Advances in technology continue to shape our world, and we can expect to see further advancements in 2017. Here is a list of some of the things I’m watching and expect to see move forward next year. Not all these trends will yield products in the next 12 months, but they are still trends we should all be watching. Investments will be made in 2017 that will bear fruit in 2018, 2019, 2020 and beyond. It's not an exhaustive list but it’s my current hit list of some of the most interesting things going on in tech at the moment.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and I hope you enjoy my list of seven things to watch in 2017.
Next year we will see the release of a range of in-ear technology designed to translate languages in real time, give you super hearing, and generally have more control over what you hear and how you hear it. Check out my recent post on the topic for more information.
Bottom line: Smart headphones and a range of other in-ear “hearables” could be in the top ten Christmas gifts for 2017.
Digital personal assistants and voice
Get used to speaking to things rather than touching things. 2007 was the year of touch which went mainstream with the launch of the first iPhone. 2017 may be the year of voice. Millions of people are already talking to their Amazon Echo, Google Home and other voice-based devices. As these interfaces get better (think of them as currently being crawling babies, getting ready to walk and then sprint) more and more people will use them to get more and more things done. The future of voice is digital personal assistants (DPAs). Again, these are in their extreme infancy today, despite what Mark Zuckerberg would have you believe. The usefulness of a voice assistant is really measured by two main factors…its ability to understand what you want, and then it’s ability to deliver that thing that you wanted. The accuracy of voice assistants will continue to improve in 2017 by applying learning algorithms to all the conversations we had with them in 2016. Recognition accuracy will steadily creep up over time, rising from 90-96% today towards 99% and beyond. In 2017 we may also see some DPAs become more conversational, as Viv attempts to be. And all those engineers at Apple must be working on something, so let’s hope Siri gets a significant boost in capability next year and can understand more of what we ask her to do. Also watch for new partnerships, new deals and new skills to be added to DPA platforms so that they can do more for us when we ask them to. Alexa can already order you an Uber. Wouldn’t it be cool if she could also understand and deliver on a request like “Alexa order me a chicken tikka masala with jasmine rice, a garlic naan bread, four poppadums and a couple of onion bhajis, to arrive at 7pm tonight.”
Bottom line: expect voice to become a more important component of your digital life in 2017
Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality
This year was a decent year for virtual reality, but it still hasn’t captured the public’s imagination. Sony released their Playstation VR product, which is actually pretty decent for the price, but didn’t promote it for Christmas and so it’s being seen as a disappointment. Next year expect prices for VR headsets to drop precipitously, fuelling increased demand. A $299 headset is much more appealing than $599 or $799. Watch for companies like Lenovo, Dell, Intel and others to make strides in this entry-level space. Also expect VR to go cordless giving true six degrees of freedom for the first time in major VR platforms.
Expect some initial disappointment with the industry’s first efforts around mixed reality (MR), but understand that this is a necessary phase before things get steadily better and MR becomes a broadly compelling platform. Magic Leap are scheduled to show their first commercial product at CES in January but the word on the street is that it won’t deliver on the full promise of their technology in this first rev. Microsoft will likely improve their HoloLens product and they continue to push the Windows Holographic platform as a way to try and unify VR/AR/MR software development efforts. They have first-mover advantage in this space and seem to be getting good traction.
Bottom line: VR prices will drop significantly in 2017. Watch the AR/MR space closely. Once the experience improves and prices drop, this will eventually become the main interface for your digital world.
None of the major car companies are expected to release a fully autonomous vehicles next year, but trials will expand and petabytes of data will be gathered by Tesla, Google, and others as their cars drive millions of miles on real roads. This data will be used to improve algorithms and boost the reliability of autonomous driving systems. In 2017 we may also see some major municipalities announce plans to embrace fleets of autonomous vehicles within certain zones of their cities. Also expect to see further experimentation with autonomous pods designed to carry 4-8 people at once, like the one shown in the photo above. The most interesting services that will pop up in this area will be journey management systems that span multiple transport modalities. Imagine being able to buy one ticket that dispatches a self-driving car to your door to shuttle you to a public transport hub, then includes a ride on a train or tram, and then another self-driving car waiting for you at the train station to whisk you the last mile or two to your destination. Software infrastructure to make this possible will be developed in 2017. Also look for experimentation with new business models that blur ownership and rental. For example, you might get a good deal on a new car if you agree that a percentage of the time when you’re not using it, it can be used by an Uber driver to generate revenue that is split between you, the driver, and the car company. These kind of models get even more interesting once your car becomes fully autonomous and you no longer need the Uber driver. Autonomous vehicles will reshape human mobility in profound ways. What happens in 2017 will pave the way for big launches in 2020, 2021 and beyond.
Bottom line: Watch the big corporate deals being done around self-driving cars in 2017 and get ready for first real products in around 2020.
Smart objects are portals to digital value. They can create entirely new business models and essentially turn products into services, experiences, or transformations, all of which are more valuable than just a simple, dumb product. In 2017, look for a broad range of companies to experiment with smart, connected objects as a way to reimagine product design and generate new revenue streams. Designers will need to experiment here and assess how much value they can create digitally versus physically.
More businesses will embrace analytics, not just to understand what’s happening in their operations, or to predict what their customers might do next, but to make core business decisions. Next year may be the year of prescriptive analytics as powerful machines leverage massive amounts of data to remove the “gut” from gut decisions and instead shift businesses towards data-drive decision-making. Expect data-driven decision-making to be used more extensively in areas like product design, planning, operations, and around how to best deploy labor.
Bottom line: No matter what industry you are in, if your company doesn’t already have a comprehensive strategy around predictive and prescriptive analytics, now is the time to get on it. No ifs, ands or buts.
Look for the release of more robots in 2017, each designed to take on specific tasks. We already have Harvey working in plant nurseries, SAM-100 laying bricks, and Baxter working on assembly lines. Perhaps in 2017 we will see the release of a first version of Moley, a robotic kitchen designed to cook us meals in our homes by motion-capturing master chefs. Cool stuff, if they can do it.
Bottom line: The robots are coming. In 2017 we will see a few more of the many robots we expect to see flooding our world in the next decade.
Underpinning many of these trends is one final "megatrend", that of artificial intelligence. Learning algorithms will continue to make giant leaps forward in 2017. Machine learning, deep learning, one-shot learning, sparse learning and other AI fundamentals will all see improvements next year. They will lead to voice assistants that understand us better, cars that drive more safely, better fraud detection, robots that do their robot things more intelligently, drones that fly more safely, analytics that spot more important hidden insights, smart objects that are smarter, wearables that adapt to our individual needs, and so on.
One thing is for sure--2017 is set to be yet another exciting year for technology! Let me know what you think. What are the big trends that I didn't include here, that perhaps should have been?