For the past century, the price and performance of computing has been on an exponential curve. And as futurist Ray Kurzweil observed, once any technology becomes an information technology, its development follows the same curve, so we are seeing exponential advances in technologies such as sensors, networks, artificial intelligence, and robotics. The convergence of these technologies is making amazing things possible.

This year will change the way we live, let us visit new worlds, and lead us into a jobless future. Tweet This Quote

Last year was the tipping point in the global adoption of the Internet, digital medical devices, blockchain, gene editing, drones, and solar energy. This year will be the beginning of an even bigger revolution, one that will change the way we live, let us visit new worlds, and lead us into a jobless future. Yes, with every good there is a bad; wonderful things will become possible, but with them we will also create new problems for mankind. Here are six of the technologies that will make this happen, and the good they will do:

1. Artificial intelligence

In the artificial-intelligence community, there is a common saying: “A.I. is whatever hasn’t been done yet”. They call this the “A.I. effect.” Skeptics discount the behavior of an artificial-intelligence program by arguing that, rather than being real intelligence, it is just brute force computing and algorithms.

IBM has taught its A.I. system, Watson, everything from cooking, to finance, to medicine and Facebook. Tweet This Quote

There is merit to the criticism. Even though computers have beaten chess masters and Jeopardy players and learned to talk to us and drive cars, Siri and Cortana are still imperfect and infuriating. Yes, they crack jokes and tell us the weather, but are nothing like the seductive digital assistant we saw in the movie Her.

But that is about to change—so that even the skeptics will say that A.I. has arrived. There have been major advances in “deep learning” neural networks, which learn by ingesting large amounts of data: IBM has taught its A.I. system, Watson, everything from cooking, to finance, to medicine and Facebook. Google, and Microsoft have made great strides in face recognition and human-like speech systems. A.I.-based face recognition, for example, has almost reached human capability. And IBM Watson can diagnose certain cancers better than any human doctor can.

We are at the cusp of the industrial-robot revolution. Tweet This Quote

With IBM Watson being made available to developers, Google open-sourcing its deep learning A.I. software, and Facebook releasing the designs of its specialized A.I. hardware, we can expect to see a broad variety of A.I. applications emerging—because entrepreneurs all over the world are taking up the baton. A.I. will be wherever computers are, and will seem human-like. Fortunately, we don’t need to worry about superhuman A.I. yet; that is still a decade or two away.

2. Robots

The 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge required robots to navigate over an eight-task course simulating a disaster zone. It was almost comical to see them moving at the speed of molasses, freezing up, and falling over. Forget folding laundry and serving humans; these robots could hardly walk. As well, although we heard some three years ago that Foxconn would replace a million workers with robots in its Chinese factories, it never did so.

The breakthroughs may, however, be at hand. To begin with, a new generation of robots is being introduced by companies such as Switzerland’s ABB, Denmark’s Universal Robots, and Boston’s Rethink Robotics—robots dextrous enough to thread a needle and sensitive enough to work alongside humans. They can assemble circuits and pack boxes. We are at the cusp of the industrial-robot revolution.

Don’t be surprised when robots start showing up in supermarkets and our homes. Tweet This Quote

Household robots are another matter. Household tasks may seem mundane, but they are incredibly difficult for machines to perform. Cleaning a room and folding laundry necessitate software algorithms that are more complex than those to land a man on the moon. But there have been many breakthroughs of late, largely driven by A.I., enabling robots to learn certain tasks by themselves and teach each other what they have learnt. And with the open source robotic operating system, ROS, thousands of developers worldwide are getting close to perfecting the algorithms.

Don’t be surprised when robots start showing up in supermarkets and malls—and in our homes. Remember Rosie, the robotic housekeeper from the TV series “The Jetsons”? I am expecting version one to begin shipping in the early 2020s.

3. Self-driving cars

Once considered to be in the realm of science fiction, autonomous cars made big news in 2015. Google crossed the million-mile mark with its prototypes; Tesla began releasing functionality in its cars; and major car manufacturers announced their plans for robocars. These are coming, whether we are ready or not. And, just as the robots will, they will learn from each other—about the landscape of our roads and the bad habits of humans.

In the next year or two, we will see fully functional robocars being tested on our highways. Tweet This Quote

In the next year or two, we will see fully functional robocars being tested on our highways, and then they will take over our roads. Just as the horseless carriage threw horses off the roads, these cars will displace us humans. Because they won’t crash into each other as we humans do, they won’t need the bumper bars or steel cages, so they will be more comfortable and lighter. Most will be electric. We also won’t have to worry about parking spots, because they will be able to drop us where we want to go to and pick us up when we are ready. We won’t even need to own our own cars, because transportation will be available on demand through our smartphones. Best of all, we won’t need speed limits, so distance will be less of a barrier—enabling us to leave the cities and suburbs.

