Each year around this time, we do our best to peer into the future and make predictions about those things that will drive us, fuel innovation, and set the tech world aflame in the coming year. The rapid pace of innovation, however, makes predicting what’s to come in tech pretty tricky (not to mention pretty exciting)! Not so long ago — though it sometimes feels that way — visions of world-changing technological transformation had to be set far into the future. Now, things are evolving so quickly that you’d be hard-pressed to see what’s coming next week, let alone next year. From stateless digital currencies in common use to widely available self-parking cars to smartphones that recognize their owners’ faces.
In these days of rapid change, our predictions for 2018 don’t have to be conservative to be credible. While some of the developments we see coming don’t come as much of a surprise, building on progress from 2017, others reach into that previously hard-to-see future — and hint that the world of wonder envisioned “back in the day” isn’t a galaxy of thought so far, far away.
Machine learning and AI: Redefining the New “Normal”
Machine learning and artificial intelligence tools and platforms are gaining more prevalence and getting easier to use. Drawing on the scalability of the cloud for initial training, these technologies will have huge impacts on the way we work in the future and transform our businesses and lives. Able to learn what’s normal and what isn’t, machines will play an ever-expanding role in automation and predictive problem-solving, and will even able to recognize and shut down bad actors to prevent security breaches.
The rise of Blockchains and cryptocurrency
Unless you’ve been in hiding, it’s likely that you’ve heard about Bitcoin approximately once every five minutes for the past few weeks. But though it’s coming into wide acceptance, we’ve only just begun to see the impact of technologies like Blockchains and cryptocurrencies. 2018 will see important new and evolving use cases in this realm. Decentralized and distributed companies will be able to rise with little or no infrastructure of their own, and may even disrupt the currently dominant cloud-based giants.
The next level of edge computing
There will be a surge in demand for edge computing in 2018. As more and more devices connect to the internet, latency will become more and more of an issue. The cloud was designed for massive downloads — not uploads. Instead of streaming everything to the cloud for machine learning, sensors will have to rely on edge computing to learn which conditions are “normal” and react to those that are not. This will have a huge impact on digital transformation and security.
The new age of driverless vehicles
Autonomous vehicles will continue to disrupt markets in human transportation, agriculture, logistics, shipping and more. Acting as mobile edge data centers on wheels, these vehicles will process terabytes or petabytes of sensor data to react in real time to surrounding conditions. Autonomous deliveries and commuters are already becoming normal sights in cities across the country, such a Pittsburgh, where Uber first tested its driverless cars, to Paris, which is testing self-driving buses, to Las Vegas, to Boston, and even to my home in Tempe, Arizona, where seeing driverless vehicles from Uber, Waymo, and GM lap the Arizona State University campus is now an everyday occurrence.
Reality redefined: AR, VR, and MR
2018 will bring even greater buzz to augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality, as new products and capabilities hit the market. Magic Leap is raising another billion dollars, as are many of its competitors. AR is already being used in digital transformation for applications to support construction and on-site repair. Citrix demonstrated VR workstations powered by everyday eyeglasses at Synergy. As this technology gets more powerful and its fingers wend their way into more and more parts of our world, it will increasingly merge with autonomous vehicles, machine learning and edge computing technologies. Just as the release of iPhone X has been a watershed moment for broadly viable facial recognition, 2018 will see many AR use cases move from mere speculation to reality, with VR breakthroughs not far behind.
IoT: transforming the way we look at healthcare
We’ve already seen IoT transform heavy industries, like oil and gas, through sensors that capture real-time data to enable automation, improve operational control, and drive down costs. As Hurricane Irma neared Florida, Tesla used IoT technology to extend the driving range of its cars in the area by improving battery performance, giving people a better chance to get out of the path of the storm. In 2018, IoT will make change the way we view healthcare. With the goal of improving patient outcomes, innovations like streaming data on patients’ vital signs directly into their EMR, which might seem small, will reduce errors and save time (and also make more money!), making it possible for doctors to see more patients each day. That’s a little thing that’s a big win for patients and for healthcare on the whole.
Oh, the internet of things, we hardly knew ye…
Before long, the phrase “internet of things” will be a thing of the past. Over the course of the next year or so, the notion that devices automatically connect to the internet will go without saying, and every company will need to either own or rent an IoT platform in order to stay relevant. Competition will drive the race to fully automated IoT business processes with just-in-time replenishment and auto-scaling services. There will also be a number of IoT startups focusing on technologies that will automatically detect people and profiles and play a role in contextual automation in every location — work, home, coffee shop and so on.
Robotics: “Rosie the Robot” might not be as far away as you think
As the hype around IoT fades, the next logical step for the thought leaders and companies that have fueled its rise will be robotics. We’ll start seeing more special-purpose robots hit the market as early as 2019. If you thought the Roomba was just a vacuum, hold on. That sort of technology will soon power everything from lawnmowers to grill cleaners and car washes.
While the future of robotics might not looks like what was fancilfully envisioned in The Jetsons (though I’d be lying if I said having a robot maid like their “Rosie” wouldn’t be great), the automatic technologies transforming our environments, the self-driving vehicles that are changing the way we think about transportation, and so many other innovations already underway, will make the Jetsonian vision of the future seem like nothing.