It’s tempting to say that the only technology that will matter in 2018 is Bitcoin. It’s taken hold of our collective consciousness in these waning days of 2017 and will play a major role next year, but there will, naturally, be many other equally and even more important technology stories in 2018.
If you remember what the rollout of 4G LTE was like almost a decade ago, get ready to start reliving those good times with 5G in 2018.
Like 4G before it, 5G is a slightly amorphous idea. No one agrees on exactly how fast 5G will be, but it’s likely to be 10-to-12-times faster than the best LTE has to offer. Unfortunately, the network rollout has yet to begin (all we’ve got is the promise of a little 5G at home action) and there’s no consumer hardware ready to support it.
All that should start to change in 2018. First, we’ll get more announcements of 5G mobile networks from all the major carriers. It’s likely that we’ll also get, just as we did with early 4G, different flavors of 5G and different speeds.
Many of the next generation handsets should support one or more flavors of 5G. By the end of the year, some lucky consumers may be living the 5G lifestyle, but 2019 will probably be the breakthrough year for the technology.
AI, machine learning and neural networks were the big tech story of 2017, and they will remain center stage throughout 2018.
The difference this time will be the shift from AI in personal voice assistants to AIs in the workplace. We’re already seeing simple bots within workplace communication platforms like Slack, but as neural networks grow stronger and machine learning spreads across the enterprise and down to desktops and workplace mobile technology, more and more simple, repetitive clerical and office tasks may be handed over to AIs.
In the meantime, the chorus of voices calling for greater controls over the unfettered spread of AI will grow and organizations founded to help figure out the proper role for AI in society will begin offering more structured guidance.
Self-driving technology is arguably good enough to do most of the driving for us right now. The big hold up? Legislation. 21 states, so far, have laws on the books relating to autonomous driving. In 2018, expect the dozen or so additional states that introduced self-driving legislation in 2017 to make it law. The federal government has also been considering some country-wide changes to accommodate self-driving vehicles, a move that should help those considering autonomously driving from New York to California and the anticipated autonomous semi fleets that will join the road by late 2018 or 2019.
Every year, I predict a big year for robotics and, by the end of every year, I’m always a little disappointed. No R2-D2, no C-3PO. I felt that way most of this year, until I saw this, an untethered, man-sized robot doing a backflip.
Next year, the pace of humanoid robotic development will accelerate, assisted by developments in artificial intelligence and neural networks. I’m not expecting robots that look and act like us, but we will see larger, more agile robots and maybe a better robot pet or two.
Russia’s successful hack of the 2016 election has energized the cyber security community. Late this year, a bi-partisan group at the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs unveiled their Cyber security Campaign Playbook, which offers some very obvious guidance for maintaining cyber security in political campaigns and subsequent elections.
Still, it’s indicative of how seriously some are now taking the clear and present hacking threats coming from numerous external sources.
Power and Energy
The on-going post-hurricane crisis in Puerto Rico has inspired a rare opportunity to start a power grid almost from scratch with a combination of solar and battery storage provided by Elon Musk’s Tesla (and a number of other solar companies).
This real-world proof of concept (and another power storage project in Australia) will spark a revolution in power collection and storage in 2018 for consumers, businesses and municipalities.
Leaving aside the Amazon that ate all of retail, brick and mortar companies are going to revise how people shop, pay and, what they will accept as payment.
Amazon’s retail test laboratory, Amazon Go, will expand and inspire other retailers to set up small tests stores that allow customers to walk in, grab what they want to buy and go, all without dealing with salespeople or checkout counters.
Bitcoin will continue its rise, but, more importantly, grow so respectable that even more traditional retailers will start to accept it as payment. We’ll also see people accessing Bitcoin stores through mobile payment systems including Samsung Pay and Apple Pay.