The new year brings curiosity about what’s coming next. So, as usual, I’ll be doing a clutch of interviews over the next few days. Here are some of the things I’ll be talking about.
AI: Holding your hand through life
The invisible hand we’re talking about in 2018 won’t be anything to do with Adam Smith. It will be the widespread application of artificial intelligence technologies to smooth our path through life — and guide us towards the paths that brands may want us to follow.
While we’re perhaps decades from anything approaching a truly human-scale generalised intelligence, narrow applications of machine learning and predictive systems fed on large data sets from our health trackers, home automation systems, shopping habits and social networks, will be more and more prevalent.
Expect to see more and better systems to guide you, shop for you, source your content, sort your digital collections, and generally ease your path through life. There will be more AI-driven toys like Cozmo, upgrades to systems like Siri and Alexa, and of course, increasingly self-driven cars.
Synthetic Biology: Just another code
Tech firms around the world are working to turn DNA into just another code, making it easier and easier for us to create new life tailored to our specifications. Whether that’s spinning super-strong spider silk from yeast, creating antibiotic alternatives, producing biofuels or growing food more efficiently, these companies are all working towards the same goal: to give us mastery over nature.
There is still much we don’t understand, but billions in investment is accelerating both learning and applied capabilities.
Materials: Novelty leaves the lab
Materials science has been one of the areas that most excites me for a year or two now. The chance to change the way the world looks, as well as the way it works, is hugely exciting, as new classes of material (particularly single layer materials) bring us physical properties that dramatically outperform our traditional options.
The challenge has been scaling innovations from the lab: what is possible isn’t always easy to reproduce in a manufacturing environment. In 2018 I’d hope we see more evidence of production scaling up, or at least practical advances that make it more realistic.
Energy: The case for solar gets more stark
If you haven’t been tracking the energy market, it’s worth reading the report I produced early in 2017. It reached a very simple conclusion: renewable electricity will increasingly displace fossil fuels in almost all applications. Solar energy particularly is becoming so cost-effective as to offset the cost of storage to guarantee supply.
The economics of the energy market and the slow progress of large-scale generation projects will see our energy grid increasingly distributed and decentralised, with more and more generation and storage at the edge.
Mixed Reality’s carphone moment
With the final (and somewhat disappointing) unveiling of Magic Leap’s hardware after $1.9bn of investment, the great white hope of Mixed Reality has lost some of its mystery. Nonetheless, we can expect MR (or Augmented Reality if you prefer) to become an increasingly mainstream pursuit in 2018, with improved hardware in devices like the iPhone X, and new content like Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.
Right now the technology is still clunky, like the carphones of the 90s, but the direction of travel is clear. In a few years we will be passing hours each day in a mixed reality of physical and digital.