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Essential eight convergence themes

When certain emerging technologies converge, the scope of what’s possible expands exponentially. PwC’s vision includes: automating trust, hyperconnected networks, extended reality, immersive interfaces, digital reflection and working autonomy. Together emerging technologies yield powerful business solutions that are greater than the sum of their parts.

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Episode transcript

Find episode transcript below.

Adam Hargus (00:08):

Hello everyone. And welcome to another episode of Tech While You Trek. I'm your host, Adam. And today we're here with Scott Likens, PwC Emerging Technology Leader, and Tony Anderson PwC Emerging Technology Research Lead. To help companies get started, PwC analyzed the business impact and commercial viability of more than 250 emerging technologies to zero in on the essential eight.

The essential eight emerging technologies are artificial intelligence, augmented reality, blockchain, drones, internet of things, robotics, virtual reality, and 3D printing. And today we're here to talk about how these technologies converged together to yield powerful business solutions that are greater than the sum of their parts. Tony, Scott, welcome to the show.

Tony Anderson (00:50):

Thanks for having us.

Scott Likens (00:51):

Good to be here.

Adam Hargus (00:52):

So listen, Tony, we'll start with you. How did these convergence themes come to fruition?

Tony Anderson (00:57):

Traditionally, when we talk about emerging technologies, the way we've talked about it for the last few years is sort of in this lens of the technology itself. So we're talking about AI, we're talking about 3D printing, we're talking about drones. But what we started to notice is over the last handful of years, the questions were okay, what are the next technologies that we really need to look at? And when we started looking at the future, and looking at how technology was evolving, what we found is that there was less of a concentration on the individual pieces of tech.

So less on those sort of core pieces of technology, and looking more at how are these technologies actually moving together? That's really where the new innovation is happening. So these things are really functioning as building blocks. And those building blocks are creating sort of that next wave of emerging technology innovation. How these sort of came about is taking that next level look at emerging technology and saying the technology is obviously incredibly important, but it's less about the technology itself, but how these things are sort of weaving together to really influence business. And that was the lens we took. And that's sort of how we got to where we are with these convergence themes today.

Adam Hargus (02:04):

So Scott, of what we've started talking about, what are your two favorite themes?

Scott Likens (02:09):

One is automating trust. And it's my favorite because it's one that's been in development for a long time. And when I was working overseas, we are looking at technology that could help us solve a really important social problem, which was tracking and tracing food so that we can make sure it wasn't counterfeit. And automating trust was the only way we could describe what we had to accomplish.

One, we had to mark products, use [Internet of Things] IoT to track and trace the movement of products through very complex supply chains. Two, we had the irrefutably know who had touched that product when, and environmental conditions, and blockchain helped us create one immutable ledger to store that information. And then we wanted to use AI to actually look at the movement of those products. Could we pick up grain markets? Or could we get ahead of counterfeiting?

So what we were looking at is technology taking humans out of the equation, which was good because there was more data, and it was more specific, and it was in real time to see these products move through the system. So that one I love, because it was very personal.

The second one I think is a little bit of a sleeper, I'll put extended reality out there. So virtual reality has been kind of a promise technology. And I think in the last 18 months, it's really turned the corner. And when we talk about extended reality, we're saying let's take virtual reality, which is simulated environments. Let's take augmented reality, which could be a real environment with data overlaid. Let's add AI to it, let's create simulated humans that we can speak to, that we can practice and train with.

Let's create hard skills training. We can create an environment that's either dangerous, dirty, or distant, and we can bring it to you in your home office, which is more important than ever. So extended reality to me was something we've been thinking about for a long time. I think we finally got the devices, the software, the cloud services, the AI, all of the pieces and parts. So now extended reality is making a huge impact.

Adam Hargus (03:51):

So Tony, what about the others that Scott hadn't mentioned among his favorites?

