It has become a tradition on the Next Big Thing blog to look back at how we have done at our predictions and take stock of the previous year. Here is our picks of the 5 most influential technologies of 2017.
1) AI learning to act more human-like than humans
From AlphaGo to Self-driving cars, computers are figuring out how to do perform human tasks better than we can.
The world was stunned back in March, 2016 when AlphaGo became the world champion player of the Chinese game “go”. The game is highly intuitive, which is why it was though only months earlier that a computer AI would not be able to beat the best human player for years to come.
Deep learning and Computer AI have come a long way since then even. Until this year, most computers were taught how to perform a specific task, like play chess or drive a car. The real achievement of AlphaGo was demonstrating that programmers who don’t fully understand how to play AlphaGo can provide an environment for their AI to learn it on its own.
In 2017, the same AI technology flooded virtually every other market. Driverless cars are testing out their skills on virtual roads to practice driving. When they reach their goal within parameters, they learn to favor the behavior that lead to the success.
One of the challenges with driverless cars is finding the balance between be careful not to cause an accident, and sitting at a busy on ramp for an hour waiting for a safe way to enter the freeway.
Rather than try to identify all the rules that the car should follow to reach the goal, they are letting the AI take over and develop intuition to write its own rules. The same technology is being used to help robots grasp objects they have never seen before or decide the best layout for a store.
2) The world returns to 360-Degrees
2017 almost saw the demise of the 129-year-old Eastman Kodak Company. Despite being the inventors of digital photography in the 1980’s they constantly dismissed digital photography as a novelty until it was almost too late. Now they are trying to reclaim their place as king of the hill by capturing your Kodak moments in 360-degrees.
Because creating 360-degree videos requires so much processing power, the fact that they can do it on the camera directly, is thanks to the smartphone market. Sensors, cameras and processors that would have cost thousands of dollars just a few years ago have become incredibly cheap thanks to the economies of scale available in today’s smartphone market.
It’s not only birthday parties and graduation ceremonies that Kodak and other manufactures have their sights on. VirtualForest.io invites you to don a headset and immerse yourself live in a living, breathing forest. Those without a headset, can simply move the view with their mouse or swipe with their finger to look around or up at the canopy.
Since decent 360-degree cameras cost less than $500 now, they are quickly making their way to Facebook and YouTube. Journalists use 360-degree cameras to document everything from hurricanes to refugee camps. Drone mounted cameras give an eerie feeling of flying over waterfalls or into sporting events. Closer to the action, 360 cameras are finding their way everywhere from basketball backboards to right on football fields or in hockey nets.
Coaches claim that the videos help players visualize the action more, which can mean the difference between winning and losing the next one. The Los Angeles startup Giblib is also using the cameras to make spherical videos of medical procedures. This 360-degree view helps medical students get a feel for what everyone in the room is doing, not just the one with the scalpel.
Users claim that after using these videos for just a few hours, they find it difficult to go back, meaning they are likely to become the norm in the not so distant future. How long will it be before full-length, 360-degree movies come out on netflix?
3) Attack of the Botnet!
The rapid expansion of the Internet of Things had its first real growing pains, with serious side effects.
Botnets are nothing new. They have been used for over a decade to launch distributed denial-of-service (DOS) attacks to bring down websites or servers. Botnets were first made possible when Windows the Windows operating system became almost ubiquitous on the Internet. This standard platform allowed simple exploits to be leveraged across millions of independent systems.
This year, a new generation of cheap webcams, novelty toys and other digital devices flooded the market. Most of these devices used a standard OS and virtually no security to ensure that they were “user friendly.”
Millions of these devices were quickly scooped up in hackers with very little effort using publicly available malware called Mirai. In October, a 100,000 strong botnet army of nanny cams and children’s toys knocked out the Internet provider, Dyn. The resulting cascade caused a myriad of high-profile websites, such as Twitter and Netflix, to vanish from the Internet temporarily.
This year, an Israeli team discovered a new botnet that is estimated to number over 1 million devices that they have dubbed “Reaper” (or “IoTroop”). They are not sure if the botnet will be activated for another major DOS attack, or if the managers are simply renting out processing time on the black market.
All this time, we have been watching the army to create Skynet. No one thought that the first attack on humans would be made by that stuffed teddy bear on the shelf.
4) Self-Driving Trucks
Self driving cars are another one of those technologies that is hard to determine when it has truly arrived. Some people say that they are another two or three years away, Elon Musk says we have had them for two or three years already. Which one is right? Yes.
Otto, a San Francisco startup that retrofits trucks to drive autonomously, claims that trucks now operate better than most drivers do. One of the problems with self-driving cars and trucks is that they needs to be as fool-proof as possible. If a person gets into an accident, we simply assume that they were a bad driver. If an autonomous vehicle gets into an accident, we assume that all computers are bad drivers who are out to kill us!
Once self driving vehicles get the go-ahead from legislators, the economic pull for self-driving trucks will be a long stronger than for cars. Not only will driverless trucks be able to caravan on highways, increasing fuel efficiency, drivers can pop down for a rest on open stretches, allowing them to complete their routes sooner.
The main push-back against self driving trucks is that they will replace most of the 1.7 million trucking jobs in the U.S. today. While it is unlikely that truckers will be replaced anytime soon, their jobs will be altered. An announcement from Otto said that it did not intend to get drivers out of the cab entirely withing the next decade and the head of the American Trucking Associations has stated publicly that autonomous trucks would be good for truckers.
5) The rerise of the rise of crypto currencies
It’s been a big decade for bitcoin. This year, Satoshi Nakamoto’s original white paper that outlined what a decentralized cryptocurrency would look like turned ten. The celebrations seemed to have started early as 2017 saw one of the biggest prices surges with Bitcoin and Ripple stealing the show.
It is hard to decide if Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are in a bubble, or if they will go up another 1000 percent this year. If that seems crazy, you might have missed the way Ripple surged in December, 2017.
Another area of opportunity and dread is the futures market. The Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) started allowing traders to open options on Bitcoin, even though the number of contracts opened was low. While some people have expressed concern over its price, John McAfee, for whom McAfee antivirus software was named, claimed that Bitcoin is the cheapest it will ever be again and that it will likely go up another 10 times in 2018. What isn’t clear is whether it is rising because of increased value, or because that is what bubbles do before they pop.
Most markets have seen bubbles. The difference is that this is the first truly global, completely unregulated bubble. No one has any idea how high it will go, or if it is here to stay and just nestling in.