Editorial

6 Internet Technologies That Will Shape Our Future

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The internet has revolutionized communication, commerce, and entertainment, and it has done so in remarkably little time. In just over two decades, the planet has gone from having zero internet users, to just over three billion, with an estimated four billion users by the year 2025.

For those old enough to remember the days of dial-up, the internet in its current form is nothing short of astonishing. Gone are the days of clunky, cumbersome network speeds, buffering flash animations and stuttering audio streams — the internet of today would’ve been inconceivable to the web surfers of the early 90s. Even more amazing still, is the fact that the technology is still in its infancy; we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible.

The ancient process of evolution develops and advances nature’s creations over millions of years, but the internet does so in just a fraction of the time, fine-tuning and perfecting itself in a never-ending feedback loop of self-improvement. Gordon Moore and Ray Kurzweil have long mused on the consequences of rapid technological growth, and with each passing year, it’s clear that the relentless expansion and enhancement of the web is showing no signs of slowing. Below, we’ll discuss which internet technologies are most likely to present a tangible change in our day-to-day lives.

The Internet Of Things

The “internet of things” or “IoT” refers to the growing trend of interconnected devices. This is the idea that everyday objects can be enhanced through an always-on connection to the internet, enhancing their functionality and, ultimately, increasing the convenience of our day-to-day lives.

The IoT has already infiltrated millions of homes around the world. Amazon’s Echo Smart Speaker is a prime example (no pun intended); making the 20th-century sci-fi dreams of an ever-ready domestic AI assistant a present-day reality. By connecting to the internet, this unassuming device can set alarms and timers, turn on lights, adjust thermostats and even cheer you up with a joke or two. The entire system is controlled by your voice and is surprisingly affordable. Find that you’re constantly missing your deliveries? Ring’s smart doorbell system allows you to answer the door even when you’re not at home — users can see, hear and speak to visitors in real-time from anywhere. Or, for the more eco-conscious, Nest’s thermostat learns exactly what temperature you like your home to be, and allows users to control the heating through their phones.

In the future, we can expect these features to be built-in to our homes, instead of being added on at a later date. As network speeds increase and artificial intelligence technology improves, the home environment will slowly adapt to the unique individual needs of its inhabitants.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) is another technology that is slowly starting to gain traction. Similar to virtual reality (VR), but instead of creating an entirely artificial environment, AR enhances the real world by overlaying digital information over our present reality.

Most of us are familiar with AR, even if we aren’t consciously aware of it — the most popular example of the technology is Pokémon Go. This game uses the camera on your smartphone to superimpose Pokémon onto the world around you, with quests and items distributed across a map of your current location. Players can even battle for ownership of specific zones — the local park, bicycle trail, or supermarket car park, with rewards handed out to those who manage to hold the area for a set amount of time.

AR isn’t just for gaming though — the technology has a range of practical applications, too. Surgeons can use AR to view their patient’s vitals via a ‘heads up display’, while construction managers can survey a preview of their finished building projects by beaming them into the real world, months before the project is complete. As computing power increases and graphics improve, AR technology will only become more popular. Instead of manually typing an address into your GPS, you’ll be able to point to a location and have the directions instantly appear in your field of view. Want to find information about a product you’ve found in the supermarket? Simply pick it up and your AR glasses will display a selection of reviews beside them.

Artificial Intelligence

While the idea of truly intelligent machines may send a shiver down our spines, it’s undeniable that AI has already proven itself remarkably useful. This is thanks to the exponential improvements the technology has benefitted from over the past decade.

We already use AI technology on a daily basis — from the content suggestions we receive through Youtube or Netflix, to the autocompleted text input field on Google. AI chatbot software from services like Crisp can help customers with their ecommerce queries without the need for costly human customer service agents, and complex algorithms now enable us to unlock our smartphones using facial recognition (or simply add hilarious visual effects over a selfie).

Where will the future of AI lead? As the technology grows in complexity, humanity will eventually be forced to address the moral, ethical, and philosophical implications of machines that equal (or even surpass) the intelligence of Homo Sapiens. Worryingly, disputes on the topic are already beginning to flare up: Google’s LaMDA project, a conversational AI, recently came under scrutiny recently after an engineer claimed it was sentient. In any case, we can only expect the ubiquity of AI technology to grow as time goes on. However, where this risky road will lead is anyone’s guess…

5G

The next generation of wireless internet, 5G is set to revolutionize the way we use the web on the go. Significantly faster than previous cellular generations, it benefits from ultra-low latency and lower energy requirements, making it both a substantial and sustainable upgrade over 4G.

Since 4G was introduced over 10 years ago, demand for bandwidth has grown dramatically — from 4K streaming smartphones to wireless security cameras, smartwatches, and even self-driving cars. 5G is designed to accommodate these needs. As the tech is still in its infancy, 5G usage is limited to only the most high-end devices. However, if you do fancy an upgrade, T-Mobile has a list of 5G compatible smartphones.

In the future, 5G will be used to fully digitize entire industries, with trials for a 5G ‘smart factory’ already in progress in Nanjing, China. This trial radio product manufacturing site utilizes around one thousand 5G-connected screwdrivers, each of which collects data and relays it back through the network, negating the need for workers to manually track the tools themselves. The human-robot collaboration will soon become standard practice in the manufacturing industry, and it’s all thanks to 5G.

Blockchain

While most of the world is familiar with cryptocurrency, very few can explain how the technology actually works. Put simply, the Blockchain is a database that allows every crypto transaction to be recorded and verified securely.

As of right now, Blockchain is a technology with an exceptionally broad range of potential applications. While blockchain is primarily associated with the cryptocurrency world, several other applications have already been explored. Multiple industries have already used the technology to track supply chains and ensure their ongoing efficiency. By automating a critical and complex process, errors and human involvement could be significantly reduced or eliminated altogether.

Blockchain also holds the promise of revolutionizing the internet. The past decade has seen heavy regulation of the web, along with growing concerns over how our sensitive data is stored and used — most notably during Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. Several new projects are attempting to establish a peer-to-peer Internet alternative using blockchain technology instead of centralized intermediaries. For example, Filecoin offers users the chance to store their data on a decentralized cloud network, and Blockstack is a computing platform built entirely on Blockchain, allowing users to regain control of their online data and identity.

Quantum Computing

Quantum computing is a new, cutting-edge technology that uses the near-mystical phenomena of quantum mechanics to deliver incomprehensible levels of performance and processing power. While today’s ‘classic computers’ rely on binary strings of 1s or 0s to process and display information, quantum computers use ‘qubits’ — subatomic particles. Qubits can represent numerous combinations of 0 and 1 at the same time, meaning that huge numbers of potential outcomes can be simulated simultaneously, resulting in rapid processing speed.

Currently, there are very few quantum computers in existence, and they’re unlikely to enter the consumer market within this century, with IBM currently claiming ownership of the most powerful quantum computer in existence.  The applications for the technology are endless; from financial modeling and cryptography to particle physics simulations and biological engineering. In the future, there are hopes for a ‘quantum internet’ where data can be transferred at a rate that exceeds the speed of light. Even though the average person won’t be able to access such networks, experts believe the technology will revolutionize the commercial world, especially the financial and healthcare sectors.

Besides providing a faster, safer Internet experience, quantum computing will help organizations solve extremely complex problems in a fraction of the time it would take a classic, binary-operating computer.  By facilitating the transfer of vast quantities of data, quantum computing will make it possible to carry out large-scale experiments in astronomy, engineering, and biology, the likes of which were previously thought impossible.

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