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TECHNOLOGY

12 Disruptive Technologies That Have the Potential to Change Your Business

Collectively and over the long term, these technologies could account for trillions of dollars of economic impact. That's why you need to watch them now.

Look at the history of entrepreneurship and you see a repeated story of technology disrupting industries. With the ever accelerating rate of advancement in many fields, the chance of future disruptions over most industries becomes almost a certainty.

So where should you pay attention? Here's a list of 10 disruptive technologies as identified recently by the McKinsey Global Institute. According to its estimate, the total potential impact could be between $14 trillion and $33 trillion a year by 2025.

  1. Mobile Internet--Mobile Internet is far more than having access to a browser from your smartphone or tablet. It will affect service delivery, worker productivity, remote healthcare, and consumer habits and preferences in shopping. Some of the technologies that it, in turn, will affect are battery technology, advanced displays, new user interface designs, further miniaturization of electronics, and wireless.
  2. Automation of knowledge work--The combination of artificial intelligence, natural user interfaces, and big-data technologies will start doing many tasks that formerly required people, so expect further downsizing. Also, tools will leverage professionals of all sorts and affect such fields as education, diagnosis and drug discovery in medical, legal work such as discovery and patent filing, and accounting and investments in finance.
  3. Internet of Things--With sensors on devices, clothing, machinery, and virtually anything else you can think of, all using wireless and near-field communications to communicate with networks and the rest of the Internet, there will be major impacts on business process optimization, manufacturing, natural resource use, utilities, energy delivery, and remote healthcare.
  4. Cloud--Cloud technology can provide centralized computing resources to serve many users, whether internally in a company or through a third-party service. More efficient use of resources will put pressure on the computer and IT industries, as more work is done by fewer machines and people. At the same time, cloud can offer software and computing services that let businesses run more efficiently and enable many technology entrepreneurs to get the resources they need far more economically than by building their own systems.
  5. Advanced robotics--Exoskeletons, artificial and enhanced sight and hearing, remote physical manipulation, and artificial intelligence will make changes in manufacturing, healthcare and surgery, such basic service activities as food preparation and cleaning, and consumer use.
  6. Autonomous and near-autonomous vehicles--Self-driving cars already exist in prototype forms. Add in computer vision, sensors such as radar and GPS, communication with networks, and remote control, and you affect transportation and shipping.
  7. Next-generation genomics--Gene sequencing, analytics, and synthetic biology are coming into their own. Combining the ease of getting information with much faster analysis will affect disease treatment, agriculture and food production, and probably insurance.
  8. Energy storage--Energy storage has been a major limiting factor in many technologies, whether consumer electronics, vehicles, remote mechanical systems, and alternative energy production. Find better ways to store energy via new approaches to batteries, nanotechnology, and advanced materials, and you could find entire new applications possible that couldn't have been done before.
  9. 3D printing--Whether high-profile use in producing individual guns or research that could allow devices to literally make meals, 3D printing is rapidly gaining prominence. Printers could change the way companies make almost anything through distributed manufacturing, enable consumers to make products themselves, or create tissues and organs for transplanting.
  10. Advanced materials--Materials science has been an important area that many people have ignored. But modern plastics, specialized automotive steel, and semiconductors are just three areas where it has been important. The influence will only expand as such technologies as graphene, carbon nanotubes, nanoparticles, and memory and self-healing materials affect energy storage, computer displays, enhanced chemicals and catalysts, consumer electronics, medicine, and many types of manufacturing.
  11. Advanced oil and gas exploration and recovery--Even as alternative energy resources expand in commercial scope, petroleum and gas are important in many manufacturing processes as ingredients or components. Fracking, horizontal drilling, and microseismic monitoring will be important in shale gas, light tight oil, and coal-based methane.
  12. Renewable energy--Between global climate change and finite petroleum resources, the world needs energy to do literally everything. Photovoltaic cells and other forms of direct solar, geothermal, wind, and various forms of hydroelectric will not only help generate electricity, but allow distributed energy production, which could change many industries.

Here is a graph of the expected economic impact by technology in trillions of dollars:

disruptive technologies

Even though keeping tabs on these technologies is something for the long term, it's also immediately important. Any day you might hear of an advance that could make a big difference for your business--or the next one you will launch.

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Last updated: Jun 6, 2013

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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