The pace of technological change is relentless. As a telecoms company that works to help businesses embrace innovation, it’s an exciting time for eir business. We keep our eyes on key technological advancements that we think hold enormous benefit for businesses in all sectors: here are four innovations that we expect to make a huge impact in 2018.
While the cryptocurrency ‘Bitcoin’ has hit the headlines in the past few years, the underlying system on which it runs has remained in the background, until now. Blockchain is the technology behind Bitcoin; it’s a way of storing data in a distributed way. The distributed databases are managed by a network of players or groups, and not one centralised system.
There are several key benefits to blockchain that make it an appealing technology for even the most risk-averse sectors.
- Data is stored on a distributed database held on many systems, making it more resilient to attack. – and important consideration for business cyber security
- Changes to the data need to be agreed by consensus, which makes any data less open to tampering. Swiss Re and IBM Research Labs are currently examining the use of blockchain for sensitive data as it creates a new “virtual entity that is trusted to access” sensitive data on behalf of consumers.
- Due to its distributed nature, a glitch or downtime on any individual server would have minimum effect on the blockchain itself.
And while blockchain has its origins in the financial sector, potential applications of the technology are limitless. We’re already seeing some innovative initiatives around the world. In January 2017, IBM and the US Food and Drug Administration began working together on a health data exchange using the blockchain. The aim of the partnership is to enhance transparency in health data and improve patient trust. Provenance, a British start-up, has created a platform using blockchains to track the origins of raw materials across global supply chains, and the technology is also being examined by food businesses tracing produce from ‘farm to fork’. On a smaller scale, a group of neighbours in Brooklyn are using a blockchain-based microgrid to buy and sell solar power from each other.
Closer to home, the Blockchain Association of Ireland was set up in December 2016 to help Irish businesses identify the potential of blockchain; and in Belfast, Queens University, local start up Arc.net, and large multinational consultancies Deloitte and PwC, have formed a consortium to investigate blockchain applications.
We’re already accustomed to interacting with computers through our laptops, PCs and smartphones, but augmented reality takes that interaction a level further. The technology overlays digital images onto our view of the real world. You might remember the short-lived Google Glass from 2015, where a futuristic pair of glasses displayed digital images right in front of the user’s eyes. Augmented reality has come some way since then, and we’re now seeing successful applications of the technology in the wild.
Microsoft has taken the bull by the horns in the augmented reality race with its HoloLens goggles, which it is marketing at the enterprise market. Gensler, the largest design and architecture firm in the world, used HoloLens when designing its new headquarters. Architects on the project were able to use the lens to immerse themselves into the building design. In a blog post outlining the project Microsoft explained the process: Users can walk around a tabletop hologram and rescale, move and rotate it. They can also inhabit a 3D model on a 1:1 scale, allowing them to naturally “feel” and understand a model in a physical setting, while accessing essential building information modelling (BIM) data.
The potential for augmented reality is also being explored in areas of healthcare training; communications, as a substitute for in-person meetings; to enhance the sales process; and to help the manufacturing sector identify inefficiencies in certain processes.
Deep learning – the next level of AI
You can’t have escaped all the talk about Artificial Intelligence over the past couple of years. We’ve seen the evolution of AI and talked about the so-called rise of the machines on the eir business blog.
We’re now entering a stage where existing AI systems are being enhanced through the introduction of machine learning and deep learning. Gartner expects big things from deep learning in 2018; it’s predicted that 80 percent of data scientists will include deep learning as part of their AI toolkits. So what is it?
It’s essentially a sub-set of machine learning where a machine analyses data, learns from the results and then applies those learnings to making decision or predictions. We’re already seeing this in action in areas such as Cisco’s Encrypted Traffic Analysis, which uses “network visibility and multi-layer machine learning to look for observable differences between benign and malware traffic”. Because the process is underpinned by machine learning, “it adapts to change and its efficacy is maintained over time”.
Meanwhile, deep learning has a more ‘human’ element in that it analyses data through artificial neural networks and comes to conclusions more in line with a human brain rather than a machine. The deep learning system also has the ability to learn from its mistakes, like us humans, and correct its analysis by training itself.
One of the more high profile applications of deep learning is self-driving cars, where the system learns how to analyse and interpret obstacles, and react to them, in much the same way a human would. There are of course other innovation applications, such as improving patient care by analysing data such as scans and x-rays and detecting any abnormalities faster and more efficiently than a human. What’s clear is, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg when it comes to deep learning and its effect on the development of artificial intelligence.
Gartner has named digital twins as one of its Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2018. A digital twin is a digital representation of something that exists in the real world, like a physical thing or system.
The technology will initially make its presence felt in the Internet of Things (IoT) space, where it can be used to create digital versions of real-world things. In creating a digital replica of a particular entity or system, businesses can gain invaluable, up-to-date information about the real-world thing, leading to significant insight into how a system operates, maintenance and operations, efficiencies, and adding value.
In an interview with Forbes magazine, Thomas Kaiser, SAP Senior Vice President of IoT, said of the technology: “Digital twins are becoming a business imperative, covering the entire lifecycle of an asset or process and forming the foundation for connected products and services. Companies that fail to respond will be left behind.”
But the benefits of digital twins don’t stop at the IoT space, according to Gartner, which believes that eventually the potential of this innovation will touch on every aspect of our world. From city planners to healthcare professionals, the advantages of having access to a digital replica of an entity, whether it’s a smart building or a human heart, are endless.
How can these upcoming technologies help to make your business more efficient? Whether it’s improvements to your cyber security or utilising the Internet of Things for your business, eir business can help. Get in touch with us today on Twitter or LinkedIn.