The year 2017 is coming to a close, some would say with a sigh of relief. It’s been a hairy year, particularly for one western country which pulled out of the international Paris climate agreement…
Hold strong, Middle Earth, you’ll be back to your peaceful shire before you know it! In the meantime, we’re picking five game-changing technologies that made the news in 2017 and are bound to be big stories in 2018. Please indulge us while we wallow in some buzzwords, because we’re woke for broke!
We’ve already raved about cryptocurrencies here and some more here, and doubtless some of us are sick and tired of hearing about them by now. Nevertheless, the stunning rise in the cryptocurrency market will continue to be big news in 2018, for better or for worse. As we breathlessly check our Coinbase bookmark right this second, Bitcoin is at $17.6K, Ethereum at $685, and Litecoin at $305, but they probably went up some more since we started typing this sentence. Better to check the Coin Market Cap, which lists every cryptocurrency worth its hash algorithm and shows that the current market cap for all cryptocurrencies stands at half a trillion dollars USD.
Where will it end? That’s going to be the big question in 2018. Obviously, this exponential growth has to stop before it reaches, say, the GDP of the entire human race. Is there a bubble? There probably is, because right now cryptocurrencies are basically pumped up by the expectation that their prices will rise forever. If they are a bubble and if it does pop, expect a staggering recession. The key strategies right now are to NEVER invest more than you can comfortably afford to lose, sell whenever you see a satisfactory profit, and fasten your seatbelt for when the big pop comes.
We also talked about blockchains alongside talking about cryptocurrencies. But even if Bitcoin and all its alt-coin peers ceased to exist, blockchain technology all by itself is a handy tool. You name it, if it’s an industry, it’s sniffing blockchains looking for a use. UPS has joined the Blockchain in Trucking Alliance. Intel thinks it can squeeze genetic sequencing out of blockchain methods. Online charity auctions can use blockchains. The gaming industry could roll out blockchain improvements.
Tired of hearing about blockchains yet? Are they starting to sound like 2018‘s “cloud computing”? Well, better put the word “blockchain” in your resumes, because you will be driven blockchain-happy in 2018. It slices, it dices, it cures the common cold! Which, by the way, is an excellent opportunity for improving blockchain support and capability. Currently, Bitcoin mining is actually a significant power drain on a global scale. Specialized hardware built just to process blockchain transactions as efficiently and inexpensively as possible could be a goal with a viable market.
Like any tech-focused blog, we’re just about obligated to natter about AI research as we have here and here. But 2017 saw an interesting turn in AI: the viability of emergent learning methods. Which is not to say that we couldn’t do this before; as the present author has pointed out in the past, it was possible to make a self-teaching Tic-Tac-Toe engine in Microsoft QBasic back in the ‘90s. But it’s only recently that we’ve had the jump in computing power to tackle bigger problems.
Not just board games, but walking algorithms, facial recognition, speech software, medical diagnosis, and so on. The nut of the matter is that we haven’t invented any new ways to “do” Artificial Intelligence. We’re really just brute-forcing it a lot. But now the hardware has caught up to the brute force methods. Mastering the board game of Go was historically considered absolutely impossible, for decades, even well after IBM’s AI had conquered chess. Never underestimate the power of a million monkeys at a million typewriters if you amp them up on three espressos each.
Internet of Things
What a magnificent ballet of pretty little doodads and gadgets, all waltzing together in a network of busy little applications which talk to each other and manage their own affairs! Smart gadgets with smart sensors, monitoring all sorts of minute data and delivering it to a smartphone screen. We’ve been hearing about these for awhile, and every year we come closer to the Tim Berners-Lee vision of the wired world.
This isn’t going to be a full scale movement all at once. The Internet of Things will move into our lives gradually, the way mobile phones did. One by one, smart home devices will become more common and taken for granted, and one day you’ll wonder what people did before smart mailboxes, where you could read your paper mail remotely and chose to file or shred individual pieces while you were on vacation.
We already have Alexa and Roomba in the home. And we’re familiar with industrial factory robots taking up places along the assembly line. But every year brings us closer to a future shaped like Star Wars, where single-purpose droids perform mundane tasks. Like when a San Francisco PETA office recently deployed a police-droid to hassle away homeless people. Or a Silicon Valley real estate company sends an agent-droid out to give prospective buyers a tour of a home for sale. Or when a robot is used as a companion pet for patients with dementia. Here’s your obligatory visit to the heady world of companion bots:
Still not feeling like you’re living in a Philip K. Dick movie yet? Did you know Saudi Arabia just granted citizenship to an AI robot? How about the robot that went to college? We could go on and on with these every month, each time nailing one more Amazing Stories novelette or Black Mirror episode. Parts of the world seem more open than others to robots as a fixture of society.
Well, it’s an exciting future ahead! Be sure to join us in 2018 so we can all discover the wonders together.