Artificial intelligence and its ramifications, such as machine learning, were the great success stories of 2017, and everything indicates that the technologies that teach machines to think like humans will shape the future. But entities such as Gartner, Deloitte, Forbes, Harvard or MIT all seem to agree, however, that the main technological innovations of 2018 will be related to well-known concepts and buzzwords such as blockchain, virtual assistant and cyber security.
Blockchain and cybersecurity
Blockchain has been gaining strength since 2009, when it first emerged, and was consolidated last year when its cryptocurrencies (or bitcoins) reached a capitalization of more than 330 billion dollars. It is not by chance that it appears at the top of the lists of technological trends for 2018, but it is associated with another concept that has also gained prominence after the massive computer attacks of 2017: cybersecurity.
The databases linked in blocks that make up the blockchain possess characteristics of decentralization and inviolability, which allows them to be used in cryptography and in the prevention of data manipulation. One of the pioneers in this application is the Ukrainian start-up Hacken, a blockchain platform that functions as a cybersecurity ecosystem for the so-called “white hat” hackers (or ethical hackers), who offer their services to developers or organizations that require corrections or improvements in their systems.
“Our goal is to recruit the best ethical hackers in the world and use our skills to promote cybersecurity,” says Dmytro Budorin, founder and president of the company, who has worked with the government of Ukraine in the management of the recent cyber attacks suffered by the country. The initiative is sponsored by Philip Zimmermann, a legend in the field of cryptography thanks to the publication of the data privacy code PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). “In the world in which public institutions in different countries and even the home of citizens are under threat from a cyber attack, the union between the two concepts is essential,” says Zimmermann.
The IoT and the conquest of homes
The technological giants are committed to the idea of conversations between humans and robots becoming a routine thing, and to the use of the IoT (Internet of Things) and home automation in smart homes. Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa, paved the way in 2017, and this year its main rival (Google) promises to consolidate the conquest of our homes with Google Assistant. With its format of speakers and a touch screen that will allow users to control practically their entire home without leaving the couch, it will also be able to connect to more than 80 LG brand appliances (a collaborating brand in the project).
The new assistant, presented at the Global Stage for Innovation (CES 2018), is able to recognize the different voices of the members of the household and to organize the agenda of each one of them. Experts in this type of technology say that these devices will boost the market of hyperconnected homes, which is expected to reach a value of more than 40 billion dollars by 2020, according to the consultancy firm Statista.
The consultants at Gartner believe that virtual and augmented reality glasses are the technological trend with the highest growth in terms of consumer expectations. Google presented its Mirage Solo at CES 2018, while Facebook exhibited the Oculus Go, both autonomous (they don’t require another device to work). The great novelty is the low cost of the technology: the Oculus Go, manufactured by Xiaomi, is expected to hit the market at $199.
On the other hand, 2018 will witness the emergence of a new type of reality, the so-called mixed reality, which combines the interactivity of virtual reality with the visual power of augmented reality, guaranteeing an even more immersive experience—users perceive virtual objects in their real surroundings.
The first product will arrive courtesy of Magic Leap, a US company financed by giants such as Google and Alibaba, which will debut glasses to connect in virtual environments without being isolated from the real world. “Eventually, we will have a world that mixes the physical and the digital,” says Rony Abovitz, CEO of the company.
Those who fantasize about downloading a movie in a few seconds are closer to seeing their dream come true. After years of hype about 5G Speed—another of the protagonists of CES 2018—companies such as Qualcomm, Intel and Ericsson are expected to announce 5G modems and applications. The experts are forecasting that the technology will reach Europe and the United States before the end of the year (when the arrival of mobile phones that support 5G is also expected), but its “stable development” is not anticipated before 2025.
For Robert J. Topol, Intel’s general manager for 5G, the technology represents the “post-smartphone era.” “Phones are the first place to launch because [they’re] such an anchor in our lives from a connectivity standpoint,” he says. There is more expectation, however, with the potential for other wireless devices: from security devices in smart homes to autonomous cars that can communicate with each other at high speeds, not to mention the increased experience with virtual and augmented reality glasses, the sky’s the limit. However, there are still some obstacles, such as the tests underway to ensure that the radios work well with the hardware and the infrastructure, so that 5G coverage does not end up only being concentrated in the larger cities.
2018 is only the first step towards the future.