Looking back, 2017 was a significant year for technology. Consider that at the beginning of 2017, Bitcoin was virtually unknown to most people , and Artificial Intelligence was something that they had perhaps heard of once or twice, but was still a concept confined to science fiction. Cloud computing was still untested to many people, and hardly anyone would realise how prevalent Bots would become a mere 12 months later.
As you can see, if we have a similarly fruitful “rollercoaster” in 2018, we shall certainly be living in a more interesting world at the end of it ! Previously on my blog, I used to make a few predictions at the beginning of every year, trying to figure out what the tech world would do over the next 12 months. It was more light hearted than anything else , and it’s always funny to go back and see how wrong you were. On occasion though, I did manage to get a few right……So lets try and do the same for 2018. We certainly have an abundance of content to work with.
Last year I wrote an article called “Personal A.I”. It described how machine learning and eventually artificial intelligence will run on devices on your person, in order to dramatically enhance your lifestyle. This also described another use case for “Edge Computing”, away from IOT ( although this technically is still IOT ). Very soon after the article , we saw that phone manufacturers were advertising the “machine learning” capabilities of their devices. The iPhoneX, for example, uses machine learning to recognise your face, in order to unlock the phone.
For 2018, I predict that while use more cases for phones will be found, Machine Learning will move to other devices like smart watches, and even clothing. Now I have mentioned this before, but the key is sensor technology. As sensors become more powerful, accurate, and most importantly cost effective, the integration into a shirt or under garment will become easier and more useful. The obvious use cases are monitoring of vital functions, with the clothing syncing with your smartphone ( which syncs to the cloud ), however one the basic use cases are implemented we will see more advanced scenarios. Smart socks measure how your feet hit the ground and help you perfect your running stride. One step further - temporary smart tattoos, designed to facilitate a specific use case for a timeframe (ie. imagine a stick on tattoo on your wrist that identifies you at an event, not very far fetched ).
In 2018, I predict that this area will boom.
While the physical medium for A.I extends to things like clothing, I’m also predicting a maturing in 2018 for Personal A.I on traditional devices, like smartphones. Currently we are seeing limited use cases but the hardware is there. In 2018, I think we’ll start seeing advanced use cases start to surface. Health monitoring is an easy use case to predict, and Personal A.I will enable some diagnosis on the device , not just data collection.
The next level would include environmental analysis on device, a smartphone that measures and understands air temperature, air quality and radiation levels. In real-time , you will be able to analyse carbon monoxide levels and methane levels. Your A.I assistant will know your history of exposure to dangerous gasses, and will warn you that you are exceeding the threshold, and you should move to a cleaner area if possible.
If you think this sounds far fetched, the device in your pocket already has more sensors than you would imagine. Yes, the smartphone is actually an amazing piece of engineering when you think about it.
I read an article recently which claimed that Machine Learning will be the Internet 2.0. I have to disagree with this statement for many reasons. While Machine Learning will definitely provide tremendous advantages to businesses and may even create new industries over the next few years, Machine Learning is something that will still be implemented by humans in the near future. The algorithms used in business cases will be only as good as the statistician building them. The rise of Machine Learning is similar to the rise of Business Intelligence and Big Data a few years ago, except the potential business benefits will be much greater per successful implementation. But, as with the other two, many systems integrators will claim to have Machine Learning capabilities but will not, and there will be many failed projects. A prominent tech industry exec recently claimed that A.I ( in its current state ) is more important than electricity or even fire. This is utterly absurd, have you ever seen such hype. Once again remember that Machine Learning currently is mostly human implemented.
I predict that the Internet 2.0 will instead be the rise of the decentralised blockchain, and the applications and innovations that it will bring. This is the big disruptor over the short term. After that, the Internet 3.0 will be, in my opinion, the development of sentient AI, or Strong AI. This will bring about the significant leap that we expect from this technology. Once the Singularity occurs, machines will be smart enough to analyse your business problem and design solutions for you, removing the risk of human error in the process. In 2018, my view is that the decentralized blockchain will be the Internet 2.0, it will become more prominent and some key use cases will be uncovered over the next 12 months.
