In future, there is an interesting possibility of being able to type out a book directly from the brain into the computer. There are many challenges with respect to studying the activity of the human brain, including very weak signals that need to be captured, converted and acted upon. The invention and improvement of Electroencephalography or EEG has made it possible to capture part of the signals and use them for some action. EEG systems are now being used for various purposes, one of them being to read the thoughts of bed-ridden patients and display them as text on a monitor for the comprehension of others. Brain gate technology owned by a company of the same name, has demonstrated that a brain implant system connected to robotic arms can perform actions for paralyzed humans. Experts predict that in future we may be able to control machines through thought alone and make them perform certain actions — taking us somewhere close to telekinesis. Dr Kalam had worked with one of his research scholars at Anna University to find an integrated solution using hardware, software and technology for near-normal functioning of mentally-challenged children. The research explored the possibility of implanting a bio chip in the brain to provide seamless data transfer between different parts of the brain. There is huge potential for research and business in this area.
Mobile phones and many other rechargeable gadgets have become an integral part of life. Keeping them charged all through the day is one of the main problems of modern life. Though there are many solutions available, we have to eventually ensure that the batteries of batteries also charged. The latest trend in low power charging is trickle charging or micro power. One of the oldest known areas under this is piezoelectricity. When certain materials which are crystal- and ceramic-based are subjected to force, electricity is produced. (PZT a.k.a lead zirconate titanate is one such common material. This effect was put to use in 2008 in a Tokyo Railway Station. In 2003 at the Paris Marathon, ‘energy harvesting tiles’ were used to generate power to keep a laptop running for two days. There are even night clubs which use this material on dance floors to produce power. A private company is already looking at providing continuous power to devices requiring low power, through this technology. As requirement of sustainable technology gains momentum, areas such as piezoelectricity will find wide patronage.
Humans have had a great impact on the environment for centuries. While trying to bring it down into an equation form, scientists from this school of thought ended up with EYEPAT. I= P X A X T where I stands for Impact, P stands for total population, A stands for income per person and T for environmental impact per dollar of income. There are many variations of this, and many scientists contest this as over-simplification. But this is one useful form to understand how humans impact the environment — in this case from the technology point of view. If the technology is high and not sustainable, it has an adverse impact. For e.g., experts say marine life is fast depleting due to the modern fishing fleets which capture more than required. As technologies become sustainable their value in the equation reduces, and consequently, the impact of humans on the environment also reduces. There are multiple technologies in various stages of R&D all over the world, including algae bio fuel, zinc air batteries, organic solar cells, wind energy systems and many in the carbon capture and storage space. But every sustainable technology development and deployment comes with a cost which is larger than that of the existing technology. Solidia Cement which is available commercially is an example of sustainable technology. The cement not only has 70% reduced carbon footprint (as per the company) but also uses CO2 instead of water, for solidifying. There is a good trend developing towards such technologies, and it presents great opportunities.
Drones, a form of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are gaining popularity worldwide. Experts predict that the drone business would be over US $6 billion by 2027. The market for drones in US was driven by hobby flyers. The Royal Mail, the UK's national postal service, has shown interest in deploying drones for delivery. Amazon has filed a patent which has a plan for vertical drone delivery hives which could be used in urban areas. A recent report from Global Consultancy Firm suggests that 80% of final-mile deliveries will be done by autonomous vehicles within 10 years. The latest US fighters are being designed with hardware and software enhancements in such a way that one human can pilot a fleet of unmanned fighters. The predicted uses of drones include delivery, remote inspection and exploration. Guru Kalam was also interested in a homemade drone developed by his alma mater, Madras Institute of Technology. This drone is successfully being deployed for survey and security by Tamil Nadu Police. However, many countries including India, have to put together a policy for usage of drones. This also presents a huge opportunity for business and research.
