As 2018 gets underway, it's time to take a look at what the year ahead holds for us. There are many areas we could focus on but the one that seems to be on many peoples' minds is technology.
Whether we look at advances in medical science, energy or AI or are just considering the future of Bitcoin, there are so many exciting possibilities in the field, it's enough to make your head spin. To make sense of it all and get an accurate perspective on what the next 12 months hold in store for us, we asked five of our top innovation, technology and AI speakers to make their predictions for 2018.
Here is what they told us.
Graeme Codrington is CEO of TomorrowToday Global, and an expert on the future of work
Most of the big disruptive forces we’re likely to see in 2018 are already in play. Beyond the obvious continued disruptions of international politics (Donald Trump, Brexit, Iran and North Korea to dominate the news), the business world and society, here are five specific forecasts for the year ahead:
1. Breakthrough with a cure for a major disease. My bet is on something big with either cancer or Parkinsons. But whether it is a specific medication or just continued rapid advances in medical technologies such as CRISPR, 2018 will bring some astounding medical news.
2. Home and personal automation systems are going to start inching their way into your workplace. Amazon announced late in 2017 that their Echo (called “Alexa”) system is going to be getting functionality that will help you do everything from book meetings with colleagues to control the lights in your office (and of course order supplies directly from Amazon). The Echo is already leading the way in natural language processing, and 2018 will see us using our keyboards less and less as we speak to our intelligence devices.
3. Further advances in the delivery of cheap energy. The headline news around energy is the slow shift to renewables, with Elon Musk’s Gigafactory being the poster child. This will come on stream fully in 2018. But Bill Gates' Breakthrough Energy Coalition wants to do something even more ambitious, and that is to bring free (or very cheap) energy to the world. The rate of adoption, the price of renewable energy infrastructure (especially solar), the advancement of the technology (especially batteries) and societal pressure have all been growing exponentially in recent years. 2018 should see a tipping point in the energy sector, in favour of cheap renewables.
4. The Chinese Internet will become the gold standard. Strip away the Great Chinese Firewall, and inside China the Internet has been growing at an astounding pace - not just in its reach, but also in what it actually does. WeChat is one of the most powerful apps in the world. Anyone who travels from China to the USA feels like they’ve got back in time at least a decade. The world is going to stop worrying so much about what Amazon, Google and Apple do, and start being much more interested in Alibaba, WeChat and Tencent. The firewall might not come down just yet, but the world’s best digital brains will look more closely at China and start emulating the successes it sees there. While the West accused China of violating copyright, it seems that China was really just trying to copyright - and then improve on what it found. Now, we need to copy them.
5. Transparency and openness will continue to ripple their way through society. One of the reasons a campaign like #metoo - recently honoured by TIME as their “Person of the Year” - even exists is that people can now find each other online much more easily than at any other time in history. Digitally savvy activists are becoming much cleverer at mobilising online, and this allows them to gather momentum quickly and threaten even the most powerful people and organisations. 2018 will be a year filled with scandals, exposés and the downfall of many powerful people.
Trend-spotter who identifies technological innovations that are worth researching and acting upon. Has advised more than 30 of the world’s top 250 corporate R&D spenders, as well as the UK’s top four cities. Currently focusing on the automation of work and the future of globalisation.
Whatever happens, 2018 is certain to be the 20th anniversary of Google – and also of China’s Tencent and Alibaba. We’re likely to hear a lot more about all three companies, but especially the Chinese pair. Even more than Apple and its compatriots, Tencent and Alibaba act as powerful finance houses. Their payments networks, WeChat Pay and Alipay, boast more than a billion users between them, and their European operations will be more prominent.
Worldwide sales of industrial robots may pass 350,000; of professional services robots (logistics, defence, milking and general farming, medical, construction and demolition, PR of various sorts, exoskeletons), perhaps 100,000. Other kinds of service robots? Sales of personal, vacuum cleaning, lawnmowing and housework machines may reach 8 million, while entertainment robots may top 3 million.
These figures might sound impressive; but in fact the penetration of all kinds of robots will, in 2018, remain very modest. World unemployment could this year reach 203 million – much, much more than the total number of robots installed on the planet.
2018 will likely see a continuation in the trend for poor business investment, and growing corporate cash hoards. That’s why the UK is likely only to see a few driverless taxis, and only a few trials of driverless cars (beginning with exercises on closed roads in Oxfordshire). Platoons of just three "driverless" lorries may also be visible – but each lorry will still have a human driver in place.
Rohit Talwar advises international business and governments around the world on how to thrive into the future. In a recent press release, Rohit and his colleagues suggested the following predictions.
