Yet again, a big rock has orbited an enormous fusion reactor in the sky – or in other words, another year has passed. So to mark this milestone, we end 2018 with a round-up of what went well in the world of tech, and what didn’t quite live up to expectations.
Remember those predictions for 2018?
We should remind ourselves what industry experts were predicting as the big tech products and services of 2018.
First off, we go way, way back in time to February - and that bastion of all things mobile and tech – Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The talk was all about 5G, with Ericsson’s CEO declaring it ‘open for business’. The reality has been further from the truth, with more announcements due (so we're reliably informed) at next MWC in February 2019. Maybe 2019 will be the year that progress is made?
As ever, there were predictions about Machine Learning and the enormous capacity for more intelligent analysis of complex data sets. At CAF, our 2018 expectations were pragmatic: we didn't foresee a Generalised Intelligence that outsmarts humans in every department - instead, our anticipation was for more growth of 'spreadsheets on steroids'.
Pundits predicted that 2018 would be the year that Voice Technology took off. As they have been doing for several years, tech evangelists also began the year waxing lyrical about the potential of the Internet of Things.
And finally, there were bold claims that 2018 would be when Virtual and Augmented Reality came of age.
Utopian thinking in the tech industry is one of its best features - it's what enables progress to be so rapid. However, setting the bar so high means things are bound to get overhyped.
So, with the benefit of some December hindsight, what actually did well in 2018?
Three success stories:
Voice Technology –2018 was the year that Alexa really embedded itself into the home, with 39 million Americans now using some kind of smart-speaker. There is still huge potential for growth in this area: currently there are only 50,000 Alexa skills available for download, compared to over 2 million iOS apps. If the boom in writing skills for smart speakers is even half as big as the explosion in app development after the launch of the first iPhone, it could be a gold-rush.
Machine Learning – This subset of the broad (and rather ill-defined) field of AI has been reporting consistent improvements this year. In particular there have been major advances in language recognition and the ability to answer multiple choice questions, alongside massive improvements in Machine Learning algorithms that teach themselves complex strategy games. Companies like DeepMind continue to astonish us with the depth and quality of their research and the potential to apply their findings to the fields of energy, medicine, transportation, finance and many more.
VAR in Football – Football fans no longer had to scream at the referee for getting a goal-line decision wrong. With officials based in a secret Moscow chamber, they used their access to relevant broadcast cameras to advise and facilitate the decisions of the referee. The beautiful game, which for so long has resisted technological innovations, has finally got its act together. Now, FIFA, can you let Frank Lampard have his goal against Germany in 2010 and reverse that clanger of a decision?
Three failures/slow burners:
VR/AR – hasn’t taken off a predicted. HTC and Oculus offer respectable efforts in this field, but the reality so far has failed to match the hype. Earlier this year, Xbox announced it would not be integrating Oculus VR technology into its gaming devices - a major blow to those who expected fusion between the worlds of VR and video gaming. Until the graphics and gameplay are up to the standard of next-generation consoles, it's reasonable to expect its uptake to be restricted to an enthusiastic group of tech aficionados, but not the general public.
Data Scandals – large tech organisations such as Facebook have had a rough year defending their position on data usage. Having weathered the storm over Cambridge Analytica earlier in the year, Mark Zuckerberg's network giant is back in the news with the reports that the company is being rather cynical with its user data. More and more people are questioning whether their humanitarian, pan-global mission statement now seems a bit hollow. Tech giants are being investigated by legislative committees on both sides of the Pond. Things aren't at the level of the Trust Busting of the early 20th century, but the tide is definitely turning against the tech giants, and we can expect more thorough oversight of their activities in the future.
Internet of Things/Smart Cities – this hasn’t been a breakthrough year. Some reporters have pointed out the hassle of setting up a cumbersome range of IoT devices in a home, as well as a range of security concerns. IoT is increasingly popular for managing electricity and gas consumption, but less so for other household appliances; however, as Voice Technology continues to expand and become more nuanced, we can expect a more user-friendly integration of IoT into the home.
With Smart Cities, we see a similar picture. Certain aspects of urban infrastructure are more interconnected than ever, such as Alibaba's City Brain, which manages traffic flow - but the prospect of an entire city working in digital harmony is still a long way off. It's an interesting topic for a TED talk, but concrete results are what we need here.
What will 2019 bring?Will this be the year that 5G comes of age? The first smartphones with this technology are expected to arrive early in 2019, although it will probably be a few years before they reach the general market. High speeds will enable more reliable integration of devices into the Internet of Things, and the prospect of streaming 4K videos on your phone with no lag is pretty mouthwatering.
This Christmas will see the first driverless cars hit the streets of London. By 2019, companies want to see a fleet operating in Oxford and London. But several questions remain: how useful is a driverless car if someone still has to pay attention to the road in the driver's seat in case something goes wrong? How much resistance can we expect from the 300,000 people currently employed as taxi drivers in the UK? And most interestingly, why do people seem to tolerate thousands of fatal human accidents on the roads each year, but become seriously concerned about a single driverless crash? As with all other technological developments, 2019 will require parallel political debates about how to ensure they are used for the common good.
Finally, our resident clairvoyant at Chelsea Apps Factory predicts that electric scooters will become huge in 2019 (not in size, just in popularity). I personally doubt this, but then again I thought Brexit wouldn't happen and that England would win the World Cup - so who knows what the future holds?
To find out more about predictions for 2019 and beyond, watch out for our New Year white paper ‘2019 Tech Trends.’ You can also pre-order our first report of 2019 – AI and Machine Learning - here.
Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year from all at Chelsea Apps Factory.