Attempting to predict the future might seem like a foolish enterprise, especially in the volatile times in which we live. However, it’s often useful to take stock of what seems to be appearing on the horizon, even if only to look back and learn from one’s mistaken assumptions in the future. In this spirit, here are the three emerging technologies which ITSI is predicting will increasingly come to dominate the conversation next year.
The space tourism industry is expected to be worth at least $3 billion by 2030. While access will remain limited in the immediate future to very wealthy passengers and private researchers, the long term holds promises for ordinary citizens. The evolution of emerging technologies plays a crucial role in sending more tourists to space, and in the longer term both space tourism and space exploration more broadly could help bring about considerable social impact, whether from health experiments performed in space to help us understand problems on earth, or the simple fact of inspiring the next generation of innovators and engineers.
The year 2021 might be marked in the historical calendar of space tourism as Year 1 – or the year of launch. Following the successful efforts to send civilians to the edge of space by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the next twelve months will provide us with a clearer idea of whether space tourism will begin to scale at the pace required to become a normality in the longer-term.
Reportedly, all three companies have aspirations to fly more tourists in 2022, which would make next year the first year in history in which more people go to space as paying passengers than as government employees. Between the three, SpaceX is likely to be the most active and successful, having sealed a deal to send tourists to the international space station and recently shrugged off the lawsuit brought by Blue Origin over the lunar lander contract it was awarded by NASA. Musk’s pioneering company is now free to set its sights back on the moon.
While the world of cryptocurrencies has undergone a tumultuous year, crypto and blockchain are certainly looking like ending 2021 on a high. Having reached dizzying new heights in the early months of the year, Bitcoin underwent a correction following Tesla’s U-turn on accepting Bitcoin payments combined with the general market volatility that spooked a wide range of perceived risk assets. Since then however it has demonstrated remarkable resilience, bouncing back to its previous highs and recently breaking the boundaries of $68K, despite – or perhaps because of – China’s decision to ban all cryptocurrency, which fuelled a global mining boom including in the United States. Bitcoin has also been seemingly unaffected by India’s decision to institute a similar ban in recent weeks.
Next year, we’re likely to see an exciting range of new coins built on the Ethereum ecosystem in particular. This will depend on the degree to which Ether’s move away from the Proof of Work (PoW) protocol favoured by Bitcoin towards a proof of stake (PoS) protocol – through which validators must put a portion of their crypto holdings at stake to verify transactions – is successful in radically increasing mining activity. The PoS model helps speed up transaction times but is much more energy-efficient, and could lead to Ethereum using 99.95% less energy if fully implemented.
Ethereum’s capabilities for multi-faceted application are also likely to come into further force next year, as we’re only beginning to understand the full-scale potential of smart contracts and non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Furthermore, as an open-source blockchain, anyone can build a new application or cryptocurrency on the Ethereum network, meaning its potential is only limited by developers’ creativity and ambitions for social impact. Nobody knows exactly how revolutionary Ethereum could be, but if today’s internet is considered Web 2.0, it is no exaggeration to state that Ethereum and its decentralized applications could constitute the bulk of Web 3.0.
Many critics found it easy to dismiss Facebook’s recent rebrand as dystopian and unrealistic – but the Metaverse is in many ways already with us and only likely to grow in 2022. The concept is certainly one that should be taken seriously – it doesn’t take much to see how it constitutes the next natural step in the evolution of the internet.
As computing power has increased over the decades, the experiences that they generate have become richer. In its early days, the internet displayed no more than white text on a black background. It wasn’t until the nineties that we saw the advent of digital imagery, and video only became mainstream in the early 2000s and dominate in the last decade. According to Cisco, by 2022 online videos will make up more than 82% of all consumer internet traffic — 15 times higher than it was in 2017.
In light of this trajectory, a move towards a three-dimensional metaverse seems like a logical consequence of the gradual (in some spheres exponential) growth in computing power. New buzzwords in technology come and go. But some of them stick around because the underlying technologies they represent are either truly revolutionary or have significant potential for social impact, such as artificial intelligence, virtual or augmented reality, or crypto and blockchain. Whether we like it or not, the metaverse is likely to join this list, changing the way we work and socialise in a significant manner.