelated become more closely integrated and even unified as they develop and advance.
What we think
Convergence is the multiplying factor of the essential eight technologies, it’s what brings exponential value. We’re doing great things with technology, and while people are fearful, we have to remind them that emerging technologies aren’t a human replacement but a human extension. Accepting change and adapting to it is probably one of the main human challenges, it always has been. Transforming human mindsets is the main challenge when it comes to new technologies and it’s important that we work on changing that just as much as we work on taking the most out of these convergences.