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What's the Next Big Thing in Technology? 10 Predictions From the Experts

We are living in an era of unprecedented technological change. Hardly a day goes by without news of an exciting breakthrough or a transformative new technology on the horizon. With so much innovation happening so quickly, it can be hard to keep up with the latest trends and anticipate what the future may bring.

To help make sense of our rapidly evolving tech landscape, we‘ve gathered insights and predictions from leading experts on what they see as the next big things in technology. From artificial intelligence to space travel, these 10 cutting-edge developments have the potential to radically reshape our world in the coming years. Let‘s take a look at what the future may have in store.

1. Artificial Intelligence Everywhere

Artificial intelligence is already being used in applications ranging from virtual assistants to fraud detection to cancer diagnosis. But we‘ve only scratched the surface of what this transformative technology can do. In the near future, experts predict we will see AI systems that are exponentially more sophisticated than what exists today.

"The next frontier is artificial general intelligence—AI that can match or exceed human capabilities," says futurist and author Martin Ford. "We‘ll see AI writing its own software code, designing its own hardware, and coming up with solutions to problems that it hasn‘t been specifically trained for."

AI will also become far more pervasive, expanding beyond software and the tech sector to be deeply integrated into every industry. "Every company will become an AI company, not because they can but because they must," argues Risto Siilasmaa, Chairman of Nokia. He envisions a business world where AI is applied to optimize manufacturing, logistics, marketing, sales, customer service—virtually every business process imaginable.

2. The Internet of Things Unleashed

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the billions of physical devices around the world that are connected to the internet, collecting and sharing data. From smart thermostats to wearable health monitors to industrial machines, all kinds of "things" are being embedded with sensors and gaining the ability to communicate.

Experts forecast explosive growth in the number of connected IoT devices in the coming years as the technology matures. "The IoT will continue to grow by leaps and bounds," predicts Bala Iyer, Professor of Technology Operations and Information Management at Babson College. "Very soon, we will have 50 billion connected devices, and then 500 billion. It will be part of the fabric of our existence."

One exciting aspect of IoT is edge computing—allowing connected devices to process data closer to where it is collected, rather than sending it to a distant cloud or data center. This will enable faster, near real-time analysis and automation. The combination of 5G networks (which we‘ll discuss below) and edge computing could unlock transformative new IoT applications.

3. Blockchain Beyond Cryptocurrency

Most people associate blockchain with cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. But this decentralized ledger technology has far-reaching applications beyond digital money. By allowing information to be distributed but not copied, blockchain technology is primed to transform industries from finance to real estate to healthcare.

"Decentralized applications built on blockchain networks will begin to challenge centralized apps and services," says David Shrier, Professor of Practice, Imperial College Business School. On blockchain networks, open-source software can run autonomously, making centralized intermediaries unnecessary. For example, blockchain-based smart contracts could automatically execute when certain conditions are met, eliminating the need for banks or lawyers.

Blockchain could also revolutionize how goods move through supply chains. Each product could be assigned a unique identifier that would be logged on the blockchain, allowing it to be securely tracked from manufacture to sale. This would dramatically increase supply chain transparency and efficiency.

4. Mixed Reality Goes Mainstream

Virtual reality (VR) offers a fully immersive digital experience, while augmented reality (AR) overlays digital information onto the real world. Experts believe these technologies, collectively known as mixed reality or extended reality (XR), are poised for prime time.

"Virtual and augmented reality will finally start to deliver on their potential as mature technologies in the next couple years," predicts Jared Ficklin, Chief Creative Technologist at Argodesign. He sees VR moving beyond its early focus on gaming to enable all sorts of immersive learning, training, and communication applications.

AR technology, meanwhile, has the potential to fundamentally change how we interact with the real world. "The next step in augmented reality is contextual AI, where the AI can understand the environment around you and seamlessly integrate helpful information," says Judith Amores of the MIT Media Lab. Think AR glasses that could automatically display the name of the person you‘re looking at, or real-world navigation directions overlaid on the street in front of you.

5. 5G-Fueled Innovation

The fifth-generation of cellular network technology, 5G, has been much hyped in recent years. But as 5G networks are built out and more devices become 5G-enabled, experts say this high-speed connectivity will be a major catalyst for technological transformation.

"5G will enable true innovation," says Steve Koenig, Vice President of Research at the Consumer Technology Association. "Not just faster smartphones, but smarter cities, autonomous robotaxis, drone delivery, telemedicine, and more."

