"Smartphone," "Internet of Things," and "the Cloud" are all part of common contemporary vernacular, but it hasn't always been that way. Just twenty years ago, those words were completely foreign to the public lexicon, and it's only been within the last decade or so that they've really taken off.
Just as technological innovation changes language, it also has an ongoing impact on how humans interact with the world. From business processes to oral health, tech initiatives are changing lives across the country — and not always in the ways you'd expect. Here's a closer look at how technology is mixing things up and making things better in five key industries.
Because insurance is something most people use only in emergencies, it's hard to imagine how this industry could be transformed by technology. However, recent innovations in popular tech — self-driving cars, drones, and wearables — have already started helping insurance companies gather data to expedite claims, improve process accuracy, and even save consumers money on premiums.
Despite some privacy concerns around smart-tech monitoring, plenty of people have already adopted smart devices. Fitness trackers, for instance, are growing in popularity, leading some large-scale health insurers to start offering coverage for the little wearable gadgets. So far the most visible result of insurance-endorsed smart tech seems to be the encouragement of healthier, safer behaviors, thereby reducing premiums and limiting claims — a win for both parties.
Online shopping has forever changed the retail landscape, but thanks to Cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT), the way we shop is still evolving. Smart refrigerators can order groceries, and Cloud-based inventory tracking can let a shopper know in seconds if a store has a specific size or color of shirt in stock. Some retailers have even eliminated long lines by letting in-store customers use smartphones to check out.
To further improve the shopping experience, more stores are using purchase tracking to follow consumer behavior and preferences, offering tailored deals and personalized sales for a variety of shopping tastes. If you've ever received a timely email coupon for a favorite snack or shampoo brand, you can thank the IoT.
If you're one of the millions of people who fear going to the dentist, the new technology could make your life a lot easier. A recently released smart toothbrush could be your high-tech ticket to preventing dental damage. This handy gadget will let you know if you're brushing enough and if your technique is correct. It can even help parents track whether their kids are actually brushing their teeth before hitting the hay.
Dental technology isn't only for home care, either. Thanks to 3D printing and digital modeling, dental patients no longer have to deal with a mouthful of goop whenever the dentist needs to take impressions. And though that won't transform a visit to the dentist into a carnival ride, it definitely increases the comfort factor.
Uber and Airbnb aren't the only ways technology is overhauling the travel industry. Even though consumers have to jump through more security hoops than ever before, technology takes a lot of the sting out of what used to be common travel complaints: lost luggage, in-flight communication blackouts, and misplaced boarding passes.
Tracking apps and smart luggage could mean the end of missing bags — GPS services let you follow your suitcase during every leg of your journey. And forget waiting until you land to answer that important email, because in-flight Wi-Fi is now a reality. You don't even have to print a boarding pass anymore, as smartphones allow you to digitally check in for your flight and get through security without having to search for that little scrap of paper.
5. Banking and Finance
Years ago, debit cards annihilated the widespread use of checkbooks, and now Cloud-based financial services are all but eliminating the need to deal with cards altogether. Services like PayPal let people send and receive money online without having to input a card or account number every time. The company's subsidiary app Venmo has also done a good job catering to the younger, more mobile population.
On that note, new mobile technology can also help bridge the gap between old and new payment methods. For example, a roadside lemonade stand can accept a credit card if the tech-savvy teen in charge has access to a tablet or smartphone with a mobile credit card reader. Even though many people still rely on traditional institutions and payments, these changes indicate that there may be a shift towards more digital currency management in the near future.
Whether you're an early or late adopter when it comes to tech innovations, there's no way to avoid the impact of technology on your everyday life. The good news is that tech advances are making most industries more responsive to consumer needs and habits — making life a little easier for all of us.