So much has happened this year that to make an intelligent guess at what we might encounter in 2018 and beyond has become increasingly difficult.
Technology develops very fast, some would say that it is destroying the most important asset in our lives, and that is Time.
Because our time is limited, although some might argue that the more time we have the more opportunities we have to enjoy life and fulfilment. Yet what matters is not how much time we have, but how we spend it, the quality of our experiences depends not on how many hours are in the day, rather on how we used those hours.
I’ll get to the technology in a moment because time and attention are both key to getting more out of less and the ability to manage our attention when the world around us is being designed to steal away as much of it may possibly be a big and growing problem of and for our generation.
Looking at the possible future I am mindful of how the big tech companies design and create products that aren’t just products on their own, no, they are ecosystems, which are the most effective way for them to influence our perception and our behaviour and to exploit our mental impulses. I have previously ranted over the way our attention is kept on the screen by the design of the material we view. As a result Smartphones addiction is real, technology-induced stress is real.
Let’s move to one of the more frightening online disruptors, that of cyberwarfare. One might think that it is of little concern, but it is most likely how new conflicts will be waged. Attacks on vital infrastructure like banks and our energy sector/transmission will simply override conventional defences. Moreover, it can be launched instantaneously from anywhere in the world, and as we know from the attacks on our computers from hackers and evildoers it is hard to track down the originators.
We can expect more of the type of ransomware [like WannaCry] attacks in 2018 but hopefully none of the destructive type of attacks that can do major damage to the economy. Experts warn that it is a case of when, not if.
On the ‘green’ side of things we have eCars and for 2018 we should expect a strong growth in hybrid and fully electric powered cars. The question of course is: are these vehicles helping us reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere, and there are some disturbing answers. If the manufacturing emissions i.e. the energy used in producing the car is counted in, then very few countries actually assist in lowering the emissions. New Zealand comes in with 115gr CO2/km, India at the top of the list at 370gr, Australia at 292gr. The lowest is Paraguay at 70gr because they are almost entirely on Hydro generated power whilst India is heavy on coal fired stations. It also turns out that to manufacture a fossil fuel engined vehicle is just 40gr CO2/km compared to the fully electric car at 70gr.
Nonetheless the next step is ‘green’ aircrafts and eTrucks, the former hybrid version expected in operation by 2020 and the latter already on the road overseas, still more or less in testing phase and; the problem one imagines must be the enormous weight of batteries for long distance lorries and the extraordinary CO2 footprint in the manufacture of such vehicles.[It takes up to 4000 hours of power usage to recharge the batteries].
Autonomous or self-driving vehicles have long been tested in a number of countries, and Volvo alone sold 20,000 of their self-driving cars to Uber in the USA presumably to enter the taxi service there in the coming years. Here we already have Tesla cars partially capable of self-driving on suitable highways. However, I see no great leap into this form of transportation without support from the Government. All major motor vehicle manufactures have joined the bandwagon and models are already rolling down the assembly line.
One or two companies are putting their weight behind Hydrogen powered cars as a solution to emission free motoring, but the infrastructure to set up refuelling stations is daunting.
The Internet of Things [IoT] has also moved fast with both Google, Amazon and others offering a number of products for the home to allow you to just speak your requirement to the ever awake listening device and have the requirement met.
So sit back, feet up, it will turn on your TV, lower your lights, lock your front door, switch on the heating or cooling, activate your alarm system, turn on your robot vacuum cleaner, tell you if your washing machine has completed its cycle, and provide you with your next shopping list from your Samsung fridge, even place the order at the supermarket and have it delivered to your door. All the while Google knows exactly what your requirements are so that they can tailormake their next adverts and apps to ensure they have your complete attention and can guide you to the ‘right’ decision.
To do this effectively the much discussed Artificial Intelligence will be used and already is. Robots and robotics has already taken over mindless, time consuming and repetitive tasks and I imagine the next leap forward is a breakthrough to machine learning where AI operated machinery is capable of using reason, logic and experience — and tons of data — in ways that are remarkably human and, for some, alarming.
AI is undoubtedly poised to fuel the next wave of innovation and transformative advancement and it can already be seen in the medical area where robotics are well ensconced, so with AI added some fascinating changes can be expected that results in better doctors, better treatments, and perhaps better management.
We have witnessed the first human like robot “Sarah” being awarded citizenship of a country [Saudi Arabia of all places] with hopes for ‘harmony with humans’. [Not likely]. China alone is expected to replace 250 million human workers with robots by 2030].
Closer to home and less controversially are new ideas for our computers. Microsoft’s Windows 10 is already 3 years old so they can be relied on to be working on something new, perhaps the start button returns. Microsoft has also teamed up with Amazon to allow access for Alexa [Google’s AI assistant] to Microsoft and for Cortana [Microsoft’s AI assistant] to access Amazon thus opening a new world of voice controlled bliss, a match made in IoT heaven.
Apple and Google are looking at voice driven techs, though first we can expect to see gesture as a means of controlling your computer. It follows the expansion of Cloud platforms and the use of bots – both chat bots and social bots – which are becoming more mainstream, many websites use these [AI] bots to answer questions over the net or for social chat.
Virtual reality has disappointed the many producers of sets though quite a lot of improvements has been made to make sets cheaper and lighter. There were also some negative health experiences by some early users leading to a cautious approach by prospective buyers. The future of VR may surprise us for I believe it is here to stay, maybe in newer forms as an entertainment medium and maybe also as a teaching platform for adults. Meanwhile the video industry is burgeoning and its use increasing for all sort of purposes. A look at YouTube and Vimeo tells its own story.
Smartphone use is not going to go away, and here we can expect the signal speed to increase to provide ever faster connections and transmissions.
I haven’t mentioned new phenomena like Cryptocurrencies, some 240 plus and growing, best known among them is Bitcoin, a favourite currency for the dark side of the web, and for those with a gambling impulse. It gets a fair bit of attention in the media but whether it will stay as part of our future or implode is not in my crystal ball.
If you have read this far then Santa Claus will surely bring you an extra gift for Christmas to thank you for your persistence.
Do have a lovely and safe time over the holidays and a Merry Christmas.