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Month: January 2020

28 Jan 2020

Here’s what AI experts think will happen in 2020

But it’s time to let the past go and point our bows toward the future. It’s no  longer possible to estimate how much the machine learning and AI markets are worth, because the line between what’s an AI-based technology and what isn’t has become so blurred that Apple, Microsoft, and Google are all “AI companies” that also do other stuff.

Your local electricity provider uses AI and so does the person who takes those goofy real-estate agent pictures you see on park benches. Everything is AI — an axiom that’ll become even truer in 2020.

We solicited predictions for the AI industry over the next year from a panel of experts, here’s what they had to say:

Marianna Tessel, CTO at Intuit

AI and human will collaborate. AI will not “replace humans,” it will collaborate with humans and enhance how we do things. People will be able to provide higher level work and service, powered by AI. At Intuit, our platform allows experts to connect with customers to provide tax advice and help small businesses with their books in a more accurate and efficient way, using AI. It helps work get done faster and helps customers make smarter financial decisions. As experts use the product, the product gets smarter, in turn making the experts more productive. This is the decade where, through this collaboration, AI will enhance human abilities and allow us to take our skills and work to a new level.

AI will eat the world in ways we can’t imagine today: AI is often talked about as though it is a Sci-Fi concept, but it is and will continue to be all around us. We can already see how software and devices have become smarter in the past few years and AI has already been incorporated into many apps. AI enriched technology will continue to change our lives, every day, in what and how we operate. Personally, I am busy thinking about how AI will transform finances – I think it will be ubiquitous. Just the same way that we can’t imagine the world before the internet or mobile devices, our day-to-day will soon become different and unimaginable without AI all around us, making our lives today seem so “obsolete” and full of “unneeded tasks.”

We will see a surge of AI-first apps: As AI becomes part of every app, how we design and write apps will fundamentally change. Instead of writing apps the way we have during this decade and add AI, apps will be designed from the ground up, around AI and will be written differently. Just think of CUI and how it creates a new navigation paradigm in your app. Soon, a user will be able to ask any question from any place in the app, moving it outside of a regular flow. New tools, languages, practices and methods will also continue to emerge over the next decade.

Jesse Mouallek, Head of Operations for North America at Deepomatic

We believe 2020 to be the year that industries that aren’t traditionally known to be adopters of sophisticated technologies like AI, reverse course. We expect industries like waste management, oil and gas, insurance, telecommunications and other SMBs to take on projects similar to the ones usually developed by the tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft and IBM. As the enterprise benefits of AI become more well-known, the industries outside of Silicon Valley will look to integrate these technologies.

If companies don’t adapt to the current trends in AI, they could see tough times in the future. Increased productivity, operational efficiency gains, market share and revenue are some of the top line benefits that companies could either capitalize or miss out on in 2020, dependent on their implementation. We expect to see a large uptick in technology adoption and implementation from companies big and small as real-world AI applications, particularly within computer vision, become more widely available.

We don’t see 2020 as another year of shiny new technology developments. We believe it will be more about the general availability of established technologies, and that’s ok. We’d argue that, at times, true progress can be gauged by how widespread the availability of innovative technologies is, rather than the technologies themselves. With this in mind, we see technologies like neural networks, computer vision and 5G becoming more accessible as hardware continues to get smaller and more powerful, allowing edge deployment and unlocking new use cases for companies within these areas.

Hannah Barnhardt, VP of Product Strategy Marketing at Deluxe Entertainment

2020 is the year AI/ML capabilities will be truly operationalized, rather than companies pontificating about its abilities and potential ROI. We’ll see companies in the media and entertainment space deploy AI/ML to more effectively drive investment and priorities within the content supply chain and harness cloud technologies to expedite and streamline traditional services required for going to market with new offerings, whether that be original content or Direct to Consumer streaming experiences.

Leveraging AI toolsets to automate garnering insights into deep catalogs of content will increase efficiency for clients and partners, and help uphold the high-quality content that viewers demand. A greater number of studios and content creators will invest and leverage AI/ML to conform and localize premium and niche content, therefore reaching more diverse audiences in their native languages.

