Top 10 Technologies you must learn in 2021

The technology industry today is growing at a very high rate bringing about new technology trends almost every month if not every week. What this means is that, as an IT Professional or as any tech enthusiast, you must keep tabs with the latest technology trends and focus on the future as you will need to know which skills are required to secure a safe job tomorrow and even learn how to get there.

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit worldwide, most people especially in the tech industry have resorted to working from home and if you want to make the most of your time at home, we’ve curated a list of what we think are the top ten emerging technologies you must learn before the year 2021 ends and perhaps secure one of the jobs that will be created from these technologies.

1.  Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning;

Artificial Intelligence (AI); is basically intelligence displayed by machines unlike the natural intelligence displayed by humans and animals that involves consciousness and emotionality.

The traditional problems or goals of AI research include reasoning, knowledge, representation, planning, learning, natural language processing, perception and the ability to move and manipulate objects by machines.

Machine Learning (ML); is basically an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides systems the ability to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. ML focuses on the development of computer programs that can access data and use it to learn by themselves in other words, ML’s primary aim is to allow computers learn automatically without human intervention or assistance and adjust actions accordingly.

AI and ML are not only limited to just IT or the technology industry but instead its being extensively used in other arrears such as business, education, law, manufacturing and medical and below are some of the AI and ML solutions that we use today to market AI and ML as a present thing and not the future;

  • Personal assistants such as Google assistant, Siri for Apple, Alexa for Amazon Echo, Cortana for Microsoft Windows OS, bixby for Samsung and others, these are friendly often female voice-activated assistants that we interact with on a daily routine to assist us to find information, get directions, send messages, make voice calls, open apps, add events, make orders online and much more.
  • Self-driving cars also known as autonomous vehicles (AV), driverless cars, or robo-cars are vehicles that use AI and ML to sense the environment and move safely with little or no human input.
  • Flying drones indicate a powerful machine learning system that can translate the environment into a 3D model through sensors and video cameras and using a wi-fi system, we can control the drones and use them for specific purposes such as product delivery, aerial photography and videography, etc…

Why learn AI and ML? Knowledge in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is the skill of the century, AI is everywhere and versatile in a number of applications such as banking, health care, security, plus there are big brighter careers accompanied with big paychecks in these fields.

 

2.  Cloud Computing (Cloud Services);

Cloud Computing basically means storing and accessing data and programs over the internet instead of your computer’s hard drive. It is the on-demand delivery of computer system resources over the internet with pay-as-you-go pricing.

Some of the prominent cloud service providers worldwide include; Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, IBM Cloud, Alibaba Cloud, Salesforce, Oracle Cloud and Tencent Cloud.

Cloud Computing provides access to technology services such as computing power, storage, and databases from a cloud service provider such as AWS, Azure, etc and this in turn saves you the consumer/business the burden of buying, owning and maintaining physical data centers and servers, gives you the ability to scale down or up, provides business continuity assurance in case of disasters, enables businesses to collaborate effectively and efficiently, flexibility at work places and access to automatic updates.

Cloud Computing comes in three main types that is; Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and each type of cloud computing provides different levels of control, flexibility, and management so that you can select the right set of services for your needs.

Consumers/businesses or organizations of every type, size and industry are using the cloud for a wide variety of use cases such as data backup, disaster recovery, email, virtual desktops, software development and testing, big data analytics etc. For-example; video game makers are using the cloud to deliver online games to millions of players around the world, financial services companies are using the cloud to power real-time fraud detection and prevention etc.

Aspiring Cloud Professionals/Engineers must have the requisite skills and knowledge to be able to compete favorably in the market and the only way to be able to do this, they must have a Cloud certification and here are some of the reasons as to why you should gain a Certification in cloud computing if you’re looking to join this wonderful innovative field; there are secure jobs, the certification proves your expertise and promotes credibility with employers, you stand better chances of nailing job interviews, demand for cloud computing professionals is growing day by day.

 

3.  5G Technology;

5G Technology is the fifth generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks in telecommunications. 5G is a new global cellular network standard after 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G networks and it enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects and devices.

