Advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing, quantum computing and biotechnology are paving the way to a fourth industrial revolution.
A distinct feature of these technologies is that they not only augment one another but they also converge or interact with older technologies.
This emergence is attributed to exponential growth in computing during the third industrial revolution.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the most significant of these emerging technologies. AI and its sub-fields Machine Learning, Deep Learning and Neural Networks are enormously impelling and disruptive.
AI driven apps and robots are increasingly part of the healthcare ecosystem. The Internet of Medical Things (IMT) based apps are helping consumers to adopt a healthy lifestyle by proactively guiding about adapting necessary changes in lifestyle.
AI is being used to detect diseases such as cancer more accurately and at an early stage. Google’s Deep Mind Health is working in partnership with clinicians, researchers and patients to solve real-world healthcare problems.
The technology combines machine learning and systems neuroscience to build powerful general-purpose learning algorithms into neural networks that simulate the human brain.
In the business arena, the companies that utilize machine learning and data in their decision-making processes are able to make more prudent decisions when they have data to support them.
They can set logical and concrete benchmarks that enable them to track the impact of their decisions along the way.
Data-driven companies are also more proactive. By using data to better understand their products, customers and operations, they can drive change in the most critical areas.
These changes result in greater speed, more efficiency, lower costs and increased profits. AI is also paving the way for wars enabled by AI technology artefacts.
Renowned defence analyst Parvin Sawhney is of the view that in future Sino-Indian conflict, China will be using AI for war control, thus resulting in by-passing tactical level strength of IAF and IA while fighting at strategic and operational levels.
The advancement in nanotechnology allow humans to play with the building blocks of the universe, exploiting the laws of quantum mechanics to construct material with unimaginable precision – literally molecule by molecule.
Advances in nanotechnology are deeply intertwined with other technologies, many of which have received far greater attention.
Nanotechnology will have applications for other technologies like gene-editing, additive manufacturing (3-D printing), artificial intelligence, spacecraft and quantum computing.
The use of nano technology is also going to bring great changes in the present existing weapon technologies.
For example, stealth, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)/drones, precision-guided weapons and firearm technologies are expected to have a great phase shift.
It is believed that soldiers can move freely with no danger of them being detected using the upcoming clocking technologies during patrolling or combat situations.
Army commanders would be capable of attacking a target at any time even from remote areas with greater accuracy.
The emergence of 3D printing is bound to revolutionize industries ranging from healthcare to housing as well as the ways consumers access needed goods.
With the refinement of material and techniques, 3D printing is going to facilitate the medical field.
3D printing is already being used to create tailored prosthetics and tooth implants. In the near future, we might even have the technology to replicate human organs.
3D printing would be used to create the scaffold of an organ, followed by the use of stem cells to grow tissue Additive manufacturing (AM), describes manufacturing processes in which layers of material are deposited and bonded together by a machine, to form an object of nearly any shape.
The most widely known AM machines use plastic polymers in a process similar to the functioning of a common inkjet printer, thus often referred to as ‘3D printing’.
However, AM includes a much greater variety of manufacturing processes, of which the AM of metals and alloys presents the most significant proliferation challenge.
This is particularly so because AM machines are capable of producing a wide range of items that are subject to dual-use and arms export controls.
Items that have been produced to date range from basic forms of small arms to rocket engines.
Quantum computing is a rapidly-emerging technology that harnesses the laws of quantum mechanics to solve problems too complex for classical computers.
Quantum computers exploit quantum phenomena for information processing and calculations, using quantum bits or “qubits”—loosely analogous to traditional computing bits but far more versatile.
Quantum computing is helpful in the fields of data science and mathematical modelling, quantum chemistry and material science, optimization of algorithms etc.
Emerging technologies have certain downsides as well. Social scientists are of the view that AI would replace human and thus resulting unemployment.
The most affected economies would be developing countries which are mostly based on unskilled human resources.
It is expected that most of the world’s wealth accumulation would be in North America and China, as these regions represent 70% of AI’s global economic effect.
Nano technology based miniature weapons are being developed by several countries.
The military application of Artificial intelligence is being viewed as a potential threat to strategic as well as deterrence stability by exposing second strike forces to emerging technologies.
The insect-like nanobots can be programmed to perform various tasks, including injecting toxins into people or contaminating the water supply of a major city.
The 3D printing technology is identified as proliferator of small arms and missile technology as it facilitates illicit manufacturing of weapons such as small arms and unscrewed platforms including missiles.
Quantum computing is threatening information security as it can decipher complex encryption algorithms due to its inherent potential of solving complex computing.
Technology has always remained a driver for human prosperity as well as a source of destruction when used against humanity.
Today great powers such as the US, China and Russia are major competitors in the realm of emerging technologies.
These nation states are using emerging technologies to boost their economies and to solve complex issues which otherwise were assumed impossible due to absence of suitable solutions.
Due to an anarchic international political system, nation states are making efforts to harness these technologies for their own gains and deny the same benefits to their adversaries.
—The writer is Wg Cdr (R) based in Islamabad