Tristan Greene, reporter for The Next Web

I’m not an industry insider or a machine learning developer, but I covered more artificial intelligence stories this year than I can count. And I think 2019 showed us some disturbing trends that will continue in 2020. Amazon and Palantir are poised to sink their claws into the government surveillance business during what could potentially turn out to be President Donald Trump’s final year in office. This will have significant ramifications for the AI industry.

The prospect of an Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders taking office shakes the Facebooks and Microsofts of the world to their core, but companies who are already deeply invested in providing law enforcement agencies with AI systems that circumvent citizen privacy stand to lose even more. These AI companies could be inflated bubbles that pop in 2021, in the meantime they’ll look to entrench with law enforcement over the next 12 months in hopes of surviving a Democrat-lead government.

Look for marketing teams to get slicker as AI-washing stops being such a big deal and AI rinsing — disguising AI as something else — becomes more common (ie: Ring is just a doorbell that keeps your packages safe, not an AI-powered portal for police surveillance, wink-wink).

Here’s hoping your 2020 is fantastic. And, if we can venture a final prediction: stay tuned to TNW because we’re going to dive deeper into the world of artificial intelligence in 2020 than ever before. It’s going to be a great year for humans and machines.

Source: https://thenextweb.com/artificial-intelligence/2020/01/03/heres-what-ai-experts-think-will-happen-in-2020/

11 Jan 2020

Mind-reading technology lets you control tech with your brain — and it actually works

  • CES featured several products that let you control apps, games and devices with your mind.
  • The technology holds a lot of promise for gaming, entertainment and even medicine.
  • NextMind and FocusOne were two of the companies that showed off mind-control technology at CES this year.


LAS VEGAS — It’s not the self-driving cars, flying cars or even the dish-washing robots that stick out as the most transformative innovation at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show: It’s the wearable gadgets that can read your mind.

There’s a growing category of companies focused on the “Brain-Computer Interface.” These devices can record brain signals from sensors on the scalp (or even devices implanted within the brain) and translate them into digital signals. This industry is expected to reach $1.5 billion this year, with the technology used for everything from education and prosthetics, to gaming and smart home control.


This isn’t science fiction. I tried a couple of wearables that track brain activity at CES this week, and was surprised to find they really work. NextMind has a headset that measures activity in your visual cortex with a sensor on the back of your head. It translates the user’s decision of where to focus his or her eyes into digital commands.

“You don’t see with your eyes, your eyes are just a medium,” Next Mind CEO Sid Kouider said. “Your vision is in your brain, and we analyze your vision in your brain and we can know what you want to act upon and then we can modify that to basically create a command.”

Kouider said that this is the first time there’s been a brain-computer interface outside the lab, and the first time you can theoretically control any device by focusing your thoughts on them.

Wearing a Next Mind headset, I could change the color of a lamp — red, blue and green — by focusing on boxes lit up with those colors. The headset also replaced a remote control. Staring at a TV screen, I could activate a menu by focusing on a triangle in a corner of the screen. From there, focusing my eyes, I could change the channel, mute or pause video, just by focusing on a triangle next to each command.

“We have several use cases, but we are also targeting entertainment and gaming because that’s where this technology is going to have its best use,” Kouider said. “The experience of playing or applying it on VR for instance or augmented reality is going to create some new experiences of acting on a virtual world.”


Next Mind’s technology isn’t available to consumers yet, but the company is selling a $399 developer kit with the hope that other companies to create new applications.

“I think it’s going to still take some time until we nail … the right use case,” Kouider said. “That’s the reason we are developing this technology, to have people use the platform and develop their own use cases.”

Another company focused on the brain-computer interface, BrainCo, has the FocusOne headband, with sensors on the forehead measuring the activity in your frontal cortex. The “wearable brainwave visualizer” is designed to measure focus, and its creators want it to be used in schools.

“FocusOne is detecting the subtle electrical signals that your brain is producing,” BrainCo President Max Newlon said. “When those electrical signals make their way to your scalp, our sensor picks them up, takes a look at them and determines, ‘Does it look like your brain is in a state of engagement? Or does it look like your brain is in a state of relaxation?’”

