IEEE Technology Time Machine experts explore the future of computer processing, energy, and health care
-Kathy Pretz, IEEE Member
Making prognostications about which technologies will be popular in 20 years can be tricky. After all, who would have predicted the existence of the smartphone, a navigation system for cars, or a wearable fitness tracker back in 1995? Despite the possibility of sounding foolish, experts who presented at the IEEE Technology Time Machine conference last October took that risk to predict the interplay science, technology, society, and economics may have on several areas in 2035. Here’s a summary of what they had to say from thewhite paper recently published in the IEEE Xplore Digital Library.
Future of Computer Processing
Silicon’s reign will come to an end in the next decade as the maximum number of transistors that can be packed into a computer chip will be reached. Eventually a non-FET (field effect transistor) like graphene will need to be considered since it is 10 times faster than silicon, has very low resistance to electrons, and dissipates heat well. Another possibility is adiabatic computation, a physical process where there is no energy exchange, which is now only a theory. There will come a point where it is not feasible to build faster processors so the traditional ways will have to be abandoned. Instead, architectures and software will have to be tweaked to improve performance.
Future of Energy
Major changes to the infrastructure, especially electric, are on the horizon. Solar and wind generation will force electric utilities to transition away from traditional grid organizations to an integrated smarter grid. As the grid gets more complex and multi-directional, control systems will have to become more sophisticated, flexible, self-healing, and easily reconfigurable. These smart grids will know when the power is out and restore it automatically, suppress demand during peak loading times, and handle variable generation sources. The Internet of Things (IoT) will be a crucial component because it will be used to connect intelligent machines, data analytics, and customers.
Future of Fabrication
The fabrication landscape will undergo a revolution in how things are designed, who designs them, where they are manufactured, and how and where they are manufactured. Big companies will turn to smarter manufacturing processes and small- and medium-sized businesses will exploit their flexibility and their ability to adopt new fabrication tools to fill niche markets with lower capital investment.With the help of 3-D printing and additive manufacturing, small teams will be able to produce low-cost parts. Digital manufacturing (a continuously monitored process) and agile manufacturing will support the growing interest in synchronizing the manufacturing processes with the lean supply and distribution chain model. Drones and other autonomous delivery systems will likely handle the majority of deliveries by 2035. Recycling will grow in importance and recycling-by-design, which ensures that consumer products can be safely and economically recycled, will be a must. And instead of hiring experts to help them with challenging problems, companies will use crowdsourcing and cash prizes to find engineers and designers.
Future of Health Care
Continuous health monitoring will expand and improve. Data will be sent by smartphones and analyzed by health professionals to provide individually customized advice on what to do to remain healthy. Expect health monitoring to be ubiquitous and incorporated in our lives to the point where we will hardly notice it. Several issues still have to be addressed including turning the data into useful information that is properly evaluated, resolving the legal ramifications of providing medical advice based on that information, and protecting users’ privacy. But by 2035, these concerns should be a thing of the past.
Future of Networks
The Internet will be considered a utility and taken for granted. People will expect that everyone is connected all the time, and networks will be both public and private, and more secure. The Internet of Things is part of that progression, because more and more things will be added to the network but people will expect that the IoT will be fast, safe, and inexpensive. To get there, bandwidth will need to be increased to provide everyone with high-quality streaming access. To get there, all new transmission technologies will need to work over shorter distances so the trick is to decrease what’s called the last mile to the last hundred yards (92 meters) or less. But as capacity increases, there will be a stratification of service tied to the willingness to pay. This will change the normal division between urban and rural environments, and the difference in available bandwidth speed.