13 trends for tech in '17

by Lenny Benaicha - January 13, 2017

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In a fast-moving world where technology is becoming increasingly important, it’s essential for businesses and brands to know what to expect and what to prepare for. Here’s my take on 13 technology trends that we’ll see in 2017.

1. Conversational: smart talks

The way we interact with one another has changed so much over the past years and decades, mainly because of electricity and – of course - the internet. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get someone on the phone, especially younger people. However, it’s surprisingly easy to get those same people to text back. Interesting statistic: text messages have a 98% open rate.

No wonder that messaging apps recently surpassed social networks in monthly active users. Consumers are now beginning to expect an instant messaging type of communication with brands and businesses. In an attempt to provide a better, faster and more cost-efficient service, (chat)bots can provide a solution. Where human-to-human support can handle a limited amount of simultaneous connections, bots can respond virtually to an unlimited number of conversations. The rise of (chat)bots is evident; but we still have a long way to go. Rather than providing us with answers, like, what’s the weather going to be like today?, we will start demanding actions and answers. For instance, if you order a package online that isn’t delivered, we want the bot to explain the situation and take matters into its virtual hands to get the package delivered. We’ll grow so accustomed to this super instant gratification we’ll soon start to desire the next logical evolution: bots that anticipate human intentions.

2. Ethical machines: define morality

Whether it’s the interpretation or implementation of Philippa Foot’s “Trolley Problem”, Asimov’s "Laws of Robotics” or MIT’s "Moral Machine” study, we’ll see more attempts to introduce ethics into computers. However, the challenge here is due to our own struggles with ethics. 

Whether or not we’ll successfully be able to outline global morality, or even region by region, we’ll soon come to expect computers to be able to make ethically responsible choices due to the speed of their thinking power. How? Options include: introducing laws; devising a framework that allows machines to make decisions within the boundaries of morality today; or developing a very basic set of rules that machines can then apply to create their own morality. A well-known example is should a self-driving car always try to protect its passengers, even if it means hitting other people?

3. Enhanced listening: the hearing revolution

If we can hack our vision with lenses, glasses and goggles, why not alter our hearing? We already have hearing aids for those who have difficulties hearing.  And soon we’ll see aids for those without difficulties, or to protect people from potential hearing problems - chronic tinnitus already affects over 12.5% of the population. This new technology will serve us both for fun and work. 

If earphones, headphones and speakers keep evolving with fewer cables, better battery life and more efficient noise cancellation, we’ll soon forget what earplugs are. We’ll be able to take the initiative to enhance or filter out useless real world sounds to effectively enhance our listening. But, why don’t we take it a step further and trust technology to filter out harmful frequencies altogether? For example, why should we endure the horrible screeching sound of a train entering a station?

4. Software: where did it all go?

The way software is represented in graphical user interfaces will become increasingly less prominent, which will shape the way we build and look at software. 

Invisible (conversational) interfaces will enable us to offload tasks without the need to ever see the actual software or operating system. “Hey virtual assistant, how do you say ‘I love you’ in Japanese?” “Okay virtual assistant, switch off the lights.” Instead of manually opening apps or browsing web pages, we’ll expect software to provide us with relevant and contextual information at the right time.

5. Tracking: auto self-measuring of all things

We want to track our activities, whatever they may be. Both awake and asleep. Heart rate, BMI, calories burnt, minutes spent meditating and whatever else springs to mind. Our motives are personal: to track life-threatening conditions, to monitor our vitamin intake, to work towards set goals, or simply because you like stats. 

We want to know it all, hassle-free. Meaning, we don’t want to spend time setting up our trackers or inputting data. Smartwatches were a big step forwards, and new tracking tools are popping-up every day: in professional sports, by big marketing brands or on Kickstarter. Even nanoparticle tracking in your bloodstream is becoming a reality.

6. Memory makers: stack overflow

With an ever-increasing amount of data - mostly (live) photos and videos - available to shape our memories, we need something else to keep track of our memory. Evidence shows that we actually remember less of our external experiences when we actively capture them through a lens. Cameras aren’t new, however, they are becoming smaller. And as they become more portable, it becomes easier to point, shoot and collect memories.

Up until now, we needed at least one hand to point and shoot a photo or video. Spectacles, the sunglasses by Snap Inc., allow us to collect and share memories effortlessly, hands free. The way we reminisce is usually through a narrative we’ve created in our minds. In time this narrative might become less accurate, or only focus on the pleasant parts, which serves as a protection mechanism. If we remember our experiences in a very literal way, without our own narrative, we might lose a part of our personality. This is a big opportunity for social media platforms and dedicated “throwback” apps to come up with a more intelligent way for us to shape our memories.

7. Intelligence: cognitive replaces artificial

Artificial intelligence (AI) will manifest itself to its full extent when we are fully ready to embrace it and its consequences. If technology continues to evolve at the same pace, AI will not be a question of when and if, but that of trust. Perhaps we’ll feel more at ease if we shift attention from artificial to cognitive intelligence and start modelling intelligence in machines according to the human brain. Challenges with cognitive (artificial) intelligence, however, lie within boundaries. On one hand, we will probably be grateful to learn more and gain valuable new insights about ourselves and human cognitive capabilities. On the other hand, will we be offended when our human cognitive models prove to be the limiting factor for machine intelligence?

