As this year draws to a close and a new one dawns, everyone takes stock of their past experiences and looks forward to new ones. At Tech.co, that means launching our annual roundup of the biggest predictions for what tech trends to expect in the new year.
But we can't just keep predicting things year after year with no accountability. In the past, we've warned of upcoming robot apocalypses and AI-powered dystopias. Just how likely are these guesses to come true, anyway??
Five years ago, in 2017, we predicted what would happen in the then-future year of 2018. Now, we've gotten back in touch with (some of) the experts we consulted back then to ask them a simple question: Did they get it right? Here's what those experts have learned five years later, along with our own assessments for each of the ten predictions we made half a decade ago.
Our 2017 predictions:
- Smart Home Technology Grows
- Biometric Security Rolls Out
- More Cryptocurrency Mining
- Cyber-Warfare Gets Deadly
- Continued Job Automation
- A Shift Toward Micro-Services
- More Monetization of Data Assets
- The IoT Gets Real
- AI Hits the Design Field
- We Need to Look at the Big Picture
We were all thinking about smart homes in 2017, with smart locks, smart desks, Roomba-style mops, internet-connected water filters, and more smart kitchenware than you can count all making appearances. Granted, some it didn't seem that necessary even back then, like the Bluetooth-enabled fork that's currently unavailable on Amazon.
But we've rated this prediction true because — even while the term “smart home” may have lost some of its buzzword trendiness over the last five years — smart home tech has kept evolving and remains popular enough that it's just considered normal tech these days. Voice-activated Alexa devices, smart fridges, and video doorbells don't even raise an eyebrow these days.
The industry is seeing consolidation, though, which will continue in the new year, according to robotics blogger Patrick Sinclair, who tells Tech.co that “2022 should see the launch of Matter, a unified smart home OS created by the combined efforts of Apple, Google, and Amazon, which will standardize the operations of smart home devices in the home, so they all play nice with each other.”
Another reason this prediction rings true is because the predictor took care to highlight the downside to the trend. Here's what Stephen Cox, Chief Security Architect at SecureAuth, said at the time:
“I smile every time one of my children ask our Echo an inquisitive question burning in their minds. Then, I put my security guy hat on and worry about the implications of connecting dozens of devices to our home networks, many developed by vendors lacking strong security discipline.”
Don't forget to consider the security implications of any new tech you bring into your home, as well as the privacy concerns regarding the data those devices pick up.
Biometric features were brand new in 2017, the same year that Apple's Face ID first debuted in a September demo. Cox predicted biometrics would take off, and they definitely have: I open my iPhone with my thumbprint roughly 500 times a day.
Cox even pointed out why we haven't seen any biometric-scanning doorbells yet. Because all solution providers will simply “leave the actual support (enrollment, storage, etc.) to the mobile providers and just leverage what they provide.” If Apple already has Face ID, why bother reinventing the wheel?
This is Cox's third and final prediction, and at this point we're forced to admit that he's the GOAT of 2017 predictions that have been proven true five years later. Cryptocurrency's valuations continue shooting wildly up and down, but the massive computer banks set up in locations with cheap electric bills have kept chugging along.
Cox was specifically taking note of hacked websites as a source of the CPU power needed to mine cryptocurrency, and that has indeed remained a problem for everyone on the internet. Just this past November, a report out from Google's cybersecurity team examined 50 recent cloud computing service hacks and found that a huge 86% of them were used to perform cryptocurrency mining. It's a “cloud resource-intensive for-profit activity,” the report helpfully explains.
Three-quarters of the hacks in that Google report were due to poor customer security or vulnerabilities in a third-party software — further evidence that you don't need to see the future to know that a good paid VPN is worth checking out.
One direction cybersecurity hasn't evolved, however, is towards outright death and destruction. Our expert's prediction from 2017 painted a picture of cyberterrorism, expecting to see people “injured or killed in 2018 due to a cyberattack,” as the field moves “beyond money and intellectual property to physical harm as the objective and outcome.”
Thankfully, our fact-check says otherwise. Cyberattackers have been very happy to stick to money as their end goal. There has been one pontential death to due cyberattacks in the past five years, when a ransomware attack on an Alabama hospital in 2019 shut down its computer systems. Possibly as a result of the digital displays not working, nurses failed to notice a fetal heart rate change that indicated a constricted airway, leading to the tragic death of a baby.
While cyberattackers haven't become terrorists yet, the potential impact of a ransomware attack is growing as fast as the attacks themselves, which accounted for 80% of all financial cyber crimes in 2020.
A lot of automation is perpetually on the way, but never actually here. Self-driving cars still can't self drive, while smart voice assistants aren't quite replacing flesh and blood assistants yet. So our expert's prediction that AI will start to take over job positions — insurance underwriters, tax clerk and credit analysts were named — hasn't really delivered.