4. Virtual reality and holodecks

In March, Facebook announced the availability of its much anticipated virtual-reality headset, Oculus. Microsoft, Magic Leap, and dozens of start-ups won’t be far behind with their new technologies. The early versions of these products will surely be expensive and clumsy and cause dizziness and other adverse reactions. But prices will fall, capabilities will increase, and footprints will shrink as is the case with all exponential technologies, and 2016 will mark the beginning of the virtual reality revolution.

2016 will mark the beginning of the virtual reality revolution. Tweet This Quote

Virtual reality will change how we learn and how we entertain ourselves. Our children’s education will become experiential, because they will be able to visit ancient Greece and journey within the human body. We will spend our lunchtimes touring far-off destinations and our evenings playing laser tag with friends who are thousands of miles away. And, rather than watching movies at IMAX theaters, we will be able to be part of the action, virtually in the back seat of the car chase.

5. Internet of Things

Mark Zuckerberg recently announced plans to create his own artificially intelligent, voice-controlled butler to help run his life at home and at work. For this, he will need appliances that can talk to his digital butler—a connected home, office, and car. These are all coming, as CES, the big consumer electronics trade show in Las Vegas, demonstrated. From shower heads that track how much water we’ve used to toothbrushes that watch out for cavities, to refrigerators that order food that is running out, they are all on their way.

Starting in 2016, everything will be connected—including our homes, cars, street lights, and medical instruments. Tweet This Quote

Starting in 2016, everything will be connected—including our homes and appliances, our cars, street lights, and medical instruments. They will be sharing information with each other and perhaps gossiping about us, and will introduce massive security risks as well as many efficiencies. And we won’t have much choice, because they will be standard features—as are the cameras on our Smart TVs that stare at us, and the smartphones that listen to everything we say.

6. Space

Rockets, satellites, and spaceships were things that governments built—until Elon Musk stepped into the ring in 2002, with his startup SpaceX. A decade later, he demonstrated the ability to dock a spacecraft with the International Space Station and return with cargo. A year later, he launched a commercial geostationary satellite. And then, in 2015, out of the blue, came another billionaire, Jeff Bezos, whose space company, Blue Origin, launched a rocket 100 kilometers into space and landed its booster within five feet of its launch pad. This is a feat that SpaceX only achieved a month later, so Bezos one-upped Musk.

In 2016, we will see the breakthroughs in space travel that we have been waiting for. Tweet This Quote

It took a race, in the 1960s, between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. to get man to the Moon. For decades after this, little more happened, because there was no one for the U.S. to compete with. Now, thanks to technology costs falling so far that space exploration can be done for millions rather than billions of dollars, and the raging egos of two billionaires, we will see the breakthroughs in space travel that we have been waiting for. Maybe there’ll be nothing beyond some rocket launches and a few competitive tweets between Musk and Bezos in 2016, but we will be closer to having colonies on Mars.

This surely is the most innovative period in human history, an era that will be remembered as the inflexion point in exponential technologies that made the impossible possible.


This post originally appeared on the Washington Post.

About the author

Vivek Wadhwa

Vivek Wadhwa

Vivek is a Fellow at Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance, Stanford University; VP of Innovation and Research at Singularity University; and Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University. He is author of "The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent."

  • Kade Hanson

    This article interest me because I have always been amazed with the amount that tech have evolved in just these short years. Within the realm of space hearing that we may be able to develop ships to take people up and into space as airlines do is amazing. I believe that tech is growing at an incredibly fast rate but that worries me ethically. When it comes to A.I. is there a point where it can become to human? Is there a point where it becomes ethically wrong to make something so human that it can function within its own limits? This era might be come for many years but it is interesting to see where the world of technology will take us.

  • Logan Coffman

    Wow, incredible article Vivek. I knew of almost all of these burgeoning technologies, but the detail you use to describe how close we are to a society where ideas previously reserved for science fiction become reality is fascinating! Bring on the tech!

  • Michael Potter

    Unbelievable read. The autonomous cars are extremely interesting. I have read several different articles about automonous cars and each time I’m amazed. Hard to believe that in 10-20 years there may not be a single person driving a car — potentially all cars will robot driven. Still not sure if I could trust a robot with my life and curious to see how they will convince people to do so as well.

  • Vivek, another brilliant article – thank you! I’d love to hear from readers, which technology are you most excited for? Which do you think will be the most impactful on our world? To answer my own question… I’m torn between self-driving cars and virtual reality.
    1) Self-Driving Cars // I think in a decade our children will look back on our transportation today and see the tragedy of how many lives were lost seemingly senselessly due to humans who as a basic part of our humanity, are imperfect unlike computers operating vehicles (from car accidents to DUIs to the experience of the DMV…just kidding on the last one ;-).
    2) Virtual Reality // On the other hand, the power of virtual reality in enriching the human experience and exposure to novelty in a way that is consumable has potential to change humanity in a way I can’t even fathom. I think it will provide the first way to truly teach empathy – providing experiential understanding of this world that would otherwise go unknown and rather be perceived as portrayed in the media or by other aspects of your life. I hadn’t even thought of the potential for education! I strongly believe that learning by doing is the most effective way to learn anything and as Vivek mentioned, virtual reality makes that possible on a whole new level. Would love to hear which tech on this list you are most excited about!

