Ever since Back to the Future Day happened last October, people have been comparing how well our current technology matched up with our last century’s expectations.
While our prototypes for hoverboards, flying cars, and self-lacing Nikes are still looking far behind from what we hoped they would be, we have made incredible strides in IT that just 20 years ago seemed like science fiction.
This is in large part due to a great innovation accelerator: cloud computing.
Here are 7 amazing technologies that have been made possible by the cloud.
1. Self-driving Cars and Vehicular Communication Systems
People have been dreaming of it since the 1930s, and now it’s nearly here: the autonomous vehicle, capable of navigating its way through traffic and avoiding accidents through sensors, GPS, radar, and vehicular communication systems.
And why not? Morgan Stanley estimates that these autonomous vehicles may provide up to $1.3 trillion in annual savings to the U.S. economy, $158 billion in annual fuel cost savings, and $488 billion in annual accident cost reduction savings, just to start with.
The true autonomous car would need not just an advanced AI, it would also need to talk with other self-driving cars as well as a navigation system in order to know where to go and what routes to take.
The cloud makes that communication possible. With a self-driving car accessing the cloud it can update itself on the environment, map, and traffic situation, and adjust accordingly.
This incredible technology is highlighted in the Drive Me Project by Volvo that aims to have 100 self-driving cars on the road in 2017.
[video_player type=”youtube” width=”560″ height=”315″ align=”center” margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”20″ border_size=”3″ border_color=”#3ccdcb”]aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cueW91dHViZS5jb20vd2F0Y2g/dj1vaThLX2NQZENuQQ==[/video_player]
2. Universal Translators
Star Trek fans take note: one of your favorite Federation tools may soon have us talking with people from other countries as easily as you would an old friend.
While Microsoft is relying on machine learning, Google is using the cloud to sample millions of texts and conversations online to come up with its giant database of languages.
It’s still in its infancy, but as the video demonstration below shows, the universal translator has definitely arrived.
[video_player type=”youtube” width=”560″ height=”315″ align=”center” margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”20″ border_size=”3″ border_color=”#36c4be”]aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cueW91dHViZS5jb20vd2F0Y2g/dj03QkQ4N0FkajJhaw==[/video_player]
3. Cloud Robotics
Robots have always been a prominent sci-fi trope, but building a robot alone will also mean continually providing it instructions to keep it useful.
So how do you make robots smarter? By marrying them to the cloud.
We can provide robots access to a pool of information that they can use to augment their activities. The impact of this would be enormous, impacting everything from manufacturing to education to healthcare.
For example, cloud robots can connect to the medical cloud, gaining access to patient records, medical solutions, pharmaceutical data, etc., in order to provide assistance to doctors during surgery or other important activities. Nanobots could also be used to connect to the cloud in order to monitor a patient’s vital signs, and even provide instant treatment for medical emergencies such as stroke.
4. Personalised Advertising
While re-watching the Tom Cruise sci-fi action film Minority Report the other day, I laughed out loud in the scene where he walks into a Gap store under an assumed identity, and was instantly greeted by the virtual clerk as “Mr. Yakamoto.” The store not only remembered his identity, it also knew his previous shopping activities and suggested items of interest.
We are seeing examples of personalised and targeted advertising happening right now. Amazon can suggest items of interest based on previous purchases, while LinkedIn recommends updates and content based on who we are connected to.
Meanwhile, Google AdSense can send targeted ads in the user’s native tongue, based on the language of the sites they visit.
With consumers finding personalised ads more interesting, informative, and memorable, companies are scrambling for ways to get the right content to the right person.
5. Highly-protected Data Centers
In Neal Stephenson’s 1999 novel Cryptonomicon, computer engineers create a data haven on the fictional island of Kinakuta, to provide people all over the world a way to do secure Internet banking.
Stephenson may have just created the precursor of today’s highly-fortified data center. In fact, some companies have done him a few levels better, placing DCs in a bunker, in a mountain, in the Arctic, and under a former cathedral, just to name a few places.
This goes to show how high the demand is for secure data centers.
The benefits are self-evident: by moving operations to one such fortified cloud data center, you can remove a significant amount of capital and operational expenses while maintaining a high level of physical security.
Companies and individuals may also back up valuable data in these secure havens, so in the event of a large-scale disaster it’s easy to get it all back—unlike with traditional methods of backup, a return to full operation can be a matter of hours, not months.
Having the right systems and checks in place is still critical to maintain a secure environment as explained in this example of a data breach for a Cruise Liner App.
[video_player type=”youtube” youtube_remove_logo=”Y” youtube_force_hd=”hd720″ width=”560″ height=”315″ align=”center” margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”20″ border_size=”3″ border_color=”#36c4be”]aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cueW91dHViZS5jb20vd2F0Y2g/dj1MLWNDLUpqWW9zMA==[/video_player]
6. Remote Collaboration
This has been heavily featured in films like Ghost in the Shell and Ender’s Game, where battles were coordinated across long distances and in real-time by networked individuals.
Because the cloud is collaborative by nature, it changes the way we work.
We now have a greater number of workers telecommuting and doing remote work than ever before, using such cloud collaboration software as Google Apps and Amazon Workspaces as business tools and Asana and Trello for work flow management.
No matter where you are in the world, so long as you have access to the Internet, you and your colleagues can work on the same projects at the same time.
20th century futurists have long dreamed of supercomputers: you feed it a piece of paper or a punch card containing some information and it outputs a thorough analysis of your data.
But being prohibitively expensive, such technology was mainly available to fictional government agencies, mad scientists, and billionaires.
But today, cloud computing has made supercomputers real and accessible. Cloud service providers can give virtually unlimited computing capacity for any imaginable task, be it application development, video streaming, database creation, and data analysis running to millions of Petabytes.
One of the cloud’s great success stories is the collaboration between Amazon Web Services and NASA. When NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs needed access to more computing power, they experimented with the cloud, and the results proved beyond expectations: in 2004, NASA sent a rover to Mars in far less time and with millions of dollars saved.
AS JPL’s John Callas puts it: “When we need more computing capacity, we don’t need to install more servers if we can rent more capacity from the cloud for just the time we need it. This way we don’t waste electricity and air conditioning with servers idling waiting to be used, and we don’t have to worry about hardware maintenance and operating system obsolescence.”
NASA JPL members joined the AWS recent summit for an in-depth discussion about how the cloud accelerates innovation:
[video_player type=”youtube” width=”560″ height=”315″ align=”center” margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”20″ border_size=”3″ border_color=”#42cdc7″]aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cueW91dHViZS5jb20vd2F0Y2g/dj1KclRzNHRqeElPWQ==[/video_player]