Society and Lifestyle:
Robo-Pop – 2018 will see the first pop song written by artificial intelligence (AI) enter the top 20 of the pop charts in a major economy such as South Korea or Japan. By 2023, predictive algorithms will be used to determine the music and lyrics for over 50% of number one’s - with the majority written by AI software.
Polibots / Roboticians - The first robot will be fielded as a political candidate somewhere in the world in 2018 – probably by a fringe party. By 2023 South Korea, Iceland, and several others will have updated their constitutions to give robots equal rights to humans in Parliament. In the next few years, the first robot MP will take their seat in a national Parliament, consulting and polling their electorate electronically in real time via the internet before every vote and displaying a 100% attendance record.
Bitcoin at US$50,000 – Speculation will drive the price of Bitcoin to at least $50,000 during 2018. This will drive down the amount of commercial use for transaction purposes, as coin holders will hang on to them as an appreciating asset. Within the next two years, China will announce its own government backed digital currency. This will see rapid adoption by a number of countries that will also outlaw Bitcoin and its rivals. By 2023, the price of Bitcoin, like many other competitors, will decline sharply as it returns to its role as just another digital currency, predominantly used for trading purposes. Massive losses are incurred by individuals, investment funds, and even countries who invested heavily in Bitcoin on the way up, but didn’t sell out their positions quickly enough before the crash.
Best-selling author, a renowned expert on Artificial Intelligence, an entrepreneur and speaker who has co-founded four Silicon Valley startups. Jerry lectures at Stanford University and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Business Week.
Corporations and consumers are likely to see slow but steady progress in AI in 2018, similar to 2017. There are no major “breakthroughs” bearing down on us that are likely to surprise us or be game-changers. Indeed, the last major advance in the field is a decade or more old - a programming technique that made so-called “Machine Learning” more practical.
So why does it appear otherwise? Because the most recent advances in AI are just now starting to find real applications - in systems and products that have to “recognize” objects and people in images, understand spoken language, offer basic translation between languages, and much else. This is enabling new more flexible machines that can safely operate in human spaces around people, such as in self-driving cars, loading packages into trucks, and delivery robots. It is also behind programs that can identify cancerous lesions in medical scans, identify individuals in crowds, detect cyber-attacks, and much else.
While all these applications may seem very different, they are all powered by the same basic technology. Indeed, the public perception that machines are getting “smarter” is misguided. What we’re seeing is better understood as the next wave of automation, and it’s effects on society, and the speed at which it happens, is likely to be very similar to previous waves of automation, such as the introduction of the electric motor, the development of the automobile, and the invention of the digital computer.
Peter Fisk is an expert advisor, keynote speaker, and bestselling author. He has over 25 years of experience working with business leaders in every sector across the world. He is professor of strategy, innovation and marketing at IE Business School.
In his latest article Now & Next 2018, Peter shared 18 “provocative yet practical” concepts that he believes will be crucial to organisational strategy and action, brands and business models, to drive innovation and growth in the year ahead. You can read the full article on his website but here are our top selections from Peter's sage advice:
Rebuild trust with transparency. In 2018, Peter says, it is going to be harder than ever "to know what is genuine, where things come from, and who to trust". In his article, he refers to Rachel Botsman’s new book Who Can You Trust? which explores how technology together, but might drive us apart and comments that, in the year ahead, "brands... need to move from touch points to trust points".
"Stop thinking that you are the centre of the world, instead engage customers in their context". Peter uses the example of how Austrian plastics innovator Greiner are helping Nestle to innovate with more healthy foods on the go.
Embrace automation and algorithms. 2018 is the time to make big data work for you, argues Peter saying that "marketing is ever more personal and predictive".
In 2018, "ideas will matter more". Fast-emerging technologies need new thinking, comments Peter whilst pointing out that "customers need insights and inspiration about what to do, rather than just products and services to implement. They want new perspective and next practices, to stimulate their thinking, and to do better".
Peter also advises brands to "create big brand moments" because in 2018, he believes, brands will become participative citing the example of Nike’s Sub 2 initiative which caught the imagination of sports enthusiasts around the globe.
Peter also predicts that in 2018, business models are "ripe for innovation" and rethinking how your entire business works are now more urgent than ever. We should be innovating for profit, he says, as in 2018, social businesses will grow ever more rapidly: "solving a real problem in society, and making money, is a great motivator for innovation. Consumers will engage more deeply with brands that demonstrate a conscience".
Finally, Peter is advising his clients and his audiences to "envision the future, and deliver today" stating that the old strategy process no longer works: "10, 5 or 3-year planning frames are too inflexible. Instead, we need roadmaps to the future which give us direction, enabled by smart choices, but we also need to adapt and evolve with constant change".
What do you think? Do you agree with these predictions? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.