Chatbot lawyers, virtual reality finally launching and a cyberattack that used baby monitors and DVR players to bring down large chunks of the web - 2016 has certainly been an exciting year for technology. As we approach 2017, many commentators will be getting out their crystal balls and predicting big things for the big trends.
Is 2017 the year of VR? Could lifelike AI be just around the corner? And when these predictions prove to be overambitious, they are often just recycled for next year’s prediction lists.
In reality, technology evolves slowly through iteration. And 2017 will be an important, but not earth-changing year for these big trends. Taking a more realistic perspective, here are five of the major, headline-grabbing tech trends and how I predict they will develop in 2017:
No technology has captured people’s imaginations in quite the same way as AI. While perfectly lifelike AI assistants and a robot uprising may be a long way off, AI has already taken its place enhancing the more mundane aspects of our lives in the form of virtual assistants: Amazon Echo and its Alexa AI, the new Google Assistant, Siri and Cortana.
Yet the most exciting developments are coming from outside the consumer space. IBM Watson is doing interesting stuff in healthcare, helping with diagnoses and treatments. Google’s DeepMind beat a world champion at Go and is now taking on StarCraft. And Microsoft claims its voice recognition tech, Microsoft Cognitive Services, is mostly at human levels of competence. With investment in AI set to grow by 300 per cent in 2017 (Forrester), we can expect some significant progress in the underlying technology. Machine learning is likely to become more sophisticated as it handles increasingly complex concepts more efficiently, while natural language processing will be able to understand more nuanced and allusive expressions.
The most visible development of AI, however, will be chatbots. The upswing in popularity for chat UIs has created a valuable opportunity for companies like Facebook to develop easy implementations of third party bots into its messaging platform. We’ve already seen chatbots who can order pizzas and appeal parking tickets for you.
Given time, we can expect chatbots covering all industries and services. Expect the beginnings of a chatbot war next year, as every brand tries to jump on the bandwagon and throw together a chatbot. But only the fittest and most useful will survive.
It seems as if you can add a blockchain to anything. Banking, real estate, identity verification, artists’ rights, music distribution and elections can all be enhanced by distributed ledger technology. Yet while blockchain is a pretty hefty buzzword right now and there is plenty of speculation as to what it could be used for, what is less clear is what will actually happen in 2017 with the technology.
Next year, we can expect blockchain to gradually make its way inside key industries in which it can have the most benefit. Financial services companies are likely to set up and integrate private blockchains inside their organisations to serve as a reliable and secure ledger that can record the internal distribution of resources.
Governments are also expected to continue investing in the technology – earlier this year, the UK Government signed a platform-as-a-service agreement with blockchain provider Credits.
Home automation adoption is already underway and expected to progress even further next year. Amazon and Google are battling it out for Home Hub dominance, while Apple goes the software route with Apple Home. Smart home technology is an exciting trend with a lot of potential, but only if the sector gets some things right. It’s critical that products have the right price, usefulness, security, communication standards, compatibility and ease of use.
No one is going to fork out money for a smart toaster. And while I am the proud owner of a whacky WiFi connected “Eggminder” that tells me which eggs in my fridge I should eat first, this is far from a must-have purchase.
With a plunging pound and high inflation, the difference between ‘nice to have’ and ‘need to have’ could become ever more important in the coming years. Smart home products will need to keep proving their value if they want adoption to continue.
Virtual reality and augmented reality
With the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and a whole host of headsets for mobile VR out on sale, virtual reality has now become a reality. But we’re still in the early adoption phase and the sector needs a boost in VR content that will make buying a device worth it for consumers.
Cinema could help with this, with content like Doug Liman’s new series Invisible broadening VR’s appeal to non-gaming audiences. I wouldn’t be surprised if, next year, we get a VR series appearing with high production values and recognisable stars.
Meanwhile, Apple’s Tim Cook and key figures at Microsoft believe that augmented reality (AR) is the more interesting medium. Having seen what Microsoft HoloLens can do, I’m a bit underwhelmed by its current incarnation. AR is a totally different experience to VR, so 2017 will be more of an education and experiment year for the medium. In other sectors like health, education and training, where there are specific benefits to having information overlaid on what you can see, 2017 could see AR being used more widely.
Cyber-attacks and hacking
Security and hacking are top of mind following the latest US election shenanigans. The UK Government has pledged £1.9 billion to combat cyber attacks, while numerous high profile breaches have brought further attention to the issue.
The mess of the IoT might get some deserved attention in 2017. The October 12th IoT DDoS attack, which saw large parts of the internet taken offline as DNS servers were overwhelmed with traffic from hacked IoT devices, could be an indication of things to come.
And it’s not just internet-connected security cameras with poor security (which is itself ironic). Industrial systems are also now susceptible to attacks through vulnerable IoT devices. And the utilities sector is particularly vulnerable from a national security standpoint, as monitoring equipment and smart meters, if attacked, could cut power and water to homes and factories.
A major cybersecurity incident in 2017 could trigger much needed investment in cyberdefence. If not, progress is likely to continue at roughly the same pace.
Without a crystal ball, it is difficult to predict where the major trends will end up. But it is easy to get excited about all of the possibilities, while missing out on the tangible progress we are likely to make in 2017. Only time will tell which of our predictions will be correct and what curveballs the future will throw at us.
Image source: Shutterstock/Halfpoint
Robert McFarlane, head of labs at Head