When did it become smart to be dumb about tech? UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd is the latest high-profile politician to appear comfortable with her tech ignorance. The cabinet minister responsible for Britain’s security declared at a recent event: “I don’t need to understand how encryption works to understand how it’s helping – end-to-end encryption – the criminals.” We might not all understand the minute details of how technologies work, but surely grasping the essentials of encryption is part of her job of helping keep Britain safe from terrorism. Mind you, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker doesn’t own a smartphone, and says he doesn’t need to be “a techie” to make sure Europe’s “future is digital”. Europe is clearly ready for a more tech-savvy generation of leaders.
Imagine travelling in any country on the planet without worrying whether you would understand what you’ve just ordered in a restaurant. Google has just developed earbuds that can translate 40 spoken languages in (almost) real time, fast enough to hold a conversation. Real-time digital translation isn’t new. Japanese company Logbar recently created a gadget that translates your words instantly (into English, Japanese and Chinese so far). Skype has also been a pioneers in the field. EU translators beware - language barriers might soon be history. Admittedly the products need to be fine-tuned, but for now – Здрасти/こんにちは!
In a few years, wheelchairs might be things of the past. French start-up Wandercraft is raising funds to market an exoskeleton that can help paraplegics walk again. Does that sound simple? It’s not. The exoskeleton uses complex algorithms and dynamic robotics, a system with six motors and 12 robotic joints that are able to analyse 30,000 bits of information per second. Aimed for now at rehabilitation centres, these robots could be a breakthrough in technology, giving mobility-impaired patients more autonomy. The big question: are overburdened healthcare systems ready for that much (costly) innovation?
Socially adept robot helpers like Pepper already recognise principal human emotions. When a personalised robot responds to your every need, there will be some emotional connection. But it’s not all about brains; looks matter too. Studies show that forming a relationship with a physical form containing an AI is much easier for people compared a disembodied voice in a box (like Alexa or Siri). The next healthcare application might be older adults using robots for companionship, aiding mobility or delivering medication. The benefits are clear, but are we ready to lose the human side of healthcare?
3-D printers might rock the global economy in a way you never imagined. Raoul Leering, head of international trade analysis at ING, has released a paper claiming that if major advances in 3-D printing make mass 3-D production practical, we could be looking at a major disruption to global trade. He estimates that 50% of products will be 3-D printed by 2060, resulting in a massive 25% decrease in trade. Why? 3-D printed products require less labour, reducing the need to import intermediate and final goods from other countries. Clearly it’s not just data and privacy issues that should be part of international trade discussions in the EU.
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