Metaverse, swarm, smart substance, neuro-symbolic AI…

In a trend book, CEA researchers bring together the most important technological trends that can have a major impact on society and the economic sectors. These breakthrough technologies were shared on DIMS 2022.

How to detect and anticipate the emergence of disruptive technologies? Mainly thanks to the collection of weak signals. For Timothée Silvestre, Head of Technological Foresight, Societal Trends and Weak Signals at CEA, a breakthrough technology is multi-sectoral.

To map out these trends, the research center has therefore opted for network representation. “This allows us to visualize trends in the context of several themes. Just like a metro station, the closer a junction is, the more you can estimate that this trend will have an impact,” said the representative of CEA’s Y.Spot Labs at the DIMS 2022 conference hosted by the collaborative innovation club IMA .

Trends connecting multiple sectors

This mapping thus makes it possible to distinguish 10 major trends. Among these, the swarm or swarm technology. The principle is based on the decentralized and coordinated control of intelligent agents, such as drones. The technology is inspired by the animal world and is intended to respond to complex challenges such as escaping a predator or overcoming obstacles.

The swarm has been the subject of work in the robotics world for years. For the CEA, advances in on-board artificial intelligence are now opening up applications in several areas. The swarm is therefore intended for controlling delivery robots in the logistics sector.

The military is also interested in swarm applications, for example to manage fleets of drones. It should be noted that these robots and/or drones can be of a heterogeneous nature. This heterogeneity is essential to take into account in the future dynamic interactions between, for example, swarms of autonomous cars and other systems.

Another trend of the moment, hard to hide at the moment: the metaverse. The definition of the metavers and the scope of the technologies it includes are of variable geometry. Timothée Silvestre ensures that his access is not limited to the use of virtual reality headsets.

In the gaming industry, where metaverse applications are growing, only 2% of platform users use Steam VR headsets. All terminals, especially PCs and smartphones, are thus gateways to these virtual universes.

Metaverse, Mirror World and Real World Intersect

Metaverse-induced transformations are also expected in e-commerce. Thus, the goal of the startup Boson Protocol is to “disrupt” online trading by replacing intermediaries with programmable contracts or smart contracts. For Timothée Silvestre, the metaverse also provides new shopping experiences.

For example, a consumer purchases a virtual good, such as a pair of shoes, whose ownership takes the form of an NFT, a non-fungible token. This token can then entitle to its real equivalent. A brand like Nike closely monitors these applications, which can be connected to the physical world. The manufacturer acquired RTFKT, a maker of virtual shoes, in December 2021.

Metaverse and the physical world are not watertight. They present interfaces, for example with the Spiegelwereld or mirror world, another trend that the CEA signals. The Mirror World is the set of data from the real world, like a digital twin. Nvidia, together with BMW, mainly digitizes factories.

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Since 2016, Dassault Systèmes has been participating in the creation of a digital twin of the city of Singapore as part of the Virtual Singapore smart city project. The mirror world, the metaverse and the real world are therefore interconnected, the CEA anticipates. The cross between the real world and the metaverse is the Cyber ​​​​Physical Asset. The industrial metaverse is located at the intersection of the metaverse and the mirror world.

Smart dust is perhaps a more tangible trend these days. The foundation was laid in the 1990s by DARPA with a concept of autonomous and networked mini sensors. Advances in miniaturization have enabled a leap forward in these miniature computers. Health presents possible applications of smart dust via neurobeads.

Starting up space, autonomous agriculture and eco-circularity

The Energy Commission also notes the emergence of concepts such as space for everyone, ie their democratization. Space is no longer the preserve of superpowers and government organizations. Startups are also developing technologies in this sector. The TechTheMoon incubator in Toulouse is an example of this.

However, disruptive technology is not solely aimed at the conquest of space. A trend is emerging in agriculture: autonomous farming. In 2021, the first agricultural vehicle manufacturer John Deere acquired Bear Flag Robotics.

Agriculture is home to other trends, such as vertical farming (which uses hydroponics to optimize water consumption) and agri-voltaics that combine farmland and energy production. According to experiments, certain crops, such as grapevines, benefit from higher yields thanks to the installation of solar panels by reducing evaporation during heat waves.

These energy sources could power modular light mobility platforms in the future. To these trends, Y.Spot Labs adds geoengineering (capture of C02, creation of artificial clouds to lower the temperature on the ground, etc.), everything as a service (batteries, light bulbs with Signify, energy, etc.) , circular economy and neurosymbolic AI.

The principle of the circular economy can be applied to urbanization, conceptualized through a 15-minute city where everything is feasible within a 15-minute area. The concept also includes urban mining, which consists of reusing local resources in the city.

Technology at the service of performance and resilience

“This also raises the question of product design, especially in construction with design for disassembly. This amounts to rethinking the design so that the structures of the future can be dismantled,” explains Timothée Silvestre. Mastery of product design and their entire life cycle could in the future be based on the combination of the circular economy, digital twins and blockchain.

Finally, Neuro Symbolic AI or hybrid AI. It responds to various problems. Most importantly, overcoming the limits of connectionist systems such as neural networks, which consume a lot of energy and have little or no explanation at all. The particularity of Neuro Symbolic AI is the merging of logic rules and neural networks to tackle complex problems.

But technologies alone will not be enough to solve all the problems of the different sectors. The CEA CEO also calls for a culture shift, which he says has focused on the performance cult over the past 30 years.

“A small grain of sand has disrupted this global optimization,” he says, referring to the pandemic and its impact on supply chains. Optimization has taken precedence over resilience, believes Timothée Silvestre. New technology trends should therefore be accompanied by thinking about resilience and used to improve resilience and not just performance, he urges business innovation leaders.

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