The Essential Eight

Your guide to the emerging technologies revolutionizing business now

The new tech future is here

Technology is evolving at breakneck speed and is already defining what’s next — for your company, competitors, and industry. Business leaders understand this: 76% of CEOs in our annual survey are worried about the speed of tech change. And 64% acknowledge that changes in the technology used to run their businesses will be disruptive over the next five years. Emerging technology should be a key part of every company’s corporate strategy. So why are so many hesitant to take action?

To help companies focus their emerging tech efforts, we analyzed the business impact and commercial viability of more than 250 emerging technologies to zero in on the “Essential Eight.” These are the core technologies that matter most for business, across every industry, over the next three to five years. The Essential Eight are the technology building blocks that we believe every organization must consider. While each company’s strategy for how to best exploit — and combine — them will vary, these technologies will have a profound global impact on business, employees, and customers.

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The Essential Eight technologies that matter most for business today


The Essential Eight technologies that matter most for business today

Explore the Essential Eight

Artificial intelligence

Software algorithms are automating complex decision-making tasks to mimic human thought processes and senses. Artificial intelligence (AI) is not a monolithic technology. A subset of AI, machine learning, focuses on the development of computer programs that can teach themselves to learn, understand, reason, plan, and act when blasted with data. Machine learning carries enormous potential for the creation of meaningful products and services — for example, hospitals using a library of scanned images to quickly and accurately detect and diagnose cancer; insurance companies digitally and automatically recognizing and assessing car damage; or security companies trading clunky typed passwords for voice recognition.

Learn more about AI insights that are shaping business strategy.

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Augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) is a visual or audio “overlay” on the physical world that uses contextualized digital information to augment the user’s real-world view. AR-enabled smart glasses help warehouse workers fulfill orders with precision, airline manufacturers assemble planes, and electrical workers make repairs. We’re currently seeing mainstream gaming examples of AR that span age demographics. The power of bringing information to the point of action in a seamless, unobtrusive manner is undeniable. This blending of the physical and virtual worlds is cracking open a new realm for businesses across the board to explore.

Learn how company leaders are using AR technologies to enhance different industries and the current state of the technology.

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Blockchain

A blockchain is a distributed digital database or, more broadly, a digital 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. Blockchain has the potential to usher in an era of autonomous digital commerce.

Learn more about the state of blockchain today.

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Drones

Depending on their design, drones vary greatly in their capacity. Some drones need wide spaces to take off, while quadcopters can squeeze into a column of space. Some drones are water based; others can operate and navigate autonomously (via remote control) or fully autonomously (via onboard computers). Companies are using drones for wide-ranging reasons, including surveillance, survey, sport, cinematography, and delivery.

Learn more with this comprehensive view of the state of drone technology and relevant news and trends.

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Internet of things

The Internet of things (IoT) is a network of physical objects — devices, vehicles, appliances — embedded with sensors, software, network connectivity, and computing capability enabling them to collect, exchange, and act on data, usually without human intervention. The industrial IoT (IIoT) refers to its use in the manufacturing and industrial sectors, aka Industry 4.0. IIoT augments people, places, processes, and products with sensors to capture and analyze information across a value chain, advancing the goals of the organization.

Learn more about the developments that are helping to shape the IoT’s evolution, and explore relevant news and trends.

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Robotics

Robots are machines with enhanced sensing, control, and intelligence used to automate, augment, or assist human activities. The robot market, which has grown for industrial applications, is poised for growth in a broad range of services applications. These applications are transforming manufacturing and non-manufacturing operations with new capabilities that address the challenges of working in changing, uncertain, and uncontrolled environments, such as alongside humans without being a danger to them.

Learn more with this comprehensive view of the state of robotics technology and relevant news and trends.

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Virtual reality

Virtual reality (VR) abolishes logistical limitations and makes anything possible. In a computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment, viewers can use special equipment to interact with the simulation in realistic ways. The gaming and entertainment industries are obvious proving grounds for VR. However, VR has the potential to transform many other industries as well, especially in the realm of experiential training where workers can be put into hazardous, difficult, or cost-prohibitive situations without the intense risks associated with these activities in the real world.

