2017 was a relatively uneventful year for technology because, despite the long list of very innovative endeavours by companies, there were very few that actually made an impact on the lives of their users. There were, of course, the many SpaceX missions that opened up the possibility of using a smartphone app to schedule a trip beyond the stratosphere in the not-so-distant future — but there was also the sobering realisation that in this era of high-flying technology, social media timelines can be corrupted at will with fake news.
The pressure to change at a breathless pace has delivered a lot of half-baked technology and devices — many of which were eventually abandoned — into millions of hands across the world. Will 2018 be different? In all probability, yes — because at least one technology sits at the cusp of triggering a tectonic shift in our lives. Here are predictions for the top tech trends in 2018.
AI, the “electricity of our age”, will permeate everything we do in the coming years — and 2018 will provide a fairly comprehensive idea of the possibilities. Unlike earlier advancements in computing, where humans were understanding computers, AI is about computers understanding how humans work. Over the past decades, narrow, rule-based AI and perception — sight, audio or text — has become easy. The coming year will see computers tackle the next challenge — of context. This will include emotional context — and computers will try to understand the mood of humans and customise responses accordingly.
While AI is still in its early stages, the high-end processing power needed for it has become available to everyone via the cloud. And thanks to machine learning, it will only get better. AI is already in smartphones, mailboxes and social media timelines; expect 2018 to be the year in which it becomes part of almost everything we do in our digital lives, as also the year in which all of us start learning how to factor this new, very intelligent quotient into improving how we live.
The smartspeakers and headphones that entered the consumer space over the last year signalled the advent of something big. Isaac Asimov’s robots might be far yet, but virtual assistants will certainly make our homes smarter. They might not be able to fetch a bottle of water from the fridge, but they will be able to order stuff to fill it up even before you ask. A lot of next generation hearables will be announced, which will not just talk to the virtual assistant in the cloud, but will also be able to translate languages on the fly and interpret conversations as they happen. These virtual assistants will not be restricted to smartphones or speakers, they could well live in TVs and cars too.
Internet of Things & 5G
We already live in a mesh created by the Internet of Things (IoT). You might not realise it, but every home has several devices that ‘talk’ among themselves or connect to the Internet. By 2020, the world will have close to 50 billion such devices, not all of which will be high-tech. Already, millions of CCTV cameras are relaying their feed to a base, or there are sensors inside factories keeping track of ambient environment parameters. In 2018, the first 5G networks will be rolled out in some parts of the world to cater primarily to this thickening mesh of connected devices. 5G will not be about blazing Internet speeds on smartphones; it will, instead, be about failproof connectivity for mission critical devices. In a connected car, for example, losing connectivity for even a microsecond might make all the difference between life and death. DoT to set up dedicated ecosystem for testing 5G technologies
Cyber security will be a greatly enhanced worry; not just laptops and smartphones, everything from smartwatches to connected cars will need to be secured. Security firms will have to scale up dramatically to match large-scale IoT deployments as well as to block out increasingly more ingenious hackers. The scale and nature of the contingency will necessitate new protocols and a significant level of decentralisation, even to the individual level. As with Wi-Fi, the end user may have to start taking the responsibility for protecting personal data. As cyber criminals open up to the possibility of AI, ransomware is likely to go beyond computers to maybe TVs, or even smartspeakers.
Smartphone technology and innovation seemed to have plateaued in 2017; cutting edge improvements in display technology, including foldable and bendable devices, could come by the end of 2018. Edge-to-edge displays with 18:9 aspect ratios — in which width (in landscape) is twice height — will become the norm across price points. Cameras will get even better, and dual cameras will become standard. Battery life will improve, but not necessarily by incorporating bigger cells. Wireless charging will become more pervasive, maybe in hotels, restaurants and other public spaces that offer this service as an add-on. Like with everything else, AI will play a bigger part in operating systems and apps. On Android, Google’s effort would be to offer answers even before the question is asked, as it learns your preferences and starts predicting what you’re about to do next. And as Android gets boring because of its omnipresence and iOS because of its predictability, Fuchsia and Eelo operating systems could bring a breath of freshness.