Technology is moving faster than ever, and it shows no signs of slowing down – and if the past is any indication, the real winners of tomorrow are the ones diving into the emerging technologies of today. New technologies and platforms are poised to revolutionize just about every aspect of modern life as we know it – and whether you’re a mobile app entrepreneur or just an interested bystander, the only way to avoid getting left behind is to get ahead.
At Rootstrap, we’re intimately familiar with the emerging technologies of 2018 because we work on them regularly – and if you’re trying to get up to speed with everything happening in the world of new tech, we can help. Here’s our guide to everything you need to know about emerging technology in 2018.
What Is Emerging Technology?
Emerging technology is, ultimately, what it sounds like – it’s the tech that’s emerging and maturing for the first time in history. Emerging doesn’t necessarily mean brand new, though. Often, the concept for a technological breakthrough may have been around for decades. But emerging tech refers less to concepts than it does to real, functional technology.
For example, take the idea of a Dyson sphere. This is a conceptual technology where an advanced civilization would surround a star with solar panels (or something similar), allowing 100% of the energy from that star to be collected and used. This concept has been around for decades, but humans are nowhere close to being able to implement it.
Emerging technology, however, is tech that’s finally coming to fruition. It hasn’t hit the mass market yet, and it may not be fully viable, but it’s finally visible on the horizon. Emerging technology is tech that could realistically enter the mainstream in only a few years.
So what’s the emerging technology landscape look like in 2018? Here are the biggest emerging technologies to look out for.
New Emerging Technology in 2018
Truthfully, there’s so much innovation and advancement happening in technology today that it would be impossible to pack it all into one blog post. However, a few technologies stand out from the rest, and because we’re a digital development company, we’re going to put a spotlight on software and information technologies.
With that in mind, here are Rootstrap’s picks for the biggest emerging tech to watch for in 2018:
- Artificial Intelligence
- Virtual & Augmented Reality
- Blockchain & Cryptocurrency
Each of these technologies has the potential to fundamentally reshape massive parts of our world. Exactly how they’ll impact society is hard to say, but these will be five of the most significant technological trends of the coming century – when we look back, it’s likely that these technologies will be on par with things like the steam engine or electricity.
If that sounds like an exaggeration, we don’t blame you for your skepticism. It’s healthy. But before you dismiss the claim out of hand, let’s dive into each of these in detail.
Diving into Emerging Technology Trends
Again, you could easily write a book about the potential impact of each of these technologies. Trying to cram all of this into a blog post is, in the words of Will Durant, a precarious enterprise. We proceed.
First, let’s start with arguably (very arguably) the biggest fish in the emerging technology pond: artificial intelligence.
Artificial Intelligence in 2018
Artificial intelligence, or AI, has been the white whale of futurists and technologists for going on a century now. Scientists have been dreaming of a sentient or artificially intelligent computer for decades, and there’s no shortage of representations of artificially intelligent machines in popular culture to keep those dreams going.
But first, what exactly do we mean when we say artificially intelligent? On the surface, it sounds simple. Intelligent like a human, right? Well… that’s very hard to define, in part because we still know very little about how the mechanisms of human thought even operate. To add some precision to our discussion, let’s define the two broad classifications of artificial intelligence: strong and weak AI.
What’s the Difference Between Strong and Weak AI?
The difference here is actually fairly clear cut and easy to understand.
Weak AI, or narrow AI, refers to a computer or software program that’s intelligent in a very narrow capacity. That is, the program is able to “think” in a limited manner and perform functions within the framework of a specific set of tasks, but it has no broad, multidisciplinary intelligence outside of its set functions.
If this is confusing, concrete examples abound. The world is already saturated with weak AI – in fact, you probably interact with a weak AI just about every single day. Weak AI programs organize flights, determine what route you’ll take on Google Maps, prioritize your online search results, and recommend new products to you on Amazon. Any program that is capable of performing tasks in a way that isn’t coded in an explicit, step-by-step manner could be considered a form of weak AI.
Narrow AI actually lies behind a number of other emerging technologies on the horizon right now, many of them that we work on regularly at Rootstrap. Machine and deep learning are two of the biggest iterations of AI right now, both of which are methods of getting algorithms to perform functions by training them on vast sets of data instead of coding out explicit steps.
Furthermore, narrow AI powers a technology called natural language processing (NLP), which is the core functionality behind chatbots – and we regularly build chatbots at Rootstrap. Chatbots have been around for a while, but the technology is really starting to heat up right now. We expect chatbots to penetrate many more markets in the coming years – just another example of how AI is developing.
But all of these technologies come from weak AI. Strong AI is a different beast. Strong AI, or artificial general intelligence, is what the science fiction writers are really dreaming about. Strong AI refers to an AI that’s like a human, in that it possesses the ability to think, reason, and decide about a broad range of topics.
Strong AI does not exist yet for a whole multitude of reasons, which we won’t get into here. Scientists are torn on how far away we form strong AI. Some say we’ll have it within a matter of years, some say we’re decades away, some say it won’t exist until the distant future. If or when we do develop it, though, it’ll be unlike anything humans have ever experienced before – a revolutionary force for positive societal change. Right?
Why Is Artificial Intelligence Bad?
