4 Technologies Making News in 2017
Another new year means another endless volley of prediction articles for the days ahead. While sidestepping proclamations that Crocs will find their home in high fashion, chocolate will become a breakfast staple and the University of Alabama will win the 2017 college playoffs — forecasts that are horrifying, delicious and already proven wrong, respectively — we've gathered four trends for technology leaders to keep their eyes on as the year progresses.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
As in 2016, virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are making appearances on lists across the internet. One popular take this time around is that augmented reality will move from an afterthought to more of a leading role.
Though he did say that it would take AR a while to reach "mass adoption," Apple CEO Tim Cook told a crowd in September that augmented reality will engage more people than virtual reality because it won't require users, who are all "social people at heart," to interact with one another in enclosed headsets.
"I do think that a significant portion of the population of developed countries, and eventually all countries, will have AR experiences every day, almost like eating three meals a day. It will become that much a part of you," Cook told a panel audience at the Utah Tech Tour.
"AR via mobile phone will be big in 2017," wrote Promod Haque and Matthew Howard at Fortune. "While we'll see the first year of quality VR through new hardware like PlayStation VR and Oculus, the reach and applications will be highly limited. Conversely, AR will see start of widespread adoption. There are currently 4.6 billion mobile phone users worldwide and that number is going to keep growing. AR-powered cameras on mobile phones will power applications such as image filtering, mapmaking, virtual tours and more."
Tim Bajarin, writing for Time, said that, though "VR is the hot tech product at the moment," AR will be more important in the near future and predicted that "we will see the first generation of mixed reality consumer glasses that have both AR and VR apps, although AR will be the predominant solution in this generation of consumer devices."
The Internet of Things
Again, as last year, the Internet of Things (IoT) is popping up on tech predictions lists like FitBits on wrists at the gym in 2016. This year, though, the predictions are mixed, with some fortune tellers seeing the death of IoT in their crystal balls.
Take John C. Dvorak, writing at PC Magazine, for example, where he told readers that IoT "has been 'the next big thing' for the past few years and may become the hot ticket for 2017. I sure hope it is, so I can figure out what good it is. I cannot see it creeping too much into everyday life because we already have too many 'things' that are not compatible. There is no way to develop a strategy to incorporate legacy toasters, for example. In the world of industry, high-end smart homes and some other niche markets, it may have an impact eventually."
Klint Finley boldly forecasted in Wired's roundup of staff predictions that "the Internet of Things will die," calling IoT a "made-up term" and citing high-profile security incidents involving internet-connects things as heralds of the nascent field's coming demise.
"The Internet of Things — or whatever you want to call it — has the potential to save precious resources, spot and fight pollution and help people lead healthier, safer lives," Finley wrote. "But adding internet remote control to every single product on the market won't necessarily help us get there. What we need are thoughtful, affordable, durable devices that actually, y'know, make our lives better. A new name, and a renewed sense of purpose, could be just what the Internet of Things needs."
Not all tech forecasters are calling the future gloomy for the Internet of Things, however. Gartner's Daryl Plummer, writing for Forbes, predicted that IoT will increase data storage demand by 3 percent by 2020 and "will save consumers and businesses $1 trillion a year in maintenance, services and consumables."
Dvorak noted that artificial intelligence is a perennial inhabitant of tech prediction lists, writing, "One cannot help but add this quasi-technology to this list. It appeared last year, and I think in 2015. Also in 1980, 1981 and a slew of years in between. The way I say it, artificial intelligence is the technology of the future and always will be."
At Fortune, Jeff John Roberts wrote that "artificial intelligence is the real deal" and argued that AI is one of the rare areas that justifies the perpetual hype of the technology industry.
"AI is already showing its awesome potential in tools like Google Translate or Amazon's home assistant, Alexa, and its power is being tapped for everything from driverless cars to medical research," Roberts wrote. "Look for AI to be the most important pure technology story of 2017."
Gartner is also bullish on AI, with the company's VP David Cearley calling "intelligent" one of three themes at the basis of the firm's strategic tech trends for the year.
"AI and machine learning have reached a critical tipping point and will increasingly augment and extend virtually every technology enabled service, thing or application," wrote Kasey Panetta at the tech industry analyst's site. Creating intelligent systems that learn, adapt and potentially act autonomously rather than simply execute predefined instructions is primary battleground for technology vendors through at least 2020."
No fewer than three of the top 10 trends for the year highlighted in that particular forecast include the word "intelligence."
For more insight to the specifics of how AI might advance in 2017, visit MIT's Technology Review, where Will Knight has put together a list of five predictions for the field, from dueling neural networks to the possibility of China's emergence as a major player.
At Fortune, Haque and Howard wrote that 2017 will see a new breed of startups looking to build businesses on blockchain technology. "Once widely adopted (starting with developers and startups), blockchain will help mitigate risk, streamline processes and increase efficiency, transforming the world as we know it in the next several years," they explained.
John C. Dvorak, again at PC Magazine, called blockchain evangelists "fiends" pushing the technology as a solution for "everything," despite being unable to easily define it.
"What is it good for," Dvorak asked. "Absolutely bitcoin. There may be some sort of very interesting digital copyright management to come out of it. It's not a serious trend any more than BitTorrent (another fascinating technology that was never going to be a serious disruptor). That's not to say that these technologies do not already serve millions of people because they do. Just not a 2017 trend."
Gartner's Plummer disagreed, writing that blockchain businesses will grow over the next five years to be valued at $10 billion.
Gartner's Panetta also included blockchain as a tech trend to watch this year, after defining the technology simply enough: "Blockchain is a type of distributed ledger in which value exchange transactions (in bitcoin or other token) are sequentially grouped into blocks. Blockchain and distributed-ledger concepts are gaining traction because they hold the promise of transforming industry operating models in industries such as music distribution, identify verification and title registry. They promise a model to add trust to untrusted environments and reduce business friction by providing transparent access to the information in the chain. While there is a great deal of interest the majority of blockchain initiatives are in alpha or beta phases and significant technology challenges exist."