  • Teddy Grebenc

    Great article. Autonomous car have been a fascination of mine ever since they’ve began popping up in tech magazines and conferences. The most exciting potential I see for these self driving cars is households no longer having to own cars, just call one up when you need it and take it to where you need to go, like an über, but better.

  • Taylor Lonsdale

    Technology is exciting and also terrifying. I can get behind the idea of preventing loss of human lives with the use of autonomous cars. I just can’t imagine being in a car that isn’t controlled by a human being. I don’t even really like to be in a car that I am not driving. I know I am not ready to make this transition (I will probably never be). However, the idea of incorporating Virtual Reality into education makes me wish I was born 20 years later. What an incredible concept that will one day be normal to children. I think it’s pretty fascinating to be a part of such a revolutionary time.

  • Brittany Lane

    Hi Kade, thanks for your comment! You bring up a really fascinating moral + ethical question I believe will be an important part of global debate as the technology continues to develop. We’re only just starting to wade into this territory, and the public will catch on with their concerns. However, I think Vivek puts it nicely in his introduction: “Yes, with every good there is a bad; wonderful things will become possible, but with them we will also create new problems for mankind.” It’s this duality we might never be able to escape with new technological advances.

  • Michael Kaelin

    A very good and inspirational article by Vivek. I knew the very basic information for some of these technologies but not to the extent that Vivek talked about. I especially enjoyed the section about space travel because so little is said about space except for end of the world predictions. I enjoy the idea of something being out in space beyond what we have discovered. As Vivek said about the space race being the last time there was a rush for a certain objective, like reaching the moon, and because of the lack of an opponent, the development in different fields has been slow. This article gave me a renewed hope in regards to technological advances.

  • McKenna Solomon

    Kade, I would like to pose a similar question. As we progress where does the role of humanity stop and the world of technology begin? And could those roles reverse. Technology has become increasingly interactive, transitioning from human/technology interactions to interactions between humans through technology to interactions between technologies. As a society where do we draw the line between the appropriate roles of technology and the traditional roles of humanity?

  • Daniel Hartman

    Great Article. I agree that this next year in technology will define much of how the next few generations grow up and how we live the next decades. The businesses that utilize these new technologies must be careful to not replace all of their workers with these innovations. As the article says with these great innovations, come great opportunity and great risk.

  • Matt Goodman

    What stands out about this article to me is it’s mention of the fact that we are on the cusp of ‘the industrial-robot revolution’. This is a very exciting statement, every industrial revolution we have seen in the past has changed the world in countless ways. In my opinion, yes of course robots will begin to take human jobs, however what people bring up less often are the industries and jobs that do not yet exist. So many of these future jobs and industries cannot be foreseen and i believe that the positives of technological advancement far outweigh the negatives.

  • David Kidd

    “the most innovative period in human history”. This quote alone sparks inevitable excitement. Worrisome however is how college students, such as ourselves, will hope to make money in this technological revolution. The world is changing and I fear who will be able to keep up with it. Incredible read. Bravo!

  • OlePerfesser

    If luminaries such Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking indicate that we need to be cautious and thoughtful going forward into Huxley’s “Brave New World,” we might be wise to avoid letting emotional fervor for novelty get ahead of our intelligence. The consequences could be that our machines might go far beyond HAL and truly threaten us. While artificial intelligence is and can be good, old-fashioned human intelligence still has some value (even though the last few decades have proven that it is becoming more scarce).

  • Adam Bundy

    Super interesting stuff. The future looks very bright. I would be interested in knowing how accurate these predictions were. What were the 6 technologies we thought would define 2015? Also will these be effecting industry only or will these technologies be accessible to the average person? For example Tesla motors were an astounding break through, however for the every day American they were at a price point that was not very accessible. The advancements mentioned in the self driving car section are great but require everyone to use that technology for it to reach its full potential and I would be suprised if we were able to make that transition by the end of 2016.

  • Hunter Ward

    Vey Interesting article! I believe out of the 6 of these innovation, the self-driving car is going to be the most useful innovation in 2016. I believe this because it will help decrease the amount of accidents that are caused by human error, all-in-all making the roads safer. In your opinion, what is the most useful technological advancement in 2016 and why?

