2027: What to expect

A personal revolution in big data

Feng Yan

In 2027, data will be collected almost everywhere and will be used to drive almost everything around us. The data revolution and AI revolution will be interconnected and powered by significantly improved computing power. At a large scale, big data technologies will help solve big, open problems like cancer, national security and climate change. More importantly, big data will also happen at a personal scale. You will have your own big data containing information about almost all aspects of your life. For example, health data will be used for real-time monitoring of health to prevent disease and enable in-time treatment to significantly expand our lifetime. AI applications will be powered by personal big data to make most daily decisions for you so that you can be freed from non-creative thinking tasks and enjoy significantly more time for creativity and entertainment. Even after you die, your personal big data can continue your "life" as all your information is captured there - it can talk like you and act like you.

Feng Yan, assistant professor, computer science & engineering

Securing the Internet of Things

Ming Li

In the future, we will be in an era with advances in artificial intelligence and billions of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. With neural interfaces, cyber criminals will be able to feed false data directly into someone's brain, and people need to be trained to recognize this and not act on it. IoT devices will be smart enough to provide limited AI functions, but those again are suspect and could easily be hacked. Cyber criminals will create fully autonomous, AI-based attacks that will operate completely independently, adapt, make decisions on their own and more. Meanwhile, the availability of low-cost computing and storage, off-the-shelf machine learning algorithms, AI code, and open AI platforms will drive increased AI use by cyber defenders to defend and protect IoT devices and systems. Humans will simply supervise the process.

Ming Li, assistant professor, computer science & engineering

A new norm in structural engineering

Saiid Saiidi

Evolutions need not be incremental. They can be transformative, but only if engineers are willing to question the accepted norm. In structural engineering, the norm has been to accept substantial damage under extreme conditions such as earthquakes, fire, high wind and the like. But of course, substantial damage renders structures useless. Engineers have accepted this because that's how conventional construction materials such as steel and concrete behave. Over the next decade, I believe structural engineers will embrace advanced materials to challenge this norm. Intelligent, surgical and cost-effective adoption of advanced materials, such as shape memory alloys, fiber-reinforced composites, rubber and high-performance cementitious mixes, will become a new trend in structural engineering, bringing superior outcomes that make structural engineering more multidisciplinary than it has ever been.

Saiid Saiidi, professor, civil & environmental engineering

Addressing Water Quality and Quantity Issues

Krishna Pagilla

The economic, social and environmental well-being of human and natural ecosystems is intricately linked to clean water and its availability in needed quantities over time. Safe and reliable drinking water is still a challenge and an unfulfilled promise in many parts of the world. With the increase in frequency of extreme weather patterns, addressing flooding and prolonged droughts is another challenge to be focused on worldwide. Increasing water efficiency, reclamation and reuse of water, and establishing water-economy nexus are critical for the resiliency of a region or an economy. Water quality for drinking and for ecological needs is paramount, and emerging contaminants from human and agricultural uses pose a threat to public and ecological health. The aging of water infrastructure in developed communities presents an opportunity to replace it with innovative and sustainable water systems, which need to be developed. Finally, understanding the effects of climate change on water systems and developing strategies to mitigate them is needed.

Krishna Pagilla, professor, civil & environmental engineering

A new era in biomedical technology

Josette El Zaklitte

Innovative advances in medical imaging have had a huge impact on the diagnosis and treatment of disease. Experts in bioinstrumentation around the world are working on developing new, sophisticated implantable electronic devices and medical equipment to prevent, diagnose and treat disease. More revolutionary technologies such as stem cell engineering and the 3D printing of biological organs are working towards artificial recreation of human body parts, aiding in transplants, to increase the quality and extend the length of human life. Moreover, remarkable advancements have been made in nanotechnology and nanomaterials to foster development of new biocompatible materials for neural prostheses. It is our hope that those who are concerned with developing new technologies and those responsible for patient care will always remember that ethical values and technology should constantly go together.

Josette El Zaklit, assistant professor, electrical & biomedical engineering

The future is virtual

Eelke Folmer

Robots and AI are anticipated to replace the majority of human jobs. When this is combined with some form of universal income, this would give us a lot more free time. What better way to spend all this free time than in virtual reality? Various commercial headsets are already available at a low cost and companies like Facebook, Google and Microsoft are currently spending billions on making advances in this area. Though some headsets can already render realistic graphics, major advances are expected to be made in the next decade in brain-computer interfaces, which would allow us to interact and perceive VR in a way that is nearly indistinguishable from the real world. Beyond entertainment (why watch Game of Thrones when you can play one of the characters in VR?), VR will have applications in areas such as education, sports (play a space football game with hundreds of people at the same time) and health (remote doctor consultations). I predict a future where people will travel far less when VR will become nearly indistinguishable from reality, which could benefit our society significantly through reduced pollution, fewer roads, no traffic jams and healthier environments.

Eelke Folmer, associate professor, computer science & engineering

Cybersecurity in the quantum computer era

Shamik Sengupta

Quantum computing is an attempt to unite quantum mechanics, computing and information science to achieve next-generation computers that promise an exponential speed increase. In legacy computers, information is stored in binary, i.e., a bit can be either a 0 or a 1. In quantum computers, the bits can hold a value of 0 or 1 or both values at the same time. The power of the quantum computer then increases exponentially with the number of qubit states.

But quantum computers threaten the very existence of cybersecurity: cryptography. The strength of cryptography lies in the fact that calculating an encryption key is impractical in finite time due to the complexity of the mathematical calculation. But quantum computers can compute exponentially faster than legacy computers. Even though quantum computers are still not on the market, now is the time for us to recognize the potential danger. Research in post-quantum cryptography is urgent to help secure next-generation cyberspace. The National Institute of Standards and Technology warns that "agencies should be ready to switch to post-quantum encryption by 2025."

Shamik Sengupta, associate professor, computer science & engineering

Real-time autonomous technology

Hao Xu

Autonomous systems will play a key role in the next technological revolution. They could significantly help us further explore nature and the universe. They could also profoundly impact our daily life. For instance, with help from intelligent multi-robot systems, we can build extraterrestrial bases before sending humans there. These bases would include the ecosystem to continuously provide the oxygen and food that is critical for supporting basic human life over the long term. Moreover, networked intelligent autonomous cars will significantly change our current transportation systems by optimizing their operations to reduce traffic. Autonomous systems will also be adopted by more and more industries to upgrade existing systems such as manufacturing lines. However, to reap these benefits, a critical challenge is how to effectively develop and implement novel autonomous system technology in real time. Our current research in applicable resilient and intelligent autonomous system technology development specifically addresses this challenge. The developed algorithms can not only demonstrate their effectiveness theoretically but can also be validated through different types of real-time applications.

Hao Xu, assistant professor, electrical & biomedical engineering