I haven't written one of these short term prediction posts for about 20 years .. back in the 1990s. I'm not sure if its because the past has been written already that makes it easier to read but 20 years ago it all seemed relatively straightforward - the technology landscape was simple and stable and the route across it could be seen in the roadmaps of Microsoft and PC manufacturers. Back in the 1990's computing was still quite a rare and niche thing ... mostly something that happened at work or at school and the way its future unfolded was relatively deterministic and written in the business plans of these organisations. My original "I Never Make Predictions And Never Will" were analyses for strategic plans for the year ahead - that were mostly in support of IT infrastructure changes rather than anything in the hands of real people .. . its very different today. Digital tech is part of everyday life and in the hands (rather than the desktop) of people and tech companies.
The ghost of technology present
During the first decade of the 21st century (the naughties 2000 - 2009) there was a spring-like emergence of new digital tech - social media, smartphones and the cloud all came together in a short time in a sort of combinatorial explosion of possibility.
Today digital technology pervades everyday life in a way that wasn't imagined 20 years ago .. did anyone really imagine the way a phone can access something called the Internet while you walk down the street ... let alone all the other things you can do with the phone that became smart. Technology today seems relatively stable - there haven't been any revolutionary breakthroughs for 10 years - there has been a steady linear progression in tech.
Today it seems like we are in between times - (the inbetweenies) and maybe that's why I am writing this post ... its a bit like the end of the 1990s when we were waiting for the next "big thing" to happen.
Today many of the chickens that hatched in the naughties are coming home to roost. There is a growing unease about how social and mobile have worked out and about the power of the big tech companies. While the technologies of the naughties has mostly settled there are many technologies that are starting to bubble up - many of these bubbles will burst but some may flashover and leave the pan .. especially if they can get on the back of established technology to enhance them and create something new.
The ghost of technology future
The ghost of technology future is among us already. Every mid decade the seeds of the next decade start to grow. In the mid 1980s it was the PC, in the mid 1990s it was the Internet and the Web, in the mid Naughties it was social media, mobile and the cloud. In the mid teens there are many candidates for the next big thing or things - some have been "boiling like a frog" for several years but starting to jump around now and become very noticeable ... which will make the jump and which will sink back?
"The only thing you can't predict is the future"
"I Never Make Predictions And Never Will" ~ Paul Gascoigne
So here goes these are my predictions for digital technology for 2018 and a little beyond.
"The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed." ~ William Gibson
The quote is so well used but it is pretty useful when looking for the future because the seeds of it are already growing.
Predicting the short term can be done by extrapolating the present, looking at trends and company announcements and intentions ... its mostly a linear progression of the present. People talk of technology as if it has a life of its own but we must remember that its simply business ... technology is just products that companies make to sell you to make profit - how well these these predictions pan out depends on whether people actually use this stuff. The next big thing becomes snake oil and prophecies can be fulfilled through herd instincts. Back in the 1990s companies used their product roadmaps to bully the competition but today they tend to keep their cards closer to their chests (especially Apple) but its still possible to get an idea of what might be coming.
"The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” ~ Winston Churchill
The rise of AI is a no brainer ... every company seems to have an AI strategy and some are "betting the farm" on it and jumping on the wagon. Adding intelligence to machines transforms them - established companies don't want to be disrupted and new companies see the opportunity to build new empires with AI.
You can tell AI is hot because people are faking it .. companies and products claim to have AI but are not ... often old products in new clothes or even "mechanical turks" people pretending to be machines. To be cool and hi-tech you have to be seen to have AI.
Hardware and software advances combined with big data during the last decade has turned up the heat on AI. Sometime soon AI will boil over and form a whole new platform but for now it is being embedded and applied in more and more things and services. in 2018 we can expect AI to added in and sprinkled on everywhere and everything as if it were pixie dust.
Assistant Intelligence is the thin end of the wedge and the foot in the door for Automated Intelligence. It starts with intelligent features added to apps and services ... help-desk bots, apps, search, social media, messaging, photography, shopping, learning etc etc etc. Artificial Intervention will come to mediate all aspects of our lives ....paving the way for full automation and the eventual disintermediation of people from their own lives ... why bother asking or suggesting something for a decision or action when the digital assistant can just do it anyway and do it better and do it more efficiently.
