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What’s Hot in Technology: 2018 October update

October 24, 2018


Following our predictions for hot technologies in 2018, we provide a snapshot on the state of those predictions, an update of key developments in these areas and a rough assessment of our predictions. Those that have come true in some way are marked ‘realised’ while those that have yet to emerge are marked ‘not yet in view’. Those that will appear through evolution rather than a single point event are marked ‘ongoing’, while our picks that have been bolstered in some way by subsequent developments are marked as ‘emerging’.


  1. Hashgraph

Blockchain will undoubtedly create waves in 2018 and beyond, from the Bitcoin express through to practical uses in smart contracts and across countless industries. This is not to suggest that this new technology will not in time be supplanted itself by competitors offering improved features. Hashgraph, for example, claims to work at 50,000 the speed of blockchain, whilst proving mathematically fairer and using less energy. 2018 will see an explosion in rival technologies underpinning new cryptocurrency and ledger systems.

Where are we now: We posited that 2018 would see the emergence of rival ledger systems to blockchain, with hashgraph first and foremost amongst them. In August 2018, Hedera Hashgraphraised $100 million via a future token sale from institutional investors for its new commerce network based on its “hashgraph consensus” technology. The company suggests its ledger technology can function much faster, more securely, and at a larger scale than current blockchain technologies.

Status: Emerging

  1. Shoppable social

The lines between retail, social network and entertainment will blur to an even greater extent in 2018 than we have seen thus far. Amazon has already launched a shoppable social network called Spark whilst Buy+, a Chinese virtual reality shopping experience backed by Alibaba, engaged over 8 million users within a week of launching.’ Social video, and other virtual interfaces, could represent the future of retail since 2019 is expected to see video comprising 85 percent of net traffic and 50 percent of commerce arriving via mobile.

Where are we now: Our entry suggested that ‘…social video, and other virtual interfaces, could represent the future of retail.’ In March 2018, it was announced that Instagram was to expand its shopping features, allowing merchants to add shopping tags to their social media posts. This year it has also been reported that ‘…social shopping is being adopted by social media and customers alike, but only 26% of retailers have a formal plan in place for the digital transformation.’

Status: Realised

  1. Data becomes toxic

Data competency has already ordained winners and losers and in 2018, it will continue to do so, albeit from new perspectives. Data volume will overwhelm all but the most prepared since average human knowledge is doubling every 13 months – meaning, within a couple of years, the total information volume may double every 11 hours. Allied to volume is a common vulnerability in many data models. Many lack explicit consumer consent – especially via apps, and few have equivalent to ‘key facts’ in financial services. As consumers realise the value inherent in their data, the unspoken legal risk in data models will upend all but the most prepared. What data we hold and how we use it will be the life and death of our companies.

Where are we now: We suggested that ‘…the unspoken legal risk in data models will upend all but the most prepared. What data we hold and how we use it will be the life and death of our companies.’ GDPR in the European Union recognises this and has impacted on permissiveness in the use of personal data. While this dynamic still holds, we have already seen data issues impacting companies in 2018. Chief among them is Facebook, which lost $35 billion in market value following reports that Cambridge Analytica had unauthorized access to 50 million Facebook user accounts.

Status: Realised / Ongoing

  1. Employees+

Perhaps with an eye towards automation or else simply improving their marketplace standing, 70 percent of employees say they would consider mind and body-boosting treatments if it improved their job prospects. Although futuristic sounding, smart drugs such as modafinil are already reportedly widespread in academia, industry and beyond. HR policies may need revisiting to place guidelines for brainhacking and other routes employees will be seeking to gain an edge.

Where are we now: Plenty of articles have focussed on the augmentation of human work with A.I, but little new evidence further supports our reported assertion that ‘…70 percent of employees say they would consider mind and body-boosting treatments if it improved their job prospects.

Status: Not yet in view

  1. Self-inflating structures

With housing shortages contributing to acute market misalignments in some advanced economies, and the need for ‘insta-infrastructure,’ following catastrophes around the world, a new built form paradigm is required. Furthermore, companies will increasingly value flexible solutions to their office space issues. 3D printing already provides a platform for addressing these issues. In 2018, more tech-based solutions will appear to compliment it, such as MIT’s self-inflating structures project that works as a ‘…functional tool for things such as distributed assembly processes, transportation of goods, emergency response and architecture.’ Flexibility in the built form could radically redraw the economy; in 2018, we expect proto examples of this change of direction to hit the headlines.

Where are we now: Possible developments in 4D printing promise an era of programmable buildings, perhaps including ‘self-inflation’ or self-building. Furthermore, in May 2018, a team of Polish designers won a competition with its design for an inflatable skyscraper designed for use in emergency zones. ‘The building is called “” and it’s envisioned as a structure that can provide shelter for refugees from natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. is a tower that can be as tall as 328 feet high, so it could provide room for up to 1,000 people on multiple floors. It could also serve as a first-aid dispensary, or even be configured as a vertical farm to produce badly needed food in a disaster area.

