Tech trends 2015

Insights from author of Digital Destiny Shawn DuBravac

By Gabriela Ehrlich

The 2015 CES was again a show of records, reflecting the growing importance of consumer electronics and connected devices.

Mercedes Benz
Driverless cars are now a reality thanks to sensors (Photo: Mercedes Benz)

Four major trends emerge at CES

DuBravac stated that the CE industry is “at an inflection point”. He cited what he terms the “five pillars of digital destiny” which will sculpt the future of technology and its relevance to each individual. These pillars are: computing everywhere; cheap digital storage; connectivity; proliferation of digital devices and sensorization of technology. At CES four major trends emerged, finding their expression in the Internet of Everything, a banner under which over 900 exhibitors at CES presented their products covering every aspect of human life. DuBravac believes that in the future the focus will no longer be on what can be done technologically, but what is meaningful to do.

The Internet of “Me”

The computer experience has been customized and has moved from the desktop to tablets and billions of smart phones. The next step is taking us to devices that are worn on the wrist, directly on the skin and soon under the skin. Before the advent of the Internet of Everything, the answer to the question “when were you last online?” was simple to answer: last time I logged in at my computer. Not anymore though. Now you are online with your e-reader, your smart phone or even your refrigerator.

The sensorization of objects

The digitization of the physical space is apparent in the trend of sensors. Sensors are increasingly widely deployed. They can be found literally anywhere; even in such ordinary things as waste baskets, water faucets or toilet flushes.

This is only the beginning

Sensors have become incredibly cheap. When we talk about the Internet of Things it means that many, many objects are now “sensorized” and connected to the Internet to share relevant data with relevant systems. But that’s just the start of the sensor revolution. Sensors make driverless cars possible, turn mobile phones into smart phones, are behind the latest wave of “wearables” and are able to collect vital information in a non-invasive way, changing our approach to healthcare.

Always online?

Not long from now the shirt we wear might be online. Devices such as these will collect and send a myriad of data that is generated by the user and his environment. Most of us will have a large number of different devices that are ready to connect to the Internet; which ones will eventually do so still remains to be seen. Ultimately these smart “devices” can recommend actions or send instructions that enhance our life and well-being. For example, Kolibree’s smart toothbrush tracks how long you brush, what teeth you clean well and which ones could do with a bit more attention. Homes will also be connected but not through one central modem or Wi-Fi but through hundreds of everyday objects running independently but communicating with each other.

Data≠information

And while sensors collect data autonomously, it needs processors to pull out the information contained in that data. The accessibility of near endless, cheap computing power is a key element in making sense of these increasingly large data streams.

The age of Big Data

The shift to digital has massive ramifications for data. A couple of years ago an Internet search came up with a couple of hundred to a few thousand results. No longer: we are surrounded by an explosion of data. 90% of the world’s data has been generated over the past two years. As digitization continues, data generation accelerates.

As data grows, we need new ways to create order from increasing chaos; to extract meaningful, actionable information. The decline in the cost of computing and raising capacity of digital storage are keys to big data and our ability to share, analyze and extract information. Whereas before data was exclusively stored on devices, the cloud is complementing hard drives with near infinite data storage capacity that can be accessed from anywhere.

But not all is rosy: while Big Data opens many new market opportunities, it also opens up questions around the ownership of information and privacy.

Healthcare in the digital age

In the near future data will transform healthcare by customizing treatments and empowering patients. But right now healthcare is in the middle of chaos. The technologies that are able to measure, record and analyze our data, mostly through apps, still require a great deal of human intervention. We are in a hybrid period between the analog world and the all-digital world. While we are able to capture information in new and more systematic ways data streams are still divided. The next step will be the mixing of multiple streams of data that will allow us to identify and then influence and change our behaviour in the physical world. Devices as convenient as wristwatches will measure vital signs and help manage and monitor an individual’s health and habits. Digital data will allow us to see which of our life choices affect our health.

More efficient, customized care

Next-generation medicine will utilize more complex models of physiology and more sensor data than a human MD could comprehend. Much of what physicians do – check-ups, testing, diagnosis, prescriptions, behaviour modifications – can be done better by sensors, which passively and actively collect and analyze data. Any of the rudimentary tests like blood-pressure, insulin levels, heart rate can be conducted without the need to visit a doctor. Additionally, instead of providing a one-time, limited view, there will be a wealth of continuous data available that can be sent to the physician, alerting him in case of need. With an aging population and increasing number of chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, digital data will allow doctors to know more about their patients and enable them to provide increasingly customized care, more efficiently.

Ensuring data security and privacy

But while all of this sounds quite exciting, there are a couple of hurdles that will need to be overcome, not the least of which is data security. In healthcare, data privacy and security are likely more important than anywhere else. Who is to say what employers or insurance companies might do if they could get access to a person’s full health data. And then there is the question, when one is able to measure everything, what should be measured and how telling are results in the absence of direct comparators.

Gallery
Mercedes Benz Driverless cars are now a reality thanks to sensors (Photo: Mercedes Benz)
Kolibree connected healthcare Data will transform healthcare (Photo: Kolibree)
connected plants Even plants are becoming “sensorized”