Guesswork is often involved in predicting the “next big thing” — but with CES just a week away, the future is almost now. The annual international trade show, as well as other industry events following one after another — including ITExpo, Gitex, Mobile World Congress and Techspo — means there will be no shortage of product announcements, technology unveilings, and proclamations about the tech of the future.
However, the truth is that for every hit product or trend in years past — such as the DVD player, iPhone or streaming media — there have been plenty of misses. In recent years, 3D made a comeback of sorts, and it was heralded as the future of movies and TVs. Yet few viewers are donning the cumbersome glasses today. Who remembers DivX or the Zune? And whatever happened to WiMAX?
To predict the future, one must not only consider what is trending now, but also ponder what is missing. 3D didn’t take off in 2012 for the same reasons that it was a novelty in the 1950s, again the 1960s, and even in the 1980s.
Technology that truly is innovative doesn’t look to solve a problem that isn’t there. The next big thing — or things — will address the demands of consumers and the needs of businesses, and make life better. Tech innovation could come in many different forms.
Cryptocurrency: Cash in 2018
Digital money, also known as “cryptocurrency,” was certainly in the spotlight at the end of 2017, thanks to bitcoin’s meteoric rise. However, bitcoin is just one of the more popular alternatives to traditional cash. Cryptocurrency could be among the big trends to watch in 2018.
“We now have something like 1,200 different [digital currency] products out there, and more every day,” said Jim Purtilo, associate professor in the computer science department at the University of Maryland.
“This tells me we’re in for a ‘trough of disillusionment,’ as more people look into this but without the perspective to figure out when they are getting value or even to tell when the products work,” he told TechNewsWorld.
One downside could be that these technologies aren’t quite as untraceable as people may think — but that likely won’t dissuade those intent on investing in cryptocurrency.
“There is spectacular promise in the algorithms, but the markets have a lot of shakeout to go through before the promise is realized,” Purtilo said. “We’ll see some of that shakeout in the coming year before some smart innovator can blend together ingredients for the right secret sauce that everyone likes.”
Artificial Intelligence: Even Smarter
It is still doubtful that the machines will rise up against the human masters in 2018, but it is likely that artificial intelligence will continue to get smarter and possibly take on new roles.
“Humans will feed the machines,” said Josh Crandall, principal analyst at Netpop Research.
“There’s no stopping artificial intelligence and machine learning,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“Machine learning and artificial intelligence will penetrate further into our lives and impact a lot of the processes that are currently manual,” said Greg Sterling, vice president of strategy and insights at the Local Search Association.
“This will be especially true in online marketing and digital media,” he told TechNewsWorld.
However, hype may outpace reality in terms of what exactly computers can do, and many of AI’s advances may be evident only behind the scenes.
“AI is going to surpass robotics in the public’s eye when we discuss automation and work force policies,” suggested Purtilo.
“That is a little artificial as a distinction, since robotics has always been perceived as an AI thing, but AI’s increasing power will broaden the discussion,” he said.
“In 2018, it won’t be just entry-level workers in a fast food chain losing jobs to a burger-flipping robot,” Purtilo predicted. “It will be financial services advisors and law clerks losing jobs to deep learning algorithms.”
To get there, companies may need to rely on consumers to provide the raw data points that will be needed to improve such systems.
“It will be a frustrating year as these assistive technologies, which aren’t quite helpful yet, offer suggestions and recommendations that don’t provide the solutions we are really looking for,” said Crandall, “but don’t fret — the technologies will continue to improve and become more personalized.”
Wearables: Taking Off?
Another trend that has long been on the cusp has been wearables — yet even Apple has been only marginally successful with its Watch. 2018 could be the year that wearable devices finally go mainstream — but to do so, they may need a redesign.
“The [current] form factors are simply too limited to justify what continue to be premium prices for smartwatches and high-end fitness trackers,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.
“But healthy sales of Amazon’s Echo and Google Home [suggest] we’re reaching a tipping point for smart hubs opening the door to new homes and office services,” he told TechNewsWorld.
That development could require a shift away from wired devices — such as earbuds for smartphones — to Bluetooth-enabled headphones and speakers.
“This could also portend the rise of other wireless peripherals that leverage smartphone brains for enhanced functions and services,” King suggested.
Seeing — or in the case of wearable devices, not seeing — may be believing.
“Wearables are going to be more present and more invisible than ever in 2018,” said Julie Sylvester, a producer at Living in Digital Times.
“Longer battery life, more fashionable form factors, easier to wear, and more sustainability are going to contribute to wider adoption of wearables in 2018,” she told TechNewsWorld.
Where wearables are worn likely will continue to evolve in 2018 and beyond.
“More and more workplaces will be either issuing wearables to their employees or making accommodations for wearables,” said Robin Raskin, founder of Living in Digital Times.
They could be used for training, facility access and even payment. Glasses may make a comeback in the workplace, for applications such as training, she told TechNewsWorld.
In addition, expect “new wearables that involve other senses — haptics, environmentally responsive fabrics, brain stimulators,” she said. “We’re goi