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Developments and Forecasts of Accelerating Technological Change and Hyperconnectivity

Atomically precise manufacturing, genetic manipulation, robotics, space technology, photons manipulation, brain imagery and cognitive science advancements, computer controlled-telepathy, synthetic biology, augmented reality, and teleportation at photonic level are only a few of the already existing technologies.

Digitalisation and hyperconnectivity

Hyperconnectivity is expanding fast, while physical-digital integrations, IoT, smart home tech, big data, augmented and virtual reality, and machine learning are changing our entire systems of living and thinking.

The unpredictable nature of the uses of new technology in daily life depends to a large extent on the opportunities for social experimentation available to the users most involved. In this context, the trends of hyperconnectivity, computing resources virtualization, mobile communication networks and the digitalisation and connectivity of everything (e.g. Internet of Things - IoT) are already revolutionising the access to knowledge, the nature of work, the ways of production, lifestyles and thinking, inter-relationships, and meanings of freedom, democracy and governance. Health, work, travel, energy and food production, ambient environment—basically our entire system of living and thinking—is undergoing accelerating changes. This constant process is also known as the Digital Transformation of our Society.

  • Hyperconnectivity is expanding fast: more than 4 billion people around the world are using the internet; over 5 billion inhabitants now have a mobile phone (68% penetration); there are 3.2 billion active social media users worldwide—growing at an average of 11 new users per second in 2017. | Related Megatrends: WorkInequalitiesEducationGovernance
  • Computing resources virtualization allows traditional applications to move from user’s limited desktops to the potentially unlimited cloud. High-Performance-Computing benefits have been brought to everybody, directly on their connected devices. Virtualization plays an important role in improving resource efficiency and increasing service reliability and security.
  • The IoT is considered one of the enablers of a hyperconnected society. IoT is an infrastructure connecting the physical and the digital worlds. The IoT could grow from about 9 billion connected devices in 2017 to  some 20-30 billion by 2020 and more than 55 billion IoT devices by 2025. In aggregate, investment in IoT will be close to $15 trillion between 2017 and 2025. | Related Megatrends:  WorkInequalitiesSecurity
  • The Web-of-Things (WoT) and Web of Data: IoT suffers from a lack of interoperability across platforms. As a result, developers are faced with data silos, high costs and limited market potential. This can be likened to the situation before the Internet when there were competing non-interoperable networking technologies. WoT aims to confront fragmentation by forming a web-based abstraction layer that is capable of interconnecting IoT platforms, devices, cloud services and standards. WoT is closely coupled to W3C's work on the Web of Data.
  • It is a challenge to prevent technology obsolescence in a hyperconnected society without interfering with technology evolution and business.
  • A sustainable hyperconnected world cannot exist without addressing standardisation and interoperability concerns.
  • The main value of a hyperconnected world is the integration of physical devices’ data into the development of new data-driven services and scenarios, such as transport, eHealth, Industry 4.0 or energy.
  • By 2020, although consumers will continue to represent the largest segment of IoT (some 13 billion units), cross-industry devices are expected to increase to 4.4 billion units and vertical-specific devices to some 3.2 billion units.
  • Hyperconnectivity and the IoT are set to increase considerably, driven by the 5th generation (5G) of communication infrastructure and higher-volume and lower cost devices. By 2025, there could be almost 1.4 billion connections worldwide, up from about 200 million 5G connections in 2021.  | Related Megatrends: GovernanceWorkInequalitiesSecurity
  • At EU level, the 5G Observatory could monitor market developments, including trials and other actions taken by industry stakeholders and Member States in the context of 5G rollout in Europe.
  • A hyperconnected society could rise cybersecurity challenges. New legislative instruments, such as the recent Cybersecurity of 5G networks, are intended to regulate the development of such trend.
  • Quantum information science is likely to represents the "next frontier in the Information Age, the field "to shape the long-term future of information processing”. 
  • Future autonomous robotics, advanced 3D/4D manufacturing, and AI could lead to employment-less economic growth, unless timely preparations. ​| Related Megatrends: WorkInequalitiesGeopowerSecurity

