So what do we expect in the new year? There’s a myriad of tech trends we’re watching that will change the world once again in 2018; here’s the top five you should keep an eye on.
The Rise of Synthetic Food
As the world gets more populated, and in turn our natural resources and our climate are stretched to the limit, how and what we eat will change as the year rolls on. The world needs to think of ways to feed itself, and the answer might be mixed into synthetic food.
Soylent is a high-profile example. While the nutritional powder has been around for just about two years, it gained momentum. Soylent has all the nutrients the average person needs, but there’s one big problem: it’s kind of unappetizing.
That’s something scientists are working on. One possibility is Beyond Meat, a company that started to demo its pea protein, yeast extract, beet juice, and coconut oil burger-like substance late last year to the press; it’s available in select Whole Foods supermarkets right now. Another company, Impossible Foods, is working towards a similar goal — and you can grab its plant-based burger from New York City restaurant Momofuku Nishi for $13. Sure, you can tell it’s not the real thing, but both burgers have gotten surprisingly good reviews.
Others are working on growing foods, like eggs and meat, in laboratory environments. Consumers are increasingly pushing for more cruelty-free and environmentally friendly foods, and lab-grown food addresses that problem.
The Physical and Digital World Blur
Virtual reality was a big hit . But you can’t walk around the real world with a headset on. The dramatic rise and equally precipitous fall of Google Glass sites that walking around with space age glasses won’t work either.
Look for navigation services to get even more specific — maps in a store’s app, for example, to direct you to a specific aisle to find exactly what you’re looking for. So called “augmented reality,” where virtual objects and information are displayed on top of the physical world, will make its way to our phones. Search engines are already expanding on image search, allowing you to point your camera at something and search for information based on what the lens takes in.
3D Printing For All
Consumer-grade 3D printers have been around for close to a half decade, yet prices are well above the level that most of us can afford. That should change this year, given what we’ve already seen.
A decent 3D printer can now be found for $200-300; less than half of what they cost just a year ago. These prices should drop further, and new models will launch — like the $99 101Hero and the $149 PocketMaker 3D — that will drive costs down even further.
It isn’t too far-fetched to think that by the time the 2018 holiday season rolls around, 3D printers will be the must-have gift. With 3D printers accessible to anyone, the way we accumulate things will change. Who needs to buy it anymore when you can just print it?
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things has been on just about everybody’s list for years. So why hasn’t it caught on? The issue lies in interoperability. In theory, the IoT is supposed to connect all our devices together, making them sing in a glorious technological harmony. Thing is, we’re not at that point yet — at least in a usable manner, and in a way that doesn’t make you want to pull your hair out.
We’ll use the smart home as an example here. Much of the work in the past several years has revolved around the idea of a “smart hub,” in layman’s terms a souped-up wireless router with extra communications technologies built in. But ask any smart home system owner, and they’ll tell you it’s not a perfect solution.
A multitude of wireless technologies now exist to serve your smart home needs — Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and more. And there’s more smart home platforms to consider than ever before too — Wink, SmartThings, Iris by Lowe’s, even systems from security providers like ADT and big brands like Comcast. While centralization in theory should make things easier, it’s made it worse.
AI and Automation, Everywhere
Automation is nothing new — at least on the business side. Our experiences with automated technologies primarily comes in the form of those pesky automated customer service systems we’re forced to call every time we need help. But it’s only going to get more commonplace this year.
Automated customer service won’t go away, but it will get better. At the same time, online customer service will be automated as well, thanks to better AI and chatbots that understand context a whole lot better than ever before.
More and more jobs will also be automated — even journalist’s work on writing the news (don’t worry, we aren’t going anywhere). We’ll also see smart devices gain from increased automation, learning your patterns and preferences without you needing to tell them and making better and more accurate suggestions and recommendations.