We live in a world where smart watches, drone delivery, chatbots, live-streaming, self-driving cars and the sharing economy have become part of everyday language. But what about those rarely heard of technologies that, while already here, have yet to hit the mainstream?
Start-up companies and bigger firms looking to embrace innovation would do well to keep one eye on the horizon to prepare for the next major disrupters. Here are three areas of innovation I am keeping a close eye on.
Smart contracts are legal contracts that are enforced and executed using blockchain technology to automatically manage transactions and keep accurate records.
Blockchain technology removes the need for third parties to be involved — such as escrow companies — when selling or buying physical property like a car or house. The blockchain contains a number of layers of security that replaces the need for a trusted third party to manage the transaction on behalf of the buyer and seller.
In other words, smart contracts are computer programs that can automatically execute and verify the terms of a contract without the need for human supervision.
Instead of employing lawyers to negotiate contractual terms and conditions, smart computers would be able to automatically determine better mortgage rates, make it simpler to update your will, and be involved in the trading of financial products.
It might sound a bit boring at first, but smart contracts become much more important when you think of the real-life consequences to which they could lead.
For example, imagine a world in which driverless cars are the norm and you’ve just bought a new vehicle on a payment plan that is outlined in a smart contract.
One of the conditions of the contract could be that if you’re late with a payment, the car will turn off and stop driving you around.
Because the contract is automated, and integrated into “the cloud”, which also includes the car, the consequences of being late with a payment could be immediate. This would mean that contracts are more effectively — and autonomously — enforced than ever before.
Clothes might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about disruptive technology, but the invention of smart fabrics — or e-textiles — will be much bigger than most people realise.
As nanotechnology continues to evolve, the ability to weave interactive textiles into clothing is no longer the domain of science fiction.
Take Project Jacquard, for instance.
The company — which counts Levi’s as a partner — makes it possible to weave touch and gesture interactivity into any fabric simply by using a standard, industrial loom. It means you can answer your phone through your jacket.
Project Jacquard combines thin, metallic alloys with natural and synthetic yarns like silk, cotton or polyester, making the yarn strong enough to be woven on any industrial loom.
Adidas has already caught on, releasing a collection called “Climachill” that has titanium and aluminium built into the fabric to give the wearer a cold sensation while working out.
In similar vein, New York company Scough makes scarfs that filter and clean the air you breathe by using the same technology that the military uses to protect against chemical warfare.
Similar technology will have huge implications far beyond just the fashion industry — it’s easy to see the possibilities in sports, construction, healthcare and advertising, to name a few.
Biometric credit tokens
Very few online businesses should be storing credit card information any more. Most use a process called tokenisation — a process of substituting a sensitive data element such as a credit card number with a non-sensitive equivalent, referred to as a token, that has no extrinsic or exploitable meaning or value.
What that means in simple terms is that even if someone hacks the store, they won’t be able to do anything with the tokens because they are meaningless outside of the system.
In the not-too-distant future, it’s likely this process will be taken even further.
For example, each person will be asked to authorise their credit card transactions with their unique password, which will no longer be a numerical pass code, but a thumbprint, a facial scan or — as Swedish start-up Quixer has already invented — the palms of your hands, which contain a pattern of unique veins.
After this authorisation is complete, a unique alphanumeric “token” would be automatically created to identify that the person has authorised the merchant to withdraw a certain amount from their account on a particular date.
This can be viewed as an encrypted contract of sorts, which will more efficiently prevent theft.
Disruption has become an everyday idea thanks to technology companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Airtasker that are changing the face of work and travel.
But there are many more parts of life still to be disrupted, and all it takes is for the technologies being invented today to be successfully commercialised and go mainstream tomorrow.
Tim Parker authored this article while CEO of Gruden, one of Australia’s oldest and most trusted technology agencies.
Originally published by the Australian