This blog post is a review of 2016 technology trends and their impact on how we will work and live in the future. Many of the advances are continuations of work from years past, but we are getting ever closer to a different world.
MIT Technology Review publishes a Top 10 Technologies list and this year it included research from the University of Washington on passive wi-fi devices. The UW team has developed breakthrough ultra-low power devices that reflect the signal or backscatter from a nearby connected wi-fi transmitter. This is important because it will allow Internet of Things devices to be embedded in areas that can’t always rely on a traditional wireless signal. MIT suggests that this will be commercialized in two or three years and will help spread the popularity of small, connected devices.
Another emerging communication technology is the conversational or natural language interface. With the introduction of Amazon Echo, Google Home and other devices, it is common to have a spoken interface as opposed to typed instructions. We are finally moving away from text input thanks to innovations in speech recognition. In a recent report in the MIT Sloan Management Review, vendors are taking this one step further and capturing chat or speech conversations via bots in order to offer associated services. For example, your next pizza order could be through natural language input to an app while conversing with a bot recording your instructions. Surely with your pizza and bread sticks you must need a salad or soda that just happens to be on sale right now. The bot processes information from the context of the conversation and makes decisions and offers on the fly.
Artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning is a technology that data scientists have been developing for many years and will continue to develop. Cognitive computing combines AI, natural language processing, speech, vision, and advanced data processing. These systems take input and match it to massive databases to form responses and learn new pathways. By learning and creating new algorithms, the system and applications are better able to serve you in the future. Examples of cognitive computing are IBM Watson and Google DeepMind. In the case of the pizza order above, cognitive computing is an example of how a computer can learn preferences and build responses appropriately.
Robotic and autonomous technologies have made strides this year as they move closer to mainstream adoption. Robots have been used for some time in industrial and assembly applications where consistency and precision is important. They also play a big role in areas where there are life and safety threats, such as search and rescue or in an area contaminated with toxic chemicals. We don’t have the same regard for the “life” of a robot as we do for humans. In that sense, they are very much welcome into our ecosystem.
Autonomous automotive technologies also made progress in 2016. Automakers are introducing applications like steering assist or autonomous steering and adaptive cruise control. New vehicles are slowly being equipped with technology that will eventually render them completely self-driving. Makers such as Volvo and Mercedes are testing more autonomous vehicles on public roads. Self-driving vehicles require advanced vision and learning systems provided by improvements in cognitive computing mentioned above.
Advanced communications, cognitive and autonomous technologies have all been in play in 2016. These are all interrelated advancements that often benefit each other. While exciting, these developments also bring worries, including economic and safety concerns with robotics and privacy concerns with learning systems and communications. It is important that we march into the future with a balanced perspective.
What do you see as the upcoming technologies in 2017? Will we see any breakthroughs? Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.