What I really enjoy doing is keeping up with the latest trends in technology. Technology is a very broad term which plays a part in pretty much every part of our lives. As a GIS software engineer, I keep up with the latest SDKs from Esri. But also the latest in various programming languages, web based technologies, and a host of other random topics such as; self driving cars & smart roads, artificial intelligence, machine learning and quantum computing. This article will explore and inform you about these new world changing technologies.
First let’s step out of the comfortable GIS and mainstream technology world and take a look at quantum computing! You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Say what?” It’s Ok, this stuff is for real. Quantum computing was first conceptualized in the early 80s and only recently have researchers been making real progress and technological advances. Quantum computing is based off of the rules of quantum mechanics which means these computers run off the power of nature and being able to manipulate that world to process information. At a high level it works by “entangling” particles together. Once entangled the particles can share information instantly. There seems to be no bounds as to the distance of these particles where they share information instantly which Einstein calls “spooky action at a distance.”
Currently most of our desktop computers are still more powerful than the existing quantum computers that have been built, but many believe that quantum powered machines will be multitudes ahead of any existing computer power we currently have in the next 10 – 20 years. Here’s a quick overview of the quantum computing landscape:
- IBM offers a cloud based API into a quantum computer. This has limited capabilities and limited resources but is a good proving ground for quantum computing algorithms.
- Google, Microsoft and a host of other technology companies have large research teams dedicated to progressing quantum computing technology. Some believe Microsoft is on the forefront of this research. Microsoft recently announced they made a breakthrough in quantum computing technology that potentially can use over 1 million quibits (the current computer that IBM has available is running 20 quibits).
- Microsoft offers an extension for Visual Studio to write code for a quantum computer. A new programming language name Q# has been created by Microsoft that interacts with either their cloud based API, or the quantum simulator that can be ran on 32+ gig memory machines.
- The Chinese government is said to have an unlimited budget to fund quantum computing research and build quantum computers.
Quantum computers hope to solve some of the world most complex problems that are not possible to solve with our current computing technology. The possibilities are very exciting as we could potentially come up with technologies that could solve many of the earth’s largest challenges that are a result of our constant growing population.
Don’t expect quantum based computers to hit the mainstream anytime soon as they are extremely difficult to build, operate, and write software for. For instance, for a quantum computer to work properly it must be an environment that is cooled to near absolute zero. I wouldn’t want that processor on my smart watch! This should be a very interesting technology to keep an eye on going forward as more technological breakthroughs are announced.
Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence
The rise of the machines is upon us. Many fear that computers will get smart enough to fend for themselves and realize that humans are just getting in the way of total world domination! If you’ve seen Terminator or The Matrix you may agree. Elon Musk (founder of Tesla and SpaceX) has been outspoken on this topic has recently formed a new company that is creating technology that will augment our brains allowing our brains to be plug and play with knowledge and enhanced memory. Scary stuff!
“In order to continue technological advances and keep up with artificial intelligence, we need to augment our own human intelligence” – Elon Musk
I’m not sure how many of us will be signing up to put a micro chip into our brains, but maybe once people see the new abilitiesthey can have it will be a hit. Remains to be seen. Evidently this new brain microchip technology is about 4 years out.
Besides new brain enhancing micro chips, what else is driving the advances in artificial intelligence?
The biggest tech companies in the world are putting a lot of money into machine learning technology. This space will continue to make big strides throughout 2018. Cloud hosting companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Google are putting artificial intelligence (AI) into most all of their mainstream products and also offering APIs to access their AI technology to build solutions of your own.
A lot of what is driving AI is data. We are adding more and more data everyday through most of our daily routine. We turn on our TV and our cable provider knows what we’re watching. We use apps on our phone and the app providers track our usage. All of these daily activities add up to a lot of data, and companies are working to make sense of it and use it to make predictions. Theselarge collections of data are sometimes referred to as data lakes. Cloud services such as Microsoft’s Azure Data Lake service are designed to help companies make sense of all the data they’re collecting.
A lake of data basically means you have a bunch of data that you need to put somewhere, and the technologies are now here to make sense of it all and drive AI.
Smart Roads and Self Driving Cars
The combination of smart roads and self driving cars hope to yield huge productivity gains and energy savings for our society. Most of us have heard of self driving cars. Some newer cars have some of this technology built in already where the car will drive itself on a highway if it can detect the painted lines on the road. Uber and Lyft have visions of offering rides for people without a human driver involved. Trucking is one of the most dangerous professions and having that freight transportation automated would add a lot of efficiencies to the overall freight delivery infrastructure.
Besides self driving cars potentially making our lives more productive, smart roads promise to make our transportation efforts better as well.
The combination of smart roads and self driving cars hope to yield huge productivity gains and energy savings for our society.
Self driving cars always have their eyes on the road, and have instant access to traffic and weather data. Self driving cars, sinceoperated by a computer, remove the inefficiencies of humans driving (we all know what these are) and will operate themselves at optimal speeds and driving routes.
Smart roads can offer the following: Solar powered lit lane lines and peripheral lighting. Sensors that monitor traffic across a wide range of roads that can potentially dictate traffic lights and even speed limits. Imagine a speed limit that changes based on the traffic load and weather!
In combination with self driving cars and smart roads the roads could communicate with the cars and offer the car suggestions to help regulate their speed. And if the speed limit is dynamic, the self driving cars would be aware of that speed limit automatically.
Smart roads can also be designed to power electric vehicles through solar panels built into the road. The energy can be transferred while the vehicle is parked but also potentially while the vehicle is driving. Vehicles built in the future will need to be designed with this type of energy transfer potential in mind.
A year from now, heading into 2019, it will be interesting to see how far we’ve come with these technologies. If history is a guide, advances will likely come faster than originally thought possible but as we’ve also seen from the past, even though a certain technology is available and viable, doesn’t mean society is ready to embrace it yet. The companies that are pushing the limits on these technical innovations are the biggest and most profitable companies the world has ever seen, therefore I wouldn’t bet against a pretty spectacular innovative 2018 and beyond.