emerging future technologies pwc
Drones are one of the eight essential emerging technologies, according to PwC

There are eight essential emerging technologies that businesses should be thinking about, according to a new report from PwC.

Referred to as the most likely to be influential on businesses worldwide in the very near future, they include artificial intelligence, augmented reality, blockchain, drones, internet of things, robots, virtual reality and 3D printing.

“They are at varying degrees of maturity; some have been around for years but are finally hitting their stride, while others are maturing rapidly,” the report explains. It analysed a total of 150 emerging technologies in a bid to pinpoint the most pertinent ones for business today.

None of them are of course surprising, and though referred to as relevant across industries, each and every one is also likely to have significant impact on fashion and retail verticals over the coming years.

As Vicki Huff Eckert, PwC’s global new business leader, explains: “Most companies have laid a foundation for emerging technology, investing in areas such as social, mobile, analytics and cloud. Now it’s time for executives to take a broader view of more advanced technologies that will have a greater impact on the business.”

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The report suggests that each of these emerging technologies will influence strategy, customer engagement, operations and compliance. As a result, leadership teams in business should find effective answers to three fundamental questions:

  • Do we have a sustainable innovation strategy and process?
  • Have we quantified the impact of new technologies? If not, how can we do that-and how soon?
  • Do we have an emerging-technologies road map? If so, are we keeping it up to date?

The report also encourages chief executives not to think of such technologies as a checklist to delegate to CIOs or CTOs, but an opportunity to begin exploring and quantifying them in order to plan for their integration into core corporate strategy.

Here is more detail on each:

  1. Artificial intelligence (AI): Software algorithms that are capable of performing tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and language translation. AI is an “umbrella” concept that is made up of numerous subfields such as machine learning, which focuses on the development of programs that can teach themselves to learn, understand, reason, plan, and act (i.e., become more “intelligent”) when exposed to new data in the right quantities.

  2. Augmented reality (AR): Addition of information or visuals to the physical world, via a graphics and/or audio overlay, to improve the user experience for a task or a product. This “augmentation” of the real world is achieved via supplemental devices that render and display said information. AR is distinct from Virtual Reality (VR); the latter being designed and used to re-create reality within a confined experience.

  3. Blockchain: Distributed electronic ledger that uses software algorithms to record and confirm transactions with reliability and anonymity. The record of events is shared between many parties and information once entered cannot be altered, as the downstream chain reinforces upstream transactions.

  4. Drones: Air or water-based devices and vehicles, for example Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), that fly or move without an on-board human pilot. Drones can operate autonomously (via on-board computers) on a predefined flight plan or be controlled remotely. (Note: This category is distinct from autonomous land-based vehicles.)

  5. Internet of Things (IoT): Network of objects — devices, vehicles, etc. — embedded with sensors, software, network connectivity, and compute capability, that can collect and exchange data over the Internet. IoT enables devices to be connected and remotely monitored or controlled. The term IoT has come to represent any device that is now “connected” and accessible via a network connection. The Industrial IoT (IIoT) is a subset of IoT and refers to its use in manufacturing and industrial sectors.

  6. Robots: Electro-mechanical machines or virtual agents that automate, augment or assist human activities, autonomously or according to set instructions — often a computer program. (Note: Drones are also robots, but we list them as a separate technology.)

  7. Virtual reality (VR): Computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or a complete environment, within a defined and contained space (unlike AR), that viewers can interact with in realistic ways. VR is intended to be an immersive experience and typically requires equipment, most commonly a helmet/headset.

  8. 3D printing: Additive manufacturing techniques used to create three-dimensional objects based on digital models by layering or “printing” successive layers of materials. 3D printing relies on innovative “inks” including plastic, metal, and more recently, glass and wood.

As the report notes: “To remain relevant and to succeed, emerging technology strategy needs to be a part of every company’s corporate strategy… Disruption is happening today at a faster rate and higher volume than ever before, [and] innovations throughout history have tipped the balance in favour of the innovators.”

You can download the full report here.