Amazing Things are Happening

The positive impact of technological advances

It is an amazing time to be a citizen of the world. Breakthroughs in technology are having a profound effect on our lives. Gene editing is redefining the prevention of disease and extending our life expectancy, quantum computing is available in the cloud, 3D metal printing could replace mass production and new techniques in AI are giving computers imagination and automating many aspects of our lives.

I have been in the software industry for 30 years and I’ve never seen changes like the ones that are happening today. Technology is pushing the limits on our abilities to impact our lives (mostly) for the good. Here are just a few examples of awe-inspiring technological advances that could change our lives in dramatic ways.

Impacting our Lives in Varied and Dramatic Ways

A startup in the U.S. is working on a way to print 3D hearts using an MRI scan of the patient’s heart and a blood sample. Blood cells are converted into heart cells and fed into a 3D printer. The 3D printed heart mimics the structure, property and look and feel of a “normal” heart. Liver tissue is being reproduced in a similar fashion. We are experiencing a global shortage of organs available for lifesaving transplants. The concept of bio-printing, or the ability to three-dimensionally (3D) print living tissue and organs, could save hundreds of thousands of lives every year.

In manufacturing, 3D metal printing will change how we manufacture goods. Print-on-demand of large parts could become a reality, replacing mass production and reducing the requirement for factories to maintain large inventories. Along with the ability to reproduce parts for less money, 3D metal printing also has the potential to produce more intricate, complex and higher performing, customized parts. As 3D metal printing becomes more common, software is already being developed to generate 3D print-ready designs.

Over the last year, there have been breakthroughs in CRISPR (a technology for targeted gene editing) and CAR T-cell therapy to help combat diseases like Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and advanced lymphomas. Over the next decade, technologies like these that enable gene editing will help us live longer, healthier and happier lives. Research has been driven by supercomputers, clinical trials and research, and these technologies are laying a path to cure everything from influenza to cancers, including leukemia.

Any discussion around technological breakthrough has to include at least one reference to artificial intelligence (AI). Dueling neural networks are being developed with the ability to spar. Simplified mathematical models of the human brain square off in a game that gives AI the ability to imagine and then generate images. Because it is an example of AI making sense of the world around it, this has been hailed as one of the most promising advances in AI in the past decade.

On the consumer front, Amazon announced the opening of its first physical grocery store, Amazon Go, in January of 2018. The shopping experience is fully AI-powered and automated. Shoppers scan their smartphone at a turnstile, cameras and sensors track the items they purchase and they are billed after leaving the store, based on stored credit card information. No cash, no checkout lines and no human cashiers required.

Quantum computing is now available as a cloud service. The IBM Q systems is available online to clients who have a 20 Qubit processor. The amount of time it takes to perform quantum computations is 90 microseconds. IBM has also built a prototype 50 Qubit processor. This is extreme computing, powered by the amazing capabilities of quantum computing and the Qubit.

Advances in digital technology are changing the way we live and work. Inside the Intelligent and Connected Enterprise, specific jobs will be automated for efficiency and productivity gains. The Changying Precision Technology Company (also known as China’s “unmanned factory”) in Shenzhen replaced 600 human assembly line workers with 60 robots. This resulted in a fivefold reduction in errors along with a 250% increase in production.

These are all snapshots of the amazing places that technology can take us. I for one, am optimistic about how we can use technology for the good (more on that later).

At the same time, however, technology can also be used to do bad (and even stranger) things. This is the topic of my next blog in this series.

Mark Barrenechea

Mark J. Barrenechea is OpenText's Vice Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer. A prominent thought leader, he has extensive experience in information technology and his vision is to enable the digital world to help transform organizations.

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