Wearing the headband, I tried a video game with a rocket ship. The harder I focused, the faster the rocket ship moved, increasing my score. I then tried to get the rocket ship to slow down by relaxing my mind. A light on the front of the headband turns red when your brain is intensely focused, yellow if you’re in a relaxed state and blue if you’re in a meditative state. The headbands are designed to help kids learn to focus their minds, and to enable teachers to understand when kids are zoning out. The headband costs $350 for schools and $500 for consumers. The headset comes with software and games to help users understand how to focus and meditate.

BrainCo also has a prosthetic arm coming to market later this year, which will cost $10,000 to $15,000, less than half the cost of an average prosthetic. BrainCo’s prosthetic detects muscle signals and feeds them through an algorithm that can help it operate better over time, Newlon said.

“The thing that sets this prosthetic apart, is after enough training, [a user] can control individual fingers and it doesn’t only rely on predetermined gestures. It’s actually like a free-play mode where the algorithm can learn from him, and he can control his hands just like we do,” Newlon said.

Source: CNBC

09 Jan 2020

Before we augment people with tech, we’ll need proper rules

New technologies – from artificial intelligence to synthetic biology – are set to alter the world, the human condition, and our very being in ways that are hard to imagine. The discussion of these developments limits itself as a rule to individual values. But it is also crucial to talk about the collective human values that we wish to guarantee in our intimate technological society. That brings an important political question at the table. How to develop and implement human enhancement technologies in a socially responsible way?

During the last few decades, the human being has become an increasingly acceptable object of study and technological intervention. We are an engineering project ourselves. An important engine behind this development is the combination of nano-, bio-, information, and cognitive technology. This so-called NBIC convergence is creating a new wave of applications, consisting in large part of intimate technologies capable of monitoring, analyzing, and influencing our bodies and behavior. In essence, the NBIC convergence means a steadily more profound interaction between the natural sciences (nano and info) and the life sciences (bio and cogno). This interaction leads to two megatrends: “Biology becomes technology” and “technology becomes biology.”

In the natural sciences, a revolution has occurred in the area of materials. If in the seventies we could research and manufacture materials on a micro-scale, we have now learned to do it on a nanoscale. A DNA strand, for example, is almost two nanometers (or two-millionths of a millimeter) thick. Nanotechnology laid the groundwork for the computer revolution. In turn, those computers make it possible to make better materials and machines. That way nanotechnology and information technology spur each other on. Digitization makes it possible to gather large amounts of data about the material, biological and social world, in order to analyze and apply it. Consider the self-driving car that makes use of digital maps and adds new information to those maps with every meter traveled. In this way, a cybernetic loop arises between the physical and digital worlds.

Living organisms, like the human body, are seen more and more as measurable, analyzable, and manufacturable

The above developments in the natural sciences stimulate the life sciences, such as genetics, medicine, and neuroscience. Modern equipment, from DNA chips to MRI scans, offers countless opportunities to investigate and intervene in body and brain. This leads to the statement that “biology is increasingly becoming technology.” That means that living organisms, like the human body, are seen more and more as measurable, analyzable, and manufacturable. Germline technology is a typical example of this trend. In the summer of 2017, an American research team succeeded for the first time in using CRISPR-Cas9 technology to repair a hereditary disorder in the DNA of a (viable) human embryo.

At their turn insights from the life sciences inspire the design of new types of devices: think of DNA computers and self-repairing materials. Simulation of the workings of the brain in hardware and software is, for instance, an important goal of the largescale European Human Brain Project, into which the European Commission has been investing a billion euros for ten years. This leads to the statement that “technology is increasingly becoming biology.” Engineers increasingly attempt to build qualities typical of living creatures, such as self-healing, reproduction, and intelligence, into technology. Examples of this second trend are artificial intelligence and android social robots.

The trends “biology becomes technology” and “technology becomes biology,” when applied to the human being, ensure that humans and technology are increasingly merging with each other. The Rathenau Insituut, therefore, speaks of an intimate technological revolution.

