Where will progress lead us and what to expect next year in the world of technology?

What can predict and how people react to technology is amazing. We’ve got some amazing tools around us that people didn’t even predict would exist 20 years ago, like smartphones and the internet, that we’re entirely blasé about. Other technologies, on the other hand, which we’re absolutely certain are just a few years away, like flying cars, are never actually seem to come from around that proverbial corner that they’re hiding behind.

That means it’s hard to make any long-term predictions about technology. You’re almost inevitably going to find yourself with egg on your face. Fortunately, in the shorter term we’re able to make some more accurate predictions.

For that reason, let’s take a bit of time and look at what technological innovations we’re going to see in the next year.

Metal printing

3D printing has been discussed a lot in the last decades. It’s been poised to take off for a while now. And indeed there are lots of companies out there doing things with it. For example, they’ve printing a bridge in the Netherlands. At the same time, it has not yet taken off in the way we expected it to.

That might finally change with one of the final hurdles of 3D printing being overcome. What hurdle is that? The one of printing metal, of course. So far, printing in anything about plastic has been prohibitively expensive and that has meant that it was only for big companies to invest in. And as many of those big companies weren’t yet all that confident of the technology, they’ve steered away.

Now, that the costs of printing things in metal are starting to come down, however, we should start seeing smaller operations who are willing to jump in and create everyday use items using less materials and thereby having less overhead. And once they prove the concept, the big companies will have no choice but to embrace this technology more broadly as well. 2018 might well the year that starts to happen on a bigger scale.

Artificial embryos

Over in Cambridge they’ve managed to create embryos using nothing but stem cells. This is a huge step forward, as it means that as many artificial embryos for research purposes can be built as we might need – all without harming any original animals (or indeed people).

This will greatly speed up research purposes and allow scientists to tease apart the early stages of our development. And that can give us a huge amount of insight into our own development – correct or incorrect.

And yes, it also means that we really need to start tackling those ethical questions about what is real and what is not and what it will mean if these artificial embryos end up being indistinguishable from the real thing. So far, they are, you can tell the difference, by the way. It isn’t certain whether these cells can grow into actual living organisms. So that might be a relief!

Smart cities

Alphabet labs and collaborating with the Canadian government to build a city that is loaded with sensors, so that decisions about how it should run and what problems should be tackled aren’t being brought in top down but are instead developed bottom up.

Quayside, will gather information about how people are using it, where pollution is coming from, noise levels and more to understand where changes need to be made. Also, the city will be multi-level, with a whole underground network of robots performing such tasks as delivering mail and other projects, while on top people travel through shared smart cars.

The whole network will be built on open source software, so that just like with their android platform, people can build other ‘apps’ on top of the framework and innovate based on the city.

Obviously, what will work there will then be expanded and exported to other parts of the world, so that cities respond and grow in real time to accommodate the needs and wants of the people who live there.

Translating airbuds

This one might not seem as big at first blush as the other technologies we’ve mentioned. I mean, airbuds, right? At the same time, the possibility that we can simply put in airbuds and understand what other people are saying to us in another language is a big deal – particularly if they’re actually accurate.

So far the technology requires two devices, a smartphone and the airbuds, with the person indicating when they’re speaking by pressing a button. This overcomes a lot of the problems that translation software has had overcoming background noise and knowing when they need to start translating.

And the closer that these devices are going to come to translating in real time (which they don’t yet do – they make mistakes during normal conversation, so don’t even talk about something like being a college essay service), the more useful they become. And the more useful they become, the more data they will start to receive as they are being used.

From there such translation software will certainly accelerate.

Cloud based AI

To date, AI hasn’t really been available to us normal people. Instead, its only the big companies like Google, Amazon and Baidu who have been able to work and experiment with these amazing new tools. That looks to be changing, however, with more and more companies offering AI services through the cloud.

The leader of these has to be AWS, which is an Amazon subsidiary, but Google isn’t far behind with their own offered service. Naturally, the more fierce their competition becomes, the more we’re going to benefit as prices come down into the range where modern-day startups can start affording them. From there, we’ll no doubt see a great deal of competition as people roll out new ideas and concepts with these technologies.

At that point, the AI revolution can really begin. The question we’re all dying to know the answer to is: How long will that be? Are we looking at years or is this another flying car?

The short view

The great things about all these technologies is that they’re here right now. They are not some pipe dream. Instead they’re being employed and experimented with. And though not all of them will live up to the hype (I mean, where is VR now?) a few of them no doubt will. Then, in a few decades, we can act just as blasé about them as we now are about some of other technological miracles in our lives.

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