The annus horribilis of 2016 is thankfully behind us and now all eyes are optimistically turned to 2017. Technologies that were once the stuff of science fiction are fast becoming reality as deep technology makes machines more intelligent and the boundary between the real and the virtual worlds become ever less distinguishable.

Here are three of the hottest trends that we’ll see in tech over this coming year.

Virtual reality hits the mainstream

In 2016 we saw the release of Pokemon Go – the enormously popular Augmented Reality (AR) mobile game. The technology worked by superimposing Pokemon via a smartphone or tablet camera onto the real world. Virtual reality (VR) takes this technology a stage further by creating an entirely virtual world in which almost anything is possible and everything is digital.

We have seen VR in sci-fi movies and on TV but 2017 is the year that the technology goes mainstream. Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Sony’s PlayStation VR, Samsung’s Gear and HTC’s Vive are all examples of early stage adoptions of the technology and have built the platform for the technology to explode onto the mainstream this year.

As the technology matures further over the course of the year we can expect prices to drop as more competitors enter the market. The technology as it stands currently has a prohibitively high pricing point, and increased competition in the sector should push prices down to a point that we see VR headsets in most households.

VR is more than just a consumer phenomenon; there are strong business use cases for the technology as well. We can expect more and more business applications for VR to crop up over the next 12 months. One of the most interesting areas for expansion is retail – as retailers use VR to show how a watch might look on your wrist or how a new coffee table would look in your living room. There are so many possibilites with this technology that have yet to get the industry’s attention and investment that they deserve – this will all change in 2017.

The sharing economy expands

The sharing economy is changing the face of businesses, creating new opportunities for startups and setting up challenges for incumbent market players. It went through a meteoric rise in 2016 with some of the established sharing economy leaders launching new products and developments.

Uber’s recent expansion into Bangladesh for example, adds to the ever-growing list of countries and cities in which the business is now available. Uber even expanded its offerings to food with Uber Eats following the success of food delivery startups such as London-based Deliveroo. Airbnb launched its new “experience” service called ‘Airbnb Trips,’ which now guides travellers to restaurants, classes and day trips in 12 cities across the globe.

But while the popular commercial models of the likes of Airbnb and Uber are likely to persist in the coming year, in 2017 we’ll see the sharing economy develop into many new and exciting ways.

Electrolux, the Swedish appliance maker, is currently exploring the option of starting an “Uber for laundry” service, in which consumers will be able to use their own washing machines to wash other people’s clothes.

Expect traditional market sectors and industries to be further challenged as the sharing economy continues to expand into 2017 and do battle with the status quo.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and chatbots

One of the most widespread manifestations of artificial intelligence is the chatbot. In the first few months since chatbots were launched on Facebook Messenger, the number of platforms has grown exponentially to over 30,000.

In 2016, there has been significant movement in the chatbot space with a number of startups building chatbot-based solutions. Chatbots are used in a wide array of industries. For example Shopify, a popular e-commerce platform used by over 243,000 businesses acquired a startup called Kit CRM, which enables companies to interact with their customers over text. Scheduling startup Doodle acquired Meekan, an intelligent chatbot that can allow fast scheduling between different calendar service providers.`

When it comes to chatbots the more data there is to work from the better. In the light of this, we might see collaboration between rival companies to pool information in the interests of improving customer experience. We will likely see more initiatives in the same vein as Microsoft’s recent give-away of a set of 100,000 questions and answers that are used to improve non-Microsoft products such as Siri or Cortana.

2016 saw its fair share of political turmoil which traditional polling systems failed to forecast in the case of both Trump and Brexit. Technology, specifically AI, is already more accurate than the pollsters. MogIA, correctly predicted the results of the last three elections as well as Trump’s shock victory. There are not many people who would associate AI technology with politics and this goes to show that AI has almost limitless capabilities.

Tech now permeates almost all industries and sectors of society, driving change and innovation. The sharing economy is changing the way we work – individuals are paid for their skills at times that suit them as the traditional work model changes. As deep tech practices continue to develop over 2017, more time will be spent in virtual environments with machines that create, adapt, and populate the virtual world. 2017 will see these virtual environments flourish in both a consumer and business context as the digital economy continues to expand.

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