8 trends for tech in ‘18by Lenny Benaicha - January 30, 2018
As a business or brand, it’s important to be able to act, rather than react, when changes in our fast-moving world and society occur. A little over a year ago, I forecast 13 technology trends for 2017. Now, at the start of the new year, let’s have a look at 8 trends for tech in 2018.
1. Intelligence is power
Over 400 years ago, Francis Bacon coined the term: “knowledge (itself) is power”. Today, this statement still stands, perhaps more so than ever. There are many ways of looking at artificial intelligence. In essence, AI is intelligent behaviour in an agent. In order for this agent to be intelligent, it has to be able to sense, comprehend and act, which can be done in a supervised or a (semi)autonomous model. When we look at the rapidly increasing potential and power of artificial intelligence, we have to embrace it - carefully. The challenge of finding common ground with regards to ethics and morality - worldwide and across cultures - is huge. Ranging from the legend of King Midas to Asimov’s laws of robotics, and more recently, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg's differing opinions on whether governments should step in to regulate AI. It’s of the utmost importance that we are clear on our reasons and goals for applying AI. This year, we’ll see a lot of progress in voice technology, speaking and listening devices, general (predictive) business intelligence and decision making. There is no time like the present to start thinking about, and laying the foundations for, an AI business strategy.
2. 5G is large
5G, preceded by 4G (LTE), is a wireless data transfer protocol. It’s so fast and powerful it could even replace cable networks. Whether or not it should, is a different matter entirely. For now, it seems like little is known about how this technology could impact our health. However, with theoretical speeds ten times faster than 4G, it could become a very important driving force behind other technologies. Autonomous vehicles, for one, may require a fast and reliable network to communicate with operational bases or other vehicles. Depending on how technology manufacturers, telco operators, and governments collaborate, we may see 5G making its entrance in 2018.
3. Mixed digital reality
Could you pinch my arm to see if I’m dreaming? With the development of digital reality, this practice, along with the other tricks we use for quick reality checks, may no longer be reliable. As the already stunning graphics improve, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between an analogue reality and a digital one. Will we need virtual warning signs to flag when something isn't real? With virtual reality and - perhaps even more so - augmented reality finding its way into mainstream media last year, the borders between what we currently call analogue and digital reality are quickly fading. Mixed digital reality has a lot of potential in multiple areas, including educational, entertainment and engineering purposes.
4. Less disturbing
I think we’re going to see an expansion of so-called 'do not disturb' modes. Mainly, through the proliferation of mindfulness and spirituality. Today we’re presented with a number of digital mechanisms that aim to help us switch off, including 'airplane' mode, 'driving' mode and basic 'do not disturb' options on our phones. I believe we’re going to see other modes added to that list. As people inherently feel the need to be more careful with what they pay attention to, hardware and software manufacturers might want to proactively meet these needs. Last year, we witnessed the introduction of 'driving' mode, perhaps we’ll soon see 'taking a walk' mode, 'meditation' mode, 'eating' mode on our devices, configured either manually or automatically. Obviously, this would cause a problem for brands and advertisers with business models built on user attention.
5. Decentralisation by design
Decentralisation, applied on a large scale, will be as massive and disruptive as the internet has been. Some of the principles - like peer-to-peer networks - required for decentralisation have been around for quite a while, but decentralisation has gained a lot of attention from the media and financial markets lately. This is mainly due to cryptocurrencies, more specifically, Bitcoin. The decentralisation technology behind Bitcoin is called blockchain. The blockchain is like a database that is distributed in its entirety, on multiple computers, simultaneously. It grows all the time as new records, also called blocks, are added. Blocks contain a timestamp, a link to the previous block and additional transaction data. This principle is incredibly powerful, but unfortunately, it's also quite slow. In the future, I think blockchain will either be drastically improved or reinvented altogether. What's more, the current practical uses of decentralisation that we’ve seen - even excluding cryptocurrencies - have proven its business potential.
6. Sovereign Privacy
With GDPR knocking at our doors, privacy is about to change in a major way. Even though GDPR is a European directive, the chances are it will impact the United States as well. Especially for platforms and networks that are being used heavily on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Induced by the same directive - or ulterior motive - people in general will slowly become more aware, critical and careful when it comes to their privacy. A renewed awareness with regards to privacy will cause businesses and consumers alike to gain data sovereignty. Privacy, by design and built on top of the aforementioned decentralisation technology, will soon empower us to actually control our own data and keep track of which provider has access to what and for how long. This is almost the opposite of today’s model, where we 'lease' our private data, for free and indefinitely. When confronted with privacy issues, I have heard people saying, “I have nothing to hide, hence I have no problem sharing all of my personal data with one or more tech giants.” I don’t think this statement is wrong per se. It’s just that, ideally, this attitude should be built upon reciprocity. In other words, it should be a two-way street, requiring tech giants to be completely transparent with regards to where our data lives, and how it flows.
For some time, software engineering has been moving away from 'polling' principles. Imagine a security camera. Every minute, an application would poll for information in order to check for a security breach. Needless to say, this is inefficient for a number of reasons. For starters, cost. When charged per call, or volume of data transfer, the price goes up. Furthermore, it could wear out components in the network, and lastly, it often causes a security threat due to the necessary firewall openings. Conversely, if the security camera, in this case, could notify us only when something is wrong, it would create a much more efficient system. This event-driven 'push' principle will soon be applied on a large scale. Ranging from seemingly simple tasks such as, “Is my application still online?” to more complex tasks, such as monitoring car parks outside of shopping centres to manage supply and demand. Businesses will increasingly use triggers to help them act upon crucial states of their product, service, infrastructure, marketing automation, etc.
For a long time, what set humans and computers apart regarding conversation was the ability to create, understand and maintain context. As an example, imagine asking “What’s the weather going to be like today?” followed by “Okay, how about tomorrow?”. Only the latest VDAs that would understand the second question still refers to the initial question about the weather. This is a relatively straightforward example, but humans combine intentions and contexts all the time without thinking anything of it. For instance, take the following sentence: “Would you like to meet up this week or maybe next for a cup of coffee, maybe catch a film, or whatever.”. This is hard to translate in a binary world. However, we’re seeing huge progress and, as computers are beginning to understand intents and context better, there is enormous potential to supercharge tasks. Time is still the ultimate commodity and wherever speaking and listening is appropriate and notably faster than other input methods, speaking and listening will prevail.
The very distinguished George Orwell once said, “Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” Recognising and acknowledging this statement, I still feel strongly about the fact that we, as a species, might be on the verge of a major breakthrough. The fourth industrial revolution is well on its way, and if we make the right choices we can set ourselves up for greatness. It will come mostly through properly combining and applying artificial intelligence and decentralisation. However, we still have a lot of work to do concerning inclusion in technology, mainly with regards to equality and democracy.
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