We live in a digital world. But while everyone uses technology, not everyone understands it. When techie types get together and start talking, do you feel a little lost, like they’re speaking a foreign language? You’re not alone – and we’re here to help. Here are 10 hot technologies you should know, explained so you can join in the conversation.
1. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Basic definition in plain English: AI is a branch of computer science that focuses on the creation of “intelligent” machines that work and react like humans. Imagine the imminent advent of self-driving cars, smart enough to simultaneously navigate directions and avoid obstacles, or IBM’s Watson, a cognitive computing capability that collects and analyzes data to help humans make better decisions.
SciFi or real-world? Plenty of fantastic examples of machines taking on human characteristics abound in literature. These are often dystopian depictions, offering cautionary tales for adding to computers that je ne sais quoi, or “special something,” that defines humans. But the reality is that AI is among us – and chances are you’ve been using it without even realizing it. Many websites use AI to power their customer support chat functions, and credit card companies use AI in fraud detection. And, of course, if you’ve ever uttered “Siri,” “OK Google,” or “Alexa” into a device, you’ve interacted with AI.
2. Virtual/Augmented Reality (VR/AR)
Basic definition in plain English: VR and AR are similar, but they are not same. Both create a computer-generated experience, but while AR overlays the digital experience on the user’s real-world environment in real time, VR immerses the user in a completely computer-generated environment.
SciFi or real-world? The 1999 film The Matrix was all about virtual reality (and artificial intelligence, come to think of it) but there’s plenty of VR and AR today, especially in the gaming world. While VR typically requires headsets, if you’ve ever played Pokemon Go, you’ve augmented your reality. And VR/AR offers great promise beyond entertainment for training, R&D and more.
3. Internet of Things (IoT)
Basic definition in plain English: The internet of things is a network of internet-connected physical objects (e.g., smart devices, vehicles, kitchen appliances, heart monitors, etc.) that are able through the use of embedded sensors to collect and exchange data without human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.
SciFi or real-world? Yes, we all joke about connecting the fridge to the internet so it can automatically re-order milk when you run out. But IoT is here and it has a multitude of uses and benefits. Many hotels use IoT to adjust room temperature based on whether someone is in the room, manage the minibar remotely, and even issue room “keys” via smartphone app. And the manufacturing industry is connecting the wide range of sensors and equipment in use today to improve quality and efficiency on factory floors.
4. 3D Printing
Basic definition in plain English: Three-dimensional (or 3D) printing, also sometimes called additive manufacturing (AM), uses computer-aided design (CAD) to create a three-dimensional object by “printing” successive layers of material to create a solid object.
SciFi or real-world? You probably don’t use 3D-printed objects in your everyday life, but you do probably use objects based on 3D-printed prototypes. One disruptive artist has even created a line of 3D-printed jewelry that offers the look and feel of authentic gold and silver metal in a cost-effective, highly repeatable fashion. And while 3D printers used to be incredibly complex and expensive – available only to large corporations – you can buy one today for as little as $400. Of course, that doesn’t include the cost of the plastic filament, which is the standard material used to print. And you thought your printer ink was expensive!
5. Big Data
Basic definition in plain English: Big data refers to the use of very large and/or complex data sets for analysis to uncover trends and patterns. Because of the volume, velocity (speed of data creation and/or transmission) and variety of the data, it can’t be analyzed by humans and requires advanced processing systems.
SciFi or real-world? Thanks to today’s computing power, big data is everywhere. For example, it enables some cities to use real-time traffic information to optimize transportation flows. Some of the biggest, most complex data lives within our bodies, and researchers can now use big data to decode DNA strings in minutes. And you know how Netflix determines which movies to recommend for you? Yup, big data.
Basic definition in plain English: In computing, virtualization is the creation of a virtual, rather than actual, version of something such as a server or storage device. Network virtualization combines hardware and software network resources into a virtual network, which is a software-based administrative entity. Software-defined networking (SDN) is a related set of technologies geared toward giving the benefits of server and storage virtualization to the network. It does this by enabling network administrators to manage traffic as network objects that deploy in a highly automated manner.
SciFi or real-world? As a technology that focuses primarily on the data center and enterprise networking, virtualization isn’t as exciting as some of the others listed here, but it’s incredibly important. It enables organizations to better manage their computing and networking resources and can even help data centers, which consume large amounts of energy, to run more efficiently.
Basic definition in plain English: Mobility means the ability to move or be moved easily. Enterprise mobility refers to the ability for employees to work from anywhere via mobile devices and access to cloud services to complete daily business tasks.
SciFi or real-world? This is another technology that lives squarely in the real world. Laptops, smartphones, and tablets enable us to get email, make and take calls, and generally be as productive outside the office as we are when we are physically at work.
8. Connected Economy
Basic definition in plain English: The traditional “industrial” economy creates value by building stuff. The connected economy, however, generates value through information and application-sharing over networks that connect businesses to each other and to consumers to deliver improved and new products, services, and business models.
SciFi or real-world? Definitely real world. Uber is a great example. The company, which is valued in the billions, doesn’t really offer the transportation service it’s known for – it doesn’t own vehicles or employ drivers. What the company does develop, market, and operate is the app that connects people who need a ride with a network of drivers who operate their own non-commercial vehicles.
9. Gigabit Networking
Basic definition in plain English: First, you need to understand the difference between a gigabit and a gigabyte. You know how people talk about computer 1s and 0s? Those are bits – the most basic unit used in computing and telecommunications. A byte is a group of bits (usually eight) that operate as a unit. Bits are generally used to measure the rate of data transfer (e.g., bandwidth) while bytes describe data capacity (e.g., file size). From there, you simply add on a prefix (kilo-, mega-, etc.) to express the number. A gigabit is one billion bits. Gigabit networking describes the technologies that can transmit data at a rate of one gigabit per second (Gbps).
SciFi or real-world? Gigabit speeds are available today. A true gigabit network requires that every part of the network is gigabit-capable, but if you need to transfer data at screaming-fast rates – especially for the demanding needs of big data, virtual/augmented reality, mobility, etc. – you can.
10. Digital Transformation
Basic definition in plain English: Digital transformation refers to the strategic use of technology to streamline, enhance and improve an organization’s operations and customer experiences. Whereas automation uses technology to perform a process faster and more efficiently, transformation changes the process and enables new ways of doing things that simply weren’t possible before.
SciFi or real-world? Digital transformation is everywhere and it’s the transformative power of technology that makes it so exciting. Even the most mundane of activities can be transformed. Take grocery shopping. Supermarket checkout has been automated for a long time; instead of punching in the price manually, employees simply scan the barcode. The process stayed the same, it just got faster and less prone to human error. But many grocery stores now offer handheld scanners that customers operate themselves, scanning and packing items as they shop – and checkout simply requires payment. This changes the entire shopping experience.
So there you have it. Hopefully, we’ve demystified some of these technologies – and maybe even prompted you to learn more about them.