There is no doubt that 2016 was a breakthrough year for some of the technologies we have been watching. AI, VR, AR, Chatbots, self-driving cars all took significant leaps forward in terms of their practical applications and adoption, taking many by surprise. It is definitely true to say that the robots are no longer coming- they are here, and they are taking jobs. Rates of innovation and adoption will not slow down in 2017, so we’ve pulled together the key emerging technology trends to watch and plan for. One thing is for certain in 2017, whether you work in strategy, risk management, operations, start-ups, R&D or marketing, you need to be abreast of the potential of disruptive digital technologies which are no longer purely the realm of the CIO or CTO.
Robots Become Coworkers
With investment in advanced robotics increasing, we will see the rise of sobots, social robots who can read emotions and talk, used as digital assistants.
While 2016 saw increasing use of health and fitness trackers in the insurance and healthcare industries, it did not show the mass adoption of smartwatches some had predicted. Until there are significant increases in functionality in this market, disruption is more likely to come from experimentation with technology for inside the body. Up to 50,000 people already have electronic RFID implants , and Intel now have a chip for controlling smart devices in the brain. Together with Elon Musk’s eye on building VR in the brain , 2017 could see the beginnings of increased activity and interest in ‘Implantables’.
Bots Usurp Apps
Advancements in AI fuelled machine learning and cloud software have lead to real improvements in chatbot performance, and real opportunities for businesses to take advantage. Not only will they be widely used for customer support, the big tech companies are investing in bots that enable consumers to interact with various partner services, such as Microsoft’s Conversation as a Platform’. The rise of the chatbot economy in 2017 will see tasks such as booking tickets and conducting research increasingly done by bots rather than by navigating apps, contact centres or web interfaces. AI fuelled bots (as opposed to rule based chatbots) have also made a breakthrough in 2016 , with enhancements to digital assistants such as Siri, Viv and Cortana. Huge commercial opportunities will be available as companies take advantage of renewed consumer confidence in such applications.
Genetically Modified Lifeforms
In 2016 we saw DNA editing on the CRISPR genome editing platform transform biology. We covered flexible gene editing, home genome editing kits, genetically modified mosquitoes and the potential of biological weapons. With the rate of movement in this field, we will no doubt be reporting on more projects with huge disruptive potential in 2017.
3D Printing Gets Industrial
With the speed and scale of 3D printing increasing exponentially in the last 3 years, it will soon move from being a tech novelty to a core part of the manufacturing and construction process in many industries . We will see giant 3D printers using additive manufacturing revolutionising the construction industry – creating structures in months which would previously have taken years. If we don’t see even more 3D printed car entrants, we will at least see more components customised.
AI Replaces White Collar Expertise
Machine learning successes this year have showcased AI as a (more) reliable way of replacing smart people working out patterns. In 2017 we will make headway with the cultural shift required to trust them with more and more ‘graduate’ jobs. Legal bots, AI journalists, and diagnostic ‘robot doctors’ mean that jobs lost to digital technologies will no longer be restricted to the blue collar employment markets.
Quantum Computing Gets Practical
Although we are not expecting a fully fledged, affordable Quantum Computer until at least 2020, research is currently being done to find practical applications for existing quantum technologies. BREXIT might slow some of these down, but at the very least 2017 needs to be the year in which companies start to think carefully about the effect that quantum computing will have on their business models, with the potential they bring for massive process and data disruption.
Self Driving Vehicles On the High Street
The investment in autonomous vehicle R&D was huge in 2016, and not just from Google and Tesla. Most of the large automotive groups are developing prototypes or have bought driverless tech companies and are regaining lost ground. In the meantime taxi companies such as Uber have started trialling self driving taxis. Safety, while still a concern, did not slow development as much as expected, so in 2017 we might see some developments in what will be the biggest disruptive potential for the technology- in the trucking and haulage industries.
Blockchain Disrupts More than Banks
The disruptive potential of Blockchain technologies has in 2016 proven not to be limited to currencies like Bitcoin disrupting the banking and mortgage systems. This year we have seen breakthroughs in security management, and in 2017 we should see experimentation in the fashion and music industries. In the longer term, Blockchain might even be the method of taking identity management from the dominant tech companies.
Virtual Reality as a Commercial Reality
No longer limited to the entertainment and gaming sectors, 2017 will see more companies adapting and applying the technology for more practical purposes. Education and Healthcare are at the forefront of this innovation, with other uses also being found in everything from Real Estate to Travel . It’s definitely time for businesses to consider how virtual reality could be enhancing their marketing, customer journeys, productivity or product offerings.
From Augmented Reality to Mixed Reality
Augmented Reality was only really propelled into the limelight in summer 2016 when Pokemon Go became a global phenomenon, and yet the AR industry is predicted to hit global revenues of $90 billion by 2020. This amount is mirrored in the investment. In 2015 only $700 million in total was invested in AR/VR, but in early 2016 one company alone broke records with an $800m ‘C’ round. That company, the ‘secretive’ Magic Leap has yet to showcase any of the Mixed Reality platform it is working on, but in the meantime Microsoft has opened up its MR platform for developers and we expect to see some fruit in 2017.
Robots Teaching Themselves
Self teaching robots have been one of the breakthroughs of 2016 as we have seen more examples of bot to bot communication in which one machine shares its learning with another, and deep learning based networks which robots can tap into and teach themselves. In 2017 we will be grappling with the immense productivity potential, but also the ethical and cyber security concerns over robots reaching an autonomous singularity.
2016 has seen cyber security attacks on every level – from every level of consumer and business cyber crime up to state level campaigns which some say may have changed the shape of global government. One thing is sure – nobody can afford to ignore potential threats. The proliferation of big data and the rise of IoT makes businesses and consumers vulnerable, and huge investment is being poured into the area. It is unlikely this will solve the problems by 2017 though – expect to see some more major hacks.
The Things Are Taking Over the Internet
More and more ‘Things’ have become connected in 2016, with applications ranging from gardening, transport, energy, sport to farming and medicine. Connected Cars and Smart Homes are now all realities. Yet while it is in Smart Cities and Industrial IoT that significant changes to productivity, lifestyles and business models will be seen, in 2017, companies will still be grappling with the changes to consumer facing applications and navigating the data they produce.
Renewables and Clean Energy Diversify
With Elon Musk leading the way (last month merging Tesla Electric Cars and his solar power venture SolarCity), tech companies are at the forefront of making sustainable energy solutions available to the public . With increasing public appetite for green energy, and a growing awareness of the transformational potential for the developing world, we expect to more disruption to energy companies and see more innovation in solar, wind, tidal, biomass and geothermal technologies, and Virtual Power Stations.