Technology and life: what awaits us in 2021

2020 was a special year. It would be wrong to deduce long-term trends on its basis. But he brought us a lot of experience. And the themes set by him, whether we like it or not, will be developed in the new year. Therefore, this time, let’s restrict ourselves to short-term and, if possible, specific technological forecasts.

Vladislav Shershulsky
Head of Advanced Technologies at Microsoft in Russia
AI after GPT-3
Trend. Artificial intelligence has finally penetrated so widely into our lives that we have ceased to notice it. But, we must admit that he is doing well so far with a rather narrow class of tasks of imitating our cognitive abilities – to recognize an image or emotion, color a picture, make an intuitive decision.

It’s a long way off from Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). Or it was far from before the demonstration in 2020 by the developers from OpenAI of their natural language processing algorithm GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3)
Since the introduction of GPT-3, the rules of the AI ​​game have changed irreversibly. If earlier it was mainly a “game of the mind”, and a small team with limited computing resources could achieve success in it, now it is a “big race” in which success is based on developments in the field of architecture and technology of specialized microprocessors, cloud resources for collecting, storing and processing information, as well as – for the achievement of related disciplines, from biology to philosophy.

Forecast. Commercial operation of GPT-3 was planned to begin at the end of 2020, but, most likely, this will happen in 2021. New services will appear based on it. Will they be universal?

If I had to answer in one sentence the question what is missing in GPT-3, I would say that she does not know what she does not know. She perfectly answers correct questions about existing things and, in general, is capable of inferences.

But she still does not cope very well with incorrect questions – she does not have a “sense of reality” – her whole world is a corpus of texts with a volume of about 600 GB. On mission-critical systems, these errors can be costly – a problem that developers will need to address.

The next qualitative breakthrough (the development of the conditional GPT-4) will require, apparently, an even hundredfold increase in the size of the model and an even more significant increase in the involved computational resources.

According to an optimistic estimate, this milestone can be reached as early as 2021, but it will require large investments and serious developments, including the use of special processors for machine learning like Graphcore. If everything goes well, we will be able to give such an AI not only individual orders, but also some powers.

“Big small world”
Trend. At first, the world was big – it took several years, or even a whole life, to circumnavigate the globe. Then it became small, that is, affordable – once I had to fly around it in 48 hours. And suddenly the world became both large and small at the same time. The pandemic has made its own adjustments: it is still possible to call Kamchatka or Australia, but it is not always possible to go to a neighboring city and just to visit relatives on another street. We started spending more time at home.

Many have rediscovered the charm of their native nature. The habitat of modern man has narrowed and expanded at the same time, and this cannot but affect the development of infrastructure and life support technologies.

Electronic means of communication have acquired an existential meaning far beyond their original utilitarian framework. Now they are both a business rescue tool and a means of preserving family and friendships.

Forecast. Old houses will be re-equipped, and new ones will be built with the expectation of greater autonomy, efficiency and environmental friendliness. Satellite Internet, smart homes and greenhouses, renewable energy sources and, in the long term, cheap delivery by drones will once again significantly expand the human habitat.

Already in 2021, we will see interesting high-tech projects for the construction of settlements in previously inaccessible places and, possibly, attempts to systematically renovate small towns, the shortcomings of which will be compensated for by a new generation of high-tech infrastructure.

Collaboration and communication tools will rapidly evolve towards “real-time social networking”.
Quants in your pocket
Trend. In 2020, several teams of scientists and engineers have already announced the achievement of the so-called “quantum superiority” – solving problems on quantum computing devices that are practically inaccessible to classical computers. The tasks, however, were purely demonstration. And the quantum demonstrators themselves are still far from the almost omnipotent supercomputers that full-fledged quantum computers promise to one day.

It is believed that the impetus for their development was given by the works of Yuri Manin and Richard Feynman in the early 80s.
Forecast. If you’re a gadget lover, a quantum device could be in your pocket as early as 2021. Yes, it won’t be a quantum computer yet. But quantum computing isn’t just about them. It is also quantum cryptography and quantum sensors. An example of a practically useful quantum device is the QRNG (quantum random numbers generator), a quantum random number generator.

Everyone needs random numbers. With their help, keys are created to protect communications, they help to draw realistic textures in computer games, without them it is difficult to solve many optimization problems.
Trend. For a century, postal services have prided themselves on the ability to deliver parcels to the nearest day. With the advent of modern delivery services, accuracy has increased to hours. The flow of shipments has also increased many times over. Shipping (both interregional distribution and last mile) has been instrumental in limiting physical contact and containing the pandemic.

Drones and self-driving cars did not have time to reach the required level of maturity, and the brunt of the huge number of orders fell on the shoulders of couriers, but armed with smartphones and guided by smart routing algorithms.
The era of cyberspecialists
Trend. 2020 has become the year of total digitalization of professions. I have never seen before that representatives of almost all, recently, it seemed, far from IT, specialties so actively mastered new technologies – lawyers, doctors, farmers, journalists, geologists.

Everyone’s goals, of course, are different, but mastering data analysis methods is in the general trend. 2020 has not become the year of the disappearance of professions. Even algorithmicization (automation of routine business processes based on automatic decision making without human intervention) did not significantly affect the labor market.

Forecast . Today education, professions, and people themselves are much more flexible than a hundred years ago. Professions will change rapidly, but more, with rare exceptions, will not disappear. Yes, some will regret losing their share of professional romance, but they will gain new opportunities.