Being a science fiction writer is hard work these days. One can hardly invent a technology that won’t appear in our homes in a few years’ time. Perhaps this is why one of the most outstanding representatives of the genre in recent years, Liu Cixin – in successive volumes of his Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy – had to look ahead a countless number of years, even reaching as far as the end of time. To put it simply: the everyday technology of the future is already here.
In the 1980s, video phones appeared in any movie about the future, from the Jetsons to Back to the Future II. Now, forty years later, everyone has such a device in their pockets, although forty years from a futurist vision to implementation is no big deal. Today, concepts associated with popular science fiction can become reality within days or weeks. Technologies around the nearest corner prove how much we are already living in the future.
Imagine yourself sitting in the back seat of a car. You are wearing goggles through which you are watching a live football match, switching freely between onsite video cameras, viewing actions taking place on the pitch from angles inaccessible via traditional television. It goes without saying that there is nobody sitting behind the steering wheel.
5G networks alone will grant the opportunity to watch the world in virtual and augmented reality from your smartphone. We do not need to be carrying vast processing power ‘on ourselves’ because fast data transfer and very short latency will enable cloud computers to perform all necessary calculations and send the picture back to our goggles. This technology already exists. Autonomous vehicles are already being tested today in various parts of the world, with substantial success. Unmanned forklifts for handling of dispatches are being implemented in ports and warehouses. The problem of allowing autonomous cars on our roads is no longer a question of technology, but of legal reality.
Now, please imagine that you are entering a plain grocery store. There are no attendants inside. You can take any product and just leave. You will be charged automatically by a debit to your account. In Poznań, Poland, a store without attendants has already opened. Admittedly, at present it still uses an application and QR codes, but once the new technology has been implemented, it will be able to operate just as we imagined – we go in, collect the goods, and leave. This technology is already here. 5G networks within enterprises make life easier not only for consumers, but also for managers and employees. 5G will allow farmers to monitor their crops, control watering drones, and perform simple tasks. 5G offers the hitherto unprecedented optimization of the activities of enterprises including the control of supply chains and industrial processes. This field of use of new technologies will be the main driving force of a new type of economy. Economists stress that we are on the verge of a new industrial revolution, and new technology will be the modern equivalent of the steam engine.
Another area that is going to change beyond recognition is medicine. Telemedicine – again available via 5G technology - translates into a completely new quality of service. Modern equipment can monitor the patient’s status in real time, whilst AI already outpaces humans in its ability to analyse images, for example of the retina. In the city of Xiamen in south-east China, an ophthalmic hospital is being created with the participation of Huawei, where communication will take place with the use of new technology. Certainly, live contact with a medical doctor will never stop being important, but the next generation network will help to guarantee basic care in places with poorer access. The use of the computing power of the cloud – in certain medical analyses – will provide medical doctors with new and precise diagnostic tools.
It is beyond any doubt that technologies are bound to change our lives. The new industrial revolution is already within our reach, and there are no technological barriers that might hinder its implementation. In the United Kingdom, Spain, Switzerland, Finland, and many other countries, 5G is already available, while other states are performing advanced tests. We should watch these countries with curiosity, as pioneers may be perfect examples of implementations that futurists did not dare to dream of. The entrepreneurial spirit may find new methods for use of that technology, ones that the engineers did not imagine. Certainly, no change is instantaneous, but we can say with all certainty that our visions of the future are already here.