Granted, artificial intelligence has kept evolving to fill in the tech-innovation cracks for plenty of industries, and we'll continue seeing new developments for decades to come. But in 2021, one of the biggest business stories is that of the depressed labor market. If AI were able to replace people's jobs to any meaningful degree, labor shortages wouldn't be one of the biggest concerns of the day.
Micro-services are small, custom-built apps that work with and around larger legacy software applications. They were popular in 2017, and they're even bigger today. Here's how TechRepublic explained the benefits of the tech in a recent article:
“Microservices allow disparate teams to collaborate on the same system without necessarily using the same tools (database, language, etc.). It also makes it easier to build highly scalable applications, because instead of having to scale one monolithic application, teams could break up these applications into smaller services, scaling each independently. As a bonus, each microservice would maintain state, unshackling the need of the associated application to run on a single machine.”
Granted, all those disparate apps can lead to a muddled infrastructure of different servers and databases that may be more trouble than it's worth. But there's no denying that businesses have found micro-services to be useful on the whole in the years since this prediction.
“Data monetization” refers to the process of a business maximizing the value of the data sets it holds. I gotta be honest, this is probably our most boring prediction in this article. It's no mystery that businesses exist to monetize their assets, and they've kept doing that in the past five years just as quasi-efficiently as they did before.
That said, determining the accuracy of this prediction is tougher than it looks. Data is still being used, but it's hard to judge if data monetization efforts have sped up since 2017, or if “establishing a proper data ownership model” has been given “more credence” as a concept, like our expert predicted.
The median salary for a data scientist in 2021 is hovering around $97,000 and hasn't changed much for five years, so while interest in data remains high, it doesn't seem to have grown a lot either. We'll count this one as true.
The Internet of Things isn't that different from the Smart Home at this point in time, as both terms just refer to internet-powered devices that offer a few perks more than their predecessors.
Jeff Kavanaugh, VP and Head at Infosys Knowledge Institute, gave me a statement in 2021, reflecting on this prediction from the past. He agrees that it has shaken out just as our tech wizards foresaw, saying that “IoT proliferation and affordability did indeed create a connected infrastructure that powered intelligent automation, and this foundation has made many use cases functionally feasible and economically viable.”
John Grimm of Thales Security even got a little more specific in our predictions article five years ago, saying that the hundreds of IoT platforms in existence would start to consolidate. He was right: Industry analyst Fredrik Stålbrand of Berg Insight went on to state in June 2018 that merger and acquisition activity had risen sharply and the market had entered a “consolidation phase.”
But it wasn't until 2021 that the number of IoT companies began to decline on the whole. According to research by IoT Analytics, 613 IoT platform companies were operating in 2021, a number that dropped just slightly from 620 in 2019, after years of steady increases.
This header encompassed two different predictors back in our original article, and we were able to get in touch with both of them to check one two very different responses. First up is Mike Fitzmaurice, Chief Evangelist and VP of North America at WEBCON, who foresaw that AI and machine learning would soon be “packaged and provided to the average end-user” in more accessible ways.
And now AI has indeed come a long way from a niche technology that required constant care and feeding from computer scientists to make it work, as Fitzmaurice explains it:
“Today, AI-driven services are available as general-purpose components from a variety of companies. Do you want to analyze text for keywords and general sentiment? Translate languages? We use it here at WEBCON for automatic forms processing and for pattern analysis to look for processes that have run amok. It’s all AI-driven now, and most people do not need to spend a minute understanding how it works. So yeah – I nailed that one.”
The other predictor, Mark Baldino, cofounder of UX design firm Fuzzy Math, had tougher luck. He anticipated the use of “tools for the design of AI as well a design language for it,” and we haven't really seen either.
Instead, Baldino reflected on a different type of growth in the design industry. Here's his full response:
“For the most part, my prediction has not come true. While we haven't seen any progress on tools to support the design of AI or a design language, we have seen the increased importance of ethical design practices. Ethical design is the advocacy of human needs superseding technology and commercial needs. Designers are taking the moral obligations of the design of products much more seriously and attempting to understand the human impact of their design decisions. For AI, designers are more aware that algorithms within applications focus on making products more ‘sticky' and more profitable. But there is a growing obligation to design products that benefit humans. So instead of AI helping designers, as predicted, designers now play an increasingly important role in ensuring positive impacts of AI.”
The intersection of AI and design may not have played out quite as anticipated, but it's definitely a fascinating field that still has surprises left for us.
We ended our raft of predictions for the future back in 2017 by going broad, with a note from Jeff Kavanaugh of the Infosys Knowledge Institute about the need for humanity to understand its own tech changes, rather than simply keep changing more. It's as true now as it was then, Kavanaugh noted when we got back in touch this year.
“Much has happened since the 2018 predictions… Yet they still ring true today. The pace of change continued to exceed traditional capacity to absorb, and companies had to dramatically change their ability to sense, act, and respond, like a living enterprise,” he says.
As 2022 dawns, take a moment to consider your relationship to the technology in your life. After all, staying present in your reality is just as important as predicting the future and sometimes it can be a lot more difficult.