Another easy prediction, because right now, BOTs are already everywhere, and most people don’t even realize it. A study in early 2017 showed that bots accounted for over 52 percent of internet traffic. That figure may be higher now , and the worrying thing is that most bots are attack bots. DDOD attackers, data-scrapers, spambots, and scavengers , they’re all there and they’re watching you. Trading is being done by bots , and as a human you won’t beat it. There are even theories that comment-bots write comments on sites such as Reddit, in order to further a particular opinion and give the impression that a certain view is more popular amongst the public.
Away from the dystopia, there will simply be more automation in business processes by bots in 2018. I’m predicting that this trend will increase in 2018, and more processes all around us will be controlled by a Machine Learning powered bot.
Which brings me to ……
So for me, machine-to-machine ecosystems is the first phase of A.I taking a more prominent role in society. The automated Bot driven process will start talking to other automated Bot driven processes, and entire ecosystems will be created. Imagine entire business value chains existing that are automated, controlled by Bots with the majority of decisions being machine learning driven , but with certain critical decisions being made by human beings. The machines will even be given the power in certain cases to perform transactions, especially where the timely nature of the transaction could lead to business advantages. The next step from there would be the A.I using cryptocurrency to pay other A.I’s for goods or services. This is called the Machine Economy. Cryptocurrencies like IOTA have been created specifically for this purpose. The entire IOT industry is very important as the endpoint for the Machine Economy. The Machine Economy will both compliment and compete with the traditional economy. As a normal worker though, you will be excluded from the Machine Economy - there will be a minimal requirement for humans in this value chain - sorry.
Its not all business ecosystems though. Things like vehicle to vehicle communications could become popular. Your car ( with its own Personal AI onboard ) will communicate with other cars around it to share information which could impact the efficiency and safety of your journey.
Virtual Reality is a frustrating thing to follow. Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, we were promised that this would be the next big thing, a game changer. In the 2010’s, we have the technology to make this real, and in 2016 the first headsets were launched. After a slow start, we were told that 2017 would be the big year for VR ……it didn’t happen.
After waiting for this technology for two decades , when I first got to try it about a year ago ……. It was ok. I don’t know why but it just doesn’t excite me anymore. I think that wearing a bulky helmet and being isolated from the outside world is something that humans just don’t want. The only thing that will change this is the emergence of a “killer app” ( remember this phase ? ).
There are some new headsets being launched in 2018 which may help but its the experience as a whole that needs to improve. Perhaps if they offer me a racing sim or flight sim that really puts me in the action , it will make me want it.
The current wave isn’t taking off - lets talk about it again in 3 years.
There are two types of people today - those who think that cryptocurrencies are a fad , and those who have seen the future potential of it. The crypto space is more than just Bitcoin, and there are solutions being worked on for all aspects of business. This is what the crypto-skeptics don’t realize. Blockchains enable more than just crypto-currency. There are “alt-coins” (alternative coins) which are actually platforms for solutions to be built on top of them, like Ethereum. In 2018, the “Alt-coin” wars will heat up.
Currently, the following mini battles are being fought.
The Platform War - Ethereum vs NEO vs CARDANO
Ethereum has so much potential. Some people call Ethereum the internet 2.0. Basically, it is a global scale decentralized platform that can support smart contracts and distributed applications. A smart contract is a piece of software that contains rules and regulations for negotiating the terms of a contract. In this way , automated smart contracts running on the Ethereum network remove the middleman and bring about trust. However, competitors to Ethereum have emerged, one being NEO. What makes NEO a force to be reckoned with is that it is backed by the Chinese government, as well as large Chinese companies such as Alibaba. This could be a boost to the platform in Asia , but could also make it less attractive in the West. This is the first major battle that will play out in 2018. Its still early day for CARDANO, but the price has already shot up.
