The five ‘tech superpowers’ and how they can transform human progress

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Pat Gelsinger, Chief Executive Officer, Intel

  • We are just beginning to tap the full potential of 5 extraordinary tech superpowers: computing, connectivity, infrastructure, AI and sensing.
  • Paramount to the future of creating human/AI systems is understanding the key roles humans play within these systems.
  • As we continue to transform human progress, we must look to improve the life of every person on the planet, not just the fortunate few.

Our world is at a strategic inflection point – the fundamentals of society are changing. We are in a new era, one not quite “post-pandemic” and with enough geopolitical tension to cause many sceptics to proclaim, “the end of globalization.” Yet, the challenges of tomorrow are so complex, so interconnected and so reliant on technology that we need to undertake new ways to collaborate and partner across industries, borders and disciplines.

We are all part of a globally interconnected evolution. By creating more resilient systems and supply chains – without single points of collapse or extreme imbalances – the world will be able to witness the true magic of technology. I have often spoken about how, working together, we can push forward with innovation, discovery and growth through the help of the “tech superpowers”: computing, connectivity, infrastructure and artificial intelligence (AI).

These foundational technologies profoundly shape how we experience the world by creating the bridge from the analogue age to the digital age. As they become more ubiquitous, they unlock even more powerful new possibilities. Each builds upon and enhances the others, creating a powerful cycle of increasing impact and technological acceleration.

Technology superpowers

By detecting, locating and identifying many properties of human existence, the combined tech superpowers enable us to augment and emulate all five human senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Therefore, it is only appropriate to add a fifth superpower – sensing – to our list:

1. Compute: Every thing is a computer. The invention of the 4004 chip, a 4-bit central processing unit, essentially jumpstarted the modern world of computing. 50 years later, almost everything we interact with is now ‘smart’ and includes a computer. Computing now defines how you experience the world.

2. Connectivity: Everyone and everything is connected. Wi-Fi was the key technology that cut the wires allowing people freedom of mobility, and, having personally helped to create it, I’m proud of its massive impact on our ability to connect. 5G/6G and private deployments will further enable everyone and everything to be reliably and securely connected.

3. Infrastructure: We are creating a dynamic reliable path for data storage and connected compute. Take the delivery of visual experiences, for example: streaming services, cloud gaming, and other visual workloads; unlimited scale and capacity in the cloud combines with unlimited reach through the Intelligent Edge – while simultaneously addressing the need for lower latency and higher bandwidth.

4. AI : With intelligence everywhere, AI turns infinite data into actionable insight. Data and compute enable greater refinement of AI algorithms to predict and create – software writing intelligent software at scale.

5. Sensing: Collaboration is critical among us as humans, and with the technology we create. Sensing as a superpower is now bringing together educational institutions, research organizations and companies as we look for ways to enhance our humanity – for good.

The following are some examples of how technology is enabling us to augment and emulate all five human senses:

Sight: Researchers at the University of Georgia have developed Mira, a voice-activated AI-powered backpack using Intel’s AI software, to help blind individuals or those with low vision navigate independently.

Sound: Since the mid-1980s, cochlear implants have enabled sound for hundreds of thousands of people. Companies are currently exploring further connections with neural networks to differentiate between voices and noise. For others, OmniBridge is leveraging AI-driven machine translation tech to solve the communication gap between those who use American Sign Language and those who speak English for language translation in real time.

Smell: Cornell University is collaborating with Intel Labs’ neuromorphic computing group on algorithms that assist with an olfactory neurophysiologists’ study involving the measurement of electrical activity in animals’ brains as they smell odours.

Touch: Researchers in the UK are exploring 3D printed skin and artificial touch. The Tactile Robotics Research Group for the Bristol Robotics Laboratory engineered a webcam mounted in a soft 3D-printed fingertip that is designed to mimic touch receptors in human fingertips.

Taste: Back in 2013, researchers at the National University of Singapore began investigating the possibility of transmitting the taste of virtual food and drink via a digital simulator.

Millions of people around the world have some form of sight or hearing loss (myself included). Millions more or have lost limbs, taking away their sense of touch. We saw the impact of COVID-19 leaving people with no sense of smell or taste. The examples above barely scratch the surface of possibilities.

Experiencing the impact of technology

Our increasingly connected world is built around sensing our surroundings, analyzing data, and reacting. When we, as a global society, bring the five superpowers together they reinforce and amplify one another, fundamentally altering how we experience the impact of technology.


How is the World Economic Forum ensuring the ethical development of artificial intelligence?

The World Economic Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning brings together global stakeholders to accelerate the adoption of transparent and inclusive AI, so the technology can be deployed in a safe, ethical and responsible way.

Contact us for more information on how to get involved.

Our things help us see things beyond our sight. They know where we are in the moment. They identify unknown objects for us. Autonomous vehicles are using sensors like Lidar, frequency-modulated continuous wave radar, and multiple cameras to “see” all around, both in their ability to eliminate blind spots, and share awareness by having cars communicate conditions before the next vehicle arrives at any given location. GPS offers assistance by triangulating my position and directing me toward the correct route; the technology knows I am lost before I do. If I should encounter an acquaintance, smart systems can provide contextual recognition in real-time, reminding me through my hearing aid, when I last saw the person.

Our things are augmenting our reality in new and exciting ways – serving as the human/technology interaction point. Technology is increasingly central to every aspect of human existence. As we continue to transform human progress, we must look toward changes that will improve the life of every person on the planet – and not just be limited to the fortunate few.

We have the choice and opportunity to decide our future. That choice is not between what was and what is, but between what is and what will be.

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