Consider technologies external to our bodies too

The trend “biology becomes technology” drives the debate over “human enhancement.” Traditionally, this debate focuses on invasive medical technologies that work inside the human body. Consider psycho-pharmaceuticals like methylphenidate (Ritalin), which are used to suppress powerful behavioral impulses and improve the storage capacity of our random-access memory, or modafinil, which can help make us more alert and thoughtful. But also neurotechnologies like deep brain stimulation and other brain implants, biotechnologies like synthetic blood substitutes, artificial retinas, gene therapy, and germline modification – all commonly cited examples in discussions about human enhancement.

What does it mean to be human in the 21st century? That question also pertains to the trend “technology becomes biology,” that is, technologies outside the body that have an impact on people’s physical, mental, and social achievements. One example is the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS), an exoskeleton developed by the US Army to make soldiers stronger and less vulnerable to bullets. Besides that, consider persuasive technology: information technology designed to influence human behavior. Think for example of smartphone apps giving people advice on what (not) to eat, on their driving, and on how they should handle social relations or money. Or a smart bracelet that monitors perspiration and heartrate and vibrates if the wearer displays aggression. The wearer has learned by means of a role-playing game that aggressive behavior doesn’t pay off. Consequently, it is expected that he or she will avoid similar behavior in the real world. Through EEG neurofeedback, people can also get insight into their brain activity and learn to influence it in order to change their behavior.

Intimate technologies offer opportunities for human enhancement, but can also lead to essential changes in human skills and the way we communicate with one another.

The above technologies, working outside the body, raise questions about autonomy and informed consent: are people in “smart” environments really able to make informed decisions? When does the concept of technological paternalism become relevant? Can persuasive technology further weaken an already weak will? Is it morally permissible to influence people’s behavior – even for the better – without their knowledge? Just like invasive technologies, non-invasive technologies raise questions about privacy, as well as bodily and mental integrity. In the case of many persuasive technologies, you have to give away a lot of your data in order to improve yourself. Do users really remain in control of their own data? Do we have the right to remain anonymous, to opt-out of being measured, analyzed, and coached? And how could we, in a world full of sensors? The rise of facial and emotion recognition, in particular, makes this a pressing question.

People can voluntarily insert the above invasive and non-invasive technologies into their bodies and lives, for instance, to become stronger or more attractive. But technology can also have unintended side-effects. Through the increasingly intensive use of technology, our abilities begin to change. We develop new competencies (a phenomenon called “reskilling” or “upskilling”), such as all kinds of digital skills. Other competencies might be reduced (“deskilling”). There is, for example, a body of research appearing to indicate that our social skills, such as empathy, are crumbling through excessive computer use. Intimate technologies, then, offer opportunities for human enhancement, but can also lead to essential changes in human skills and the way we communicate with one another. Such changes in the human condition transcend the level of the individual. They touch upon collective questions and values and demand public debate and, where necessary, political consideration.

Paying attention to collective values

The current debate on human enhancement, though, largely limits itself to individual goals. Examples of classic questions are: is human enhancement an individual right? Can people decide for themselves whether they want technological enhancements? In The Techno-Human Condition, Braden Allenby and Daniel Sarewitz argue that such an approach is inadequate. They suggest that the debate over the impact of human enhancement ought to be conducted on the following three levels of complexity:

  1. The direct impact of a single technology;
  2. The way in which technology influences a socio-technological system and the social and cultural patterns affected by the same;
  3. The impact of technology on a global level.

Take the car as an example. The car, in principle, gets you from A to B faster than a bike would (level 1 reasoning). But if many people drive cars, the bike can sometimes be a faster option in the city (level 2 reasoning). On a global scale, the rise of the car has led to a variety of important developments, such as the development of the oil economy, Fordism (the model of mass production and consumption), and climate change. Allenby and Sarewitz posit that the current debate over human development frequently remains on the instrumental level. It revolves especially around the question of whether people have the right, on the basis of free choice, to opt into technologies designed to enhance their bodies and minds. In opposition to what transhumanists often suppose, they show that – just as the car isn’t the faster choice than the bike under every circumstance – the use of human enhancement technology on an individual level doesn’t straightforwardly lead to a better individual quality of life, let alone to a better society. The application of human enhancement technology will frequently be driven by economic or military motives (level 2 reasoning). Such a scenario complicates the issue of individual free choice, because in that case, “The posthuman person is not a self-made man, but a person designed by others.”