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  • Digital transformation of our Society and, in particular, the related datafication and hyper-connectivity paradigms are increasing the ability of “everything” being improved faster and faster. Key enabling technologies include: IoT and smart objects, Big Data, Machine and Deep Learning, Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR).
  • In the next decade, Physical-Digital Integration could be effectively accomplished by using platforms applying the Digital Twin interaction pattern. People increasingly perceive and approach “things” in a different way, tending to prefer a digital interaction over a physical one. A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical “thing” or “entity” that resides on the network – for example, digital twins in cities are a virtual replica of urban networks to study how to reduce risks and improve cities resilience; they implement the physical-digital integration in city infrastructures. | Related Megatrends: Hyperconnectivity and IoT
  • Human augmented intelligence might become possible and thinking might be largely non-biological. 
  • Machines could be "alive" and have full consciousness sooner than expected. | Related Megatrends: GovernanceWorkEducationSecurity
  • The newly launched MIT Intelligence Quest is an initiative to advance research on the foundations of human intelligence and support cross-disciplinary synergies that can positively influence society.

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Distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) and blockchains have been on the spotlight the last few years. Blockchains are based on the principal that there is no central entity that controls the system and that transactions can succeed without the need of having a trusted third party for verifying them. Moreover, the transactions once performed are tamper-proof and immutable. Even if they started with the form of asset exchange, i.e. cryptocurrencies, they can be used for a plethora of applications.

  • Blockchain has the ability to trigger a generational shift from an internet of information to a new-generation internet of value. However, in order to succeed, a multistakeholder consensus is needed on how the technology functions, its potential applications as well as regulatory, cultural and organizational conditions.
  • Blockchain technologies could enable cross-country collaboration between public services, eliminating interoperability issues and the use of multiple communication channels.
  • Cross-border Business to Business transactions could be simplified without obstacles occurring due to their physical location and local or national legislation.
  • Government funding and public expenditure could be completely transparent and verifiable from the citizens, an act which could lead to eliminating public corruption.
  • Public services could directly involve the citizens and make their administering simpler and cheaper.

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Expanding frontiers of science

Increasing synergies among synthetic biology, nanotechnology, 3D&4D printing, robotics, and the advent of AI, quantum computing, collective intelligence and yet to emerge technologies are accelerating the rate of acceleration itself.

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  • Increasing synergies among synthetic biology, nanotechnology, 3D&4D printing, robotics, and the advent of AI, quantum computing, collective intelligence and yet to emerge technologies will make the past 25 years seem slow compared to the next 25 years.
  • Most of the grand challenges we'll face by 2050 are technology-related, including: genetic modification of humans, safe car travel (self-driving or not), settling other worlds (space travel), boosted brainpower, and AI’s dominance in our lives. 
  • Convergence of knowledge and technology for the benefit of society (CKTS) is the next stage.
  • Per capita energy demand could peak before 2030, due to increased efficiency enabled by new technologies and stricter energy policies. | Related Megatrends: Natural resourcesConsumerism
  • Technological breakthroughs are needed for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Some technological solutions and initiatives are already either under development or even ready for the market --  raging from bio-enhancing materials that can merge with the
    natural environment, to energy distribution and transmission technologies and virtual power-plants.
  • Frontiers of sciences are expanding – understanding of time, multidimensions, multiverse, teleportation, and of life itself. (e.g. the reversal of "arrow of time"multiversewearable technologyteleportation, and the list is expanding by the day).
  • Teleportation, future-times camera and backwards time telegraph, which could be available in about 10 years, will transform our perception of time and space.

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  • Space research spinoffs are benefitting life on Earth in a variety of domains, from medical care and software to agricultural production and vehicle efficiency.
  • China's landing on the Dark Side of the Moon in January 2019 is part of the exploration program for space mineral resources. China also plans a permanent space station by 2022 and to put a man on the Moon within the next decade and to launch its first Mars probe in 2020.
  • The USA plans to send a crew to orbit and land on Mars by mid-2030.
  • Extraterrestrial entrepreneurship is growing, with the private sector increasingly set to both space travel/tourism, as well as exploration for new resources. Rocket launches by private companies are increasing—from Elon Musk’s SpaceX to Japan’s Interstellar Technologies or the Romanian ARCA.
  • Space elevators between Earth and orbit may give low-cost access to space, and longer-range options for space travel are being explored, such as matter-antimatter reactions, fusion, ion drive, photonic propulsion, plasma ejection, and solar sails.
  • By 2022, macroscopes could enable a better understanding of Earth's complexity by combining data from satellites, smart sensors, and weather stations, offering the possibility to better assess climate change trends, improve water and food use and distribution, and even to predict asteroid collisions.
  • Space-based solar power systems could – along with other forms of sustainable green energy sources – achieve the
    full-renewable energy revolution and address anthropogenic climate change and fossil fuel dependency.
  • The first prototypes of technologies for lunar conditions settlements might ride onboard a lunar mission by 2024-2025. Initiatives like The Moon Race global competition are encouraging these developments. 

