With a New Year, it is typical to consider the new innovations in technology and to forecast what big trends we might see this year. One reason is we see the largest trade show in the world usually takes place each year in January. For the past two decades, the International CES – formerly the Consumer Electronics Show – brought in companies big and small from around the world to roll out the latest gizmos and gadgets. In recent years, the show expanded to self-driving/autonomous vehicles and advancements in cloud computing.

Even as the show is going virtual this year, the forecasting of “future tech” has continued. If there is a notable trend for 2021, it is that technology is going to play a significant role well beyond what consumers will be using in the months and even years to come. The buzz words to watch for this year could seem familiar, and include artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and autonomy – but 2021 could be the year that great leaps are made.

“We should see far broader implementation in various AI areas, including autonomous vehicles such as drones, robots – security patrol, portage, weapons platforms – and anti-virus technology,” explained technology industry analyst Rob Enderle, principal at the Enderle Group.

“Some of the most beneficial developments driven by AI and associated technologies, like machine learning are tools that enable advanced analytics of increasingly large and complex data sets,” added Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

The Year of Quantum Computing

A far bigger and more significant technological leap forward could be in the realm of quantum computing, which could have an impact on everything from exponentially faster computing power to more secure quantum Internet to advances in quantum communication.

Last fall the Office of Scientific Research under the United States Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) conducted a massive research grant competition. A total of 17 quantum research science grants were awarded under the Quantum U Tech Accelerator program.

“With quantum computing, we should begin to see advanced trials with quantum communication,” Enderle told ClearanceJobs.

“The breakthroughs last year on quantum teleportation lend themselves to very high speed, vastly more secure, quantum communication methods, but this will likely only lead to further trials and tests to see if this adaptation can live up to its promise,” he added. “Deployment is likely out to the second half of the decade, but it is at least possible that further breakthroughs and the extreme need for this technology could move it into the first half of the decade.”

An important consideration is that quantum computing and the advances that come with it will then make other innovations all the easier to create and deploy.

“In essence, these tools make it possible and simpler for scientists and researchers to find solutions to largely impenetrable problems,” noted Pund-IT’s King. “Though quantum computing is evolving steadily, commercial applications are still relatively rare. However, over time quantum systems are likely to support generational advances in disciplines ranging from security and encryption to chemistry and materials research.”

Quantum AI

Quantum technologies could also be paired with AI, which could be crucial in ensuring that the government achieves its goals of developing AI ethics. The government has seen that this could ensure that newly created smart programs and machines won’t turn on their creators – thus creating the feared “killer robots” that could potentially threaten humankind. Such ethics could also be crucial to developing machines that don’t take risks that could put people in harm’s way.

It was last February that the Department of Defense (DoD) adopted it five ethical principles for AI, which included being responsible, equitable, traceable, reliable, and governable. The DoD Joint Artificial Intelligence Center was named the focal point for coordinating implementation of AI ethical principles for the department, and as advances in AI and quantum computing move forward, it is likely that autonomous platforms will soon be developed with those principles installed and instilled in the core programming.

The U.S. intelligence community last summer also released its own guidelines, Principles of Artificial Intelligence (AI ) Ethics for the Intelligence Community and the related Artificial Intelligence Ethics Framework for the Intelligence Community.

Those principles and framework, which were approved by the director of national intelligence (DNI), were to guide the IC’s ethical development and use of AI. This included the respect of the law, protection of privacy and civil liberties, that it be transparent and accountable, remain objective and equitable, appropriately incorporate human judgment, are secure and resilient by design, and incorporate the best practices of the science and technology communities.

Other Tech to Watch

One issue remaining with the development of any autonomous platform – including military systems – will be one of powering them. An increase in computing power will certainly mean more power consumption.

“Battery technology is expected to advance significantly this year as advances in solid-state batteries move to production,” said Enderle.

“Initially, we are likely to see these advances applied to point solutions like portable power packs,” Enderle told ClearanceJobs. “Still, they’ll eventually move into vehicles with service vehicles – on-base transportation, delivery, maintenance, fire, etc. – the most likely to see design changes this year with deployments in the first half of the decade.”

The U.S. military has already been exploring ways to do more with fewer troops in harm’s way, but getting those troops around the globe will also likely evolve. As ClearanceJob previously reported, the U.S. Air Force is looking to fly high with its new Joby S4, an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft prototype design.

This technology could also utilize AI, explained Enderle, who noted that 2021 would be a year of “mostly design and testing, but deployments will likely be after the end of the year.”

All of these various developments could just be the first step towards even greater things.

“These are all areas of interest to government agencies and military organizations, and are likely to both inspire and spur new developments in numerous areas, including medical research, drug discovery, weapons systems and controls and real time tactical analysis,” added King.

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.