05. January 2020 · Comments Off on Top 10 emerging technologies in 2020 · Categories: Uncategorized

As we enter a new decade, The Telegraph’s technology writers bring you their predictions for the year ahead.

The smart home becomes unavoidable

Have you tried to buy a TV that doesn’t come with an internet connection recently? Or a Hi-Fi system? This year, expect the same for lightbulbs, alarm systems and thermostats.

The smart home has been a concept for over a decade now, but for much of that time automated lighting, power systems and appliances have been too expensive, bulky and unreliable to attract anyone but the most dedicated technophiles.

That has changed in the last couple of years, as designs have improved and prices have rapidly fallen. Today, smart plugs and bulbs can be bought for less than a tenner, and new houses are being bought with smart home systems already in place. Before long, having a smart home – like having a smartphone – won’t be a matter of choice.

Why? Costs are falling rapidly thanks to economies of scale, home internet connections are getting faster, and major tech companies – in particular Amazon and Google – are investing heavily in the space.

Why not? Smart home security continues to be a nightmare, particularly at the cheaper end of the market. Although consumers have often been willing to sacrifice privacy for convenience, high-profile hacks could make them think twice.

James Titcomb

Our virtual doppelgangers

How many of us have imaged having a doppelganger? Not an evil one that wrecks our relationships and credit scores but a helpful one, who shares our life, pursues our goals and gives us an extra pair of hands to work with.

The number is potentially quite high, which is why we should all be paying attention to automated responses. Google’s “Smart Compose” email suggestions are now common, and may be subtly reshaping how we write.

Predictive text is increasingly bold in interpreting what we “really” want to say. More and more writing tools boast automatic word completion; Google continues to work on artificial intelligence software that handles phone calls on its users’ behalf; a start-up called Scribeless writes AI-generated handwritten letters.

This year this technology will become more capable and independent, evolving ever closer to the fantasy of the helpful double.

Why? For many people, the convenience of streamlining our responses to the tide of emails, texts and calendar invitations that washes over us every day will be too tempting to ignore. 

Why not? Machine learning is hardly perfect, and some AI scientists think it may soon “hit a wall”. Many consumers will be nervous about outsourcing their responses too much, and there will be ethical debate about whether it is a sign of disrespect. Privacy laws may also limit how closely third-party AI can integrate with the online tools we use every day.

Laurence Dodds

Electric SUVs

There was a time when electric cars were all tiny bubble-shaped contraptions, easy to park but better at burnishing your green credentials than actually driving very far. Then Tesla came along, and made them sleek, cool and sexy. The next stage? Practicality. 

Long the scourge of the green lobby, the SUV dominates the US market and is growing in popularity in Europe. Car manufacturers have sold millions of the larger vehicles, particularly with families. But not many of them have gone electric. 

That’s about to change. Tesla already released one electric SUV, the Model X (though some have argued that it’s more of a minivan or a crossover vehicle) and is planning to release another, the Model Y, next year. It has also unveiled the Cybertruck, which is divisively designed but has practical credentials. Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, due to be released next autumn in the US and Europe, is also an SUV. 

Why? Government incentives mean more companies are going down the electric route. Heavy batteries and high development costs mean big, luxury cars will go electric first. 

Why not? Two words: range anxiety. If you buy a rugged, practical car you probably want to drive it further than the supermarket, and you definitely don’t it stuck on the side of the road miles from the nearest charger. 

Olivia Rudgard

Fintech goes beyond the bank

The rising popularity of digital banking apps such as Monzo and Revolut is well-known, but a series of other start-ups are seeking to apply the same template to the rest of finance. 

What about managing your pension through an app? Or your home insurance? How about using open banking to get a mortgage faster? British start-ups are tackling all of these ideas – and investors who missed out on backing the first challenger banks are eagerly funding this next wave of fintech businesses.

Bank customers may not even know that their money is ever touching algorithms developed by start-ups. ComplyAdvantage, one British start-up, has developed compliance technology for big banks to use. And M:QUBE is behind new technology for mortgage brokers.

Why? Challenger banks have shown that customers can overcome the so-called “trust gap” and hand over their bank details to small companies without high street branches. The same technology could now help them to keep the rest of their finances in order.

Why not? Chances are, most people don’t actively monitor their mortgage or pension to see if they’re getting the best deal. It’s all well and good releasing an app which makes everything more efficient, but these start-ups won’t take off if they can’t reach customers and persuade them to sign up.

James Cook

The cryptocurrency comeback

Cryptocurrency is looking a little old now. Bitcoin was launched in 2009, so what is it doing on this list? 

Well, while Bitcoin and Ethereum may have failed to take off, aside from their surge in 2017 driven by speculators and market manipulators, cryptocurrency may finally be about to hit the mainstream.

Libra, Facebook’s digital currency project, is pegged for a launch at some point in 2020. The cryptocurrency, which will run on using blockchain-like technology used on Bitcoin, is expected to feature on Facebook’s apps as a way to send and receive money. 

It could be huge and disruptive. Central banks are even fretting it could threaten the dominance of sovereign currencies, should Facebook release its own Zuck-buck on the world.

Why? Facebook could launch Libra to more than 2bn people in a fell swoop using its combination of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram apps, potentially bringing online payments to people who are otherwise unbanked.

Why not? Facebook has hardly had a great 2019 and 2020 may be worse still as regulators circle Potential partners have also pulled out of its Libra organisation, weakening its hand.

