• Five crazy tech products that might make it to your boardroom

 

It's the start of the year and it's time to stop thinking about everyday technology and instead dream about someday technologies. These five technologies aren't ready for prime-time today, but Silicon Valley's best and brightest fully expect us to be using tomorrow. Or maybe in a few thousand tomorrows.

Quantum computing

No, this doesn't mean IT departments where the budgets are very small. Quantum computing is a new way of doing calculations that relies on quantum entanglement. This scientific concept sees subatomic quantum particles affect each other in weird ways. Quantum computers use these particles to create quantum bits (qubits). These replace the digital bits that computer chips represent as electrical impulses.

These entangled bits enable quantum computers to perform traditional calculations far faster than conventional ones. Once mastered, the concept could make it possible to crack the digital codes that protect all our modern data (and our bitcoin wallets). Estimates vary, but it could hit the mainstream anywhere from five years hence. Today's qubits must run at super-low temperatures to operate, so making this concept commercially available is an uphill struggle.

Digital humans and conversational AI

Digital humans are versions of people that seem real. They can take the form of 3D avatars or simple text-based chatbots, but the key is that they must be able to pass for someone in the real world. Most chatbots today don't have strong enough conversational AI to do that, and even digital assistants like Siri and Alexa stumble pretty regularly.

In the future, analysts hope that these could create licensed personas for use by brands. Imagine Boris Johnson's disembodied voice handling your customer support, for example. Actually, maybe don't.

Metaverse meetings

Metaverses are the latest buzzword to hit Silicon Valley (again), and Facebook has just bet the farm on the concept. A metaverse is essentially a virtual world in which you can meet up with other people, interact, and even trade things. Linden Labs was doing this 15 years ago with Second Life, which plateaued and now has a steady population of users.

Now, because firing employees over Zoom conferences isn't bad enough, companies want us to hold metaverse meetings. Facebook launched Horizon Workrooms, an app that brings colleagues into a virtual reality meeting. We're not sure this will fly in Blighty, where we're a bit more down to earth. In any case, most of us maintain that Bob from accounts hasn't got a clue which reality he's in anyway.

Augmented reality

Talking of reality, advocates of augmented reality (AR) are touting it as the next big hope for business and consumer applications alike. This superimposes computer-generated text and images atop real-world video, aligning the two together. It's also known as mixed reality, which fits perfectly because it's delivered mixed results. Google tried it with Google Glass but had to refocus on the consumer market after too much pushback. Microsoft has dabbled with its Hololens and mixed reality products, but with little real success.

Apple has been pushing AR for years on its iOS devices, and will likely launch an AR headset next year. Perhaps that will rekindle a resurgence in this space, but it's difficult to know what business users who aren't engineers or technicians will do with them. Virtual ping-pong across the desk, perhaps?

Brain-computer interfaces

The idea of making computers interact directly with the brain has been around in sci-fi for years (see 'Total Recall' and 'The Matrix') for examples. Now, people are doing it for real with brain-computer interfaces (BCIs).

Some focus on enabling people to control devices ranging from computer displays to drones using just their thoughts, and these have great potential for people with disabilities. Others are exploring concepts such as monitoring people to detect excessive stress or cognitive workload, or to communicate silently using thoughts (in other words, telepathy).

You can see where this has appeal in the office. When your boss expects you to know what they're thinking, you might have a fighting chance. On the other hand, your boss might suddenly realise what you're really thinking, which could be dangerous. The most dangerous thing of all though is that Elon Musk's Neuralink project has already demonstrated BCIs in practice. Do you really want Elon Musk in your head? The only thing worse would be spending time in Elon Musk's head.

Don't worry about any of these just yet. Many of us will probably retire before they make the mainstream. In the meantime, the constant support calls about password resets and PCs that won't boot properly make this all look a little futuristic. First things first, eh? Happy holidays!



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