The Money Transfer War - Ripple ( XRP ) vs Stellar Lumens ( XLM )
For decades, banks have used SWIFT to facilitate cross border payments and money transfers. Now, crypto technology is leading to the emergence of alternative platforms, promising faster transaction times and fees that are a fraction of the cost. Currently, international transfers take days. With XRP and XLM , we are talking SECONDS. The Ripple network uses the XRP token to facilitate this transfer , although you don’t have to use XRP. Ripple has announced partnerships with organisations like American Express, and many trials are being conducted at the moment. Ripple isn’t a decentralized platform in the vein of Bitcoin and ETH though , the Ripple company controls everything. Stellar Lumens is a “fork” of Ripple, with some of the people from Ripple starting Stellar. It does have some technological differences as well as some big backers of its own. Currently Ripple is grabbing the headlines but some say that XLM could fight back hard in 2018. And there may well be room for both of these - look at the credit card industry where we have Mastercard, VISA and AMEX.
The Privacy War - Monero vs ZCash
Monero has been around since 2014 and was designed to be anonymous. Monero pursues user privacy in two ways: by concealing account balances and by mixing transactions. There is no public record of transations or user balances. Now Monero is already being used for illicit activities becuase of this , but so is the Internet itself. The increase in adoption is a reflection of the inherent value of the coin.
Zcash builds on blockchain based cryptocurrencies by offering end-to-end encryption. There is a big debate about which is superior ( which I wont get into now ), but with these 2 and other coins like Verge, totally private untraceable financial transactions are now a reality.
The crypto space is booming. It really does have that “Wild West” feel of the early internet. There will be winners , and of course, some big losers. My prediction for 2018 is that we will start seeing the winners emerge from the various mini battles.
This, if it happens, is a big one. A retailer, one that is big enough, announcing support for crypto currencies could change the global landscape in one announcement. It will bring legitimacy to the crypto space, and cause real worry amongst established institutions.
The "big three" that I see who could accomplish the above are Amazon.com, UBER and Walmart.
If one , or all 3 of those announce support for crypto, it will be the tech announcement of the year.
The stumbling block though, is the current state of the industry. Long transaction times and high fees (for some coins), user unfriendliness, hackable wallets, and most importantly VOLATILITY in value will be the biggest barriers to it happening. Outside chance of an announcement in 2018, perhaps if one the big retailers wants to be seen as technologically advanced.
While every industry is hyping A.I, the reality is that marketing is probably the most common and broad use case for A.I today. The marketing industry also seems to be the one embracing A.I and Machine Learning the quickest.
Already, we see propensity models being created and used to analyse customer behaviour in ways previously unimagined. Retailers want to know everything about you so that they can predict your next move. While this has been happening for awhile, there are further developments which will expand in 2018. We are starting to see A.I generated content , optimised for marketing purposes and targeting you, the consumer. Every customer touchpoint will be optimized by A.I in order to be more relevant to you. An email sent to you will be more personalized than ever , since all your habits, interests and buying history will be collected and analyzed.
A.I Platforms just for marketing will be built, like Albert. These will be able to execute across mutiple channels simultaneously, and much more effectively than before. There are now A.I powered content generation platforms like Wordsmith, which generate the perfect marketing blurb without the need for inefficient humans.
Consumer facing businesses who embrace A.I for marketing, will gain such a big lead over their competitors in a short time, that it might as well be called Marketing 2.0.
As a consumer, you will not be prepared for this A.I powered onslaught. More importantly, you will not be able to resist.
If your wallet is a lot lighter at the end of 2018, blame HAL.
So, I’ve stuck my neck out with a few predictions. In addition to the above , I don’t believe that autonomous cars will become common in 2018. Forget about the tech, I don’t think that the legal and insurance issues aren’t sorted out yet. I also think that Tesla is will not take over the car industry, and will have a difficult 2018. It will be funny to come back in a year to see what I got wrong. It will scary to come back and see what I got right. Lets hear your thoughts in the comments section.
Thavash is a Data and AI Solution Specialist (SSP) at Microsoft. He looks after the Data and A.I business for the Financial Services industry in South Africa. Thavash studied Electronic Engineering at the Durban University of Technology, majoring in Computer Systems Engineering and also completed a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Informatics and Quantitative Analysis from the University of South Africa.