As the year 2017 has officially arrived, here are some of the trends and big ideas that we can expect to develop over the course of 2017, in fields ranging from artificial intelligence to the Internet of Things to quantum computing.
#1: Consumer tech companies will double down on the “smart home”
Two of the surprise breakout hits of 2016 were the Amazon Echo and Google Home – smart virtual assistants that help users do everything from play music to listen to the news. Look for other consumer tech companies to jump on the bandwagon, as tech companies race to own the “smart home” concept. January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas will likely feature a number of novel home uses for smart, Internet-connected objects that are voice-activated.
#2: Chatbots will become the hottest marketing trend of the year
At the beginning of 2016, tech guru Chris Messina predicted that it would be “the year of conversational commerce.” He was largely correct, as chatbots started to take off, mostly as conversational agents for famous celebrities. Even the White House got into the act, creating a chatbot based on Facebook Messenger to interact with everyday voters. Heading into 2017, expect this trend to really take off, as brands experiment with chatbots as a way of delivering personalized, one-on-one interactions with customers. Chatbots could revolutionize the way we think about customer service.
#3: Apple will finally release a virtual reality headset
2016 was the year that Oculus finally officially released the Oculus Rift to the mainstream consumer and Google released Google Daydream, its version of a VR headset. Apple has lagged behind the curve, especially given the fact that Samsung released its Gear VR at the end of 2014. So expect Apple to finally dip its toes into the VR waters in 2017. Virtual reality seems to be a natural fit for Apple, given the fact that VR content could be easily added to the App Store as a paid entertainment product, right alongside movies and music.
#4: Mark Zuckerberg will release a new Facebook “Social VR” product
In Fall 2016, Facebook released a brief demo of what a “Social VR” experience would look like. It’s essentially social avatars connecting in the virtual world when face-to-face interactions aren’t possible. Facebook has been on an innovation surge of late, announcing product after product (including Facebook live). As a complement to products like Messenger, Facebook could release a VR product that enables two Facebook friends to hang out in the virtual world.
#5: The U.S. military will announce a new unmanned, autonomous fighting machine
One big clue could come from all the R&D work that Google is doing with robotics. Clearly, DARPA and the U.S. Pentagon are looking for the next generation of unmanned, autonomous fighting machines that will give the U.S. military an edge in battle and prevent the loss of American lives on the battleground. It’s already clear that both the Russians and the Chinese are working on unmanned, autonomous fighting machines, so it only makes sense that the Americans will try to beat them to the punch. It will be another “Sputnik moment” for the world, potentially spurring an even more dangerous arms race involving autonomous weapons.
#6: Elon Musk will change his mind on the future of AI
Legendary innovator Elon Musk has made some dire predictions about the future of AI, claiming that, if not harnessed properly, AI will lead to the catastrophic loss of human life. That’s a hard prediction to walk back, but he will try to do so in 2017. Elon Musk will change his mind and claim that AI is actually the key to solving many of the world’s major problems, including climate change.
#7: A chatbot will finally officially pass the Turing Test
There have been a number of near-wins, as chatbots have almost passed the legendary Turing Test, including most recently in 2014. 2017 will be the year that it finally happens. This chatbot will be able to have responses so human-like that it will finally meet all the official criteria of the original Turing Test.
#8: A series of massive Internet of Things hacks will prompt Congressional legislation
We’ve already had a preview of what could happen in 2016, when an unprecedented hack of Internet-connected objects led to massive denial of service attacks on some of the world’s most popular websites. Hackers had apparently found a “backdoor” into Internet-connected devices, giving them the unprecedented opportunity to combine all of these hacked devices into one giant “Zombie Net.” These attacks will continue in 2017, and prompt the U.S. congress to legislate an end to this practice.
#9: The Trump administration will fund a major “smart infrastructure” initiative and compare it to America’s epic quest to put a man on the moon
“Make America Great Again” promises to be a major rallying cry in 2017 as the Trump administration comes into office. During the long and bitter election campaign, Donald Trump failed to win over the Silicon Valley tech crowd, so he will make a daring bid to regain Silicon Valley’s trust by allocating an unprecedented amount of funding into “smart infrastructure” – smart roads, smart buildings and smart bridges. Trump has routinely denounced the sad state of America’s infrastructure – comparing it to the state of infrastructure found in the Third World – and this will give him a chance to give a high-tech approach to America’s infrastructure problem. It will be “huge,” Trump will say, and he will compare it to the epic quest to put a man on the moon after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik.
#10: Ray Kurzweil will announce that he’s finally found a way to reverse-engineer the human brain
One of AI pioneer Ray Kurzweil’s ongoing quests is to replicate the processing abilities of the human brain. After giving up on approaches like neural nets, he will discover a radically new approach based on quantum computing principles that will make it possible for an inanimate object to have the processing capability of the human brain. He will then begin work on hooking up these objects all over the world.
#11: An AI company will become the next big billion-dollar unicorn in Silicon Valley
As artificial intelligence goes increasingly mainstream, a small Silicon Valley AI startup will attract a billion-dollar valuation and be anointed as the next “unicorn” of Silicon Valley. That will lead to a gold rush to fund AI startups and a rash of VC firms launching AI-themed venture funds to invest in this trend. Uber, after all its experimentation with autonomous, self-driving vehicles and its recent poaching of AI researchers from Carnegie Mellon, will rush to rebrand itself as an AI company — leaving all the tech companies that branded themselves as the “Uber of [X]” at a real loss of what to do next. If Uber is an AI company now, does that mean they are, too?
#12: A major software company will announce an AI competitor to Watson and Einstein and name it Edison
IBM got the AI bandwagon rolling with Watson, and 2016 saw Salesforce follow up with its Watson competitor called Einstein. 2017 will be the year that another software company follows up, and given the trend in naming, will brand it as Edison, in honor of Thomas Alva Edison.
#13: The Trump administration will announce plans to use AI to revolutionize healthcare
Trump has promised to abolish Obamacare as one of his first acts as President, but he’s been slow to describe what exactly will replace it. He will decide that AI is the best way to revolutionize healthcare. It will start with computers capable of processing millions of digital health records at a time, and continue with plans for AI-enabled doctors and nurses to assist patients, as well as natural language interfaces capable of understanding patient problems and prescribing a potential solution.
#14: The U.S. government will launch AI-powered drones and robots to patrol the U.S.-Mexican border
Trump has also promised to build a border wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. Someone needs to patrol that vast swath of land and one answer could be AI-powered drones and robots. Mexican immigrants attempting to cross the border will coin a new slang term — “El Terminator” — to describe these robots, as a reference back to Skynet and the Schwarzenegger “Terminator” film franchise.
#15: “Social robots” will become the hot holiday gift of 2017
We’ve already seen some early iterations of what social robots might look like, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has famously embraced the concept of social robots. 2017 will be the year that social robots break the $1000 price barrier and become the “must-have” holiday gift of the year for kids. We’ve already seen early iterations of AI-powered toys (such as the AI-powered Barbie and the AI-powered dinosaur toy), so it’s only natural to expect anthropomorphic social robots to be the next big thing.
Based on the above 15 tech trends, it’s clear that there’s a lot to look forward to in 2017, especially when it comes to innovation based around artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things.