We want to detect patterns and generate context-aware insights, driven by sensory input and billions of IoT sensors. In order to do collect and analyse big data, the evolution of intelligence is absolutely vital. Furthermore, we want answers to questions that we don’t know how to ask. As well as visualising data, we also want to act on it, but sometimes the data comes across as incoherent or we don’t know where to look. We depend on intelligence to create context, so we can analyse data in such a way that it becomes meaningful for us without the need to explicitly formulate questions.

8. Crypto: let’s blockchain everything

As blockchain continues to gain popularity, the amount and variety of applicable uses will grow exponentially. Increasingly consumers will start to demand privacy by design or as a feature, in a way that can’t be disregarded. 

Today, many messaging apps allow for end-to-end encryption, setting a new standard in privacy. Blockchain can provide a solution for signing contracts, transferring money and creating true sharing economies with the potential to cut out even more middlemen. Whether it’s blockchain as we know it today or a blockchain-like evolution, there is no avoiding blockchain in quantum computing.

9. Autonomous mobility: good riddance

Self-driving cars, busses and trucks are here. Today. Now. Manufacturers are gaining confidence and have started announcing dates by which they claim their fleet will be entirely autonomous. And companies like Uber are investing heavily in autonomous vehicles. Who are we to doubt them?

In-vehicle entertainment systems will be drastically improved upon too. With the possibility to fully focus on the entertainment system, or perhaps some sort of professional work system, the potential for change is huge. Think about the time you’ll win when you can enjoy the flexibility of a car with the valuable use of travel time of a train.

10. (Virtual/augmented) reality: synch it

Due to better devices, higher resolutions and the overall decreasing cost of goggles, we will see AR and VR gain more momentum. The next challenge lies within the individualistic aspect of the technology. The ability to synchronise an experience with friends or family within your home is relatively easy, but still required. 

We’ll see events such as concerts, sports games and festivals play into this technology nicely, selling both real and virtual tickets. This enables event organisers to broaden their audiences. By live streaming events, VR style, fans can join in from the comfort of their own home. We’ll see VR stations in public areas for those who don’t own the hardware. We’ll also be able to overcome our fears and phobias. With VR and AR medical and psychological applications, we can create therapeutic encounters that would otherwise be dangerous, but enable us to grow as a person.

11. Social: stranger friends

We definitely won’t be more social than last year – even if we think we will be. Chances are we’ll see more people moving away from social media as they look for real connections. Have you already tried going offline for a couple of days or – madness! – a week?

As our views and habits change, we’ll become smarter with our decreasing attention spans. We can start by limiting our notifications. However, by demanding more control over our notifications, we might actually be giving up control, relying on cognitive intelligence and more advanced notification settings to provide us with contextual, time and location aware notifications. Less and better instead of everything, i.e. too much.

12. Connected living: collision detection

Lights, locks, heating, cooling, television, security and pretty much every aspect of our homes can be controlled by voice or another internet capable device, wherever we might be. And it feels so cool when it works, right?

Room for improvement lies within collision detection. For instance, if multiple family members are providing conflicting instructions, the system has to come up with intelligent solutions. Another interesting evolution to keep an eye on, is whether or not we’ll see more and more devices used to control the home environment, or we’ll simply use devices that we already own, such as smartphones, tablets, smartwatches and smart TVs.

13. Technocracy: the importance of affordability

This year, more than ever before, we will see better technology. Commercially better technology that is, in the form of smartphones, tablets, laptops etc. While the hardware might not evolve at the same rapid pace that it once used to, software and operating systems will become increasingly important in making the actual difference.

However, it’s sad to see how tech giants choose to price their devices. Continuing along this path, people will be left with a limited number of options. Either people will turn, deliberately and consciously, against the trend, or the wealthy among us just put down the cash, in search of the so-called best, newest and shiniest. But we shouldn’t forget the importance of low cost and basic devices. Geopolitical events such as Brexit and new POTUS Donald Trump won’t make things easier. Depending on (new) trade laws, agreements and taxes, manufacturers may have to reorganise and relocate their production facilities and assembly processes, possibly causing new price increases.

Conclusion

Nevertheless, 2017 will be a great year for technology. If we aim to keep soft- and hardware accessible, we can encourage and motivate the young and the old to imagine incredible new solutions to complex challenges. The kind of challenges that threaten our planet and - potentially - our existence.

It’s up to us to come up with solutions to use resources smarter and more efficiently, enabling us to one day turn away from fossil fuels altogether. Questioning our own ethics, locally and globally, we are likely to learn more about ourselves and our neighbours, thus enabling us to create a better understanding of morality in humans and machines. If we focus on creating technology that respects humans, we might be able to boost our attention span and capabilities rather than destroy it.

Albert Einstein once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Let’s imagine democratic, accessible and ground-breaking technology.

Lenny Benaicha

Strategic Technologist

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