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  • Synergies among engineering, physical sciences, computation, and life sciences are revolutionising medicine and health – advancing techniques to regenerate lost limbs and replace malfunctioning organs, tailored treatments for patients’ needs (using genomics and big data), while therapies to correct disease-causing genetic defects are already in clinical trials.
    | Related Megatrends: HealthInequalitiesSecurity
  • Some of the new technology trends impacting the future of medicine include: individual approach to human neurophysiology; RNA aptamers, microchips under the skin and pocket biosensors; assistive medical technologies; genetic engineering technologies for creating highly specific drugs and molecular diagnostics tools; new diagnostics and therapy tols for individual approach at the cellular level;
  • Using CRISPR -- genetic manipulation -- could help correct genetic helath issues before birth. 
    | Related Megatrends:  HealthInequalitiesEducationSecurity
  • ​The pharmaceutical industry is increasingly driven by the need to move from treatment to prevention, diagnostics and cure, therefore speeding up innovation and implementation of new technological developments;
  • By 2030, the pharmaceutical industry is expected to be radically different, with a shift in focus towards pharmatech, genetics and immunotherapy;
  • Personalised medicine is increasingly adopted over the generic 'one size fits all' to better manage patients' health and targeted therapies to achieve the best outcomes depending on the patient's specifics. 
    | Related Megatrends:  HealthInequalitiesSecurity
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) could offer the possibility to timely identify people prone to produce harm (to themselves or others), creating opportunities to intervene long before thoughts turn to action. 
    | Related Megatrends: HealthInequalitiesSecurity

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S&T development ethics

Ethical and security implications of some S&T developments need to be assessed for their safe developments for the benefit of society. Open science, citizen science projects, sharing of results and collaborative cross-disciplinary research determin the democratisation of science.

  • Across OECD countries, R&D intensity (R&D spending as a percentage of GDP ) was 2.37% in 2017, a slight increase compared to 2.34% in 2016, but about stable for the past five years. Korea and Israel rank the highest (4.55% and 4.54% respectively), in USA was 2.78, while China continued its steady increase – reaching 2.13% and set to be on par with the OECD by 2020.
  • China aims to become the world leader in science and innovation by 2050. Its rate of R&D investment growth significantly exceeds that of the USA and the EU. In 2017, R&D spending (PPP$) of China – $496 billion —was second to the USA's $543 billion and 15% over the EU28's $427.6 billion.
  • China plans to be world leader in AI by 2030.
    ​​| Related Megatrends: GeopowerSecurityGovernance
  • In the EU, R&D intensity increased to 2.07% in 2017 compared to 2.04% in 2016 and a considerable increase compared to 1.77% in 2007.
  • The EU share of world R&D is 26%
    | Related Megatrends: GeopowerSecurityInequalities
  • EU countries spend around 2% of their GDP on R&I – ranging from barely 0.2% in Romania to more than 3% in Finland – with the private rather than public sector having the biggest budgets — skewed towards close-to-market product development rather than frontier research.
    ​| Related Megatrends: InequalitiesGeopower
  • For the EU area, the return on public investment in R&I is of the order of 20-50%, considerably higher than long-term Euro area government bonds at 3.1%, or the past 10 years of the USA stock market 6.8% annual return.
  • Of the 10 most powerful supercomputers, the top two are in the USA, followed by two in China; one in Switzerland ranks 6th, one in Japan 8th, one in Germany ranks 9th and the other three are in the USA. The USA Department of Energy and Intel joined the race for building the world’s first exascale supercomputer.
  • EU is developing 8 supercomputers to be operational at mid-2020. They will be hosted at eight centres across the EU. Three of them, precursor to exascale machines (capable of executing more than 150 million billion calculations per second) will be in the top 5 supercomputers of the world. The other 5 will be petascale machines (capable of executing at least 4 Petaflops, or 4 million billion operations per second). They will support Europe's researchers, industry and businesses in a wide range of areas, from fighting climate change to designing medicines and new materials.
  • USA invests $249 million in quantum information science, to "ensure sustained American leadership in a field likely to shape the long-term future of information processing”.
  • India's digital sector to be a $1 trillion economy by 2023.​​
  • S&T opens opportunity for job creation; in India—that has 600 million people under the age of 25, hence, needs many jobs over the next years—it is estimated that a new technology creates 100 new jobs for each 10 potentially displaced. 
    ​| Related Megatrends: WorkInequalitiesGeopowerSecurity
  • 90% of inventions in environment-related technologies originate in OECD countries, especially Japan, the United States, Germany, Korea and France. 
    ​​| Related Megatrends: Natural resourcesClimate and environment