Tony Anderson (03:55):

Extended reality, I agree, is really sort of that sleeper. I think you're going to see a lot of stuff coming down the pipe with it over the next handful of years. We're getting even way out there with things like brain computer interfaces. So there's some really sort of out there tech, but that kind of idea of bringing the physical into that extended digital reality, is very, very powerful. So we talked a little bit about like hard skills, and soft skills, and training in VR.

We're starting to see where companies are building suits that are fully haptic, so that you can actually feel your environment. And it sounds sort of weird, right? It sounds sci-fi and movie-ish, but the ability to create an environment that allows us to learn in a very unique way and safely, right? So we don't have to put people in dangerous situations.

People don't have to climb up to the top of an antenna tower to feel that vertigo. These immersive interfaces are really going to be crucial going forward. Because once that extended reality piece really starts landing concretely in the business world, you're going to see how do we make it even better? And then immersive interfaces are what's going to sort of follow behind that. So it's that evolution of, we talk naturally with voice, we talk with chatbots. Now, we're going to actually make our physical beings sort of enter into that digital realm. So it's really, really exciting stuff.

Adam Hargus (05:07):

How come I didn't hear anything about an AI focused convergence theme, or big data, or 5G, or the cloud? I mean, what about those technologies?

Scott Likens (05:19):

AI is embedded in every single one of these. Over the last few years we've seen AI really take this maturity curve that we weren't expecting, because AI has been around a long time. Because we have access to big data because we have AI in the cloud, we basically look at those as the must haves. We assume those are there. So if you're not in the cloud, if you're not using big data, you shouldn't probably be thinking about AI yet.

You've got to get some of the basics. So I think 5G and quantum I'd throw in there are the ones that everyone asks about. Tony is focused on trying to find when these become essential. And actually we have two other convergence themes, and I'm going to hit one called hyper-connected networks. And this concept starts to bring these together.

So if you think about the cloud, how do we start to think about the fog? Or the devices that are closer to us at the ground level? Think IoT, how do we connect that better? How do we get more data out of there? Well, you need a hyper-connected network. 5G will help with that, the ability to hyper connect, and use AI to act at the end point, that's really starting to emerge as a valuable asset. They're truly all connected. So that's why we don't specifically talk about 5G, it's just an enabler of what we think is more important, which is a hyper-connected network.

Tony Anderson (06:24):

One of the other ones. And I think this really plays into the AI side, is what we call digital reflection. What digital reflection is to us. And this is where I think it's really interesting is it's a broader encompassing idea that where previously we did things with digital simulations, this isn't anything new, right?

We've been able to create digital representations and do testing against that, but they were typically reference models. With AI, with our hyper-connected networks. So the ability to grab data from everywhere, IoT, AI, we're actually able now to start creating simulations of things in real time.

So we can mimic a real world item as it's changing, and then model behaviors, or model situations against that in real time, to help make decisions. So we're moving from this idea of, well, we think this would happen based on the reference model, too we're basing our decisions and our predictive analytics on real world situational items that are being mimicked in real time.

Adam Hargus (07:23):

Forgive me. You say real world situations, but mimicked in real time. I mean, wouldn't you still consider that a model. I mean, isn't that still just modeling? It's just more sophisticated modeling, right?

Tony Anderson (07:31):

Well, it is, but it's taking it to another level. So take an engine for example, right? We would have an engine in an airplane. We knew what that engine was and we can model against that. And we could say, "Okay, well, if it gets this hot, or has this many hours, this is what we would expect to happen."

Where we are today is we can actually put sensors in there and we can model that actual engine, and know that this engine has 2000 hours of life. It's been under this percent of humidity, this much pressure, this much sheer strength, this much condensation, this much vibration, and feed that in, in real time. And know that before that plane takes off, we know the journey is going to be this many miles. There's going through this type of weather. We know that it's going to be under these types of conditions.

And then we can actually forecast against that real individual engine. And that's really been enabled because of, again, the advancements in things like IoT, as Scott said, the hyper-connected networks, we can get data from all over the place now, and process that at the point of acquisition. Which is really powerful.

Adam Hargus (08:31):

Well, what about people who are afraid that all of these technologies, and all of these advancements will replace them in their jobs? I mean, how do these technologies actually help people work smarter, and work better?

