Geoffrey Dohrmann, founder and CEO of Institutional Real Estate, Inc., parent company of this magazine, once said during a Dohrmann Report podcast interview: “We all say we like change, but we like the change we initiate, not the change we are victim to. Change by definition means we must learn something new, and that means we are temporarily incompetent, and we don’t like the feeling of being incompetent.”
And one of the changes continually foist upon us with metronomic regularity is the march of technology. Introduce a new technology, and the contours of life and business change. That means entire industries shift and change and, sometimes, collapse over time.
But for alert investors, the creative destruction wrought by advancing technologies smell of opportunities. With that in mind, EY produced a megatrends report highlighting four transformation technologies to which people should pay heed and benefit from the new opportunities they create, or risk becoming victim to changes too dramatic to ignore or attempt to brush off. Those technologies — quantum computing, brain/machine interfaces, space commercialization, and transportation drones — are imminent and their impact will be monumental. Here is a capsule version of what EY had to say about each.
By exploiting the behavior of atomic and subatomic particles, quantum computers will perform computation significantly faster and more efficiently than today’s most powerful supercomputers. Quantum computing is now moving from theory to application. After decades of research, meaningful progress in the past few years has brought a basic form of quantum computing out of the labs. Cloud-based platforms are even making these capabilities broadly available to average users. Increasing investment from technology companies and governments, coupled with the progress being made by a clutch of venture capital-funded startups, have collectively raised public hopes of a forthcoming quantum revolution.
Quantum computers promise to tackle a variety of problems intractable for computing today, from precisely simulating molecular interactions to discovering new drugs, materials and environmentally friendly chemicals, to solving complex optimization problems such as city traffic management or modeling risk across large financial portfolios. Indeed, quantum computing will be game-changing for any data and computation-intensive company.
However, today’s quantum computers are rudimentary; they are neither scalable nor stable. The slightest disturbance from the external environment — called “noise” in the quantum world — could cause computational errors. Although noise mitigation strategies exist, they levy a large computational burden, defeating the speed and efficiency promise of quantum.
Further, quantum computing demands an entirely new approach to computation-based problem-solving, requiring very specialized knowledge and skills. Truly harnessing its power will require democratizing access by developing hardware-agnostic software languages, algorithms, measurement standards and a whole host of yet-to-be invented tools.
Overcoming this trinity of challenges — scalability, stability and programmability — will almost certainly signal a true tipping point for quantum computing’s viability.
Brain/machine interfaces (BMIs) connect the human brain and nervous system directly to computing devices and digital information. Form factors range from wearables to surgical implants. The ultimate vision is enabling bi-directional flow of information: “reading” or interpreting neural signals, allowing users to control computing devices, and “writing” or relaying external information directly to the brain.
BMIs are not entirely new. They have a long history in clinical applications, such as cochlear implants for the hearing impaired or neuro-prosthetic limbs for the paralyzed. But now, progress in neuroscience, nano-
technology and artificial intelligence is unlocking new nonclinical opportunities, enabling even able-bodied individuals to augment their cognitive faculties.
Imagine a workforce that can be upskilled and reskilled at the same pace as technological and market changes. Or knowing your customers’ neurological responses to a new product or service, enabling you to take personalization to a whole new level. Surely, every company could benefit from such capabilities.
Although the field continues to make progress, hurdles remain. Invasive surgical implants are risky, and healthy individuals may not opt for one. Less invasive wearables on the head or elsewhere are not yet powerful enough to detect the high-resolution neural signals that would enable complex applications like flying a drone or virtual gaming. Significant training is required for even today’s most sophisticated BMIs to reliably function and complete tasks intended by the user. Lastly, with 100 billion neurons and 500 trillion connections, picking up the relevant signals from the extraneous noise in the brain is no easy feat.
Historically, accessing space was an expensive endeavor dominated by a few countries. Now, new technologies and private companies are upending the economics of rocket launches, and democratizing access like never before. As a result, companies now have the ability to launch satellites and acquire new capabilities from tracking shipments to precision farming and predicting retail sales and more.
Bolstered by this success, private space companies and national space agencies are teaming up to achieve even more ambitious plans. For instance, some are pursuing space-based manufacturing, while others are assessing the viability of asteroid mining, which could mitigate the depletion of Earth’s natural resources. There are also efforts under way to make humanity a multi-planetary species, and enable space tourism.
Investment in the space sector and public-
private partnerships continue to gather momentum, but what does this mean for your industry, and how might it impact your business?
In a time where customers are demanding more transparency, geospatial data showing ethical and sustainable sourcing of raw materials for products could bolster company reputation and trust. Similarly, satellites can now monitor the health of physical infrastructure such as gas pipelines, identify mineral deposits, and track deforestation and carbon emissions. These new sources of data can help companies fine-tune their strategies, improve efficiency and track their carbon footprint more reliably. Moreover, as a growing number of satellite internet constellations are launched, they will provide companies access to billions of new customers.
Looking further out, microgravity labs, space tourism, asteroid mining and the colonization of other worlds will open new opportunities for sectors ranging from pharmaceuticals to hospitality as well as advertising to retail and more.
However, entering this new space age will require overcoming significant challenges. Besides the technological and biological limitations of deep space travel, there are more near-term risks. With millions of debris objects in space and the increase in satellite launches, any accident could trigger a cascade of collisions, making space prohibitively hazardous and halting exploration for decades. In addition, high-resolution satellites planned for Earth observation and imagery will be powerful enough to see the detail of a person’s face from space.
Startups as well as incumbents in the aviation and automotive sectors are looking to expand drone capabilities to transporting people, not just goods. With cities such as Singapore and Dubai aiming to be the first to offer an aerial robo-taxi service, sci-fi visions of flying cars might be on the horizon.
Along with reducing commute times, improving productivity and lowering air pollution, passenger and cargo drones will have far-reaching implications for nearly every company. Business leaders across industries will need to ask themselves how this new mode of transportation will impact their operations, business models, customer experience and more.
For instance, architects would need to include vertical take-off and landing pads, charging docks and parking spaces in their designs. New building construction materials will be needed to enable wireless signals that are crucial for drone navigation and communication systems. Similarly, businesses ranging from insurance and advertising to fast food and more will need to rethink how they might serve customers riding or offering aerial transport services.
However, several technological and regulatory barriers will need to be overcome for transportation drones to become part of our aerial landscape. Companies developing these drones have to overcome battery limitations and build in safety systems as well as design elements to instill trust to fuel customer adoption. Governments will need to institute regulations including vehicle requirements, social “driving” norms, and safety standards — as well as create some form of monitoring to ensure compliance.
COVID-19 has shown that we need to be prepared for the unexpected. It has reinforced that understanding emerging issues is critical, but so too is identifying disruptive forces that have potential to significantly transform business models and spawn entirely new industries. Technological breakthroughs in quantum computing, transportation drones, space commercialization and brain/machine interfaces signal that disruption is ahead. Not monitoring their progress could be a very costly mistake.
Download the complete EY report at this link: https://go.ey.com/2I5iRd8
Mike Consol (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editor of Real Assets Adviser. Follow him on Twitter @mikeconsol to read his latest postings.