Tech predictions for 2018: Drones, crypto, and the rise of the robots

 
James Gill
Latest Consumer Technology Products On Display At CES 2017
Machine learning is likely to empower rather than replace humans – at least for now (Source: Getty)

The pace of technological change can seem exciting and daunting in equal measure. 2017, while seeing continued financial growth in the tech sector, brought even more sharply into focus the challenges inherent with the inexorable march of progress.

From Amazon to Uber, tech giants saw their practices and business models scrutinised more deeply than ever before, while regulators sought to get their arms around a rapidly evolving “new economy”, driven by disruptive technology.

2018 will doubtless see the rise of many new inventions, disruptors, and an evolving digital regulatory regime. While we can only guess at what’s around the corner, here are five things to watch out for this year.

Read more: A robot tax won’t fix our public funding crisis

Robot versus human

Machine learning comprises a key component of artificial intelligence whose use is set to grow. Many businesses, especially consumer-facing ones that analyse data (think Google Translate), will start to deploy it, with high-end smartphones being a good example of where we can expect continued early adoption.

Machine learning is likely to make data analysis easier and improve efficiencies, thus empowering rather than replacing humans – at least for now.

Driverless keeps spinning

We’ve heard much about the development autonomous vehicles, and we’re convinced that this revolution will continue. Meanwhile, watch out for growth in electric bikes, especially for commuters. There are already 200m electric bicycles worldwide (mainly in China), and The Electric Bike Worldwide Report predicts (albeit rather ambitiously) that the electric bike industry is poised to grow to two billion by 2050.

Google has approached powered wheel specialist Electron as a potential partner for Google Assistant. Integration of this technology will enable users to voice-activate electric bicycle wheels, allowing them to keep their eyes on the road rather than on-app.

Internet of (even more) things

The internet of things will grow rapidly – think Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Apple HomePod. Almost 70 per cent of the 800 leaders surveyed at the World Economic Forum expect that, by 2025, over 50 per cent of internet traffic to homes will go to appliances and devices. Of course, cyber security remains a risk, while monetising data in the EU will become a little more challenging after the GDPR.

Drones to reach lofty heights

Drones will be used for increasingly diverse applications, and more regulation now looks certain.

The UK government, keen to ensure that Britain is a leader in this field, plans to accelerate the investment and use of “geo-fencing” to provide a protection shield around certain areas and buildings with the use of GPS coordinates (with prisons no doubt now being a priority).

Drones are already being used by some local councils to check on planning applications, while professional firms, such as PwC, have announced drone solution services.

Commonplace cryptocurrency?

2018 will see continued interest in cryptocurrencies, and perhaps more state-sponsored variants – think Dubai’s “emCash” and Russia’s green light for a regulated “CryptoRuble”.

Yet the question remains one of utility: can cryptocurrencies fulfil the basic role of currency as an easy-to-use and stable medium of exchange? It seems more likely that, in 2018 at least, cryptocurrencies will continue (primarily) to be used as a speculative asset rather than as a common payment alternative.

Outside of finance, we can expect to see increased use of blockchain. In HR, blockchain CVs have been developed which can streamline the selection process by verifying candidates’ qualifications and relevant experience, while the land registry plans to test a “Digital Street” which would help to revolutionise property transactions.

Read more: One of the world's biggest economies plans to ban bitcoin trading

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