Scott Likens (08:44):

We absolutely know that jobs are going to change and everyone's digital IQ is raising every day. So we have to look at it as, what is the new job that it creates? Five years ago, some of the jobs we have today didn't exist at all. These convergence themes are really truly the human extension.

So creating an extra ability for mind and machine to work together. It's not about replacing jobs, it's about changing jobs, and about making a human factor more important. Taking the monotony out of certain things and letting the machines do that. And really giving humans that empowerment to do what they do best, which is maybe decision making, or having empathy. So for us, it's really about extending the human experience, versus replacing it.

Adam Hargus (09:26):

Then what do you guys say to a few fun questions before I let you get out of here? Sound good?

Tony Anderson (09:30):

Sounds good.

Scott Likens (09:30):


Adam Hargus (09:31):

What would the you of 20 years ago have been most surprised that you use technology for today?

Tony Anderson (09:36):

The thing that sort of shocks me the most is, we are, in my family, we are heavy users of voice. And I think everyone's sort of used to talking to their phones, but my home is littered with smart speakers, and I can control about 80% of my home using my voice. So we've gotten to the point where, you look back at old sci-fi movies, and they're talking, they're turning lights on and opening doors, and turning on and off TVs.

And that is something that is a regular occurrence in my home. All my kids talk to devices. And it's absolutely funny that I think my kids are forgetting how to turn on light switches because they now command the rooms to turn it on and off via voice. So I don't think I ever would have foreseen us having that capability in just our everyday lives like we do today.

Scott Likens (10:22):

I'd throw VR in here. I've always been passionate about online gaming, and massive multi-user games, and just the environments 20 years ago were amazing, but wouldn't believe I'd be using that for work. And getting in an environment completely simulated with people from all over the world, walking around in avatars, interchanging, collaborating, talking naturally, pretty amazing to me that I'm using that day to day now.

Adam Hargus (10:43):

All right, last question before I let you gentlemen get out of here. What is your one bold prediction for technology in 2040? So 20 years down the road. We did 20 years before and now we're doing 20 years later.

Tony Anderson (10:51):

The way we search the internet and the way we function today is barely 20 years old. The first hybrid car that ever came to market is 20 years old. 20 years is a ridiculous amount of time. So even any guess we have as bold as it may be, is a shot in the dark. And that's what's so awesome about emerging tech generally.

But if I had to really sort of go out there and say, I think from the extended reality side, I think we're going to start seeing augmented reality, either in glasses or in lens form. And we are going to be walking around with a constant stream of information in front of us. And it's going to not just disrupt our information and what is available to us, but it's also going to change the way we fundamentally interact with those around us. Because we're going to have so much information together that it's going to adjust what our social interactions are going to look like.

Scott Likens (11:42):

I think in 20 years from now, A) we will be likely living in space to some degree. But B) I think it's going to change our biology. You see kids using tablets differently and gesture, and voice, as Tony mentioned from an early age. I think in 2040, we're going to see biological changes of how we operate.

The constant information stream, the attention deficit we have for long running tasks. I think it's going to change our biology. I know that's bold to think in 20 years, but I see symptoms of it, or signs of it already.

Adam Hargus (12:09):

Well, listen, Scott Likens, Tony Anderson, thank you guys so much for coming by today and hanging out.

Scott Likens (12:15):

Thank you, it was fun.

Adam Hargus (12:25):

Thank you all for listening to another episode of Tech While You Trek. I've been your host, Adam, and we will talk to you again next time when we share more about the emerging technology convergence theme of automating trust.

Speaker 4 (12:35):

This podcast is brought to you by PwC. All rights reserved. PwC refers to the US member firm or one of its subsidiaries or affiliates, and may sometimes refer to the PwC network. Each member firm is a separate legal entity. Please see for further details. This podcast is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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Scott Likens

Partner, Trust Technology, PwC Labs, PwC US


Tony Anderson

Emerging Technology Senior Research Lead, PwC US


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