What are the essential eight technologies?

July 29, 2016



We analyzed 150-plus emerging techs to zero in on those that matter most for business.

Emerging technology strategy needs to be a core part of every company’s corporate strategy. Business executives must sort through the noise to make clear-headed decisions about the most relevant technologies that will sustain revenue growth and enhance business operations. But with the torrent of tech breakthroughs, how can you even begin to make sense of individual technologies?

To help companies focus their efforts, PwC analyzed more than 150 emerging technologies to pinpoint what we call the “Essential Eight.” These are the technologies we believe every organization must consider. While each company’s strategy for how to best exploit them will vary, these eight technologies will have the most significant global impact across industries.

To arrive at the Essential Eight, we evaluated business impact and commercial viability over the next five to seven years (and as little as three to five years in developed economies). We looked at: the technology’s relevance to companies and industries; global reach; technical viability, including the potential to become mainstream; market size and growth potential; and the pace of public and private investment in them.

Here are the Essential Eight and how they are poised to reshape our world.


Artificial intelligence

Software algorithms are automating complex decision-making tasks to mimic the human thought processes and senses. AI is not a monolithic technology; A subset of AI, machine learning, focuses on the development of computer programs that can teach themselves to learn, understand, reason, plan, and act when blasted with data. Machine learning carries enormous potential for the creation of meaningful products and services, including: hospitals using a library of scanned images to quickly and accurately detect and diagnose cancer; insurance companies digitally and automatically recognizing and assessing car damage; and security companies trading clunky typed passwords for voice recognition.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality is a visual and/or audio “overlay” on the physical world that uses contextualized digital information to augment the viewer’s real-world view. AR-enabled smartglasses help warehouse workers fulfill orders with precision, airline manufacturers assemble planes, and electrical workers make repairs. We’re currently seeing mainstream gaming examples of AR that reach across age demographics. The power of bringing information to the point of action in a seamless, unobtrusive manner is undeniable. This blending of the physical and virtual world is cracking open a new realm for businesses across the board to explore.


A blockchain is a distributed electronic database or, more broadly, an electronic ledger that uses software algorithms to record and confirm transactions with reliability and anonymity. The record of events is shared between many parties and information once entered cannot be altered, as the downstream chain reinforces upstream transactions. Blockchain has the potential to usher in an era of autonomous digital commerce.


Drones vary greatly in their capacity based on their design. Some drones need wide spaces to take off while quadcopters can squeeze into a column of space. Some drones are water-based; some can operate and navigate autonomously (via remote control) or fully autonomously (via onboard computers). In June 2016, the US Federal Aviation Administration cleared a path for commercial drone use, establishing safe-use rules that include airspace, speed, pilot certification, and other guidelines for operators. It’s a watershed moment for the enterprises that would benefit most from drone-based data collection. Companies are using drones for wide-ranging reasons, including surveillance, survey, sport, cinematography and delivery.

Internet of things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, appliances—embedded with sensors, software, network connectivity, and computer capability enabling them to collect, exchange, and act on data, usually without human intervention. The industrial IoT (IIoT) is refers to its use in the manufacturing and industrial sectors, or Industry 4.0. IIoT adds sensors to people, places, processes, and products across a value chain to capture and analyze information to advance the goals of the organization.


Robots are machines with enhanced sensing, control, and intelligence used to automate, augment, or assist human activities.  The robot market, which has grown quite large for industrial applications, is poised for radical growth in a broad range of services applications. These applications are transforming manufacturing and non-manufacturing operations with new capabilities that address the challenges of working in changing, uncertain, and uncontrolled environments, such as alongside humans without being a danger to them.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality is an example of creative destruction. It abolishes logistical limitations and makes anything possible. In a computer-generated simulation of a three dimensional image or environment viewers can use special equipment to interact with the simulation in realistic ways. The Gaming and Entertainment industries are obvious proving grounds for Virtual Reality. However, VR has the potential to transform many other industries as well, especially in the realm of experiential training where workers can be thrown into hazardous, difficult, or cost-prohibitive situations without the intense risks associated with these activities in the real world.

3D printing

3D printing creates three-dimensional objects based on digital models by layering or “printing” successive layers of materials. 3D printing has the potential to turn every large enterprise, small business and living room into a factory.

The Essential Eight technologies will influence business models and the competitive landscape for years to come. And one thing’s clear: Emerging technology is no longer the realm of IT alone. Business leaders need to begin learning and thinking about how to harness their potential.




Chris Curran

Principal and Chief Technologist, PwC US Tel: +1 (214) 754 5055 Email

Anand Rao

Global Artificial Intelligence Lead, PwC US Tel: +1 (617) 530 4691 Email