5 technologies that will define 2018

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5 technologies that will define 2018By Guru Bhat, PayPal

An eternal truism of life is that it only accelerates. This pattern—human progress moving quicker and quicker as time goes on—is what futurist Ray Kurzweil calls human history’s Law of Accelerating Returns.

2017 was filled to the brim with incredible changes and progress and 2018 promises to be yet another blockbuster year in human history. Here are some predictions for the year in tech ahead of us:

Intelligence in everything around us is expected baseline behavior

2017 was the year that AI truly emerged as the technology that would define our lives in the future – but still a year where AI’s disruption potential was discussed more than demonstrated.

2018 will be a year where AI (specifically Artificial Narrow Intelligence where the AI is tuned for a specific use case) begins to go mainstream.

Our world will be infused with ambient intelligence that will progressively provoke less amazement and will simply become a part of life. With features like mobile phones with digital assistants deriving patterns from our usage and making intelligent decisions (including warning us about potential health issues) from the data we generate on our phones as we lead our lives, we will start expecting intelligence in things we interact with.

However, maturity in AI takes time and volumes of data on the basis of which intelligence can be built. There will still be realms of human life where neither of these two conditions has yet been met. In these areas, AI will continue to take baby steps and tech behemoths with ever-increasing access to data will have an edge.

Blockchain begins to move beyond the hype

Blockchain’s fundamental advantages are that it enables distributed trust without a central trusted intermediary and also enables the creation of a shared, unalterable, trustable record of facts.

Blockchain has been enjoying all sorts of attention as the cool new kid on the block with people scratching their heads amidst all the cheering, wondering what they’re going to use it for. Currently, the headlines are all about dramatic increases and decreases in the value of Cryptocurrencies.

As the year progresses, the conversation around Blockchain will finally move into the realm of pragmatic reality with use-cases becoming more concrete and applicability of the technology for specific domains becoming clear.

For e.g. self-executing smart contracts are beginning to make strides towards maturity in implementation. Solutions for some of the payments industry’s time-consuming steps – like clearing and settlement – will also see some initial implementations in 2018.

Fintech stays blazingly hot with great advances in consumer experience and security

If there’s one area of technology that is close to AI/ML/Deep-Learning on the hype-curve, it is Fintech.

Especially in India, coming on the heels of demonetization in November 2016, Fintech has continued to ascend, attract truckloads of venture capital money and is seen as a technology capable of changing billions of lives.

People don’t engage in a transaction for the joy of the payment experience – people pay to experience the joy/value in the things that they need and want. Hence, innovation around customer experiences that overcome friction while simultaneously increasing security and mitigating risk inherent in any financial transaction will continue to abound in 2018.

Making the payment experience almost invisible through the clever of use of different biometric factors that can identify a person attached to a device from where a transaction is taking place, while also adhering to regulatory/compliance requirements will see breakthroughs this year.

Voice/facial recognition, fingerprints, the way you hold your device, the pressure you apply when you touch your device, etc. will get combined into a potentially unbreakable combination of factors that can identify the person attempting the transaction and significantly reduce friction.

Peer-to-peer payment experiences will continue to evolve in a manner that can generate delight, excitement, and wonderment. The use of data to deliver richer merchant insights that allow them to focus on delivering the most relevant products to the right customers with the best experience will continue to evolve, with greater use of ML and AI.

AR and VR will continue to evoke curiosity and excitement, but will remain playthings

Want to know what’s hot and what’s not? Keep a keen eye on tech conference goodies and giveaways. VR headsets were the rage in conferences in 2017 – an indicator that the early-adopter set were on the Virtual Reality bandwagon.

However, I am yet to see a compelling implementation for VR/AR beyond gaming. We’ve all heard of the million ways in which these technologies can dramatically alter the status quo in any number of daily interactions that we have: the car dealership where the salesperson can alter the exterior color and interior fittings of a car with the wave of a hand, virtual mannequins that match your body type and can show you how specific clothes will look on you as you browse the aisles at a store, etc.

However, for all the hype and science-fiction around the possibilities, 2018 will be yet another year of much promise and little delivery. Certain technologies can creep up and quickly get one to assimilate them into one’s life without being noticed – but AR/VR aren’t endowed with those qualities.

AR/VR is very “noticeable” and radically “different” – and will surely need time to endear themselves to people for reasons other than just novelty value.

The erosion of personal privacy continues to scale massively

Since the introduction of the smartphone the phrase “life has changed dramatically” is often heard. Humanity has never absorbed a change of immense magnitude with such enthusiastic and hypnotic helplessness.

Change at other times was due to war, natural disasters, ice-ages, etc. This one has quietly introduced itself into every aspect of our lives via the smartphone – using which you are perhaps reading this article!

Many companies have the ability to know us deeply by tracking what we do, where we go, how much we walk/run, how our heart beats, what we search for, what we watch, what we listen to… well, you get the picture. Privacy is now an archaic concept – quaint, interesting but impossible.

2018 will be a year we continue to not read user agreements, where we continue to be willing participants in an Orwellian quest to know us, our way of life, our actions, our intent, our motivations, our curiosities and anything else that I lack the imagination to list.

Some parts of the world (Europe for e.g.) are attempting to stem the monetization of big data related to us. In general, nearly all of us are willing to ignore any misgivings we may have about privacy. The fear of missing out and being socially disconnected is very real.

Nearly every way we interact these days is through an app that binds us to a social network of some kind and the choice to opt-out of the network comes with serious consequences that very few actually bother to even calculate.

I believe it will take a breach of cataclysmic proportions to wake us up to the real danger of putting convenience and network participation ahead of any privacy concerns.

(Guru Bhat is the GM Technology & Head of Engineering, PayPal. Views expressed above are his own)

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