The demarcation between 2017 and 2018 is nothing but an imaginative fabrication that doesn’t link, or sync up with any natural occurrence or historical event, and is merely a counting convenience. Julius Caesar’s calendar, established in AUC 708 (1 January 45 BC) is an arbitrary mess that we struggle with through with a mnemonic poem (30 days hath September,…). Think of how simple it would be to have 10 months with 36 ½ days each.
Nonetheless, we do have this demarcation point and use it to celebrate (or lament) the past 12 months, and anticipate (or fear) the next. Those of us atop mountains with a view and a vision beyond most mortals see the future, and those of you silly enough to read this far get subjected to it—run now while there’s still time.
This year, 2018, is actually pretty easy to predict. The conditions for its prediction have been laid in place carefully and with some fanfare throughout 2017, and so if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll probably find these predictions trite to annoying; and still you and I soldier on.
AI everywhere. I think AI instancing will be the biggest thing to impact our lives since Thomas Newcomen introduced the stream engine around 1712. AI training and deep-learning (DL) will get a lot of the headlines because that’s where the big-iron is employed. Thousands of GPU-based accelerators and CPUs, plus ASICs and FPGAs will play magic tricks with hordes of data to tease out differentiable nuances that can deliver unique and predictable information. Once the training is accomplished it can be adapted to a smaller processor, with either local or cloud access to data, and preform magical tasks—Alexa, when did I last call my mother? From personal assistance and assistants, to fraud detecting, MRI analysis, threat prediction, traffic light control, and almost anything you can think of that involves sorting through lots of data to pluck out a gem will be an everyday occurrence, and mostly for free. Our children will grow up not knowing any difference. Just as we grew up being able to turn a faucet and get fresh water instantly in our homes, they will not know what it is like to not have assistance, in fact, they won’t even know they are being assisted. It’s mind-bending to try and imagine such a world.
Block-chain freedom. The advent of block-chain distributed information systems will remove the last bastions of the brick and mortar middle men—i.e., the banks and agents. Currency, the tokens we now rely on to sell our no longer wanted exercise equipment on eBay, will be a thing of the past. We now carry cash not because we use or need it that much, but to give out to homeless people and as tips in restaurants. Everyone will carry a RFID reader and exchanges and gifts will be done without having to touch cocaine-embedded dollars. Distributed information and transaction block-chains will be truly disruptive, and like any new technology block-chain will have its detractors, especially those who will be displaced by its introduction. And nothing new is ever introduced without the side effects of its anti-social applications, even solar power has it dark-side as power source for stills. But its benefits are too compelling and over all beneficial, the ultimate secure transaction and information delivery system.
Always connected, AND productive. Although we are always connected through our smartphone, and maybe tablets, the advent of a truly functional PC with a useful size screen, and full-size mechanical keyboard that is always connected and runs for days without needing a wire, will transform the way we work and play. The internet is as much a part of our lives as air and electricity, we just take it for granted and depend on it. In the case of millennials and Gen Zs they would truly die if they lost connectivity, you can see them twitch like a fish out of water when they do, it’s sad and alarming. But they aren’t the only ones who need connectivity. If you are an engineer in the field and need the latest CAD drawings to check a design, you can do that with a super thin & light always connected notebook. AND, you’ll get your latest drawings, super securely via a block-chain. AND, your local AI will call your attention to the disparities between the design and the actual thingie you’re checking. AND, your kids won’t even think that is special, it’s just normal.
Super games on super screens. Cinematic quality real-time, games that exceed simulation quality on 4k+ screens at a consumer price will be commonly available. The dream of, “Don’t just watch a movie, be in it,” has arrived. In 2018 screens from 15-inches on a laptop to 32-inches on a desktop, with resolution of at least 4K and HDR color-depth will enter the mainstream. Those of you whose knee’s creak in the morning, and have to take vitamin supplements will remember when we had six-color 10-inch CGA CRTs and marvel at out displays today. That’s not lost on the game developers and they are designing for 4k HDR 60-inch TVs and PCs. Those games, which will finally challenge the hardware will drive sales to new highs. Gaming moves out of the trash talk bash and crash realm into an alternative entertainment medium with thrills never experienced and visions never explored on a PC or console before…no special head gear needed.
Augmented all the time. 2018, will be the year genuine consumer-class augmented-reality smart glasses come to the market. Consumer-class means you won’t be or feel conspicuous to wear them because they will be indistinguishable from the glasses you’re wearing now, whether they’re sunglasses or augmented vision glasses. But what you’ll see will change your life forever, make the world a safer, more open and friendly place than ever before. You won’t have to learn a foreign language, become a cartographer, or wonder what’s ahead in the fog or a dark street. In the enterprise sector no engineer, mechanic, or doctor will ever be at a loss for the necessary information to do her or his job, and Pokémons style friends will be abundant.
Virtually plausible. The over-hyped VR world will get a few steps closer to the promises made in 2016, but still not be the wonderous world we were promised—it may never be, the technological and comfort barriers are just too great. But a reasonable proximity will be achieved, and for a small sector of the population be a delightful and compelling experience. Location-based versions of VR offer great promise, and will help educate the public about the thrill of 6DOF and 360-videos.
Concerns. The new year will bring with it changes we can’t control. Governmental changes and subsequently modifications to laws threaten the social fabric and environment we have come to take for granted. Fear of the unknown will foster prohibitions against new technological developments from trying to regulate robots to underfunding education in favor of faith-based systems. Small island communities and countries will begin to disappear under the sea, and untethered polluters and financial manipulators will threaten our very existence for their short-term gains. Activism is the only protection, but it must be informed activism, not visceral fear-driven crusading. We are entering a new era and age of technological achievement and advancement. What was considered science fiction just a few years ago with underground trains faster than airplanes, fossil-free energy sources and vehicles that don’t burn anything and drive themselves, to instantaneous information on everything, and maybe everyone. We’ll have to learn how to live with and manage these new powers, and if history is a teacher, it will be by trial and error, some people will get hurt. Hopefully they will be the minority and not become a barrier to our progress. And, if history is a teacher, just look back five, ten, fifty years and marvel at how far we’ve come, how rich we’ve become, how much healthier we are, living longer than people could have imagined then. The long road of humanity is a positive path, and I expect it to continue.
End note: The expression “Big Iron” is generally attributed to a country ballad introduced in September 1959 that tells the story of an Arizona Ranger's duel with an outlaw named Texas Red in the town of Agua Fria. It was made popular on the radio in Fallout New Vegas, on Mojave Music Radio, and Black Mountain Radio. However, the true origin of the expression is from the railroads, when they built bigger and bigger steam engines in their legendary pursuit of big, powerful locomotives. There’s an interesting book about it, Building Big Iron: The Epic History of Locomotive Building in the United States from 1830 to the Present.