In this course, we’re going to take a closer look at emerging technologies. Our goal is to give you a clear understanding of what emerging technologies are, the impacts they have, and the challenges and opportunities they present.
Emerging technology is a term generally used to describe a new technology, but it may also refer to the continuing development of an existing technology. It can have slightly different meanings when used in different areas of society, such as media, business, science, the environment or education.
The term commonly refers to technologies that are currently developing or evolving, or that are expected to be available within the next five to ten years. The term is usually reserved for technologies that are creating, or are expected to create, significant social or economic effects. Emerging technologies are characterised by:
radical novelty (offering something new)
relatively fast growth
coherence (technologies that have moved beyond the concept phase)
uncertainty and ambiguity
Many authors and experts debate both the perceived and actual positive and negative effects of emerging technologies on humankind. However, few will deny that, thanks to emerging technologies, 'intelligent enterprises' are reimagining and reinventing the way they do business. Through the use of these emerging tools, these enterprises are advancing their organisations in ways that not only meet their business goals, but also benefit citizens, communities and society.
Moreover, it is generally agreed that emerging technologies can improve people's lives in many ways. Technological advancements can help people complete tasks more efficiently, keep them safer and healthier and also protect the environment. Not all emerging technologies make it past the testing and development stage. However, those that do very often end up revolutionising people's lives and, by extension, the world.
As we further explore and define the emerging tech world (ETW), you’ll find that some of these emerging technologies are not exactly new – they exist and have been known to us for many years. However, it is only now that they have found the ideal maturing context to become truly emerging technologies in the way they impact and change our lives. A clear example is artificial intelligence, which has had a theoretical basis since the 1940s and 1950s – only in the second decade of the 21st century did it find the conditions to very quickly become central to our lives and work.
There are many emerging technologies that can be discussed, but we’ve chosen three technologies in particular because of their relevance, reach and the expected impact they’ll have on our daily lives:
The Internet of Things (IoT): how are smart homes, smart farms, smart schools, smart cities and more made possible by IoT? And how can we take advantage of IoT in our personal and work lives?
Robotics and automation: robots are already all around us in today’s society. But what is a robot? How do they work? Where can they be used and are they safe? And how does the term ‘automation’ relate to robotics?
Extended reality: what are augmented, virtual and mixed reality, how do they work and how can they be used – now and in the future?
The main impacts of emerging technologies today
Whatever the technological transformation, it always has associated impacts on our lives. The current digital transformation and fourth industrial revolution have profoundly transformed some of the principles that have historically guided and defined the horizons of our lives. Our model of life until the end of the 20th century basically comprised three stages: study (school), work (workplace – in principle just one job) and retirement.
The end of jobs for life revolutionises our way of working (we are the last generation to have the notion of a job for life) and requires profound changes in our education systems (such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other online training formats), even if this is not happening at the desired pace and level.
The current reality of the evolving jobs landscape, due in great part to emerging technologies, means that now and in the future, we will study, then get a job, then we will have to learn new competences and acquire new knowledge, then we will work on a new job, which might be completely different from the previous one. The ability to be adaptable and embrace continuous learning throughout our lives will be a critical factor for success in the future of work.
What we can see so far is that present skills have a short life span compared to several decades ago. According to the World Economic Forum, “the days of working for 40 years at one job and retiring with a good pension are gone. Now the average time in a single job is 4.2 years, according to the US. Bureau of Labor Statistics. What’s more, 35% of the skills that workers need — regardless of industry — will have changed by 2020.” (Weforum.org 2017).
In short, we will need to constantly upskill, reskill and retrain in order to thrive in the “digital age”.
More and more skills and certain competences are becoming irrelevant with the fierce acceleration of "new" technologies that are emerging and transforming. Moreover, the pace with which required skills and competences are becoming outdated is also faster, and this applies not only to individuals but also to businesses and other institutions.
In this course we aim to provide you with the information required to understand and examine the opportunities, risks, challenges and possibilities of our three chosen emerging technologies: the Internet of Things, robotics and automation, and extended reality. With this information you will be better able to recognise how you can use them in your own life and in the lives of your fellow citizens at home, at work and at play.