Technological Breakthroughs

Technology has long been a measure of human advancement and power. Today, the next revolution is well underway, and the world is rushing to adapt to the rising speed of development. What feels like incremental change today is truly exponential compared with the past, and expectations continue to rise. Disruption is the new normal and will drive relentless change.  

How must we plan, invest and execute in a rapidly advancing world?

Technological breakthroughs - FACTS
  • Computing power is now doubling every 3.4 months (significantly faster than the two years of Moore’s Law). 
  • In 2019, while 58% of large companies reported adopting AI in at least one function or business, only 19% had addressed “explainability,” and only 13% had addressed systemic bias in underlying data.
  • 5G is expected to link 125 billion devices by 2030, spanning from consumer devices to industrial sensors. 

COVID-19's impact on technological breakthroughs

The coronavirus is driving the acceleration of technology adoption and breakthroughs. As scientists race to find vaccines and treatments, artificial intelligence (AI) technologies like Natural Language Processing (NLP) can help researchers tackle COVID-19 by crunching huge amounts of data and find, evaluate and summarize the tens of thousands of research papers on the new coronavirus, to which thousands are added every week. From the onset of the virus, AI began to play a pivotal role in mitigating the effects on the health care sector. AI technology has been instrumental in detecting and diagnosing the virus, predicting the evolution, and tracking the spread of infections.

The coronavirus is accelerating the rise of the digital economy. As individuals adapt to new modes of life, start-up businesses that enable people to work, study, shop, and interact virtually have skyrocketed to mainstream adoption. According to a recent study by BDO, businesses that had not only developed digital strategies but executed them prior to the pandemic are now in a position to leapfrog their less nimble competitors. Digitization has stepped in to bridge the gaps left by mandated shutdowns and social distancing measures. Without digital tools and technologies, working, shopping, and going to school would have been even more difficult, if not impossible. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of telemedicine as well.

Lockdowns forced more consumers to procure the products they needed online. Amazon, Alibaba and answered that call for billions of customers. The resulting shifts in consumer behavior and preferences for online convenience and rapid delivery are likely to continue post-pandemic. Companies like Shipt (grocery delivery) and Grubhub (restaurant takeout delivery) became more mainstream and carved out a niche for cautious consumers even amid easing restrictions.

The acceleration of digital technology adoption highlighted the increasing digital divide in so much of the world. Among the many inequalities exposed by COVID-19, the digital divide is one of the starkest. Globally, just over half of households (55%) have an internet connection, according to UNESCO. In the developed world, 87% are connected compared with 47% in developing nations and just 19% in the least developed countries. Even in the United States, more than 6% of the population (21 million) have no highspeed connection. In total, 3.7 billion people have no internet access. The majority live in poorer countries, where the need to spread information about how to combat COVID-19 is most urgent. During the pandemic, more than 1 billion children across the globe were not in school due to quarantine measures. Even with teachers running daily classes online, many of the world’s children could not take part.

The long-term impact of COVID-19 on technology breakthroughs may come directly and indirectly from the world’s scientists, researchers, developers and leaders collaborating to solve a common problem. Sustained cooperation, dialogue and new approaches to reaching a common goal may yield lasting acceleration of innovation.

Endnotes & Acknowledgements

Many 3M colleagues supported this effort by generously sharing their time, knowledge and resources. We would like to recognize the authors from our Strategy & Marketing Development group who made this publication possible by exploring and synthesizing collective knowledge to provide these updated megatrends. Please learn more about our authors and research on our Endnotes & Acknowledgements page.

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