5 technologies that will define 2018

#NowTrending – technologies that will define 2018

 
 One of the eternal truisms of life is that it only accelerates, no matter how hard you wish for it to slow down. This pattern—human progress moving quicker and quicker as time goes on—is what futurist Ray Kurzweil calls human history’s Law of Accelerating Returns. 2017 for me was yet another blink-and-you-missed it year. Not only did it zip by very quickly, but it also was filled to the brim with incredible changes and progress. 2018 promises to be yet another blockbuster year in human history. I thought this is a good time for me to go out on a limb and make some predictions for the year in tech ahead of us. Hopefully, I get a few of these right and the joke will not be on me when Dec 31st 2018 rolls around!
 
 Ambient Intelligence in everything around us - goes from accepted to expected
 
 
An AI-centric approach will no longer be a novelty that only tech behemoths have the luxury to pursue, but taken for granted as a baseline expectation by users.
 
 
2017 marked the year when AI truly captured our collective consciousness as the technology that would define our lives in the years to come. While we were exposed to quite a few applications of AI in a variety of narrow domains, it was still a year where AI’s potential to disrupt was being discussed more than demonstrated. 2018 will be a year where AI (specifically Artificial Narrow Intelligence where the AI in question is tuned for a specific use case) will go mainstream and all of us will accept and in fact, expect intelligence in all digital entities that we interact with. An AI-centric approach will no longer be a novelty that only tech behemoths have the luxury to pursue, but taken for granted as a baseline expectation by users. Our world will be infused with ambient intelligence that will progressively provoke less wonder and amazement and simply just become a part of life as we know it, with features like mobile phones with digital assistants gleaning patterns from our usage and making intelligent decisions (including warning us of potential health issues) from the reams of data we manifest via our phones and other devices as we lead our lives. However, maturity in AI takes time and volumes of data on the basis of which intelligence can be built. There will still be realms of human life where neither of these two conditions has yet been met – and in these areas, AI will continue to take baby steps in 2018.
 
 
Blockchain begins to move beyond the hype
 
Blockchain has been enjoying lots of attention as the cool new kid on the block, while people scratch their heads amidst all the cheering and clapping wondering what they’re going to use Blockchain for.
 
Blockchain’s fundamental advantages are that it enables distributed trust without a central trusted intermediary and also enables the creation of a shared, unalterable, trustable record of facts. Let’s face it, until now, Blockchain has largely been enjoying all sorts of attention as the cool new kid on the block with people scratching their heads amidst all the cheering and clapping wondering what they’re going to use Blockchain for. While news around the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as it pertains to Cryptocurrencies continues to dominate headlines at this early time of 2018, as the year wears on the conversation around Blockchain will finally move into the realm of pragmatic reality with use-cases becoming more concrete and applicability of the technology for specific domains becoming more clear. For e.g. self-executing smart contracts are beginning to make strides towards maturity in implementation. Solutions for some of the payments industry’s time-consuming steps – like clearing and settlement – will also see some initial Blockchain-based implementations in 2018.
 
 
Fintech stays blazingly hot with great advances in consumer experience and security
 
 People don’t engage in a transaction for the joy of the payment experience - people pay to experience the joy/value in the things that they covet, want and need.
 
 If there’s one area of technology that could lay claim to even being within touching distance of AI/ML/Deep-Learning on the hype-curve, it is Fintech. Especially in India, coming on the heels of demonetization in November 2016, the year that passed us by has been one where fintech has continued to ascend, attract truckloads of venture capital money and hold great promise as technology capable of changing the lives of billions of people on the planet. People don’t engage in a transaction for the joy of the payment experience - people pay to experience the joy/value in the things that they covet, want and need. Hence, innovation around customer experiences that overcome friction while simultaneously increasing security and mitigating risk inherent in any financial transaction will continue to abound in 2018. Making the payment experience almost invisible through the clever of use of different biometric factors that can identify a person attached to a device from where a transaction is taking place, while also adhering to regulatory compliance requirements will see breakthroughs this year. Voice/facial recognition, fingerprints, the way you hold your device, the pressure you apply when you touch your device, etc. will get combined into a potentially unbreakable combination of factors that can identify the person attempting the transaction and significantly reduce friction. Peer-to-peer payment experiences will continue to evolve in a manner that can generate delight, excitement and wonderment which then leads to repeat engagement with platforms that can consistently exude these qualities. The use of data to deliver richer merchant insights that allow them to focus on delivering the most relevant products to the right customers with the best experience will continue to evolve, with greater use of ML and AI.
 