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For technology to benefit the many, social and economic gaps have to be addressed, knowledge shared, technology literacy and skills increased, and education system updated.

Democratization of science

  • There is a democratization of science, with citizen science projects like Galaxy Zoo and Higgs Hunters, blurring the lines between public engagement, education and professional science research.
    | Related Megatrends: WorkInequalitiesGovernance
  • Methods of engineering microorganisms' DNA are readily available and getting more powerful. A “do it yourself” movement is starting to shift genetic engineering out of large institutions and into DIY labs or people’s homes. Home kits to modify the genes of bacteria using CRISPR are on sale online for $140.
  • Increasingly open science, sharing of research results, free circulation of knowledge and transparency in methodology, digitalization and growing capacity of data analysis increase collaborative cross-disciplinary research, pooling together resources, brainpower and complementary expertise, thus accelerating innovation. | Related Megatrends: WorkInequalitiesSecurityEducation

Economic concentration

  • There is a concentration of R&D activity, with a small number of firms being responsible for a large proportion of total business R&D: the headquarters of the top 2,000 R&D corporations worldwide are concentrated in just a few economies (mainly USA, Japan and China), own about 75% of global ICT-related patents, 55% of ICT-related designs and 75% of the IP5 patent families related to AI, and about 70% of their total R&D spending is concentrated in the top 200 firms.
    | Related Megatrends: InequalitiesGeopowerSecurity
  • The number of influential technology companies is expected to shrink from 70 in 2017 to 30 by 2030 and possibly 10 by 2050, increasing the digital oligarchy

Increasing power of China

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  • As algorithms play an increasingly important role in governing our life, the codes of ethics that rule algorithms-writing, access and use of data and the way we address AI will have a determining impact on our future.  'AI for society' implies AI systems 'secure and ethical by design'.
  • AI and IoT bringing many benefits to our society, including greater inclusion and access to information, goods and services, and improve military systems. Nevertheless, they also carry significant risks, such as erosion of individual privacy, misinformation, misuse of data, increasing cybersecurity threats, and boost weapons capabilities in the hands of state as well as non-state actors.
  • Fintech increases efficiency of operations in the financial sector and promotes innovation and job creation, but also raises concerns such as data and consumer protection, exacerbating risk of financial volatility or cybercrime. 
  • Digitalizing the energy  and other infrastructure systems increase efficiency, reduce CO2 emissions and costs, but increase the risks of cyber-attacks and other security issues.
  • Emerging technologies, bio, nano, chemo, exponentially increase the threats of (t)error incident(s). Warfare will increasingly include cyber-weapons, unmanned remote-controlled warfare, chemical and bio-weapons, militarisation of space, precision strike capability. 
  • While CRISPR -- genetic manipulation -- could help address health issues, collection (and concentration) of biometric data would make possible hacking humans and other living organism and is increasing the risks of biological inequality and biological warfare, as well as re-engineering nature. 
    | Related Megatrends: HealthInequalitiesSecurity
  • Social media and smartphones are increasingly seen as weapons of mass manipulation. In 2017, three billion people logged on to social media networks like Facebook, WhatsApp and China’s Sina Weibo, making it one of the most powerful tools for shaping peoples' thinking. Being an "influencer" is at the reach of anyone, 
    | Related Megatrends: GeopowerInequalitiesSecurity
  • While lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) are introducing the third revolution in warfare, increasing precision target and save lives, they could also be misused and are highly dependent of the codes of ethics and algorithms that govern them.
  • Quantum cryptography is increasing communication security but also adds new challenges to intelligence gathering. | Related Megatrends: Security