  • Danielle Flynn

    This is an article that intrigues and excites me while also gaining my gears a little. Growing up in this day and age I rely on technology just like any other college student, but I also believe in the value of good hard work and the reward it brings. All these technological advances can bring a lot go negative into this world such as unemployment and laziness. I believe in bettering technology but to an extent Americans also need to understand the reward of having a good work ethic.

  • Noah Green

    As time goes on technology gets more and more fascinating. It is amazing to think that less than a decade ago the idea of having internet on our phones seemed futuristic and advanced. All these technologies seem feasible but the one that I think will have a major break through is artificial intelligence. A lot of the world today is tagged with the term “smart”. There are smart phones, smart tv’s, smart you name it. What is next, smart homes? Artificial intelligence will give humans the power to be more efficient with their daily lives and work. The only drawback I see is the fact that AI will get so popular that robots will be made to manufacture and do simple jobs humans get paid to do. Less jobs would not be good with a growing population and there may be some economic issues. Overall technology advancement is interesting and I do not see improvement plateauing anytime soon.

  • Reid Trauernicht

    As groundbreaking as all these technologies are, I don’t think any of them will affect the world in nearly the same magnitude as the development of nuclear fusion reactors. The Germans recently developed the world’s first successful nuclear fusion reactor. It produces an immense amount of energy without a single ounce of waste. If that’s not big news, then I’m not sure what is. In a world focused on finding energy alternatives, this should be one of the biggest stories and technological advancements for this next year, decade, and maybe even century.

  • Tommy Moore

    We may live in the present, but this article is telling us we live in the future. In this age of rapid technologic advancements, it really seems like we are living straight out of a science fiction book, with robots, self driving cars, simple space travel and virtual reality. It’s baffling what science has done, making things once considered distant fiction a reality. This article makes me excited to see what will come out this year, and for the next few years to come. In particular I’m really excited to see virtual reality, being able to put myself in another world from the comfort of my own home seems amazing and impossible, but now, it is very much possible. If these are the predictions of 2016’s technological advancements, imagine what 2020 holds for us, or 2030, or 2040. This rapid growth is going to make the world we live in into a futuristic society.

  • Brittany Lane

    Hi Adam, thanks for your comment! Check out this other post from Vivek recapping the technologies of 2015: http://unreasonable.is/2015-was-a-tipping-point-for-6-technologies-that-will-change-the-world/.

    To comment on another question of yours, I believe Vivek is noting that these six technologies will make more of a breakthrough throughout this year, however, it’s still the beginning of their development. For a true revolution to occur, accessibility would have to rise. I don’t think Vivek intends to argue that these technologies will reach the average person this year—probably not even for several more. He’s forecasting the future of what’s to come, starting with more publicity before actual widespread usability.

  • Ben Heiserman

    Great points on potential aspects of technology that are most likely to change drastically in the future. The topic of space is extremely interesting to me. SpaceX and ULA (United Launch Alliance) are doing very radical things with rockets and space travel. I wonder if private funding for space endeavors will take over public funding? And with the way analytics and computer technology are advancing, who will be doing more work in getting us to other parts of space, the humans actually traveling or the algorithms and technological advancements guiding the progress being made?

  • Charlee Riggio

    So exciting! It is really cool to be able to make these predictions and know that I (as a 20 year old) will be able to see this all happen. The advances we have made so far are incredible and to think that we are not even close to where we could be.

    One thing that I think about a lot is space. It is not possible for us to be the only life form in this entire universe, so when we reach the point where we can search outside of our galaxy is a point that I am looking forward to.

  • Michael Kaelin

    I really enjoyed reading this article. Vivek, all of these new technologies really makes the future look even brighter. It is amazing to see how far technology has advanced and what we can look forward to, not only now but in the future. Cars being driven on their own as well as the infinite frontiers of virtual reality make this a must read. Thank you for the read.

  • Kunal Patel

    I agree, it is unbelievable that technology has gotten this far and soon cars will all be self driven but I have to say that point has a limit. Most of the general public who have cars love their cars and enjoy the physical aspect of driving and although the technology may be there, I do believe it will take much longer for self driven cars to really take over the minds and market of the whole public.

  • Couldn’t agree more @taylor_lonsdale:disqus i feel the same mixed emotions of excitement and fear. Curious, what are you most afraid of and most excited for when it comes to potential of emerging technology? Thanks for your comment!

  • Taylor Lonsdale

    I would have to say the idea of driverless cars scares me the most. I’m also intimidated by the internet/technology sometimes and it’s ability to connect my multiple devices (laptop/phone). But I think I’m ready for the virtual reality!

  • M Sarkar

    @wadhwa I’d love to see renewable energy powered (or human energy powered) water transport systems and purification stations come up in areas facing potable water shortages in 2016. I wish that would be a “sexy” enough enterprise for ambitious billionaires to invest in. Launching rockets into space is a cool luxury but water is an absolute necessity.