5G Technology Logo

5G wireless technology is the new generation of wireless network technology that will fuel innovation and transform the way we live, work and play. It was designed to deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, increased reliability, massive network capacity, ultra-low latency and more uniform user experience. Higher performance and improved efficiency empower new user experiences and connects new industries. This means that 5G has the potential to benefit everything from entertainment and gaming to education and public safety.


Generations of mobile networks…

The previous generations of mobile networks ie 1G, 2G, 3G and 4G introduced unique technological mobile advances as stated below;

With high data speeds and superior network reliability, 5G will have a tremendous impact on businesses and this will enhance the efficiency of businesses while also giving users faster access to more information.

5G is not only important because it has the potential to support millions of devices at ultra-high speeds, but also because it has the potential to transform people’s lives around the world. Smart cities could also use 5G in a number of ways to improve and transform the lives of people living in them by primarily providing more connectivity between people and things, higher data speeds, low latency in areas like entertainment, virtual and augmented reality and automotive and thus creating opportunities to connect people far beyond what current cellular technologies allow.

 

4.  3D Printing;

3D Printing or Additive manufacturing is a process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file (computer aided design) CAD model or (computer aided manufacturing) CAM model. The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes whereby an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the object is created as opposed to subtractive manufacturing which is cutting out/hollowing out a piece of metal or plastic with for instance a milling machine.

A DIY 3-D Printer

3D printers have been around for over 30 years and previously, they were used mainly in industry for rapid prototyping. In the early 2000s around 2009, early 3D printing process patents started to expire and this led to many startups offering materials extrusion machines that used a variety of  technologies with the most common being Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) or Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) machines to enter the market which created a consumer side to the 3D printing industry.

With FDM or FFF, a filament composed of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polylactic acid (PLA) or another thermoplastic material is melted and deposited through a heated extrusion nozzle in layers. Most 3D printers today use the same technology and they are mainly geared to consumers, hobbyists and schools.

3D printing enables you to produce complex shapes using fewer materials than traditional manufacturing methods and currently 3D printers have gotten good enough to make end-use production parts and they are now used for both prototyping and production.

 

3-D Printer printing foods like cookies…

Some of the reasons as to why you should learn this technology in 2021 include but not limited to the following;

  • With 3D printing, designers and makers have the ability to quickly turn concepts into 3D models or prototypes and implement rapid design changes but they are increasingly being used to make final products as well. Among the items made with 3D printers are shoes, jewelry, tools, tripods, toys, automotive and aviation parts among others.
  • Physicians and medical technicians use 3D printing to make prosthetics, hearing aids, artificial limbs and teeth, as well as replicate models of organs, tumors and other internal organs from CT scans in preparation for surgeries.
  • Food preparation is also another way 3D printers can be used to prepare artistic delicacies. A handful of food 3D printers have become commercially available and a small number of restaurants are testing food-printer prototypes focusing on particular food items like chocolate, pancakes and cookies.

 

5.  Virtual, Augmented & Mixed Reality;

Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR), all these technologies sound similar and have a lot in common and as these technologies develop overtime, they tend to blend into each other a bit but they are different concepts with characteristics that readily distinguish them from one another.

 

Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality Headsets…

What is Virtual Reality (VR)?

Virtual Reality (VR), is a simulated and immersive experience projected by a device into the user’s sight. Imagine touring DisneyLand while still sitting on your couch, all you need is a VR headset projecting you into a simulation via a viewfinder. VR headsets completely take over your vision to give you the impression that you’re somewhere else.

Some of the prominent companies leading in the VR market today include;

The above mentioned VR headsets completely take over your vision to give you the impression that you’re somewhere else. They are completely opaque, blocking out your surroundings when you wear them and when they are turned off, you may think you are blind folded. When the headsets are turned on, they fill your field of vision with whatever is being displayed which could be a 360-degree video, a game or just a virtual environment.

There are tons of possibilities in VR and they all involve replacing everything around you with something else. For both games and Apps, VR completely supersedes your surroundings taking you to other places and where you are physically doesn’t matter for-example in apps, you might virtually tour distant places as if you were there physically and in games, you might sit in the cockpit of a star fighter.