Innumerable books have been written on subjects touching technological capabilities of nations. World experts often cite the example of Taiwan in the space of electronics and Germany in the field of advanced manufacturing. But the implications of deciding on sectors, making policy changes and following up with implementation is easier said than done. It is also important to understand that the results of this effort might be visible only after 10-15 years. Nations try hard to predict the next wave of technology and try to invest in research on a few selected areas so that they don’t miss out. Considering the recent wave of changes in the technological world, maybe we need to look at technological capabilities differently. Nations are moving towards digital networks. Estonia is an example which offers E-residency to conduct all matters of business in the digital world. Many countries are using digital technologies for their local needs — from predicting agricultural produce from a farm to developing micro banks for communities. Experts predict that as digital worlds emerge, we may need to look at leveraging local strengths and develop technological capabilities based on cities.
Global experts feel the Fourth Industrial Revolution referred as Industry 4.0 is just about arriving. What started as a discussion on Industrial Internet has taken a serious turn where global industry majors are expected to invest millions of dollars. The scope has extended to Internet of Things (IOT) with little Artificial Intelligence thrown in and proposed seamless connection of machines. The impact of this revolution would be seen in unit industry level at value chain, product digitization and innovative digitized business models. The complete cycle would begin with the idea, prototype, design, product development, manufacturing and delivery of the product to the customer including the recycling. Industry experts predict around 18% productivity increase and the value added to the industry through exploring newer products are seems to be amazing. In this new scenario, the skill level expected from the workers in the industry might undergo a huge change. No longer can one claim to be knowing only one part of the value chain but they need to know about the entire value chain including the Industrial Internet part of it. How fast Industry 4.0 would take over the world would define the growth of global society in many ways.
The car infotainment industry has come a long way. About 15-20 years ago, choosing car entertainment used to be nothing short of a ritual. Some buyers even went to specialists with their brand-new cars, to furnish them with entertainment systems. The change of technology from compact discs to DVD to storage- based cards has changed entertainment systems in cars. Now it is also essential to combine the system with information regarding driving directions through maps, sensors showing various data including tyre pressure, fuel levels and even details of driver attention and whether s/he needs rest.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has captured the imagination of everyone for a long time. In recent times, people have started using AI in some form or the other. Whether it is route-suggestion-by-map apps or voice-controlled mobile phones, there are elements of AI already in the market. Recent research estimates it as a $5-billion market by 2020, and there are estimates that 6 billion connected "things" will require AI support by 2018. The global industry is looking forward to intelligent manufacturing systems. But we have a long way to go in terms of pattern recognition and decision-making by the computer on its own. Scientists say that to mimic an action of a cockroach, acres of supercomputers may be required. So, we are way behind in making an AI-based factory floor. In the meantime, as the comfort of AI grows, we might need to study the impact — both positive and negative — it would have on our society.
Nanotechnology caught the imagination of world nations in the late 1990s. As the promise was high, USA announced a National Nanotechnology Initiative in 2000 with huge funds, which was followed by other nations also investing substantial funds. As a result, today, many noteworthy products have hit the market. Always termed as enabling technology, nanotechnology has entered many fields. Some excellent examples include nano properties of silver and gold being used for various applications. One such example is solar cells, which are energy-intensive and costly but can be made cheaper and faster by printing semi-conductor nanoparticle solar cells. Nano paints and corrosion-resistant coatings are gaining momentum. An Indian company has been successful in commercializing nano paints and has had success abroad as well. Scientists believe that the next required breakthrough is in battery technology. There has been some success with replacing the normal electrode in lithium ion battery with nanomaterials. Though we have good research happening in India, commercialization of nanotechnology in the country is yet to pick up. We may have to wait longer to see if this technology is as groundbreaking as promised 15 years ago.
Will Digital Currency become the new norm? The biggest news this month is demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes in India to combat counterfeiting. We also saw that ATM and credit cards from India were compromised around global locations. This takes us back to the question of physical versus digital currencies. When the digital currency, Bitcoin was introduced, it attracted a large number of users while good number of people were sceptical. The BLOCKCHAIN system used by digital currencies may be looked at by nations for the distributed record keeping and encryption. This also presents business opportunities for mobile wallets and other forms of payment systems. In the days of demonetization, those who had mobile wallets managed better; however, not many in this country have internet and online bank accounts. The Government may push the people to manage their money digitally. Considering this in terms of career prospects, as eventually most of the money might be managed digitally, we might need professionals in the confluence of banking, finance, computer science and encryption technologies together.