Emerging Tech on the Horizon

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For this issue, we tried to thrust ourselves into the future by considering the impact of emerging technologies three decades from now. To get a sense of the scale of change we’re talking about, think about how different the world looked in the early 1990s as compared with today.

New technologies tend to evoke one of a few reactions: wonder and excitement for its revolutionary potential, a skeptical side-eye suggesting its savior-like qualities are hopelessly overblown or a thoughtful middle-of-the-road stance waiting for the use cases.

GT had quite a few emerging tech questions for state chief information officers at the recent NASCIO conference, and their responses included a healthy dose of each of those viewpoints, depending on the specific technology in question. In For the Record: What Do State IT Leaders Think of Emerging Tech?, you’ll find a compilation of some of their thoughts on things like robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, chatbots and, yes, the always controversial blockchain. They offer some compelling insights into the complex proposition of putting new tech to use to do the business of government without getting lost in the latest buzzwords.


In the Lab: Researchers Work on What’s Next in Tech checks in with the research and development community in some of the country’s top universities for another view of where technology is headed. And while some of their projects may seem far removed from today’s biggest challenges, we’ve homed in on a few efforts with direct repercussions for state and local government as their work matures. Check out the story to learn about developments in robotics that could help police departments, new AI-driven methods of gathering more extensive community planning input and advancements in plastic waste reduction that could also reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

In Space Tech Gains Ground in Spending, Funding, Feasibility, we revisit the trajectory of this new market segment and, significantly, the tangible impacts of space-based technologies on government. Investments in space across the public and private sectors totaled more than $15 billion last year. This “inflection point” for the market, as one expert noted, comes amid a global push toward bringing Internet to far-flung and previously underserved areas of the world.

Satellites are getting smaller and cheaper, and thus more accessible to governments looking for things like geospatial imagery for terrain mapping and disaster management. As just one proof point, Elon Musk’s SpaceX is a major player in satellite Internet, with its Starlink low-Earth orbit now offering service in 32 countries.

And finally, our cover story, Safe, Autonomous, Airborne: What Will Roads Look Like in 30 Years?, considers what our roads will look like as the next evolution of shared infrastructure is realized. Experts weigh in on when and how autonomous cars will be more fully incorporated into our streets, and also when and how flying vehicles will graduate past pilot phases into the mainstream. Electric cars and the means to charge them will be an increasingly significant part of this equation too, with billions in federal support recently pouring into the effort.

The data-gathering capabilities of ever more broadly used autonomous delivery vehicles — often with small form factors like sidewalk robots or drones — will contribute to our understanding of how people move through cities. This data can be channeled toward smarter cities that serve all residents more effectively.

Professionals in the field agree that projecting forward and planning for the future, especially given how quickly technology evolves, is a must in creating a sustainable transportation system that enables mobility for all.

As Mark Rosekind, a former administrator with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said, “If we aren’t asking these questions — What should it look like in 30 years? — we’ll get there in 30 years and go, is this really what we wanted?”

Noelle Knell has been the editor of Government Technology magazine for e.Republic since 2015. She has more than two decades of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.

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