Matthew Field

Biological machine learning

Is biology a technology? The somewhat counterintuitive answer is, of course. The cells in our bodies may not come with silicon chips but in many cases they combine to far more graceful, efficient and powerful effect than any computer. 

No wonder, then that biotechnology is a boom area. While mother nature has already come up with countless molecules that can cure disease, and man has identified them and called them medicines, there are billions of molecular variables that might have a beneficial effect.

The problem has been working out which. But now that machine learning is able to crunch through the vast possibilities, however, the era of “generative biology” is upon us.

Why? The field is perfectly placed to benefit from the extraordinary rise in machine learning capabilities. Google’s Deepmind has developed AlphaFold, an algorithm dedicated to protein structure, opening a path to creating bespoke proteins with bespoke therapeutic functions lies open.   

Why Not? Machine learning always appears barely applicable to many scientific fields – until it isn’t. The great leap forward could arrive tomorrow, or in a decade.

Harry de Quetteville

The smart speaker backlash

Smart speakers have been around for years, so are hardly a new trend. But they are one to watch this year not because they’re likely to be a major seller. They’re one to watch because the opposite may be true and 2020 could bring with it a backlash against smart speakers.

It is thought that around one in five homes across the UK have a smart speaker now. That’s just under 6 million households. 

But, according to a recent study, around 41pc of people who own a smart speaker are worried about their privacy with the devices, amid fears they are passively listening. Such concerns have only spiralled over the last year on reports that workers are being given access to voice clips to help improve tech firms’ systems.

We may have already brought smart speakers into our homes – but this year we may be taking them out again.

Why? Data privacy is a major hot topic in Europe at the moment. Politicians across the spectrum have voiced concern over whether users’ privacy is at risk. It’s likely such concerns will seep through to the public, prompting people to stop using their smart speakers. 

Why not? Smart speakers are undeniably useful. People may be concerned about privacy – but for some people, they’d rather have an easier life. 

Hannah Boland

Solid-state batteries

It was a tough year for Britain’s electric vehicles industry. Dyson’s electric vehicle project was scrapped, while the UK was snubbed by Tesla boss Elon Musk, who opted for Germany instead as his site for a European gigafactory.

But at the start of a decade that is expected to see a surge in electric vehicles, innovation in battery technologies will be taken up a gear. 

In particular, one form of battery technology expected to see greater attention is solid-state. Compared to lithium-ion, the current standard being used in electric vehicles, solid-state cuts out the flammability risk of current batteries while potentially offering a greater range.

Dyson’s £1bn set aside for electric vehicles will now be pumped into its battery research facility – which has already received £1bn of investment. Meanwhile universities up and down the country are aiming to take solid-state batteries out of the lab and into people’s cars. 

Why? To encourage mass adoption of electric vehicles, the vehicles themselves will need to prove that they can meet people’s expectations on the safety front and help them get over the bump of range anxiety. 

Why not? Lithium-ion batteries are already being mass-produced with new factories popping up across the world. Economies of scale may just dictate that lithium-ion remains the kingmaker. 

Hasan Chowdhury

The new Dr Google

Google has made some impressive leaps in artificial intelligence, from improvements in its driverless cars to building an assistant for disabled people. But it is the application of machine learning in medical research that has to be its most remarkable achievement this year. 

Chief executive Sundar Pichai announced this year that Google researchers were able to spot lung cancer a year before a doctor. It has also been working on improving symptoms for diabetics, detecting kidney failure and improving skin cancer diagnosis, all by training algorithms on pictures or X-rays. 

These sorts of life-changing technologies could begin to have an impact on British patients as soon as next year. 

Why? In September, Google absorbed the health division of DeepMind, its British artificial intelligence subsidiary which has already begun applying its research. The company is not one to move slowly, so expect it to start pushing forward as quickly as possible.

Why not? Public concerns may put the brakes on any British projects. When Google announced it would be absorbing DeepMind in September, there was widespread concern over whether Google could be trusted with patient data.

Margi Murphy

The next round of the video game console wars

The booming £110bn gaming market continues to grow and, while half of its revenues are made up by mobile gaming, the traditional blockbuster hardware battle is alive and well.

In 2020, Microsoft will release its next-generation Xbox -headlined by the Series X to go head-to-head with Sony’s PlayStation 5. While in many ways this will seem like the traditional console war – with the two gaming behemoths squaring up on teraflops of power, load-time busting SSD drives and exclusive line-ups-  there is also the potential for disruption from other quarters.

Interest in cloud streaming services – allowing users to play blockbuster games on phones and tablets without dedicated hardware – may heat up as the more established players come to the fore. Microsoft will launch its own Project Xcloud to face-off against Google’s Stadia, while PlayStation’s Now is likely to be beefed up in time for the PS5.

Quite how much impact cloud gaming can have in the face of shiny new hardware remains to be seen, but the biggest change could come from publishers committing to Netflix style subscription services rather than players buying individual games for £50 a pop.

Why? Simply put, it is time for a new round of hardware. The current Xbox One and PS4 will be celebrating their seventh birthday by the time their successors arrive, with dedicated gamers hungry for more advanced hardware.

Why not? The popularity of cloud gaming is harder to predict. Google Stadia launched to a lukewarm reception, but Xcloud is likely to be a more robust offering. It seems inevitable that streaming will eventually be the future for video games, but our bet is on dedicated hardware to remain king for a while yet.

Tom Hoggi

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