Self-driving cars, for instance, will need the near-instantaneous responsiveness that 5G can provide to be able to safely navigate. 5G will also enable a wave of innovation in the industrial Internet of Things, making factories, supply chains, and all kinds of business operations smarter and more efficient.

6. Quantum Leaps in Computing

While still largely theoretical today, quantum computing could be one of the most transformative technologies of the 21st century. By harnessing the unique properties of quantum physics, these advanced machines have the potential to solve highly complex computational problems that are essentially impossible for classical computers.

"Quantum computing will enable us to tackle challenges in medicine, materials, mathematics that are intractable today," says Chad Rigetti, CEO of Rigetti Computing, one of the companies working to make quantum computers a practical reality.

From accelerating drug discovery to optimizing complex systems like global financial markets, experts believe quantum computers could have an immense impact. One specific field where they may prove transformative is artificial intelligence. The computational power of quantum machines could turbocharge AI, enabling the creation of far more capable and intelligent systems.

7. The Rise of Robots

We are entering an age of advanced robotics, with intelligent machines taking on more and more tasks once done exclusively by humans. Experts predict an acceleration in the development and deployment of sophisticated robots in the coming years.

"We‘ll see an explosion of robotics applications," says roboticist and entrepreneur Rodney Brooks. "More and more, they‘ll crop up in manufacturing, but also increasingly in homes, offices, hospitals, and the service industry more broadly."

Brooks envisions multipurpose robots that can be easily trained to take on all kinds of jobs, from cooking meals to caring for the elderly. Automation won‘t just transform the way we work, but every aspect of our daily lives.

8. Biotech Breakthroughs

The rapidly advancing field of biotechnology is enabling scientists to understand and manipulate living systems in unprecedented ways. From sequencing the human genome to editing DNA with tools like CRISPR, we now have the power to decode and even rewrite the software of life.

"CRISPR genome engineering will revolutionize biotech and medicine," predicts Jennifer Doudna, one of the pioneers of the CRISPR gene-editing technology. CRISPR could potentially be used to correct genetic defects, treat and prevent the spread of diseases, and much more.

More broadly, experts see a future where medical treatment is far more personalized than it is today. Advances in fields like genomics, microbiome research, and AI-enabled diagnosis could allow doctors to tailor therapies to an individual patient‘s biological makeup. We may also see regenerative medicine techniques like 3D bioprinting used to create transplantable organs and tissues.

9. The Renewable Energy Revolution

As climate change accelerates, transitioning to clean, renewable energy is becoming increasingly urgent. Thankfully, experts say that many promising sustainable energy solutions are on the horizon.

"Solar power and energy storage technologies will continue to get cheaper and more efficient," says Ramez Naam, co-chair for energy and environment at Singularity University. He predicts that falling solar costs, combined with advances in battery tech, will make it possible for more homes and businesses to affordably generate and store their own clean energy.

We‘ll also see a shift toward distributed energy systems and microgrids—local energy networks that can disconnect from the traditional grid to operate autonomously. This decentralized approach could make our energy infrastructure far more resilient and sustainable.

10. The Space Race Heats Up

We may be on the verge of a new era of space exploration and commercialization led by private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. From suborbital space tourism to lunar missions to the quest to colonize Mars, the space race appears to be heating up.

"The next few decades will bring a golden age of space exploration," says Tim Ellis, cofounder of Relativity Space. He predicts major strides in rocket technology, including fully reusable rockets and 3D-printed rockets, that will drastically lower the cost of launching payloads and people into space.

If access to space becomes cheaper and more routine, it could open up exciting possibilities. We may see orbiting hotels, moon bases, and industries like mining and manufacturing move off-world. What was once the stuff of science fiction is looking increasingly plausible.

Empowering Humanity

Underlying nearly all of these transformative technologies is the tremendous potential to extend and expand human capabilities in powerful new ways. As futurist and author Ray Kurzweil has argued, by creating technologies that complement our own abilities, we are increasing the very reach of our intelligence—and evolving into something beyond human.

Of course, such godlike powers must be developed and deployed with great care and wisdom. Many of the experts cited here caution that as our technological might grows, so too does our responsibility to use these tools ethically and equitably.

"Exponential technologies have the potential to dramatically raise the basic standards of living for every man, woman, and child on the planet," says Peter Diamandis, founder of the XPRIZE Foundation. "But this will only happen if we‘re thoughtful about their development and have important conversations as a society about the future we want."

Just as the agricultural revolution and industrial revolution transformed every aspect of human society, the next big advances in AI, robotics, biotech, computing, clean energy, space exploration, and beyond could transform our world in unimaginable ways. What an exciting time to be alive.