Trend Reviews and Forecasts
At the beginning of each year it’s helpful to look behind to see what was accomplished and which trends existed. It’s also helpful to look ahead to try to forecast which trends will continue and which new ones will likely emerge. After evaluating the previous year and forecasting next year, I put together the following list of trends I have identified for 2018.
1. Voice Controls
The launch of Siri in the iPhone 4s more than half a decade ago started a voice control revolution. Android phones followed with voice shortly after. Microsoft added Cortana to its phones, computers and Xbox gaming device. Amazon’s Echo launched a couple of years ago, and now more than 5 million have been sold. Google Home, an Amazon Echo competitor, launched in November, 2016.
The latest CES conference, for example, was replete with voice control, especially in automobiles with manufacturers in a race to add the technology as an option in the majority of their upcoming models. Voice control will continue to expand and grow and improve, and over time it will become a de facto standard in our everyday lives.
2. Internet of Things (IoT) and The Cloud
The Internet of Things (IoT) has been a topic of a lot of hype and conversation for the last 5 years. That hype has now started to become reality. Amazon’s Echo is one of the best known examples of IoT. The Echo is a device which you place in your home that connects to your wireless network and allows voice control of many different features such as grocery lists, to-do lists, timers, searches, home automation devices, and more. It is estimated that Amazon has now sold well over 5 million Echo devices over the last years. Another popular IoT device is Tile, a very small bluetooth device that can be attached to keys or other valuables so that they can be found if lost by utilizing a mobile app. Other common IoT devices range from health and wellness products such as health trackers, pet trackers, smart home devices, children’s toys, etc. Expect to see a huge growth in IoT devices in the coming year, many of which we already use, and many more that will be announced and brought to market soon. IoT will continue to move into our homes, work, and daily lives.
3. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
For decades science fiction authors have written about artificial intelligence, or AI. The examples in sci-fi have ranged from machines that could take voice commands to friendly robots that would walk, talk and interact with their human counterparts to doomsday scenarios where AI robots would take over the world and destroy humanity in the process. While many of these examples are still far-fetched, if not completely implausible, a number of them are becoming reality right before our very eyes. While we don’t expect to have walking, talking robot assistants anytime soon we can look around us and see AI begin to have an impact on our daily lives.
Over 5 million Amazon Echos have been sold, meaning millions of households already have an AI device inside them, each of which is capable of understanding voice controls and interacting with the homeowner. Google has followed Amazon’s lead with Google Home, which has now launched and will bring another AI option for the home. Amazon Alexa, Facebook Messenger, Microsoft Skype and others are available or will be available soon, allowing users to conversationally chat with a bot much like they would with a human in order to book a flight, order a pizza, or request an Uber driver.
Smartech devices like the Nest, which learns your temperature behavior and adjusts temperatures according to your behavior, is already here. Driverless cars are another area in which AI is making a huge impact. Tesla already has Enhanced Autopilot which allows for full self-driving capability. CES has shown AI in devices from toothbrushes to ratchets to smoke detectors to windows/blinds and on and on. AI is just starting to emerge, and it will continue to adapt, evolve and grow into next year and beyond. It is surely going to be one of the technologies that will have the greatest impact in our lives over our lifetime.
4. Machine Learning Using Big Data
“Big Data” has been a big topic of discussion over the last 5-6 years, and we are certainly in the middle of the Big Data era. Until now, the focus has been mainly on how to capture it, what to do with it, and how to use it. It was evident early on that it would be impossible for humans to manually parse the enormous data sets, which meant computers had to analyze them. Even then, the massive quantity of data means humans still have a difficult time understanding enough to properly test the range of hypotheses they may have. Thus, the necessity for machines to analyze data and eventually learn from it (i.e., machine learning) in order for it to provide meaning to humans became a necessity.
How does machine learning work? In simple terms, a bunch of computers are programmed to analyze some incredibly immense data sets, and they learn from it by analyzing it for correlations, relationships, patterns, etc. The intent is to be able to make reasonably accurate predictions about some future outcome related to what is gleaned from the data. This is essentially finding “gold” hidden within the information.
