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Technology innovation in 2018: From AI, VR and IoT to robotics

The rapid pace of innovation in today’s tech world makes the coming-year predictions game more interesting and exciting than ever. In past generations, visions of world-altering technological transformation had to be set decades or longer in the future — in the case of The Jetsons, a full century. Now, a time traveler visiting from just a few years ago would marvel at everything from stateless digital currencies in common use to widely available self-parking cars to smartphones that recognize their owners’ faces.

In these fast-changing times, our predictions for 2018 don’t have to be conservative to be credible. While some of the developments we see coming are relatively unsurprising, representing incremental progress from 2017, others dream bigger — and hint that the world of wonder envisioned in The Jetsons may be coming sooner than we thought.

Machine learning and AI redefine the mainstream

As machine learning and artificial intelligence tools and platforms get easier to use, they’re also becoming more pervasive. Drawing on the scalability of the cloud for initial training, these technologies will have huge impacts on the future of work. Able to learn what’s normal and what isn’t, machines will play an ever-expanding role in automation and predictive problem-solving, and will even able to recognize and shut down bad actors to prevent security breaches.

Blockchain breaks out beyond cryptocurrency

Blockchains and cryptocurrencies can already seem like old news — but we’ve only begun to see the impact of these related technologies, and the coming year will see important new and evolving use cases. Decentralized and distributed companies will be able to rise with little or no infrastructure of their own, and may even disrupt the currently dominant cloud-based giants.

Edge computing steps up

The demand for edge computing will swell this year. As more devices connect to the internet, latency will become more and more of an issue; the cloud was designed for massive downloads — not uploads. Instead of steaming everything to the cloud for machine learning, sensors will come to rely on edge computing to learn normal conditions and react to abnormal conditions. This will have a huge impact on the future of work and security.

Driverless vehicles get even smarter

Autonomous vehicles will continue to disrupt markets in human transportation, agriculture, logistics, shipping and more. Acting as mobile edge data centers on wheels, these vehicles will process terabytes or petabytes of sensor data to react in real time to surrounding conditions. Autonomous deliveries and commuters are already becoming normal sights near my home in Tempe, Ariz., as driverless vehicles from Uber, Waymo and GM lap the Arizona State University campus.

AR, VR and MR redefine reality

The buzz around augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality will intensify as new products and capabilities hit the market. Magic Leap is raising another billion dollars, as are many of its competitors. AR is already being used in the future of work for applications to support construction and on-site repair. Citrix demonstrated VR workstations powered by everyday eyeglasses at Synergy. As this technology gets smaller, more powerful and thus more pervasive, it will increasingly merge with autonomous vehicles, machine learning and edge computing technologies. Just as iPhone X has been a pivotal point for broadly viable facial recognition, 2018 will see many AR use cases move from speculative to prime time, with VR breakthroughs following close behind.

IoT makes us healthier

We’ve already seen IoT transform heavy industries, like oil and gas, through sensors that capture real-time data to enable automation, improve operational control and drive down costs. As Hurricane Irma neared Florida, Tesla used IoT technology to extend the driving range of its cars in the area by improving battery performance, giving people a better chance to get out of the path of the storm. Now IoT will make big inroads into healthcare. Little innovations like streaming data on patients’ vital signs directly into their EMR will reduce errors and save time, making it possible for doctors to see more patients each day — and make more money, by the way — and improving outcomes by increasing the accuracy and efficiency of care.

… and becomes old news even as its scope expands

You’re not going to be hearing the phrase “internet of things” much longer. Over the next year or so, it’ll go without saying that devices automatically connect to the internet, and every company will need to either own or rent an IoT platform to stay relevant. Competition will drive the race to fully automated IoT business processes with just-in-time replenishment and auto-scaling services. There will also be a number of IoT startups focusing on technologies which will automatically detect people and profiles and play a role in contextual automation in every location — work, home, coffee shop and so on. These new solutions will include or merge with the technologies powering autonomous vehicles, machine learning and edge computing technologies.

A new wave of robotics brings that Jetsons future closer than ever

As the buzz around IoT diminishes, the next logical evolution for the brain trust and companies that have driven its rise will be robotics. We’ll start seeing more special-purpose robots come onto the market as 2019 approaches. Get ready for “the Roomba of” everything from lawnmowers and grill cleaners to car washes.

The new consumer robotics devices may not be as witty or stylish as Rosey the Robot, but between the smart automation they bring to daily life, the automatic technologies transforming our environments, the self-driving vehicles changing the way we think about transportation, and so many other innovations already underway, George and Jane Jetson would feel increasingly at home in today’s world — nearly half a century ahead of schedule.

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