The posthuman person is not a self-made man, but a person designed by others.

The mass deployment of human enhancement technology will also have effects – although hard to predict – on a global level. In Homo Deus, Harari sketches two (parallel) long-term scenarios: first, the arrival of the physically and mentally enhanced “superman” (Homo Deus) and a division between supermen and normal people (level 3 reasoning). According to Harari, in the long term, this could lead to the abandonment of the principle of equality that forms the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In addition to this “biology becomes technology” scenario, Harari presents a “technology becomes biology” scenario. He anticipates the rise of “dataism,” in which humanity embeds itself in an Internet-of-All-Things and allows itself to be guided purely by AI-generated advice dispensed by computers. In this scenario, humanity has given up all its privacy, autonomy, individuality, and consequently democracy, which is based on personal political choices. Although such scenarios are speculative, they show us which important issues are at stake and show that it is important to look (far) beyond the individual, instrumental level.

The Dutch discussion of germline technology shows that this often does not happen. So far collective interests play a negligible role in that debate. And that is in spite of the fact that CRISPR-applied modifications in the DNA of the embryo are irreversible and heritable by future generations. In the current debate, the pragmatic approach we know from the medical-ethical regime still dominates. In this debate, a lot of attention is paid to the international position of the Netherlands. The country doesn’t want to fall behind as a knowledge economy. Second, there is a special focus on the health benefits germline modification can deliver for the individual in question. A traditional risk-benefit analysis is central to this. Third, significant emphasis is placed on strengthening reproductive autonomy. It is about the opportunity germline modification offers to prospective parents with a hereditary condition: to have a genetically healthy child of their own.

But germline modification also raises questions that do not fit neatly within the framework of medical-ethical principles oriented towards safety, informed consent, and reproductive autonomy. In terms of collective values and international human rights, there should also be a place in the debate for the notion that the human genome is our common heritage, and thus our collective property.

Technological citizenship

New NBIC technologies are set to alter the world, the human condition, and our very being beyond our imagination. Above, we argued that in relation to human enhancement we must consider both invasive medical technologies (the trend “biology becomes technology”) and technologies outside the body that nevertheless have an impact on people’s bodily, mental, and social performance (the trend “technology becomes biology”). Futurist thinkers from Harari to Aldous Huxley and Raymond Kurzweil show us what is potentially at stake this century: radical improvement of human capacities and choices, division between “natural” and “enhanced” humans, the abolition of the individual and in its wake, democracy. This brings a crucial political question at the table: how can we develop and implement human enhancement technology in a societally responsible way?

Technological citizenship is the collection of rights and duties that makes it possible for citizens to profit from the blessings of technology and protects them against the attendant risks.

To give direction to that potentially radical transition, a democratic search for shared moral principles is necessary, principles that can set the fusion of human and technology off on the right track. An absolute condition for that collective search is a well-developed “technological citizenship” for all citizens. Technological citizenship is the collection of rights and duties that makes it possible for citizens to profit from the blessings of technology and protects them against the attendant risks. It means understanding how statistical results, (genetic) profiling and self-learning algorithms work, seeing how that affects us, and being prepared to defend against unwanted influences and choose (potentially non-technological) alternatives where necessary. Besides, it is important that citizens have the option of participating in the decision-making process regarding technology at every stage of development, from research to application. Technological citizenship emancipates the regular citizen in relation to the experts and developers of technology.

The role of institutions

Education plays a central role in the promotion of technological citizenship. And that begins with primary and secondary education. Here lies a clear role for the government. Meanwhile, in April 2017 the Dutch House of Representatives approved a curriculum revision prepared by Platform Onderwijs2032 (Education2032). It adds two new fields to the curriculum: digital literacy and citizenship. In 2018 development teams are getting started making those fields a reality. It would be good for the two development teams to work in close cooperation, taking into account the fact that citizenship in a technological culture only has meaning if we can engage in an informed discussion about the effect of technology on our private lives and our society.