What is Augmented Reality (AR)?

Augmented Reality (AR), is an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information. It’s a combination of real and virtual worlds, real-time interaction and accurate 3D registration of virtual and real objects.

IKEA’s Augmented Reality App called IKEA Place…

AR requires two main elements for it to work i.e, the camera capacity to capture the environment around you as you move and the software that calculates and projects some computer-generated visuals or content. Typical examples of AR in action is IKEA’s recent AR app called “IKEA Place” that allows you to imagine how any room or space would feel with some of the brand’s furniture, games like Pokemon Go (explore and discover Pokemon wherever you are) and WallaMe (hides messages in the real world). The other typical example of AR in action is Snapchat lenses.

At the moment, the two kings of AR are Apple with its ARKit for iOS and Google with their ARCore for Android who are also in the VR space contrary to Apple. These AR apps are still new to the mass market thus it’s too early to tell how really different these kits are except that they are each specific to their own eco systems.

What’s the difference between VR and AR?

In VR, the user’s perception of reality is completely based on virtual information whereas in AR, the user is provided with additional computer generated information that enhances their perception of reality. For-example in architecture, VR can be used to create a walk-through simulation of the inside of a new building and AR can be used to show a building’s structures and systems super-imposed on a real-life view.

AR differs from VR in a sense that in AR, part of the surrounding environment is actually ‘real’ and just adding layers of virtual objects to the real environment whereas in VR, the surrounding environment is completely virtual.

What is Mixed Reality (MR)?

Mixed Reality (MR); is more of a hybrid between VR and AR and it aims to offer the best of both worlds. MR is highly interactive and its realistic rendering of the projection it adds to our surroundings makes it stand out. Unlike VR or AR that depend entirely on remote controllers or phone screens, with MR, we can interact with the immersive content using natural body and finger gestures.

Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Hololens and the Google backed Magic Leap…

At the moment, the two kings of Mixed Reality are Microsoft’s HoloLens and the heavily funded Google-backed venture Magic Leap (a concept demo only). Magic Leap tackles the challenge of designing for interactive environments by leveraging the best of both VR and AR systems whereas the HoloLens enables you to engage with your digital content and interact with holograms in the world around you.

VR vs. AR vs. MR;

Just like Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality overlays digital content and simulations on top of what we would normally see but unlike AR, Mixed Reality lets you physically interact with the simulation in ways AR can’t.

Just like Virtual Reality, Mixed Reality uses headsets to launch their experience but MR devices are different from typical VR hardware because they use mounted translucent glasses like the Google Glass that let us stay grounded in the real world.

Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality have been explored for many applications in the tech industry from gaming and entertainment to medicine, STEM education, architecture, education, commerce, urban designing & urban planning, industrial manufacturing, visual art, fitness and so many more fields. This means possessing knowledge and skills in these fields of AR, VR and MR will put you as an Engineer at the fore front of tech employers in different applications within the evolving tech industry.

 

6.  Cyber Security;

Cyber Security or sometimes called computer or IT security is the practice of protecting internet-connected computer systems, networks and electronic data from malicious electronic cyber-attacks that may bring about theft, damage or disruption of the services they provide.

The main reason as to why cyber security practices are put in place is to provide a good security posture for computers, servers, networks, mobile devices and the data stored on these devices from attackers with malicious intent.

The field of cyber security is becoming more popular and significant due to the increased reliance on the internet, wireless network standards and also due to the growth of smart devices such as smartphones and the different devices that constitute the “internet of things (IoT)”.

Types of Cyber Security;

The most prominent types of cyber security include the following;

  • Network Security; – This prevents and protects against unauthorized intrusion into corporate computer networks.
  • Information Security; – Also called data security keeps data secure from unauthorized access or alterations when its stored or transferred from one computer to another.
  • Application Security; – This makes apps more secure by finding and fixing vulnerabilities in application code.

