It can be hard to pinpoint which technologies will change our lives the quickest. From automated vehicles to the future of education, five panellists came together at PwC Australia for the Churchill Club Australia’s inaugural Top Tech Trends Debate to discuss which trends they think will have an explosive impact in the next few years. Here are their top five.

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”

– Bill Gates

The future
of education

Australian universities haven’t changed their ways in decades and a three year degree is relatively the same as it was forty years ago. Why? Panelist Kee Wong believes it’s because higher education institutions have simply not needed to  change. With a highly regulated market and money coming in from offshore students, universities have been sitting pretty. But Wong, who sits on the Victoria University Council and the Foundation Board of Monash University’s Faculty of Engineering & IT, says that will change.

Employers are no longer accepting standard degree graduates. Consumers have come to expect ultimate choice when it comes to buying, and employers want the same. It simply doesn’t make sense in today’s world to be offering pre-packaged degrees that can’t be customised for the market. Wong knows of CEOs that are struggling to find the right talent in Australia’s university graduates, and are forced to look overseas or train graduates in-house.

Disruption will come in the next three to five years, Wong believes, but in ten to fifteen years, Australian students will also need to be looking overseas for their education needs. In particular, online platform providers – from outside the education industry, such as Google, Facebook, Amazon – will potentially pave the way to ‘new’ education options. However, this won’t be just ‘online education’. Wong instead forsees a hybrid system where human contact is combined with innovative delivery methods and tailored content.

Driverless cars
as a transport service

When people think about driverless vehicles, many think of cars that drive themselves (what’s known as Level 5, fully autonomous driving). That, while nevertheless being trialled on roads around the world, is still a ways off. But, futurist Paul Higgins argues, while mass deployment of fully autonomous cars may still be a while away, the impact caused by transport as a service (think Uber) at lower levels of automation will be felt much sooner than you might think.

There are two reasons driverless vehicles as a service will be successful: safety and cost. 1.3 million people died on roads worldwide in the last year and while autonomous vehicles may not be completely safe yet, they only have to keep getting better to make a significant impact to people’s wellbeing.1 Higgins estimates that travel currently costs AUD 70 cents/kilometre by car, but that will drop drastically to just 7 cents/km in a shared transport model. That saving will be hard for customers to ignore.

Higgins sees society as being on the cusp of change. Transport as a service will wreak disruption across industries and supply chains in the next few years. In response, urban design will change, airports will lose their car park revenue, hospitals will need far less trauma capability and new business models will be created on top of the driverless ecosystem. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg

The rise of diasporic
ecosystems

Global mobility, migration and technology are rapidly changing our social landscapes, and diasporas – populations living away from their home country – are providing fertile ground for the seeds of disruption to be sown.

International strategist, Bienna Chow, argues that while international technology and information transfer along ethnic connections have always existed, companies appealing to customers located outside their home countries are rapidly building local diaspora-specific ecosystems, creating overseas overseas business expansion opportunities.

As companies chase diasporas, growing their businesses through cultural lines, they are building expansion superhighways and gaining footholds into new countries and continents. Examples of these ecosystems include payment gateways, such as payWave and Alipay, and social platform WeChat. For younger populations, and Chow highlighted populous areas such as China, India and Africa, the ability to use and be connected to those ‘back home’ is incredibly important, and will drive enormous change.

Look closely, says Chow, because the sprouts of these diasporic ecosystems can already be seen.

Post-IoT and
ambient intelligence

Much has been made of the promise of IoT over the last decade, but technology adviser Bec Martin believes we’re now seeing a a push away from connected things one must deliberately interact with towards computer environments that sense and respond appropriately to humans effortlessly.

IoT thus far has focused on gadgets and hardware (sensors). It has produced technology that humans can use, but often in a clunky and over the top manner (for instance, smart toasters and refrigerators). However, Martin believes that in the next few years we will see a move towards more elegant ambient intelligence, and a focus on software that will allow connected things to sense, predict and respond to our needs in a seamless and integrated manner.

To Martin, while some of these advancements are already being seen, particularly in regards to the use of artificial intelligence as a service, society has not yet reached the ‘sweet spot’ of technological ecosystem development (money, commercialisation, hackathons) which will lead to ambient intelligence, and IoT, moving from emergence to ubiquity.

Technology will save us
from technology

Has technology gotten to a point where we’ve lost connection? Entrepreneur Ryan Ebert worries that technology meant to connect us is in fact isolating us. With research showing that mental health issues are on the rise, and ‘technological addiction’ being touted in the media as a condition to fear, Ebert believes that the solution might in fact be more tech, not less.

In the next three to five years, he predicts that health management, machine learning device integration and voice technology will help us facilitate real world connection, and indeed get to the point of intervening on our behalf. For instance, by suggesting we turn off, or facilitating physical world interaction (e.g. making connections between families and friends, and linking free time, people and activities together).

We are already beginning to see technology companies integrating such measures into their apps and systems, such as Google, Facebook, Apple announcing measures to counter screen addiction.2 Ebert acknowledges this, but still believes we will see massive change in terms of the integration of these health technologies into our lives, and most importantly, their integration with other people.

 

Contributor

Monty Hamilton

Monty Hamilton is a partner in PwC’s Digital Services business.

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