Status: Emerging

  1. Interaction 4.0

The way we will buy, build and use technology is changing rapidly, which means the teams and ecosystems that build it and run it will need to change too. Designers should be especially cognizant of this. In 2016 mobile net use overtook computer net use, whilst by 2020, ‘…50 percent of all searches could be voice searches, and around 30 percent will involve no screen whatsoever.’ VR, holograms, AR and haptics will all feature; 2018 will see the omnichannel become a lot more crowded.

Where are we now: Interaction 4.0 is well underway, perhaps to the point of this being too mainstream to be an individually identifiable trend. Accenture (Feb 2018) reported that 80 percent of executives believe it will be important to leverageextended reality solutions to close the gap of physical distance when engaging with employees and customers.

Status: Realised 

  1. New consumer industries (from colliding technologies/industries)

Consumers ‘…demand experiences, not just products, and have become active participants at every stage of the value chain’. In many cases this erodes industry boundaries and creates new markets at the intersections of collision, such as wellcare where health, wellness and beauty collide. There is no one single technology that is driving this Hot trend; rather the realisation that B2B2C markets are reconfiguring into delivering desired consumer outcomes. How to organise for this – in terms of aligning organisation structure to technology provision – will be key.

Where are we now: Given the blurring nature of many new industries, it often requires a little distance before we can say ‘this is new,’ as opposed to company xyz is doing something different(ly). What we currently perceive as new revenue streams, or mashups may in time become their own distinct industry, or more likely, ecosystem.

Status: Ongoing

  1. Photonics

As an intermediate step on the path to quantum computing, photonic computing could provide the ‘…same accuracy as the best conventional chips while slashing the energy consumption by orders of magnitude and offering 100 times the speed. By 2020, larger systems capable of achieving multiple Exaflops are forecast to arrive.That would enable even handheld devices to have AI capabilities built into them without outsourcing the heavy lifting to large servers, something that would otherwise be next to impossible.’ All data could therefore be processed in near real-time, at the edge of networks such as the IoT. IT strategies, consumer behaviour and the architecture within which to operate would all shift as a result, some in unpredictable ways.

Where are we now: Despite a host of research milestones, and some setbacksin 2018, the promise and premise of photonics remains one for the near future. One researcher in 2018 suggests that ‘…if you look at photonic integrated circuits today, the complexity is comparable to the complexity the microelectronics industrywas integrating into their circuits in the mid-1970s.’

Status: Ongoing but tipping point not yet realised.

  1. Personalised analytics

With McKinsey estimating around a third of the current CEO remit is already outsourceable, and examples of mass automation of management roles already appearing with hedgefunds and beyond, 2018 will see a clamour from professionals seeking to future-proof their roles. Ironically, AI may provide an answer. ‘Personalized analytics (will) become mirrors and lenses for refocusing professional effectiveness, says MIT research fellow, Michael Schrage MIT research fellow. ‘Michael envisions selvesware serving the role of a perpetually present leadership coach providing real-time advice on executive behaviour.’

Where are we now: In many ways we are already surrounded by personalised analytics, but even within the narrower work based confines in which we identified it, examples are emerging. In October 2018, it was reported that Chinese giant Baidu is reportedly testing neural networks that can match job seekers to jobs. Further evolution of the system could morph into one where people can self-analyse skills, have remedial courses or books recommended to them or have ideas vetted by AI.

Status: Ongoing

  • Machines have their own bank accounts

There can be little doubt that widespread automation brings about a raft of societal and ethical questions. Hitherto fringe ideas will gain currency as the automated economy takes hold. The rights of robots to the fruits of their own production may become one such issue in the near future. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia is reportedly looking into the implications of a future in which ‘…machines have their own bank accounts and pay for replacement parts and engineers to service them,’ whilst the European Union has already called for ‘the consideration of a Civil Law Rule of Robots’. Intellectual property rights could flow from this, suggesting machines could become their own economic agents in the near future to a degree currently considered unthinkable.

Where are we now: As far as our prediction went, this was perhaps the most outlandish, despite citing sources of some banks already considering the implications of this. To our knowledge, no machine has yet started accumulating personal wealth. However, in the U.S, ‘…legal scholar Shawn Bayer has shown that anyone can confer legal personhood on a computer system, by putting it in control of a limited liability corporation in the U.S. If that manoeuvre is upheld in courts, artificial intelligence systems would be able to own property, sue, hire lawyers and enjoy freedom of speech and other protections under the law.’ Perhaps the bank account is not too far away after all?

Status: Not yet in view.

The next blog will look at new emerging trends seen during the year so come back soon.

Written by David Smith, Chief Executive, Global Futures and Foresight.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

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