2014 was a great year for innovative technology with lots of exciting gadgets and tech trends. The market was flooded with manufacturers developing health devices to ‘bring out the healthier you’ and this trend has most certainly cascaded over to 2015. However, we may have bigger things to come with an increased focus on health and, very possibly, devices that take us beyond health tracking, translating metrics into physiological improvements in our lives.
Here are our predictions for what’s going to be hot in tech for 2015:
Cloud-based artificial intelligence
Consumers can sometimes be fixated with the way something looks, whether it’s the design or exterior shell. But what about the brains behind it? In the past few years we have seen artificial intelligence (AI) come into the mainstream consumer market with technologies like Siri, which although initially seemed like a gimmick to sell the iPhone, is actually a useful tool that can make life easier for the user – if used properly.
We’re obviously still years away from an AI that is as useful and ‘attractive’ as Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, in the movie Her. However, the tech world is progressing with several major tech companies such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo! and Intel already investing in AI. We must say though, the reigning king of AI at the moment is IBM’s Watson, an artificially intelligent computer system ‘who’ has qualifications in the medical field. Watson is currently only working with IBM’s partnering doctors and hospitals; however tech boffins are linking Watson’s ‘intelligence’ with a medical diagnosis app, which may well soon be helping to diagnose diseases.
2014 was launch year for wearable technology, but we all want to know what’s next? Truckloads of companies have already ventured into health tracking, but who will go beyond this? Apple has always had the expertise to redefine entire categories of consumer devices, so a key highlight is likely to be the highly anticipated Apple Watch. Will it change the way we use health trackers and smartwatches? Well the original iPhone changed the world of smartphones, so perhaps so. We may even see more smart health and medical devices being approved by regulators for consumer use.
Crowdfunding and crowdsourcing
As health tracking becomes more mainstream we may witness a health revolution and the possibility of more crowd-based health and medical innovations. This trend may well get people thinking about, and funding, what they really want from a health tracking device – something that goes beyond knowledge and data, and provides tangible benefits that will translate into significant and real life health improvements.
Beyond supporting companies to develop a product, crowdfunding can be used to support any type of effort, for example raising funds to help certain people around the world who lack the resources to access healthcare, or get life-saving treatment etc.
The Internet of Things
Internet-connected devices are creeping into our lives. Gradually our homes are becoming connected, from utility providers to device manufacturers, and soon virtually everything on the planet could theoretically be connected. A key question for healthcare is – could pharma and medical device manufacturers get in on this innovation game too?
We are already seeing other industries moving in this direction, for example at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, manufacturers revealed a range of internet connected kitchen appliances, such as the Wi-Fi kettle and Wi-Fi coffee machine, which sounds ridiculously genius! So on those rainy days, you could get your cuppa going before you’ve even stepped foot out of bed!
3D printing has allowed us to manufacture just about anything from furniture to guns in our living rooms, and is also spurring on the prototyping process for many gadget developers. But could this be used in the biomedical industry? The answer is Yes – several universities in the UK and US are currently developing bioprinting techniques to enable them to print functioning human organs and bones. This will require extensive studies, clinical trials and regulatory approvals. However, if it works, we could, in the future, have personalised organ transplants that are printed from our own cells. This may mean issues such as organ shortages, transplant rejection or religious restrictions will be a thing of the past.
More big data
It appears big data is here to stay, and to kick off the New Year Genentech, a member of the Roche group, announced a deal with genetics research company, 23andMe, that holds detailed genetic data of some 800,000 people. This is a prime example of how the pharma industry and genetics data companies could work together to inform the drug development process for better-targeted treatments, and demonstrating how data can help improve society’s health and wellbeing. Of course there is still the debate around data privacy and ownership, so perhaps 2015 is the year where companies and big data advocates will do more to address this issue.
Data privacy and security issues
Hacking and cyber security issues made the headlines a fair number of times last year, from the infamous hack into Sony by [allegedly] North Korea, to the celebrity nude photo iCloud leak/hack – clearly, cyber security is a major concern for all. More importantly, could security issues be a stumbling block for the NHS to hold our personal health and medical information under its care.data programme? There are already a number of issues being raised about data privacy and keeping the information out of the hands of commercial organisations, but for hackers (made up of malicious individuals, organised crime or state-sponsored) to target everyday people and breach the NHS to steal such information and potentially sell or leak it, is a risk that the NHS or even the government just cannot afford.
So the future is open to many possibilities, and I for one cannot wait.