We continue into the new decade, influenced forever by the challenges and changes of 2020. It should be no surprise that this year of increased hardship has necessitated many innovations and will alter the ways in which we use, adapt, and invent technologies. How will 2021 build upon these innovations? Here are the top 8 technology predictions for 2021.

 

Artificial intelligence meets remote-work and limited-contact challenges

 

Artificial intelligence, while not new per se, is still a growing trend. From something out of sci-fi to everyday functionalities, we are always discovering how AI intersects with our lives, our businesses, and our drive to innovate. It’s present in home appliances, hospitals, agriculture, manufacturing, and more. What are the AI trends to watch in the coming year? Expect new use cases and new frontiers, including strategic business simulations and personalized manufacturing, a huge push in workplace automation and augmentation to cope with workplace disruptions due to the pandemic, and increased development and use of chatbots or conversational AI to personalize the consumer experience. And to cope with all this, we’ll likely have more conversations than ever about the ethical use of AI.

 

Cybersecurity finds new ways to cope with remote end-users and cloud infrastructures

 

Again, cybersecurity is not new, but it is ever-evolving. Especially given our new remote working realities for many data-intensive jobs, companies are pressed to innovate new ways to protect themselves and mitigate disruption. Widespread cybersecurity adoptions on the horizon could include a distributed cloud, which would provide public cloud options that operates at different physical points of need, cloud security posture management to automate security measures across diverse cloud infrastructure, and an increase in endpoint management solutions for the employee working at home.

 

Healthcare finds new hybrid methods as virtual care takes hold

 

All industries have been hit with an urgent need to innovate in 2020, but healthcare has almost certainly been hit the hardest, balancing critical care of infectious patients with meeting the other health needs of the population, particularly ongoing care for chronic patients. All said it looks like virtual care is an avenue that is here to stay. It provides increased convenience for patients, and these changes also provide new opportunities to leverage smart devices and machine learning to tailor healthcare to the individual.

 

5G presents new opportunities and new challenges

 

Over the past decade, we’ve seen mobile internet connectivity be continually expanded and refined. 5G networks are the next step, and they are already a reality in some areas. 5G offers unprecedented transmission speed, faster than virtually any home broadband currently available, with gigabytes per second transfer rates. And it’s not just going to offer speed upgrades—this would be a leap in the functionality and interconnectivity available in IoT gadgets and smart devices. Of course, there are drawbacks too. 5G is still far from complete. Increased bandwidth translates to less coverage, and there are issues with the network’s ability to penetrate walls and other materials, and, most concerningly, the network may produce incredibly hazardous radiofrequency radiation.

 

Virtual reality becomes more accessible and enters new industries

 

Virtual reality has been on the rise in gaming and entertainment for a few years, though it is still inaccessible to most. However, given its potential in these areas, as well as training and simulation, it’s likely to become a large part of how society operates in the future. There are good equipment and software on the market right now, but it is prohibitively expensive and ultimately tethers the user into a clunky device or only offers the limited experience of a stand-alone headset. The field hasn’t taken off just yet, but advancements that alleviate these limitations are sure to come.

 

Augmented reality finds new use cases at the center of human-machine interaction

 

Not to be confused with VR, augmented reality of AR is an enhancement of real-life perception with digital images rather than a full-immersion virtual experience. At the moment, this is usually done through apps that work with camera lenses, like Snapchat. However, it has the potential for expanded use-cases, from retail try-on to a visual aid for high-pressure applications, like piloting or surgery, in which constant visualization of anatomy or vital stats is a huge boon. Beyond the visual, AR is also at the core of expanding human-computer interfacing. Manipulation of computers with a gesture or AR notification overlays might not be just science fiction after all.

 

The journey to space continues as new data from Mars’ surface arrives (Image credit: ESA.int)

 

The space exploration innovation to watch comes out of a collaboration of the Russian Federal Space Agency and the European Space Agency: the ExoMars Rover. This is the continuation of a two-part Mars mission that began in 2016 with an analysis of Mars’ resources. In 2020, the ExoMars, capable of extracting matter and performing analysis on the spot, was landed on Mars, and in 2021 we will begin to see the results. This could be a big year for news of whether or not other planets could be habitable and in what timeframe.

 

Innovative and eco-friendly vehicles create new travel horizons (Image credit: Terrafugia)

 

Our lives have centered around commuting for so long, and we have an increasing need to be aware of the ways in which we do so, for our own health and for that of our environment. We’ve seen eco-friendly cars that work via solar energy, recycled material, and no-waste systems, and more innovations, as well as ways to make them more mainstream, are to be expected. The current most accessible is the electric car, which is expected to be even more available on the market, as Jeep has announced all their vehicles will be electric by 2022. And the most sci-fi yet? Under development by Boston-based Terrafugia is the TF-X, an autonomous flying car propelled by an engine combined with two electric motors.

 

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