Get ready for a big year ahead!

A futurist's thoughts on 2018

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Happy New Year! It looks like 2018 will be a HUGE year in technology. Let's take a look at a few of the biggest areas of innovation that I'll be tracking this year. These are the areas that will not only increase their impact during 2018, but are the ones most likely to lead to longer term disruption over the coming decade.

Artificial intelligence continues to disrupt

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AI continues to shape the future of every business. In 2018, voice platforms will continue to gain capabilities and accuracy, AI-enhanced services will become more responsive to customer needs, and autonomous machines (robots, drones, self-driving cars, trucks, ships, and other autonomous vehicles) will become ever more capable. If your business doesn't already have a well-articulated, clear AI strategy by now, it's time to get educated, get your thinking caps on, and figure out how you plan to embrace this important set of technologies and place them at the core of your business strategy. If you're not figuring out how to use AI to optimize your operations and create new value for customers, know that your competitors are. Make sure you and your teams understand the business implications of deep learning, natural language processing, and autonomous machines, and that you're already starting to consider where AI will go in the next few years with approaches like reinforcement learning, capsule networks, and so on.

Transportation will change beyond recognition

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This year we should expect to see the first level-4 and level-5 self-driving cars, trucks and taxis start coming to market. NuTonomy says they plan to provide fully self-driving taxi services in Singapore by the end of this year. Over the next few years, we will see more change to the transportation sector than we have seen in the last 100 years when we saw the revolution of the internal combustion engine lead to the horseless carriage. We are now moving to the era of the horseless, driverless carriage. The term "transportation" will be redefined forever. "Transportation" will become more of an on-demand service that you use rather than a product that you buy and own. We will also start to think of "vehicles" as being moving spaces rather than just a means of getting from A to B. Perhaps those spaces will bring services to you rather than taking you to a service. Why not have your favorite restaurant come to you rather than the other way around. That may not happen in 2018, but that's where we are heading. Expect to see the car companies experiment will all manner of creative new moving spaces that enable us to configure them to suit our needs as they also transport us to our destination. Your next car may have its own app store.

The blockchain buzz will start to seem justified

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Blockchain is going to be used to solve old problems in fresh new ways and also to decentralize power. Blockchain technology, the underpinning tech behind crypto-currencies, has many other uses than just creating a digital currency. Blockchain technology essentially provides a mechanism to generate digital trust and a whole new class of distributed apps. Look for innovative startups to use blockchain to create new value, to better protect persona and sensitive data, and to decentralize industrial sectors that rely heavily on institutions and incumbents (think banking, brokers, social media companies, and so on). We may also see blockchain used as a way to establish digital identity, which can only be a good thing. Social Security numbers were already an antiquated and pathetic identity scheme even BEFORE the Equifax disaster. In the US, we need something to replace SSN as an identity mechanism, and pronto. Blockchain may underpin such efforts. 

Virtual and augmented reality will start to see take-up with consumers

 Magic Leap's first product, due to launch 2018

Magic Leap's first product, due to launch 2018

Later in the year, we will see a boost to the prospects of virtual reality platforms as new consumer-grade (read: lower priced) and wireless VR headsets hit the market. Also expect advances to be made in augmented reality, with the launch of real new platforms from Magic Leap and others. (Let's hope it's real. Rumors continue to swirl that Magic Leap is still promoting vaporware). Longer term, augmented reality is the platform to watch. VR is fun for gaming, and can be used to solve some business problems, but the real value to be had is with augmented reality, due to it's intimate interaction with the real physical world. Don't expect 2018 to bring the AR replacement for the smartphone, but we should see some good first steps made in that direction by the end of the year.

The automation tsunami will continue to build

 Image credit: Roberto Parada

Image credit: Roberto Parada

More and more people are waking up to the education and employment issues surrounding the next wave of automation. We are watching tech companies make huge leaps with the capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI), and the next generation of smart robots and vehicles that that this AI makes possible. We are about to see another wave of job destruction with many, many hundreds of thousands of jobs being replaced by AI and robots in the next few years. These jobs won't just be blue-collar jobs either. Expect the social conversation around the automation tsunami to pick up more urgency during 2018. With the continued retirement of the baby boomers (a large generation), I'm less worried about there not being enough jobs than I am about a massive skills gap. We are already seeing tightness in the labor market as companies fail to find the skilled workers that they need. (Remember, Gen X is a much smaller generation, about half the size of the boomers). The issue will be that we will have millions of people who are trained to do old jobs that no longer exist. For example, what will the 3.5 million Americans that currently drive for a living do when those jobs are automated? Educational establishments, local and state government need to start making plans for how we will use technology to reimagine education for the 21st century. Only by cutting the costs of a quality education and using digital technology to make education more scaleable, can we make it more accessible to all the people that are going to need to retrain themselves in the coming decade(s). This may be the most important political and social conversation of 2018. Let's hope that it gains more momentum this year.

In summary

Buckle up, 2018 is going to be a banner year for innovation. Entrepreneurs, both young and old, will find new and exciting ways to use technology to make our lives more comfortable, more productive, more enjoyable, more safe, more exciting, and more fulfilling. We will also find ways to use these technologies to increase access to education, information, services, healthcare and more.

From a technology perspective, I'm very optimistic about 2018 and what comes next. I hope you are too.