8 Emerging Digital Technologies That Will Shape the Future

Imagine a world where Alexa could understand not only what you say, but also the emotion with which you say it. Or what if your iPhone could tell what content interested you most by tracking the movements of your eyes? What if it didn’t need a screen at all?


By Dan Rundle

Sound a little too Star Trek for our day-to-day experience? Emerging digital technologies like these aren’t as far away as you might think. 

In the not-too-distant future, we’ll be interacting with technology without the need for screens or keyboards, and our technology will be able to respond not only to direct commands but also to our emotions and behavior. 

Here are 8 ways it’s already happening.

1. Voice Recognition

We’re all familiar with voice recognition software thanks to Siri, Alexa, and Google. But voice recognition is more than just a glorified search engine. Industry experts envision a world where we can interact with our home alarm systems, kitchen appliances, and cars directly through voice control. And these systems won’t just recognize what we’re saying, but will also analyze tonal inflections to add additional meaning to our words.

2. Gesture Control

Gesture recognition software is designed to interpret human gestures as specific commands. The swipe of a hand, a pinching motion with fingers, or movement of the head can all be linked to a predetermined library of gestures and used to signify an action on the part of the software. You may be familiar with this technology as part of Microsoft’s Kinect gaming sensor. Although Kinect is no longer in production (as of late 2017), it still brought gesture control technology out of the realm of science fiction and into the living room for many average software users.

Gesture control itself is alive and well, however. BMW was the first automaker to use it in their Series 7 vehicles for functions like adjusting volume or changing audio tracks, and other auto manufacturers are exploring the idea as well. Future applications for the technology could include in-store brand engagement for retail establishments, fine motor and highly sensitive tasks in medical procedures, and sign language interpretation.

3. Eye Tracking

Marketers have been using eye-tracking studies for years as a way to determine where users focus their attention on a screen. But advancements in the technology have awakened further interest in developing new applications such as enhancing virtual reality experiences, diagnosing neurological disorders, and conducting market research.

Oscar Werner, vice president of eye-tracking company Tobii Tech, believes that eye tracking software will soon change the way we interact with technology altogether. “Gaze always precedes any kind of action you do with mouse, keyboard, and voice, so much smarter user interactions will be designed using those technologies,” Werner told Ben Dickson for Tech Crunch. In the future, our smartphones could be designed to factor in eye tracking for more intuitive interactions.

4. Facial Recognition

If you have ever searched Facebook by clicking on a person’s face in a photo to find other photos of that individual, then you have interacted with facial recognition technology. Using that same technology, Facebook can also find pictures of you that have been uploaded by other people, even when you haven’t been tagged.

And the potential doesn’t stop with social media photos. Security applications can use a computer or cell phone camera to identify your face as you enter or leave a building. In the future, retail establishments could (with opt-in permission) use the technology to identify VIP customers and send them special offers or assistance while they are in the store.

5. Emotion Detection

As an extension of facial recognition software, emotion detection can identify emotions by analyzing human facial expressions. It’s a great way for companies to gauge customer reactions to a product. Disney, for example, uses emotion detection to determine how viewers respond to a movie by capturing facial expressions during a screening. In the business world, the technology could allow HR practitioners to screen candidates and predict future behavior and response.

6. Biometrics

Most of us are familiar with thumbprint and iris recognition for security purposes. These biometric indicators have become standard operating procedure for identification. We can open our smartphones with our thumbprints, use voice recognition to access sensitive information, and use facial recognition to verify identity.

But the field of biometrics is still growing, and we can expect even more sophisticated applications in the future. These include increased biometric functionality on mobile devices, multimodal biometric authentication (using more than one biometric marker to increase accuracy), and biometric single sign on to replace passwords.

7. Wearables

Your Apple watch and FitBit are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wearable technology. Fitness wearables have become widely available, but they remain bulky and expensive. Over the next few years, however, trends like conductive fabrics and smart garments could give wearable technology wider appeal and more extensive applications. For example, AiQ Smart Clothing offers sensor-enhanced clothing to monitor health metrics and digitally-enabled textile cables that can be built into clothing designs for first responders, athletes, industrial professionals, and consumers.

8. Augmented Reality

We all remember the Pokemon Go craze, and it’s only a matter of time before augmented reality becomes a common part of our daily experience. Retail applications such as Pottery Barn’s 3D Room View or Cover Girl’s browser-based AR makeup try-on tool give users a chance to see how products will look in context before making a purchase.

But it’s not all games and shopping. AR applications for healthcare include programs where medical students can train in AR environments and software that enables surgeons to model and plan a procedure before ever making an incision.

Every generation of technology stands on the shoulders of the innovations that came before. Handheld, portable tablets evolved from room-sized computers. Our modern smartphones are the descendants of analog cell phones the size of bricks.

It’s not hard to imagine that the digital experiences of the future will be screen-less, wordless, faceless, and even action-less. It’s time to start preparing now, because the future is closer than you might think.

Dan Rundle
Dan Rundle is Worthwhile’s CEO and lives in Greenville, S.C. He believes clear values are crucial to the success of a company and its customers.
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