Examples of Cyber Security threats (Vulnerabilities & attacks);

Vulnerabilities are mainly weaknesses in design, implementation, operation or internal control and these can be researched, reverse-engineered, or exploited using unique hacking tools. If we intend to secure our internet connected computer systems, we then need to first of all understand the different kinds of attacks that can be made to them which are categorized as below;

  • Phishing;- this is the attempt to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details directly from users by deceiving the users by directing them to enter personal details on a fake website that looks exactly like the legitimate one.
  • Spoofing;- this is the act of pretending to be a valid entity through falsification of data (such as an IP address or username) in order to gain access to information or resources that one is otherwise not authorized to obtain. There are different types of spoofing i.e email spoofing, IP address spoofing, MAC spoofing and Biometric spoofing.
  • Malware;- this is malicious software installed on a computer that is capable of leaking personal information, give control of the system to the attackers and also be able to delete data permanently.
  • Denial-of-service attacks (DoS);- these are designed to make a machine or computer network resource unavailable to its intended users.
  • Social Engineering;- in this context of cyber security, it aims to convince a user to disclose secrets such as passwords, card numbers etc or grant physical access by for-example impersonation.
  • Backdoor;- a backdoor in a computer system or algorithm is any secret method of bypassing normal authentication or security controls to gain access. These mainly exist for different reasons such as by original design or from poor configuration.

Typical Cyber Security Jobs;

Cyber Security is a fast-growing field in the IT industry whose main aim is to reduce organizations’ risk of data breach/loss and the fastest increases in demand for cyber security workforce are in industries managing increasing volumes of consumer data such as retail (Amazon, AliExpress etc), finance (banks), health care (hospitals) and governments.

Typical cyber security jobs with huge pay checks depending on where you are employed include;- Security Engineer, Security analyst, security architect, security administrator, chief information security officer, security consultant/specialist etc.

 

7.  Quantum Computing;

The study of Quantum Computing is a subfield of Quantum Information Science and it’s basically the use of quantum phenomena such as “superposition” and “entanglement” to perform complex computations. In other words, Quantum Computing is essentially harnessing and exploiting the amazing laws of quantum mechanics to process information.

A typical Quantum Computer under development…

Classical or traditional computers and systems rely on a fundamental ability to store and manipulate information by using long strings of “bits”, which encode either a zero or a one whereas a Quantum Computer on the other hand, uses quantum bits also known as “Qubits” to manipulate information. So what’s the difference between bits and qubits you ask? Well a Qubit is a quantum system that encodes the zero and the one into two distinguishable quantum states and it behaves quantumly.

You may be baffled by the two concepts used here (Superposition and Entanglement), well, basically Superposition is essentially the ability of a quantum system to be in multiple states at the same time ie. Something can be here and there or up and down at the same time whereas Entanglement is an extremely strong correlation that exists between quantum particles that even if separated by great distances, the particles are so intrinsically connected and they can be said to dance in instantaneous perfect unison.

We experience the benefits of classical computing every day however, there are challenges that today’s systems will never be able to solve. For-instance for problems above a certain size and complexity, we don’t have enough computational power on Earth to tackle them and to stand a chance at solving these problems, we need a new kind of computing and that is Quantum Computing.

So why study Quantum Computing?

Quantum Computers could bring about the development of new breakthroughs in science, medications to save lives, machine learning methods to diagnose illnesses sooner, materials to make more efficient devices and structures, and algorithms to quickly direct resources such as ambulances in case of accidents.

Applications of quantum computing today;

Today, real quantum processors are used by researchers from all over the world to test out algorithms for applications in a variety of fields such as cryptography, search problems, simulation of quantum systems, quantum annealing and adiabatic optimization, machine learning and quantum supremacy. But it was only a few decades ago (since the 1980s) that quantum computing was purely a theoretical subject.

 

8.  Internet of Things (IOT);

The term “Internet of Things” or “IoT” refers to the billions of physical devices (“things”) that are embedded with sensors, software and other technologies and are connected to the internet to exchange data with other devices and systems.

