The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed” – William Gibson

As the end of the year rapidly approaches, almost inevitably, I have taken pause to think about how the technological landscape has shifted for consumers in the past year. Has the change been meaningful and to what extent has the impact been positive or negative?

From a personal perspective I feel that 2017 has represented a huge step change in how we interact with technology and how it enables us via Internet of Things (IoT) devices, voice control and A.I. And whilst not everyone’s experiences will be similar to mine, there is no doubt that the adoption of devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home has gathered pace in 2017 and has fundamentally altered the way we interact with technology. Particularly in terms of how computing power can be harnessed to influence our lives in ways which, whilst feeling mundane from our vantage point in 2017 (e.g. turning on a robot vacuum to clean the house via voice command as you lounge on the sofa), would have been unimaginable to the public at large just a few years ago. Indeed, there are plenty who feel we are rapidly approaching a technological singularity at which point artificial super intelligence and not humans dictate the rate of change which accelerates to levels which are unimaginable.

A recent survey of tech executives and experts conducted by the World Economic Forum determined that the ‘future’ will arrive in 2025, at which point almost half of these experts believe an A.I. machine will sit on a corporate board of directors.  Whilst this can feel somewhat fanciful, sitting here at the tail end of 2017 when we have seen, amongst other things, the wide-spread adoption of autonomous driving tech in new cars, the emergence of voice assistants in the home, and the prevalence of cheap connected devices which anticipate our needs, the idea of technology outpacing us suddenly seems like a much more tangible prospect. 

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Well that is the theory anyway, but as someone who embraces new technology as part of the job, I feel that these indicators of progress are real but we are at risk of overstating the rate of change. Whilst Moore’s law, and the concept that a smart watch in 2017 is twice as powerful as a Cray-2 supercomputer from the early nineties, is often cited as evidence of the exponential rate of progress, I feel that there is still a way to go before humanity is at risk of bridging the gap between the silicon on a chip and the potential that silicon offers.

On the one hand, the promise is undoubtable - this year, Google’s AlphaGo project was able to beat the world’s top Go player, a feat which was indicated would take decades to achieve. Google now builds and markets its Pixel phone line around its ability to anticipate your needs, and the Google Home launched in 2017 is supposedly able to do the same and is learning all the while. The reality for a consumer though is that this promise is often not yet fulfilled, voice assistants still fail to recognise commands and when commands are recognised they often fail to parse the request and interpret requests accurately . Despite these limitations, IoT devices and smart speakers in particular have sold in phenomenal numbers this year on the basis of the promise of  smarter more connected present and future. So, looking ahead 2018 I predict that the market for connected devices will continue to grow and I hope that alongside this, the products and services themselves continue to mature to deliver on the marketing hype, although that singularity the naysayers are predicting I feel is a way off yet…

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