The digital technologies we use widely were designed with only the positives in mind - hands off approaches for sharing, designed for features rather than security. The security of our digital products is so bad and together with people's poor understanding of digital security and the pervasiveness of digital products means that the exploitation of digital (in)security will only increase - the opportunities are the rewards are so easy for those who know how.
Plain old fashioned hacking for the hell of it has been largely replaced by hacking for profit and being held to ransom by computers is the new thing. Pay the to get access to your own machine that has been cyber-locked by ransomware, Pay to avoid being put off-line by a botnet DDOS, pay to prevent or get back sensitive information stolen from you computer.
Digital technology holds security like a sieve holding water and hackers, organised crime, states and even businesses are all filling their cups from the leaks of cyber (in)security - the computers of everyday people are used as shears to fleece them.
Cyber (in)security is so pervasive it will become big business and merge with mainstream business in a similar way mafia gangs have done in the real world. Why bother extorting money through ransoms or threats when you can simply inject code into people's browsers to crypto-jack and enslave their machines to click ads or mine cryptocurrencies for you. Grid computing was a voluntary way of contributing your computer's spare capacity to work for some common good like SETI or cancer treatment research but in 2018 we can expect your computer's spare capacity to be enslaved "working for the man" without you even knowing it. Rather than the quick in and out raid more sophisticated malware will be working under cover in stealth mode stealing your identity, doing your banking, mining crypto-currencies, clicking ads and spreading fake news without you having to lift a finger. The internet risks becoming a protection racket with your computer as nothing more than a bag for the man.
Internet Of Things
"We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works." ~ Douglas Adams
"Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet." ~ Douglas Adams
As the computers (PC, laptop, smartphone) mature with saturated fats tech pushers have to find new markets ... third world and developing countries are obvious candidates for exploitation but all the things around us are low hanging fruit ripe for the picking. Where once things just worked they are now being turned into technology - making them digital and making them smart means they can be sweated for cash on the digital treadmill of frequent and endless updates.
The tech pushers need IoT ... the market is huge ... its everything and they will do everything they can to make it happen. Why sell a kettle when you can sell an eKettle for tens times as much and with an "app for that". Why sell a pair of earphones when you can sell eBuds for ten times more. Tech pushers want computing to become pervasive and ambient, they want to immerse us in their smart-world ... a real world matrix.
The Internet of Things includes all those things that become digital ... driverless cars, clothes, wearable things like watches and earphones, jewellery, TVs, radios, toys, kitchen appliances, toilets - you name it someone will try to make it smart - expect to see a lot of smart-things in 2018. Of course it won't stop there ... tech pushers won't be satisfied until they have properly penetrated us ... until they are inside our bodies and inside our minds ... until they posses us and we become their things. And there are tech fanboys who think this is wonderful ... that becoming a cyborg is something to look forward to .... "resistance is futile".
2017 seemed like the year we saw the chickens hatched in the past coming home to roost with cyber(in)security, state and corporate surveillance and social media manipulation making many of us uncomfortable with how digital technology is working out. "The land of milk and honey" is turning sour ... the digital spring and summer is turning to autumn and winter ... rather than empowered us digital tech has been used to deceive us ... to monetise and manipulate us ... when was the last time we heard Google say "do no evil".
Fake news has become big news we can all see the problem but no one has the answer - the business models and vast wealth of the tech giants are built upon human weakness ... the biases in our psychology, and this is being exploited big time by those who wish to manipulate us. People have become #woke to it but the whole structure of the web has caught us in a web if deceit and left us in a state of learned helplessness and I can only see it getting worse as machines will be able to create fake information and real manipulation on a speed and scale we will be powerless to defend against ... unless we use machines in our defence and we can only guess where that might lead. Going off-grid, even for a temporary digital detox could become the new cool ... new generations always rebel against the stuff of their elders ... while millennial's might only see the world and others through the glass of their smartphones a new generation might enjoy a freedom from digital rather than the fake digital freedom of their elders ... if they are given a chance.
But what about ....
There will be developments in 2018 for AR, MR and VR .... a sort of Moore's law update of products and ideas from 2 years - they all need a little heat to keep them going cold.