The “thing” in the term “Internet of Things” can be an automobile that has built-in sensors to alert a driver when the tire pressure is low, an animal with a bio-chip corresponder, a person with a heart monitor implant or any other object that can be assigned an internet protocol (IP) address or a unique identifier and is able to transfer data over a network.

The phrase “Internet of Things” was first coined by Kevin Ashton the co-founder of Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T) in his presentation titled “The Internet of Things” in 1999 to describe a system where the internet is connected to the physical world via ubiquitous sensors.

How the Internet of Things (IoT) Works;

An IoT ecosystem comprises of internet-enabled smart devices that use embedded systems and communication hardware such as sensors and processors to collect, manipulate and send data they receive from their environments. This data can either be sent to the cloud or analyzed locally and sometimes these devices communicate with other related devices and act on the information they get from one another and often times, they do this without human intervention as they (humans) only stop at setting them up, giving them instructions and accessing data.

Why is IoT important and what are some of its applications;

IoT helps people live and work smarter as well as gain complete control over their lives. IoT has an extensive set of applications from consumer to commercial, industrial, infrastructure and agriculture spaces. Some of the most common IoT applications are listed below;

 Smart homes / Home Automation;

A Smart home could be based on a platform or a smart home hub such as the amazon echo, google home, Apple’s Homekit and Samsung SmartThings Hub to control smart devices and appliances which can include lighting, heating, air conditioning, media, security systems, camera systems etc.

Industrial applications;

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) devices acquire and analyze data from connected equipment, operational technology, locations and people to help regulate and monitor industrial systems. IIoT can connect various manufacturing devices equipped with sensing, identification, processing, communication, actuation and network capabilities.

Agriculture applications;

There are quite a number of applications in farming such as using IoT senor enabled devices to collect data on humidity, temperature, soil content and peat infestation which data  is used to automate farming techniques, take informed decisions to improve quality and quantity, minimize risk and waste and reduce effort required to manage crops. This enables farmers to remotely monitor their farms.

Medical and Healthcare;

The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is also an application of IoT for medical and health related purposes, data collection and analysis for research and monitoring. IoT devices can be used to enable remote health monitoring and emergency notification systems.

Why study IoT?

IoT offers a vast amount of benefits in all technological spheres that is across multiple industries/sectors and it’s generally most abundant in manufacturing, transportation and utility organizations but however, it has also found use cases for organizations within the infrastructure, agriculture and home automation industries leading towards a digital transformation.

As such IoT is one of the most important technologies of everyday life and it will continue to spike as more businesses realize the potential of connected devices to keep them competitive.

 

9.  Automation;

Automation is a broad term that covers many arrears of technology where processes and procedures are performed with minimal human input. Basically automation involves the use of various computer control systems for controlling and operating machinery and processes in factories, steering and stabilization of aircrafts, autonomous vehicles, ships and other applications with minimal human input.

Systems Automation combines the diverse and rapidly expanding disciplines of robotics, control, mechanics, the Internet of Things (IoT), software and signal processing with applications across a wide range of industrial sectors particularly in manufacturing, information technology and production. The implementation of automation technologies, techniques and processes improves the efficiency, reliability and or speed of many tasks that would previously be performed by humans.

There are basically three types of automation in production and these are;

  • Fixed Automation; Also known as hard automation, and this involves a sequence of processing operations that are fixed by the equipment configuration for-example assembly robots in the automotive industry.
  • Programmable Automation; In this case, machines are always reprogrammed after every batch and this usually takes time and often done online.
  • Flexible Automation; this is almost the same as programmable automation but it differs from it in a way that reprogramming of the equipment is done in a very short time and offline. Programmable and Flexible automation is applied for-example in food processing factories.

Why is Automation Important?

With automation technologies being implemented in a number of industries we’ve come to see that it offers a number of advantages which include; replaces humans in tasks done in dangerous environments, performs tasks that are beyond human capabilities, reduces operational time and work, replaces human operators in tasks that involve hard physical or monotonous work, increases throughput or productivity among others. However, if you are to implement automation technologies in your business, you should note that high initial costs are required, there are unpredictable or excessive development costs involved, and also there is worker displacement by machines.