Machine learning is already implemented by many companies, and most of us have already used it without even realizing it. When Amazon makes recommendations for you, it is employing machine learning on big data sets to show you other items you may like, other items that people ended up purchasing after viewing the item you are viewing, and so on. Language processing is another type of machine learning. Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa are two of the best examples of language processing. Both are powered by machine learning algorithms that have parsed huge data sets and learned how to process language and parse spoken verbal commands into actual computer commands. This is possible because of learning against a huge data set of verbal commands and also by learning in near real-time as new commands are spoken. Driverless cars are another example of machine learning, as algorithms have been developed to parse through huge data sets to simulate various scenarios and test the algorithms and to learn from them. The data sets are ever-growing as new data is added in real-time as the driverless cars continue to drive and encounter new data that is processed and learned from.
Machine learning will continue to grow next year and beyond, and eventually it will affect almost every aspect of our lives.
5. Self-Driving Automobiles
Tesla debuted its Autopilot around three years ago, and since then driverless cars have been a huge topic of discussion. Tesla announced in 2016 that all upcoming car models would have the sensors and software necessary for self-driving, though the capability would not be enabled until the software was ready and regulatory legislation for self driving cars was passed. By 2017, Tesla Autopilot had logged more than 1.3 billion miles. Google’s self driving cars have traveled millions of miles, all of which are done via self-driving, and Uber deployed self-driving cars in Pittsburgh and San Francisco at the end of 2016.
All major car manufacturers have announced self-driving car initiatives with delivery dates ranging from 2018 to 2021. Many experts expect legislation will be ready by 2021 for autonomous cars to be used legally for the first time. Another analysis forecasts that autonomous vehicles will be on the road by 2025.
Self-driving cars are already here in early stages with Tesla Autopilot and other assisted driving available in models on the road. In the coming year we will see self-driving vehicles gain momentum as many of the large manufacturers offer assisted driving such as Autopilot. They will eventually announce their schedules for delivery of the next-generation self driving level 3 and level 4 cars with the ultimate delivery of level 5 autonomous vehicles within 5-8 years. Self-driving vehicles are no longer a sci-fi tale of future societies. They are becoming closer to reality each day, and that trend will pick up steam this coming year.
6. Virtual Reality (VR) & Augmented Reality (AR)
Virtual Reality (VR) is defined by Wikipedia as “the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.” The Oculus Rift, which was acquired by Facebook in 2014, launched in March of 2016. Soon after, HTC, Sony, Google and others launched competitors to the Oculus Rift. Video gamers have been some of the largest early adopters of the Oculus Rift and other VR headsets, but industries like healthcare, automotive, military and others are also beginning to use virtual reality devices to replace real-world tasks or at least to prepare for them. VR will continue to grow throughout the coming year and will expand into the future.
Augmented Reality (AR) is defined by Wikipedia as “a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.” The most popular recent example of AR is a video game called Pokemon Go where players go around and catch virtual Pokemon which they can see on physical maps of the real world. The physical map is augmented with virtual characters. A more practical example is Microsoft’s HoloLens project which is a headset with a pair of glasses which allows you to view the physical world with virtual elements that HoloLens adds using the glasses so they appear as three-dimensional. Another example is that of a university which is using HoloLens to teach anatomy by overlaying 3D virtual objects over real world physical objects. Another is a construction company which is using HoloLens during the design process. Like Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality will continue to grow and expand into the future.
Productivity exploded during the computer age, and automation has been an enormous part of it. During the last four decades of the computer revolution, automation has largely been relegated to simple, routine, repeatable tasks. We all know examples of these tasks being automated, especially in areas such as auto manufacturing. The introduction of Artificial Intelligence has expanded the capabilities and complexity of automation so that incredibly complex tasks are now commonplace. For instance driverless vehicles have become reality in the last few years and are expected to grow dramatically in capabilities and popularity over next few years with the ultimate goal being full autonomous vehicles. Tesla, Google, Uber, the major car companies, etc. are all investing heavily in self-driving cars, and it is only a matter of time before the early driver-assisted versions become fully automated.
Another example of automation is the chatbot. Facebook, Whatsapp, Microsoft, Slack and others have launched their own versions of chatbots which allow users to “chat” with a company using AI to execute tasks with no human interaction at all such as ordering a pizza, requesting a driver, booking plane tickets, checking reservations, etc.
A huge area of growth for automation is the home which has already grown dramatically over the last few years and is expected to continue that trajectory. Robotic vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, security systems, thermostats, lighting, smart appliances, and more homes will continue to become automated over the next decade.
Automation has already had a massive impact on routine tasks the last four decades, and now it is expanding into a wider array of industries. This year AI-based automation will impact us on a daily basis, and that trend will continue far into the foreseeable future.
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