VR (Virtual Reality) is bound to "cut the cord" ... in one way or another being chained to a PC just cannot go on - VR has to "break free" either through mobiles, wireless connections or standalone headsets. Unchained VR will help a lot and VR really has a wow factor that I can recommend and the more immersive it is the better it is but that is its fundamental problem. People (apart from the geeks who make this stuff) are social and VR os not social strapping a screen right in front of your eyes isolates you and the more immersive it is the more you are isolated from what's around you. I think VR will climb back on the hype cycle again in 2018 but only to fade again.
MR (Mixed Reality) - where you strap a screen in front of your eyes and a computer blends virtual reality with what's around is fun and can be social but strapping screens to our faces still seems a bit of a gimmick. MR is complex and expensive to do right and needs to be less intrusive to be widely used ... I can imagine MR being the party trick of the 2020s but not just yet.
AR (Augmented Reality) is fun and it works with tech we are familiar with ... its just an app on our smartphones and its fun and easy ... all the hallmarks of something that might make it. Pokemon Go really got the attention of the major tech companies and their money sensor started tingling. The nice thing about AR today is that it works on most people's phones but this is not in the interests of the big tech pushers who want to get you dependent on their dope Apple is pushing ARKit and Google are pushing ARCore and for the Google dope you need to buy a new pipe. I expect their will be a lot of news about AR in 2018 and over time I think people will just take it for granted as they point their phone at something and see something else.
3D printing just chugs along in its niche... admittedly its niche gets wider as it rolls around in the trough before enlightenment. Prices and availability have all improved but its just too slow. 3D printing needs a revolution in speed to cross the chasm. There are technologies in development that might give 3D printing a boost - speeding things up 10 times for example or bringing new materials into the mix but they are probably several years away .. maybe in the mid 20s we'll have our star trek replicators :)
Smartphones are personal computers and they are on the same wash cycle that PCs have been through and the colours are running and fading just the same. Just like laptops, smartphones get bigger and smaller and get cheaper and dearer. Tech pushers are still fixated on a yearly upgrade cycle but in reality smartphones are only improving relatively slowly now - a 2 year upgrade cycle would make more sense as on that timeframe we would get some more noticeable improvements and it will fit better with people's upgrade finances - how about three years. Manufacturers should be more honest and use incremental identification e.g. 8.1 8.2.
AI will add some interesting new features to smartphones .. actually helping make them smart and I think we will see announcements about Smartphone AI in 2018.
The real wow factor would be a radical new design and form ... Samsung have been working on flexible screens. Will someone release a flexible smartphone in 2018 ... even something that bends just a bit or transforms in some way?
"We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten." - Bill Gates.
The really interesting things happen with tech over longer time frames so Moore's law and network effects produce step changes in technology and they have time to settle for the real effects to be gauged. However, its always fun to overdo it ... so here are a few overestimates for the next year.
AI ate my hamster
Tech fanboys are yearning for the next big thing and AI will be swooned over - expect to see "AI stunts" to demonstrate the snake oil.
We'll be able to rent AI platforms for business ... the AI will do everything from buying, selling, provisioning, accounting, customer support - all you need to do is think up a name and the parameters to start with and let the AI take the strain. You will be able to spin up hundreds of AI driven businesses "As A Service" - just pay the platform for what is used.
While we are at it .. why bother with humans ... the AI can spin up its own businesses and make its own billions.
I dread to think what might happen if AI gets to understand the business potential of cyber (in)security and enslaves our poor innocent machines to mine bitcoin, click ads, manipulate us with social media, generate fake news and steal our identities. Not only will we see AI business but also AI criminals .. but who or what will be able to catch them.
AI Discovers Aliens
The search for extraterrestrial life is a pattern search through data and nothing is better at doing this than machines ... using the same techniques AI has learned to recognise cats and dogs on social media AI has just discovered a new planet - expect more discoveries in the data from now on as AI starts mining the data.
Driverless Car Sets Record
Yet another manifestation of AI ... driverless cars are a way for the digital tech pushers to colonise another industry - they will make it happen - whether we like it or not we will be moved around inside robots and it might happen sooner than we think. During 2018 expect Driverless car stunts ... things like "Driverless Car Drives From Land's End to John o' Groats" or "Driverless Car Saved My Life" ... that type of thing ... lets hope we don't see any news like "Driverless Car Beheaded Passenger" .. oh .. we've already had that one.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” ~ Arthur C Clarke
Don't be deceived .. #staywoke