But education is not enough. To make their citizenship a reality, people need institutions. Without suitable administrative institutions, technological citizenship is an empty shell. It must be possible for rights and duties to be democratically demanded, fixed, and implemented. Individuals, then, can only be considered true technological citizens if they know themselves to be protected by an optimally equipped system of governance. The following four components are crucial to this: 1) rights and compliance monitoring, 2) public debate, 3) political vision, and 4) socially responsible companies.

Robots should not replace human relationships but improve them, whether we are talking about care for the elderly or the upbringing of children

First, citizens must be able to appeal to fundamental human rights suitable to the time we live in. At the request of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the guardian of human rights in Europe, the Rathenau Instituut researched how robotization, artificial intelligence, and virtualization could challenge our current conception of human rights. The Rathenau Instituut proposed, among other things, two new human rights. First, the right not to be measured, analyzed or coached. People must have the right not to be surveilled or covertly influenced, and to evade continuous algorithmic analysis. Secondly, the right to meaningful human contact within caregiving. Robots should not replace human relationships but improve them, whether we are talking about care for the elderly or the upbringing of children. Already-existing rights and duties should be put into practice in everyday lifeso that technological citizens can count themselves truly protected. We wonder whether the current Dutch supervisory authorities are really able to carry out their missionand whether their mandate is truly adequate. The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights pays little attention to the question of how digitalization can place human rights under pressure. The Dutch Data Protection Authority is given little scope to look at collective values other than privacy.

Second, a social debate over the impact of new technologies is necessary. While civil society is strongly organized to address environmental problems, the Netherlands still has few established social organizations willing to enter into a critical discussion about the new intimate technology revolution, except in relation to privacy and security. Meanwhile, we ought to be asking questions regarding which collective human values we wish to guarantee in our intimately technological society. If we don’t debate these issues at this early stage, we effectively leave the course of technological advancement to the engineers, to the market, and to individual choice. Pessers warns for the collective effect of individual self-determination, which society stealthily confronts with a fait accompli, without any democratic debate. For example, in the case of prenatal diagnostics, the abortion of a number of children with Down syndrome doesn’t change society. But if that starts to happen on a mass scale, it raises the question of whether we really want a society entirely without people with Down syndrome.

If we don’t debate these issues at this early stage, we effectively leave the course of technological advancement to the engineers, to the market, and to individual choice.

Politics and government are called upon to take the lead in the debate and the administrative handling of the intimate technology revolution. Nevertheless, there is at this moment no broad political vision addressing the impact of technology on our being and the current political debate is driven largely by random incidents. For such a vision, further knowledge development is necessary. When it comes to our natural environment, the central concept is ecological sustainability. It required many years and the discovery of new knowledge to give qualitative and quantitative meaning to this concept. We think that in the debate over the relation between technology and humanity, the concept of “human sustainability” must play a central role. Human sustainability means the preservation of human individuality: what aspects of humanity and our being-human do we see as malleable, and which do we want to preserve? Think for example of the desire to keep our empathetic capacities working at a high level, or to have children born from a real mother, not an artificial womb. Concepts such as human dignity and human sustainability require much greater research and consideration.

Finally, citizens must be able to trust that user interests come first when businesses develop new technological products. The increasing fusion between people and technology forces us to keep in mind the values and norms that we design into products and computer coding. On the subject of privacy, academics have argued for years that organizations should pay attention to privacy measures and data minimization when developing information systems. Privacy by design has become a core principle of new European privacy regulations. Privacy-oriented technology is an example of the broader concept of value-sensitive design, which attempts to incorporate not only privacy but a broad range of relevant collective values, including basic human rights, into the development of technology.

This article is republished from NextNature by Ira van Keulen and Rinie van Est, Rathenau Instituut, under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. This essay has been previously published by the Hans van Mierlo Foundation, a scientific think tank related to the Dutch democratic liberal party (D66).

