In our “5 Emerging Megatrends & What To Do About Them” Master Class, Ashish Basuray of PreScouter shares insights on how to scout emerging “megatrends,” what trends he is seeing, and what to do with the information. During the call, he explores:  

  • The Gartner hype cycle and the innovation of technology

  • What the energy revolution means for big companies and investors

  • Why the adoption curve of third-wave AI is way different than earlier models, and more. 

Ashish Basuray is the Chief Scientist of PreScouter, a strategic advisory service with a global network that provides research support services to help business leaders make better R&D, product development and corporate development decisions. PreScouter is one of Innovation Leader’s strategic partners. Five takeaways from the conversation follow. To download slides, visit PreScouter’s website. 

The Energy Revolution

Imagine what your organization could do if portable energy was essentially free. While this seems like a far-off possibility, it’s actually on the horizon for many organizations that are already thinking about portable energy, according to Basuray. And where you get your energy from is on the precipice of changing, too. 

Despite prices of lithium ion batteries dropping, they aren’t exactly “free energy.” They come with expenses, like the cost of extracting cathode materials, the negative environmental impacts of the mining process, and the difficulty of disposing the batteries in a non-destructive way. This has led to investors and organizations withdrawing billions of dollars in funds from non-sustainably driven companies. 

The good news is that there are a few new technologies that are poised to replace lithium ion batteries: lithium sulfur batteries, a sustainable option that can outperform lithium ion batteries, IBM’s “no-metal battery” based on components extracted from seawater, and non-toxic zinc and manganese batteries created by Adelaide, to name a few. 

Digital Twins

Anyone who travels regularly most likely has had a flight delayed due to unscheduled maintenance on the plane, an $8 billion annual problem for passengers, according to Basuray. A possible solution? Digital twins.

A digital twin is “something in real life that you’re then moving into the digital world,” Basuray says. And according to a case study done a few years ago by General Electric, a 10-minute long digital twins simulation that highlighted a simple adjustment that could be made on a turbine saved the company $12 million. So, imagine if every airline ran a digital twins simulation long before you ever reached the terminal.

The first phase of a digital twin is to digitize any information that you have. “It doesn’t have to be sophisticated,” Basuray says. It could be as simple as a  blueprint. Then, it’s time to create a three-dimensional environment using a computer-aided design (CAD) modeling software. At this point, you can start to add stimuli to this three-dimensional space, like wind resistance with computer simulation software like Simulink. From there, you can tweak the digital model and make decisions on how to adjust the real-world machinery. 

Third-Wave AI

To understand the power of AI for your organization, it’s first important to understand the four waves: The first wave involved performing a singular task and following rules, the second wave created predictive algorithms leveraged by companies like Pandora and Spotify, and the current third wave is able to blend the capabilities of the first two while also reducing the barriers of entry and increasing the quality. The future’s fourth wave is the “Star Trek kind of stuff where you talk to a computer and it understands you seamlessly and is able to produce something of value to you in a very short order,” Basuray says.

Instead of using trial and error like the first two waves, third-wave AI reduces the need for extensive training by relying on what’s called “expert knowledge.” Third-wave AI doesn’t require highly curated and extensive data sets like earlier models did, either. These barriers to entry were some of the “roadblocks of second wave AI a few years ago, and why the adoption curve for AI was really slow,” Basuray says. 

By contrast, third-wave AI is already being used across industries. Scientists are using chemical products to predict properties of novel compounds without physical synthesis. Advanced manufacturers are looking at ways to reduce lost time and incidents by detecting safety hazards before they cause accidents. Food and beverage companies are using AI to detect products that don’t meet the quality requirements, and the list goes on. 

Smart Materials

In the most general sense, smart materials are designed materials that have one or more properties that can be influenced or controlled. For example, a label that shines differently depending on how the light hits it is a smart material that can prevent counterfeit products being released under a brand’s name. Any product that doesn’t have the smart label can instantly be detected as fraudulent.

Smart materials can range from different kinds of sensors, which have long existed and are already being applied in a variety of different capacities, to what Basuray calls “novel materials.” Examples include innovations like self-healing polymers or composite materials that reform after there’s been a deformation in them.

5G and IoT Technologies

“Let’s say it’s 2025, and Susan here goes to see her physician for a routine checkup,” says Basuray. “It actually turns out she has a relatively fast progressing brain tumor, and she’s located in Montana. … [The solution is] really complicated neurosurgery. … They call up a physician in Chicago, who hops into a machine that is looking at Susan, and is able to perform the surgery completely remotely because the speed of the internet is so fast. We’re talking single digit latencies. The feedback that he’s feeling, literally with his hands, is what’s happening in real time on Susan. She successfully goes through the operation, and she’s happy and healthy and lives a much longer life than perhaps if something like 5G didn’t exist.”

5G and Internet of Things technology promise results like the one posed by Basuray. Connection density is going to be tenfold greater than what it is today if it is implemented nationwide, he says. According to Basuray, “everyone’s going to have a lot of bandwidth, and we need to figure out what we can do with it.” This could mean anything from faster connection and the elimination of “buffer times” in streaming to the introduction of the tactile Internet, which allows one to feel through space, and extreme innovations in augmented and virtual reality experiences.