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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

How Disruptive Technologies are Revolutionizing the World

We are at the cusp of radical change. Disruptive technologies such as AI, robotics and IoT are transforming businesses and societies beyond recognition. HBS professor Clayton M. Christensen coined the term ‘disruptive technology’ in his 1997 best-seller, The Innovator’s Dilemma. A disruptive technology is one that dislodges an established technology and product with something completely new. Some of the disruptive technological trends are:

Artificial intelligence (AI) is among the most disruptive trends of our times, according to the renowned IT consultancy firm Gartner. Artificial intelligence is what its name suggests, with machines mirroring the cognitive functions of human brain in learning and problem solving capacities. Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s AI technology are already making headlines for automating common manual processes at homes and in offices. AI-enabled virtual assistants such as Siri and AI chatbots are offering enhanced capabilities and personalization, which has immense applications in fields such as customer relations.

Genomics is a marriage of science and computers. Biotechnology and cell biology are making rapid strides in unlocking the mysteries of the DNA with the help of advanced computation and analytics, paving the way for gene manipulation and gene therapy. Genomics is not limited to humans alone; advances in human and animal genomics are improving agricultural yield and creating high-value substances such as ethanol from micro-organisms.

3-D Printing is no longer the stuff of science fiction. Companies are realizing the power of 3-D printing to manufacture car accessories, hearing aids and implants by merely transferring a document that contains such files. Cars, space stations and even body parts will be produced in the foreseeable future, using the same technology. PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the leading professional services and advisory companies in the world, has estimated that more than 50% of manufacturers in the USA have already incorporated 3-D printing into their business operations.

High-speed travel technology has taken the world by storm. Metro trains, running up to 500 kms per hour are becoming a common sight in China, Japan and Europe. The much-anticipated Hyperloop transportation system pioneered by the tech visionary Elon Musk is undergoing trial and is expected to make its appearance some time before 2020. This futuristic vehicle will exceed the speed of conventional airliners and thereby resolve many issues plaguing the global transportation sector.

Robotics is an exciting innovation in disruptive technology. With enhanced dexterity and artificial intelligence, robots are performing tasks that were the domain of humans till recent times. Robotic surgical systems, robotic prosthetics and nano-robotics are revolutionizing industries such as medicine. Robots also have immense applications in military and space, and in hazardous industries such as mining. In fact, CNC machines are much in demand in this mechanized world, for obvious reasons.

Human-driven vehicles may soon become a thing of the past, with the dawn of automated vehicles such as cars, trucks and drones. Such vehicles will operate and self-drive with the help of advanced sensors and communication devices, and be of immense help in diverse fields such as military, farming and real estate. Experimental drones are being selectively used to deliver food and other orders at the doorstep. Driverless trucks are projected to double output of the US transportation network at far lower costs in a couple of years.

Everything is becoming connected with everything and things are ‘talking’ to each other, thanks to the internet of things. In a classic example of such inter-connected devices, the door sensors will sense a person’s arrival, the Nest thermostat will start and regulate the temperature indoors, smart fridge will stock itself with necessary food and safety devices will alert the police officials about accidents. The Internet of Things is also making it possible to enjoy seamless, smart and personalized entertainment through a network of inter-connected machines.

VR/AR is becoming our new reality, thanks to offerings from Samsung, Google and Facebook. The possibilities offered by VR are endless. VR headsets are enabling people to hold face-to-face board meetings, experience the feel of a hotel room and check out an apartment prior to booking and purchase respectively.

We are rapidly moving towards a future where all the personal information, including driver’s license number and social security number will be biometrically stored. Powerful biometric innovations such as voice, iris and facial detection have already left the rarified environs of universities and security organizations to become an intrinsic part of mobiles devices and next-door safety apparatus. Many phones of today contain wallets, which can be used in lieu of credit cards throughout the world.

Mobile devices are metamorphosing into smarter and smaller units with each passing day. These gadgets are being used for everything from accessing the internet to making online purchases and banking transactions. Mobile money transfer has become so popular that digital payment companies such as M-Pesa and Paytm are worth millions today.

To conclude, disruption does not take place overnight and erratically. Netflix is a good example of a disruptor that took years to overtake Blockbuster and become the content and media streaming powerhouse that it is today. If nothing, one can be sure of an exponential growth in disruptive technologies and a resultant shift in the business and social landscape.

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