Source: https://thenextweb.com/syndication/2020/01/08/before-we-augment-people-with-tech-well-need-proper-rules/

06 Jan 2020

Tech trends 2020: New spacecraft and bendy screens

If your ambition is to fly into space – and you’ve got plenty of spare cash – then 2020 could be an exciting year.

If space travel is not really your thing, but you would like a much bigger screen on your mobile phone, then 2020 might also have some tech for you.

But if you think there are already too many phones out there and the technology industry needs to be less wasteful, well some tech companies might catch up with your thinking.

Here’s a little taster of what might be coming in the next twelve months.

Crewed space missions

2020 is going to be a “pivotal year” for space travel, according to Guy Norris, a senior editor at Aviation Week & Space Technology.

Since Nasa retired the Space Shuttle in 2011, the US has relied on Russian spacecraft to transport astronauts to the International Space Station.

That could all change in 2020 when, if all goes to plan, two US-built spacecraft should start carrying crew.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, which can carry up to seven astronauts into orbit, is due for its first test flight today before the first manned flight, likely to be in 2020.

Meanwhile the SpaceX Dragon capsule will go through some final tests in early 2020, and if they all go well then it too would be ready for a crewed mission.

Other systems, designed to reach near-Earth space, could also reach milestones in 2020. Blue Origin, owned by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, could be ready to take tourists on its New Shepard suborbital rocket.

Virgin Galactic could also be ready in 2020 to take passengers into space, more than a decade later than founder Richard Branson originally hoped.

It’s reported that more than 600 people have put down deposits for a Virgin Galactic flight, with tickets costing $250,000 (£195,000).

“It’s finally delivery time for a lot of these long promised programmes and a chance for a whole range of technologies to really prove themselves for the first time,” says Mr Norris.

Technology and the environment

Protests by Extinction Rebellion have helped move climate change up the agenda for technology companies.

Among those that will be under pressure are mobile phone makers. It’s estimated there are 18 billion phones lying around unused worldwide. With around 1.3 billion phones sold in 2019, that number is growing all the time.

Mobile phone makers will be under pressure to make their production processes greener and their phones more easily repairable.

The same will go for the makers of other consumer goods including TVs, washing machines and vacuum cleaners.

Also watch the companies that provide mobile phone services. Vodafone has already promised that in the UK by 2023 its networks will all run on sustainable energy sources. Others are likely to follow suit.

Business travel is under pressure as well. Ben Wood, an analyst at CCS Insight says it will become “socially unacceptable” to fly around the world for meetings and firms will switch to virtual meetings.

There could also be green initiatives from the cloud computing industry as well. Their facilities which house thousands of computer servers use huge amounts of power.

Flexible displays

The launch of Samsung’s first foldable phone in April did not go smoothly. Several reviewers broke the screens and the company had to make some rapid improvements before it went on sale in September.

Motorola had a more successful launch of its new Razr, although some reviewers complained about the price. But this is unlikely to hold the market back. Samsung is expected to launch other devices with flexible displays next year – possibly a tablet.

TCL, the second biggest maker of TVs in China, has also promised to launch its first mobile foldable device in 2020 and then other products quickly after that.

It is betting big on the market, having invested $5.5bn in developing flexible displays.

Analysts say that screens will be incorporated into all sorts of surfaces. Smart speakers might have wrap-around displays, watch-like devices will have straps with displays and fridge doors might have large screens.

Super-fast mobile

We can expect the rollout of high-speed mobile phone networks to continue. By the end of 2019 around 40 networks in 22 countries were offering 5G service.

By the end of 2020 that number will have more than doubled to to around 125 operators, says Kester Mann at CCS Insight.

“There could be an interesting development in the way 5G contracts are priced. A 5G contract without a phone will cost around £30 a month and for that you’re likely to get unlimited amounts of data.”

But analysts say that next year we may see prices based on the speed of the service you want – a bit like the way home broadband is already priced.

Vodafone is already offering contracts based on speed in the UK. Also in the UK, the network 3 is likely to push its 5G offering as an alternative to broadband at home, analysts say. That might appeal to people who move around a lot – students for example – and don’t want a fixed line service.

