Science and technology trends 2021: Expert forecasts the biggest tech we’ll see this year | Science | News
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Technological revolutions, ranging from Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered R&D of medicines and vaccines, next-gen materials, increased automation and an increasing role for big data are all expected to transform the economy and society itself this year. Jeff Zhang, Head of Alibaba DAMO Academy and President of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, said in a statement: “Technology has played a critical role in fighting against the pandemic since early last year, and it will continue to reshape our society and industries through innovative production models and intelligent services. We hope to work with academia and industry players to accelerate the exploration of frontier research, in the hope that we can make technologies more accessible to various businesses, and together we can rise up to the challenges imposed by the pandemic and accelerate the pace of a digital economy.”
Third-generation semiconductor materials (SiC):
Tech … will continue to reshape our society and industries through innovative production models and intelligent services
Third-generation semiconductor materials have increased resistance to high temperatures voltage and radiation.
The application of these materials was until now limited to only a narrow scope of fields due to their complex processing methods and high costs.
However, revolutions in material growth and device fabrication have helped cut the costs of these materials, rendering a wider range of applications achievable.
For example, SiC-based devices are used for vehicle inverters and super-fast electric car chargers are emerging in the market.
In the next five years, the world will witness third-generation semiconductor materials arriving in areas including 5G base stations, new energy vehicles, ultra-high-voltage power grids and data centres.
Mr Zhang told Express.co.uk: “Third generation semi-conductor materials like GaN and SiC will appear in areas as diverse as 5G base stations, new energy vehicles, ultra-high-voltage power grids, and data centres.”
Tech trends 2021: An expert has forecasted the science shaping technology this year
Tech trends 2021: Brain-computer interface technology is becoming a reality this year
2020 witnessed investors around the world flock to the quantum computing field, while related technologies and ecosystems thrived.
This trend is forecast to garner even more attention from all corners of society in 2021.
However, experts believe quantum computing must first deliver enough value to make it worthwhile.
Mr Zhang told Express.co.uk: “The mission in the “’post-quantum-supremacy’ era must be aligned across the industry: to tackle critical scientific and engineering problems through collaborative innovation and to pave the way for quantum error correction and practical utility, two milestones in quantum computing.
“The ‘post-quantum-supremacy’ era will prioritise quantum error correction and the practical utility of quantum computing.”
Tech trends 2021: Breakthroughs will range from Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered R&D of medicines and vaccines
Carbon-based material breakthroughs:
Flexible electronics are capable of delivering stable performance even after malleable mechanical deformations like bending, folding and stretching.
Such carbon-based materials are preferred in wearable devices, electronic skins and flexible screens.
Flexible materials were previously not flexible enough or just unable to compete with rigid silicon-based materials, in terms of electrical characteristics, consequently limiting their commercial appeal.
However, ground breaking developments in carbon-based materials have recently allowed flexible electronics to dramatically exceed their previous capabilities.
For example, carbon nanotubes are now used to produce large-scale integrated circuits to deliver improved performance compared with silicon-based circuits of the same size.
Similarly, highly-promising carbon-based material graphene has also been put into large-scale production.
Mr Zhang told Express.co.uk: “The growth of flexible electronics will be fuelled by breakthroughs in carbon-based materials.”
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Artificial Intelligence-accelerated R&D of medicines and vaccines:
AI tech has been widely-adopted to interpret medical images and manage medical records while its application in vaccine development and the clinical research of drugs remains in its infant stage.
But as new AI algorithms emerge and computing power accelerates, this tech will make it easier to complete research and development of medicines and vaccines which were previously extremely time-consuming and expensive.
Compound screening, disease model generation, target identification, lead compound discovery and lead drug optimisation are other areas where this technology is expected to also excel.
Mr Zhang told Express.co.uk: “R&D into medicines and vaccines will be accelerated by AI.”
Tech trends 2021: Third-generation semiconductor materials have increased resistance to high temperatures, voltage and radiation
Brain-computer interface tech:
Brain-computer interface technology is widely considered vital for the almost inevitable man-machine interactions and collaborative intelligence between our species and tech.
This technology is the pillar and driving force of neural engineering, due to its ability to analyse how the human brain works from higher dimensions.
Such an interface forms a direct communication pathway between the brain and an external device, allowing it to acquire, analyse and interpret brains signals to control machines.
In the coming years, expect brain-computer interface technology to help control robotic arms with extreme precision and help fully conscious patients who cannot speak or move to overcome their physical limitations.
Mr Zhang told Express.co.uk: “Brain-computer interface technology will become the pillar and driving force of neural engineering, enabling us to go beyond the limits of the human body.”
Tech trends: 2020 was the first to pass after quantum supremacy was achieved
Autonomous and self-evolving data processing:
The rapid evolution of cloud computing and exponential growth in the amount of data has historically posed daunting challenges to data processing.
Manual management is consequently increasingly unable to process industrial quantities of data in ever-more complicated scenarios.
As a result, AI-based companies are becoming attracted to automatic optimisation of data management systems.
AI and machine learning will be adopted in a variety of fields, such as intelligent cold/hot data separation, anomaly detection, intelligent modelling, resource scheduling and stress testing data generation – a corollary of which will see costs for computing, processing, storage slashed.
Mr Zhang told Express.co.uk: “Autonomous and self-evolving data processing will become the norm.”
Data intelligence-led agriculture:
Traditional agriculture has long been associated with inefficiencies caused by poor land use and a disconnect between production and retail.
But this year will see a new-generation of digital technologies, including Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence and cloud computing being applied to the agriculture industry – from the production process to retail.
New-generation sensors help obtain real-time farmland data, while big data and AI can quickly accomplish the processing of large amounts of agricultural data.
Agricultural practitioners can monitor crops, implement precision breeding and even allocate environmental resources at the touch of a button.
In addition, technologies such as 5G, IoT, and blockchain are utilised to control and trace the transportation of agricultural products, ensuring their safety and reliable delivery.
Mr Zhang said: “Data intelligence will transform agriculture.”
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