 AR and VR will continue to evoke curiosity and excitement, but will remain playthings
 
 When it comes to AR/VR, for all the hype and science-fiction around the possibilities, 2018 will be yet another year of much promise and little delivery.
 
Want to know what’s hot and what’s not? Keep a keen eye on tech conference goodies and give-aways. I collected no less than 3 VR headsets in various conferences that I attended or spoke at in 2017 – an indicator that the avant-garde early-adopter hipster set was all in on Virtual Reality. While use-cases abound, I am yet to see a compelling implementation for VR/AR beyond gaming. We’ve all heard of the myriad ways in which these technologies can dramatically alter the status quo in any number of daily interactions that we have – the car dealership where the salesperson can alter the exterior color, interior fittings of a car with the wave of a hand, virtual mannequins that match your body type and can show you how specific clothes will look on you, as you browse the aisles at a store, etc. However, for all the hype and science-fiction around the possibilities, 2018 will be yet another year of much promise and little delivery. Certain technologies creep up and quickly get one to assimilate them into one’s life without being noticed – but AR and VR aren’t endowed with those qualities. They are inherently extremely noticeable and different – and such technologies usually need time to endear themselves to people beyond novelty value.
 
 The erosion of personal privacy continues to scale massively
 
 Humanity has never before been hypnotised into absorbing a change of such magnitude with such enthusiastic helplessness.
 
 Since the advent of the smartphone circa 2007, “life has changed exponentially” is an oft-repeated cliché.  Humanity has never before absorbed a change of such immense magnitude with such enthusiastic and an almost hypnotised helplessness. While change in other epochs was wrought by war, natural disasters, melting ice-caps and the like, this one has quietly insinuated itself into nearly every aspect of our lives via the smartphone – using which you are perhaps reading this article!
 
 2018 will be a year we continue to not read user agreements
 
As a result, many companies have the ability to know us deeply – certainly better than we know ourselves – through the deliberate (and insidious?) tracking of what we do, where we go, how much we walk/run, how our heart beats, what we search for, what we watch, what we listen to… you get the picture. Privacy has nearly become an archaic concept – quaint, interesting but assuredly impossible. 2018 will be a year we continue to not read user agreements, where we continue to be willing participants in an Orwellian quest to know us, our way of life, our actions, our intent, our motivations, our curiosities, our proclivities, our peccadillos and anything else that I lack the imagination to list. While some parts of the world (Europe for e.g.) doggedly attempt to stem the inexorable monetization of big data related to us, nearly all of us are willing to ignore any misgivings we may have about privacy. The fear of missing out and being socially unaware and disconnected is quite real – because nearly every way we interact these days is through an app that binds us to a social network of some kind and the choice to opt-out of the network comes with serious consequences that very few can actually bear to even calculate. I fear it will take a breach of cataclysmic proportions to wake us up to the real danger that putting convenience and network participation ahead of any privacy concerns.
 
 
Tying it all together
 
 2018 is going to go by much quicker than 2017 did and with the Law of Accelerating Returns, 2019 will make 2018 look slow in comparison. There's a seismic shift happening in front of our eyes with various technologies emerging to take us to a brave new world of ambient intelligence - but one fraught with the danger that there will be very little that we can call truly personal or private any more. The more we can all commit to becoming aware of and adept at these technologies, the more say we can have in how it can be used to shape a better world in the years to come.
 
 
 

Guru Bhat, GM Technology & Head of Engineering

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