Message from our International Scientific Advisory Committee
19 Sep, 2023
When thinking about the next generation, the theme of this year’s TMOS annual report, my mind goes to the current Fourth Industrial Revolution, where the boundary between humans and technology is beginning to blur.
Optics will undoubtedly play an important role in next generation technology as it offers the ultimate speed of the signal propagation, high bandwidth, and lower power consumption. Importantly, most information that we get about the outside world is optical; it’s through our eyes. Visual-output systems will remain central to the ways we communicate and learn about the world.
The future is all about optical and hybrid optical technologies. Flat, ultrathin optics using metasurfaces are pushing the edge of fundamental physics and breakthrough applications in these domains. It’s all going to feed into the next generation of data-driven technologies, be that free space propagation with meta-surfaces as sensors, the Internet of Things, virtual or augmented reality, smart glasses, smart windows, holographic devices, or wearable ‘meta-films’ compatible with the human body that are stretchable and self-healing.
Developing human-to-computer interfaces is going to be the most important development. Instead of carrying laptops or smartphones, all these technologies will be integrated with the human being and its environment. Everything will be smart and interconnected through artificial intelligence. We still have a way to go for that science fiction future to become our everyday life, but it may be closer than we think.
The first digital revolution was based on the semiconductor diode, which was invented in 1874; the first semiconductor device was patented in 1901. It took the invention of the transistor and computers for these discoveries and technologies to have a major impact, with universities contributing to the further development of the semiconductor all the while. It took time from the invention of the transistor in 1947 until materials science advances made the semiconductor industry viable in the 1960s. There was also a lag in workforce training, for the development of applications for these new devices, and for commercial and intellectual competition to drive more innovation. Eventually, it took off. George Moore, founder of Intel, in his ‘Moore’s Law,’ predicted the doubling of the density of transistors on microchips in 1965, which has held true.
The situation in 2022 is very different, because companies are doing so much more R&D. Their efforts are on par with universities. This means that fundamental scientific breakthroughs that are critical for the creation of new disruptive applications are happening in parallel with remarkable developments in engineering, materials, and workforce training. Thus, the ongoing technology revolutions move much faster than previously.
Through my involvement with the Quantum Economic Development Consortium (QED-C), I see that the level of R&D in quantum technology companies and the top-notch ground-breaking research at universities are at a similar level, and that key industry players are partnering with top academic teams, thus closing the fundamental discovery/new technology loop. No discussion of the next generation can be complete without highlighting quantum information science and technology (QIST). We are witnessing an ongoing quantum revolution, and I believe photonics is going to play a critical role simply because photons are the fastest messengers and, importantly, immune to decoherence.
Optics already plays a big role in quantum technology advancement through quantum imaging and sensing. Eventually, quantum photonics will play a big part in the human machine world, through quantum photonic computing and unhackable, secure quantum communication systems. Meta-optics, with its ability to tailor light-matter interactions, will definitely find its way into quantum photonic systems, offering the ultimate control over the generation, control and detection of quantum states of light.
The current pace of science and technology breakthrough discoveries often happen at the intersection of different disciplines. Strong collaboration is essential, and it is very important for a Center like TMOS to make sure young people are exposed to a multidisciplinary environment early in their career path, so that they may have the opportunity to interact with specialists from different fields. My message to the students and researchers of TMOS is to be the best possible specialist in what you do. Always aim for the stars and never settle for incremental work. At the same time, be open to other disciplines and follow the most recent breakthroughs in science and technology. This will help you think outside of the box and never run dry of novel ideas. I don’t believe any significant advances will happen without the dialogue and expertise exchange between areas of research. Being exposed to a multidisciplinary environment and keeping abreast of changes in technology and science is very important for the next generation. They should keep a close eye on developments in quantum and big data, virtual reality and human-machine interfaces, because these areas will significantly affect their careers and change the world for the better.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is well underway. The younger generation will be shaping it for decades to come. But I encourage them to always leave room for exploring new and unrelated ideas, because who knows what will define the next revolution and from what conversation it might spawn?
Prof. Alexandra Boltasseva,
ISAC Committee Member