Learn more: In this VR briefing, we provide an overview of the state of the technology, bring you interviews with up-and-coming vendors, and share relevant news and trends.

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3-D printing

3-D printing creates three-dimensional objects based on digital models by layering or “printing” successive layers of materials. 3-D printing relies on innovative “inks,” including plastic, metal, and, more recently, glass and wood. 3-D printing has the potential to turn every large enterprise, small business and living room into a factory.

Learn more about the state of 3-D printing technology and the developments that are fueling innovations.

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What’s next for the Essential Eight?

Like all technology, our Essential Eight continue to mature and be used in new ways. And the most important trend? Combining individual technologies to yield powerful applications that are greater than the sum of their parts. For example, using IoT sensors to automatically collect data about raw materials moving through a supply chain, then recording that data in a blockchain to create a singular and unchangeable record everyone in the supply network can see. Or using video captured from a drone flying over that same raw material and using AI to not only recognize the material, but also determine how much had been used since the last time the images were analyzed.

Today, five themes are emerging that represent how these technologies are coming together to create the next wave of innovation.

Embodied AI

Technologies: 3-D printing, AI, Drones, IoT, Robotics 

AI is everywhere. Along with IoT sensors, it’s integrated in many products, from simple cameras to sophisticated drones. Embedded sensors collect data, which is fed to algorithms that give that object the illusion of intelligence. This enables drones to follow a moving object like a truck or a person autonomously. It enables a 3-D printer to automatically modify a design as it is being printed to have a stronger structure, become lighter, or be more cost effective to print. It enables AR glasses to overlay data on an anchored endpoint or allow you to communicate via voice with a robot or conversational agent.

Intelligent Automation

Technologies: AI, RPA

Companies got started with robotic process automation (RPA) to streamline processes and reduce costs. Now, the automation toolbox continues to expand — and get smarter. This includes everything from natural language processing and machine learning to orchestration software and automation platforms that help you optimize what work is best suited for people and which is best done by machines. The shift to more intelligent automation will yield returns that go far beyond cost savings, such as better customer and employee experience, improved quality due to fewer errors, and reimagined processes that change how business is done.

Automating Trust

Technologies: AI, Blockchain, IoT

One high potential area for blockchain, when used in combination with technologies like AI or IoT, is its ability to automate trust among users within a network. For example, IoT enables the tracking of a pallet of food from the farm to the warehouse to the store. The sensors can verify the entire supply chain — not only to know where a shipment is, for example, but also the recording conditions of each leg of the shipment so you know if conditions become too hot, too cold, or too humid. IoT and blockchain create an immutable supply chain, enabling buyers to trust they are getting an authentic product. They can also be used to verify if a product containing hazardous materials has been correctly and safely disposed.

Conversational Interfaces

Technologies: AI, IoT, RPA, Robotics

While technology like AI or robotics has changed how work is done in the office, in the factory, and in the field, it’s not always easy to use. That’s changing with a new generation of interfaces, such as voice and conversational agents that make it seamless for business users to interact with technology systems, from finance bots and AI-based predictive analytics to smart sensors and factory robots. These interfaces are improving the employee and customer experience and enabling companies to get the full return on their tech investments.

Extended Reality

Technologies: AI, AR, IoT, VR 

The umbrella term encompassing augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality, extended reality (XR) represents the continuum between simple, digital overlays and fully immersive digital experiences. XR's true power will be unlocked when it’s used with other technologies like AI and IoT. What’s needed is a seamless hardware and software ecosystem that significantly enhances human productivity and experience. Imagine technicians repairing complicated machinery with full and detailed schematics overlaying the real-world object. Or trainers using the power of XR to create realistic simulations that mimic the real world. Just as jet pilots have flight simulations, XR can make a range of hazardous or otherwise specialized industrial activities easier to train for, from wind farm repair and oil rig firefighting to shop floor process optimization.

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Scott Likens
Emerging Technology Leader, US, China, and Japan, PwC United States
Tel: +1 (512) 708-5473
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