Quantum computing

Will next year be another big one for quantum computing; the technology which exploits the baffling but powerful behaviour of tiny particles such as electrons and photons?

In October Google said that its quantum computer had performed a task in 200 seconds, that the fastest supercomputer would have taken 10,000 years to complete. There was some quibbling over its achievement, but experts say it was a big moment.

“It’s a fantastic milestone,” says Philipp Gerbert, a member of the deep tech group at consultancy firm BCG: “It’s clear they exceeded the classical computer, by what margin you can debate. They disproved some lingering doubts.”

Mr Gerbert thinks other leaders in the field – IBM, Rigetti and IonQ – could also clear that hurdle: “They all have excellent teams, one or two will reach a similar stage over the next year.”

Once the technology is proven, quantum computers could spur breakthroughs in chemistry, pharmaceuticals and engineering.

Google has also promised to make its quantum computer available for use by outsiders in 2020, but has not provided any details yet.

“Clearly people would love to get access to that,” Mr Gerbert says.

Source: BBC

05 Jan 2020

Tech Tent – tech trends for 2020

Will we start the journey to a better, kinder internet? Which countries are best placed to win the AI race? And should Ivanka Trump be speaking at a tech show? Just some of the questions we address in the first edition of Tech Tent this year.

Last month, the creator of the World Wide Web Sir Tim Berners-Lee, told us of his plan to put it back on the right track. His Contract for the Web aims to get companies, countries and individuals to work together to combat cyber-bullying, misinformation and other online harms.

Catherine Miller of the think tank dot everyone, which describes its mission as championing responsible technology for a fairer future, gives us her assessment of how likely it is that we will make the web a better place in 2020. She stresses that better regulation will be key, changing the economic incentives that mean the tech giants fight to keep people hooked to their platforms, and reward damaging behaviour.

When it comes to the race to build what is arguably the key technology of our times – artificial intelligence – the consensus has been that the United States is in the lead, but China is catching up fast. Now a new global AI index produced by the online news site Tortoise has come up with a more nuanced picture.

It found that, yes, the US and China were one and two in AI, with the UK in third place. But Alexandra Mousavizadeh, the data scientist who led the project for Tortoise Intelligence, tells us that China was much further behind than they had expected.

It scored well in research and development, but its 18th position in having the people with the right skills held it back. “This race is going to be won in many different ways,” says Ms Mousavizadeh, stressing that the free market bottom-up approach of the US had proved very fruitful so far, but the top-down Chinese strategy also has its strengths.

But she says that around the world a government strategy for developing human capital – “preparing a workforce for working with and being part of AI driven growth” – will be key.

We also look less far ahead – to CES, the huge annual gadget-fest which opens in Las Vegas on Tuesday. No doubt we will see all sorts of products promising to use AI to give consumers better experiences.

But one of the keynote speakers looks likely to provide the biggest headlines from the show. On the opening day, Ivanka Trump will be discussing the future of work in a session with the Consumer Technology Association’s CEO Gary Shapiro. The invitation to the President’s daughter has sparked controversy, especially as female keynote speakers from the tech industry have been thin on the ground in previous years.

Mr Shapiro tells Tech Tent that the show is about more than gadgets. It addresses key issues such as the impact of automation on work – and he says as the co-chair of the American Workforce Advisory Board, Ms Trump has significant things to contribute to this debate.

But back to technology. I have just been looking back at a blogpost I wrote on New Year’s Eve 2009 as I prepared to head off to the 2010 CES in Las Vegas.

I was very excited about a British firm called Plastic Logic that was going to unveil a radical new e-reader. “It could be one of the show’s stand-out products,” I wrote, “or it could end up buried under an avalanche of hype about a forthcoming rival device from a better-known firm.”

That rival device turned out to be Apple’s iPad, unveiled later that month, and Plastic Logic’s Que device did indeed end up dead and buried.

So, expect to see some startling new products emerging from Las Vegas in the next few days – we are promised a talking frying-pan and a self-driving sofa – but world-changing devices are few and far between, and are likely to be unveiled elsewhere.

Source: BBC