Technological convergence is the tendency for technologies that were originally unrelated to become more closely integrated and even unified as they develop and advance. PwC’s research has isolated eight technologies and has studied how they are going to converge and shape the future of the 21st century.
Photo: Xavier Lisoir, Emerging Technology Leader at PwC Luxembourg / Credits © Olivier Toussaint / PwC Luxembourg
As the EU leader in highest car ownership per capita, it is safe to assume that, for most Luxembourg people, daily life without the advantages of a car is unimaginable. In fact, its existence is taken for granted. We are so used to them, we cannot imagine a world without them. But of course, cars have not been around forever. In fact, on a timeline of human existence, they would barely be a visible dot.
Cars, like so many other modern products, are the result of what innovation experts call a technological convergence. In the example of the car, the two technologies that converged were the horse carriage and the steam engine. Another popular example is the mobile phone. When it was first invented it looked like a portable brick which could be used to make a call. Now, after having integrated different technologies, it can also take 4K videos, high-resolution images, send emails and track personal health variables as well as a never-ending list of other things.
So what is technology convergence exactly? Put simply, it is the combination of two or more different technologies to create a new product. The product that is born out of them, usually quite distinctive from the parent technologies, is often considered a disruptive technology because it has the potential to destabilise the balance of established markets.
An important idea to consider when it comes to converging technologies is that the resulting product is bigger than the sum of its parts. While on its own a horse carriage and a steam engine are not unimpressive, a smart combination of both brought about the idea of a car and what happened next is history.
Convergences can truly shake things up and they are doing so at an accelerated pace. Economic pressure both local and globally, has accelerated the use of innovations, with businesses adopting emerging technologies to remain resilient and competitive in a market disrupted on several fronts.
PwC’s “Essential Eight”
There can be no doubt that we are living in an unparalleled age of innovation. The advent of the internet alone has led to so many new innovations that it is hard – if not impossible – to keep up with the blistering pace of new products and emerging technologies. Trying to predict, develop and apply the next big thing has become the new search for the holy grail.
PwC experts have studied and distilled the most important and influential technologies that they call “The Essential Eight”. According to PwC, they will have the biggest impact on businesses over the next decade and are the ones most likely to lead to big disruptions.
PwC’s Essential Eight include: Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Blockchain, Drones, the Internet of Things, Robotics, Virtual Reality and 3-D Printing. While some of these technologies have already proved quite disruptive on their own, PwC expects the convergence of some of them to unlock the next wave of innovation.
Indeed, these convergences are already occurring and while skeptics may say that the way ahead is still riddled with uncertainties and challenges, innovators point out that the number of use cases has grown significantly in the past years.
However, with every new innovation often comes an element of fear. Change can be unsettling. For example, according to the PwC Hopes and Fears Report 2020, over 50% of workers think that new technologies will either change their jobs or make them obsolete within the next decade.
Human history is full of inventions and innovations and some of them have come with collateral damage that no one expected. Clearly, it makes sense to “converge with caution”. But this does not mean humans should resist change and not continue to move forward. If we had, we would not have cars and mobile phones and the myriad of things that make modern life what it is.
Scott Likens, PwC’s Emerging Technology Leader, is one person who is optimistic about the future.
“We’re doing great things with technology, and while people are fearful, we have to remind them that emerging technologies aren’t a human replacement but a human extension. Accepting change and adapting to it is probably one of the main human challenges, it always has been. Transforming human mindsets is the main challenge when it comes to new technologies and it’s important that we work on changing that just as much as we work on making the most out of these convergences.”
Try as hard as we might, the truth is that predicting the future is still largely reserved to the realm of fiction and maybe to some audacious astrologers. Nevertheless, PwC innovation experts seem to have a pretty good idea of what convergences we can expect to occur and how they will reshape the world of business and our lives in the coming years.
The convergences expected to take place in the next few years and yield powerful business solutions are: Automating Trust, Immersive Interfaces, Extended Reality, Working Autonomy, Digital Reflection and Hyper Connected Networks.
Interesting to note that all of these convergences include the use of AI. The rest use a combination of at least four of the previously mentioned “essential eight” technologies.
“Each organisation has now to assess the impact of these convergences on its stakeholders and define how to remain relevant or to pivot to a new model”, points out Xavier Lisoir, Emerging Technology Leader at PwC Luxembourg. “As IDC mentioned in its recent worldwide digital strategy Marketscape, PwC’s combination of digital and business expertise is uniquely positioned to accompany those organisations all along this journey,” he added.