In 2016, tech trends like augmented reality and smart appliances took off while the seeds of virtual reality and artificial intelligence were planted. As the year comes to a close we’re taking a look back at five tech trends that captured our hearts, minds, and wallets.
1. Wearable Tech
The romance of tech and fashion was a hot topic this year, far beyond the Apple Watch. From heart rate monitors, wearable sleep enhancers, to a dog collar with built-in GPS, it’s clear what direction the fashion industry is heading.
Take for instance the Indiegogo funded Spartan Boxer Brief, an undergarment that repels 99% of cellphone and Wi-Fi emissions. With numerous studies suggesting radiation in cellphone waves causes cancer, the Spartan Boxer Brief is pushing wearable tech that might one day save your life.
2. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
VR and AR are two buzzwords that piqued interest, but do you really know the difference? Here’s the break down:
Augmented Reality (AR) blends virtual reality with the real world. The worldwide phenomenon Pokémon Go was downloaded over 100 million times and now software companies are switching gears to develop more AR titles from its success. Hardware such as Google Glass saw modest adoption and Google now plans to release the second generation of its tech-infused glasses next year.
Virtual Reality (VR) is the complete immersion into a virtual world through a headset. This trend is shaping up to revolutionize the way you communicate in real-time. Sony just released its VR hardware for PlayStation 4 forcing its competitors to rush to market. The barrier of entry here is a hefty price tag. With units costing upwards of $600, it’s up to financially-sound early adopters to become the voice of this industry.
It’s still too early to know which technologies will triumph. Throughout the year AR had a clear lead, but next year when more content releases for VR it will be a major contender. You can expect to witness another contest on the scale of Blu-Ray vs. HD DVD with only one clear victor, the consumer.
3. Internet of Things (IoT)
Internet of Things is the concept of industrial and home devices being connected through cloud-computed networks to gather information. Think smart appliances. Don’t worry; the washing machine isn’t trying to steal your debit card PIN, but rather it’s becoming ‘smarter’ by learning your usage habits and using that data to improve efficiency.
Imagine owning a fridge that knows when the milk runs out so a grocery reminder is sent to your smartphone or consulting an app to see if you remembered to turn off the stove. Apps are the big mover for this technology and we’re on the cusp of having fully controllable households from the palm of our hands.
But is IoT really that big? The IDC 2016 Global Market Predictions believes so. The market research organization forecast by 2018 there would be 22 billion Internet of Things devices installed, which will promote over 200,000 new IoT apps and services.
4. Financial Technology (Fintech)
Touted as the major disruptor to the financial industry – the Uber of banking – fintech is creating new avenues to handle day-to-day banking affairs without having to step into an actual branch.
‘Fintech’ is a blanket term that can’t be categorized into one specific area. The rise of crypto-currencies and block-chain provides a secure and transparent allocation of currency worldwide. Meanwhile, companies such as TIO Networks are re-inventing bill payment solutions for the underbanked outside of traditional bank channels. Even financial institutions are investing in fintech through services such as mobile deposits and online banking apps. Studies are showing the millennial generation is shifting away from traditional brick-and-mortar concepts in favour of easy, instant access to finances.
5. Advanced AI Ecosystem
Big strides towards artificial intelligence were made. AI was developed so it could be ‘taught’ through complex algorithms and data rich neural pockets operating on a cloud network.
Sound like a quote from Star Trek? The reality is machines are learning how to perform day-to-day tasks that were only thought possible by humans. Google DeepMind created a learning algorithm allowing AI to remember something after only seeing it once. This out performs humans who take two to three times to recall new learnings. AI is also capable of natural language generation, which is working to break down communication barriers across the world. Soon customer support lines will have conversation and troubleshooting capabilities through a live chat-bot eliminating the need to speak to a representative directly.
AI tech is being developed for a multitude of functions including diagnosing human illness, serving and autonomous vehicles. The ride sharing behemoth Uber has already begun testing a fleet of driverless cars throughout Pittsburg. With 94 percent of car accidents involving human error, there could be a drastic improvement of road safety with this technology pushed nationwide.
While AI can tremendously impact our lives there are still questions that need to be addressed. How will the government regulate mass-production of robots? Will self-taught AI possess a moral compass? Are low-skilled labour jobs at risk? Only time will answer these questions, however it’s exciting to see what direction it goes.
In the coming years, expect more groundbreaking discoveries in the field of space exploration, biotech, and medicine. There’s so much to cover in the world of tech, but these are the trends that stuck out most in 2016. Either way, it’s a great time to be alive.