In fact, scientists are very torn on the impact that artificial intelligence will have on human (or all) life. Some say it will usher in a post-scarcity utopian civilization. Others, like Elon Musk in this infamous YouTube clip, warn that we’re “summoning the demon.”
The problem is that, conceivably, a strong AI could learn how to code. There’s nothing conceptually impossible about this. But astute readers will note that the AI itself is actually made out of code – the limits of its intelligence are written into the code itself. So, if this AI learns how to code, it could conceivably find the flaws in its programming that limit its intelligence, then write a new version of itself that fixes those flaws. This second-generation AI will be faster, smarter, and better.
But what’s to stop our second-gen AI from doing the same thing? Nothing, really. So we could have a third-gen AI that’s better than either of its predecessors. And a fourth-gen. And a fifth-gen. And a… you get the idea.
This all seems fairly innocuous until you consider the speed at which this could happen. On human time scales, it usually takes a period of years for a new generation of technology to come out, and the improvements are incremental. But an AI thinks at the speed of computer, and it codes at the speed of computer. This means that, conceivably, it could iterate new generations of itself in a matter of seconds, or even fractions of a second. Within an hour, the technology could advance itself so far as to be completely unrecognizable from the first generation.
This is what people like Elon are worried about. Within a very short time, the capabilities of the technology could advance – of their own accord – to levels that humans literally cannot comprehend. The blog Wait But Why has a fascinating discussion of this problem for those that want to learn more, but suffice it to say, AI could be a force for good or evil in the near or distant future.
Virtual & Augmented Reality
AI isn’t the only technology on the horizon in 2018, though. Virtual and augmented reality have been talked about for many years, and there are already VR headsets available on the mass market today. So why does this count as an “emerging” technology? Largely because the VR of today compared to VR in a number of years will likely look like Pong in comparison to Halo.
First, let’s define “virtual” and “augmented” reality. Virtual reality refers to a 360º virtual computer world – essentially, a video game without the limits of a screen. So far, VR is achieved by wearing a pair of goggles with a monitor installed in them, effectively blocking off any view of the outside world and filling the entire frame of vision with the visuals of the program. The goggles have gyroscopes to track head movements, allowing viewers to “look around” their virtual world and creating the illusion of being “inside” the environment.
Augmented reality, on the other hand, refers to overlaying artificial digital elements on top of the physical, real world. Augmented reality is generally harder to do than VR, partially because we still need a screen to create the virtual elements. The most well-known attempt at AR may have been the Google Glass, but some methods of AR have used smartphone or tablet screens as a way to project a virtual character or object into the real world. Pokemon Go is a well-known example of this type of AR.
Right now, we’re still in the early days of virtual and augmented reality – but these fields will heat up in the near future. At Rootstrap, we’re already starting to see these projects come to fruition, and we’re excited to be at the front of what promises to be an important technological trend.
Blockchain & Cryptocurrency
Finally, blockchain and cryptocurrency are set to fundamentally alter our economic systems, and they may upend current systems of governance, commerce, or even labor law. So what makes blockchain so special?
Blockchain, essentially, is a type of digital ledger where transactions in a given cryptocurrency are recorded permanently, chronologically, and publicly. Think of blockchain like layers sediment in rock: each transaction is laid on top of the previous one, forming an endless chain of publicly available transaction history. It’s worth noting that because of the structure of the tech, it’s very difficult to tamper with blockchain transactions after they’ve been recorded. The farther down that transaction is in the “layers” of sediment, the more difficult it is to artificially change it.
On the surface, this may seem a little dull. But here’s what’s special about blockchain: it’s completely decentralized. There is no central authority figure or gubernatorial body responsible for keeping track of transactions, counting how many cryptocurrency units are in the world, or assigning value to the cryptocurrency. There is no bank in cryptocurrency. The blockchain takes care of all of these functions, and there is no one running the blockchain. It runs itself, and it can not be tampered with.
This makes crypto an incredibly stable form of currency in the long run. There’s inherent scarcity, which protects the value of the currency. All transactions are public forever, which serves as a buffer against fraudulence. And – most importantly – no governing body is necessary to run it. The system runs itself.
Emerging Technology Companies to Know
At Rootstrap, we’re fortunate to get to work on emerging tech projects every day – but there are a number of companies working full-time to advance these technologies, and we’re very excited about them. Here’s our list of emerging technology companies to watch in 2018:
- DeepMind: A subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, DeepMind is one of the foremost AI outfits in the world.
- IBM: IBM made history when it’s artificially intelligent Watson program beat the world’s greatest jeopardy players, and they’ve continued the Watson division to expand the AI’s capabilities and apply it to real-world problems.
- Facebook: Facebook relies on AI for much of its core business, and as the owner of Oculus, it’s also a leader in VR.
- Osso VR: A VR content startup geared towards using VR simulations to train medical practitioners.
- Coinbase: Currently the leading digital wallets and exchange platforms for cryptocurrencies.
- Bitcoin: Needs no introduction.
- Ethereum: The Rootstrap favorite for altcoins (alternatives to bitcoin).
This list is by no means exhaustive, and the truth is that it could look completely different a month from now. But one thing is certain: these technologies are poised to change the world as you know it. And if you have an idea for how to be a part of that change, we can help.
Drop us a line. Maybe we’ll change the world together.