Disruptive Technology: 3 Innovations that Will Change the Future

3D printing. Autonomous vehicles. Automation of knowledge work. Discover how each is becoming the sort of disruptive technology that changes the world as we know it.

Disruptive technology is nothing new. From Gutenberg's printing press in 1436 to the steam engine of the Industrial Revolution to the semiconductor microchip, technological advancements have long been disrupting and transforming how we live, work and interact.

Some, like mobility, Internet of Things and the cloud, we've discussed before. We have included three more of the most innovative technologies – 3D printing, autonomous vehicles and automation of knowledge work – and will discuss how each is disrupting the status quo.

Disruptive Innovation: Don't Call It a Breakthrough

To clarify, don't call all innovation a breakthrough. It's easy to get caught up in the "cutting edge" culture of new and emerging technologies, but not all should be deemed as such. As we keep our eyes on innovation, there is no doubt that the following three are more than just breakthrough technologies – they're truly disruptive.

1. 3D Printing

Ever wonder how 3D printing works? Rather than create products using subtractive techniques, like machining, or using molds that are expensive to create and exist to serve a very limited purpose, 3D printing employs an additive process that creates objects by layering materials, sometimes melting or fusing them together. 3D printing allows users to begin with materials like glass, plastic, paper, metal or even living cells to create things like jewelry, jet engines and human organs.

Until recently, 3D printing has had limited adoption, with primarily hobbyists and select manufacturers using this disruptive technology. But as prices drop for both 3D printers and the materials used in the printing process, more consumers and manufacturers are beginning to adopt 3D printing as a viable and cost-effective way to produce goods.

Why and how is 3D printing disrupting the status quo? With 3D printing, you're cutting out most of the steps that lie between a design concept and the finished product. Imagine the implications for supply chain management: on-demand product creation means reduced storage handling and costs. In addition, 3D printing reduces waste because you're only using the amount of material you need, not beginning with a block of wood or metal, for example, then machining it into a usable shape or mold. Perhaps most disruptive is the thought that we can 3D-print tissue using a bioprinting technique that layers living cells that can grow into functioning organs.

2. Autonomous Vehicles

Not quite a Jetsonian flying car, autonomous vehicles are grounded but more or less go on their own. Today it's possible for cars, trucks, boats and aircraft to function without the active participation of an operator or driver. Think of innovations like Google's self-driving car or even unmanned aerial vehicles, aka drones, used in battle. Thanks to complementary disruptive technologies like sensors and artificial intelligence, these futuristic driverless vehicles are becoming more widespread.

Why and how are autonomous vehicles disrupting the status quo? This disruptive technology, if accepted, will revolutionize ground transportation – from how we transfer goods to how we travel from point A to point B. Assuming we learn to embrace this science fiction-esque innovation, we could see some of the following benefits: increased safety (thanks to driving assistance and collision avoidance systems), reduced carbon dioxide emissions and increased productivity. (Welcome back safe texting and "driving!")

3. Automation of Knowledge Work

Management consultant Peter Drucker coined the term "knowledge work" in the 1970s to describe a type of work wherein the main capital is knowledge. Rather than build or farm or weld, these individuals' primary work task is to think. If you're a software engineer, .NET developer, systems analyst or any other kind of technology professional, consider yourself a knowledge worker.

Why and how is the automation of knowledge work disrupting the status quo? As any seasoned knowledge worker understands, our minds are valuable and not everything we do can be replicated by a machine or computer. Retrieving information, a rather manual process, used to be too impractical for a non-human to accomplish. Today, however, that is all changing. Speak "Italian restaurants" into your smartphone using Apple's Siri or Google Now to get a range of food choices, including relevant options like pizza despite being syntactically distinct.

In other words, if you thought self-driving cars seemed like sci-fi gone right, imagine how you'll feel when you can employ a computer to do the more-than-basic work of a human – from understanding speech, learning rules, adapting to change, recognizing patterns and drawing conclusions. Thanks to advances in machine learning and technologies like voice recognition, this disruptive technology will change how – and if we even need to – work.

The Future of Innovation is Bright

According to a report from McKinsey Global Institute called Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business and the global economy, "a new wave of unprecedented innovation and entrepreneurship could be in the offing as a result of falling costs and rapid dissemination of technologies."  How do you plan to seize the opportunities these disruptive innovations have presented? Let us know how you foresee disruptive technology changing the way you live and work.