 

10.  Blockchain Technology;

Blockchain technology seems complicated to most of us and it definitely can be but its core concept is really simple. If you’ve been following crypto-currency, banking and investing for the last decade, then we’re pretty much sure you’ve heard of the term “Blockchain” the record-keeping technology behind the famous Bitcoin network, a peer-to-peer electronic cash system.

A little bit of history about this technology;

Blockchain technology was first outlined in 1991 by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta, two researchers who wanted to implement a system where document timestamps could not be tampered with. But it wasn’t until almost two decades later, with the launch of Bitcoin in January 2009, that Blockchain had its first real-world application.

The first Blockchain was conceptualized by a person (group of people) known as “Satoshi Nakamoto” who are or who is still unknown to the public till this day and they improved the design in an important way by using a hashcash-like method to timestamp blocks without requiring them to be signed by a trusted party and introducing a difficult parameter to stabilize the rate with which blocks are added to the chain. This design was then implemented as a core component of the crypto-currency Bitcoin, where it serves as the public ledger for all transactions on the network. Bitcoin is known to be designed and developed (invented) by this unknown person (s) called Satoshi Nakamoto.

So what is Bitcoin anyway?

Well, it’s a centralized digital currency with no central bank or single administrator that can be sent from user to user on a peer-to-peer Bitcoin network system without the need for intermediaries. With Bitcoin, transactions are verified by network nodes through cryptography and recorded in a public distributed ledger called a Blockchain. Bitcoins can be exchanged for other currencies, products and services.

So how does Blockchain technology work?

Basically we could say a Blockchain is a specific type of database that differs from a typical database as regards to the way it stores information. Blockchains store data in blocks that are then chained together, that is, as new data comes in, it is entered into a fresh block and once the block is filled with data, it is then chained onto the previous block which makes the data chained together in a chronological order.

Blockchains can store different types of information but the most common use so far has been as a ledger for transactions as it’s used with Bitcoin. With Bitcoin, this technology is used in a decentralized way so that no single person (entity) has overall control rather all users collectively retain control. With distributed Blockchains, the data entered is irreversible and for Bitcoin this means that transactions are permanently recorded and viewable to anyone.

So how does Bitcoin differ from a normal Bank?

Banks and decentralized Blockchains like Bitcoin are vastly different in a number of ways and these include;

  • Banks have a typical working hour timeframe (9.00 am to 5.00 pm) and some are always closed on the weekends. With Bitcoin however, it has no set working hours, its open 24/7 and 365 days a year.
  • With Banks, card payments can take up to 24-48 hours, checks 24-72 hours and bank transfers are typically not processed on weekends or bank holidays. Whereas with Bitcoin, transactions can take as little as 15 minutes to 1 hour depending on network congestion.
  • Bank accounts and other banking products require “know your customer” procedures which means banks keep a record of their client’s identification whereas with Bitcoin, anyone or anything can participate in Bitcoin’s network with no identification.
  • With banks, some sort of government issued identification, a bank account, and a mobile phone (smartphone) are the minimum requirements for digital transfers whereas with Bitcoin, an internet connection, a smartphone are the minimum requirements.
  • A bank accounts’ information is only as secure as the bank’s server that contains the client account information whereas with Bitcoin, the larger the Bitcoin network grows, the more secure it gets.

Why would you be interested in learning this technology? You ask!!!

Well, as of today, Blockchain technology has a nearly endless amount of applications across almost every industry. The Blockchain ledger technology can be applied to securely share patients’ records between healthcare professionals, to track fraud in finance, or even act as a better way to track intellectual property in business and music rights for artists. Some of the companies that have already incorporated Blockchain technology in their ecosystems include Walmart, AIG, Siemens, Unilever, IBM and a host of others.


 

Tum Kurtzman
Author: Tum Kurtzman

Computer Engineer, Ugandan Life Hacker, Tech Blogger, YouTuber, Founder & Lead Engineer at SONALABS.ORG... Tum completed his BSc. in Computer Engineering from Makerere University and you can reach him via mail at tum@sonalabs.org.

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