The Consumer Technology Association’s Innovate And Celebrate event has, over a few short years, developed into an incubator for disruptive technology companies and the start-ups that will provide the next wave of emerging technologies that will further change the business, and our lives.
At this year’s Innovate in San Jose, Calif., CTA teamed with Tech.co to identify the 50 most promising technology start-ups, hosted a keynote by a Stanford professor on the continuing development of machine learning and artificial intelligence, and presented research on what has become a highlight every year, the Top 5 Technology Trends to Watch for 2017.
Joining moderator Lindsey Turrentine, editor in chief of CNET, were Justin Fishkin of Local Motors, Dr. Jim Mault of Qualcomm Life, Meta Co.’s Ryan Pamplin, John Phelan of IBM Cloud’s Bluemix Garage and Ramamurthy Sivakumar of Intel Capital. The panel commented on each of CTA’s chosen technologies and provided insight into the technological developments that are making them possible.
The five technology trends to watch are:
1. Digital Assistants
The success of Apple’s Siri, Google’s eponymous assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana and most recently, Amazon’s Alexa, points to the continued development of the type of machine learning known as natural language processing. While these friendly voices attracted users from the get-go, consumers also learned that the technology is far from perfect, depending on the task at hand. Asking questions in a structured way that fit the pre-programmed algorithm scripts had a learning curve that frustrated some and the accuracy of the assistant’s answers varied greatly, based on the programming and cloud resources behind it.
But usage is steadily rising and users are becoming more satisfied with the results, according to a CTA poll of nearly 800 smartphone users. Among that group 72 percent said they have used a voice assistant and more than half reported using them at least a couple times a month. More importantly, the perceived accuracy of commands issued appears to be extremely high. Of voice assistant users, 80 percent said it accurately interpreted their commands most or all of the time.
Most importantly, digital assistants solve problems and make fairly routine tasks even easier, like texting or calling via voice while driving, turning on lights and appliances, regulating a home’s climate, searching for airfares, even ordering a pizza or summoning a car from Uber. And the explosion of IoT devices could lead to voice assistants being the ultimate hub for the management of previously uninteroperable home systems.
Meta’s Ryan summed up voice assistants’ potential. “The future of computing is less immersive, requiring less of our attention and freeing us up for more important tasks. Swiping an app or typing on a keyboard requires concentration. Speaking is the natural way we humans communicate. Once our digital assistants, through artificial intelligence, get up to speed, touchscreen apps and keyboards and even small dedicated two-dimensional screens could become relics of the past.”
2. Augmented Reality
While gaming and entertainment, including virtual reality headsets, are expected to lead the way to mass market sales, augmented reality’s true potential lies in the fact that it is the next logical step in computing. Just as voice-assistance technology simplifies interaction with our computers and IoT devices, AR devices in the form of eyewear are likely to create use cases where computing was either not possible, or at best, clunky. As Meta’s Pamplin explained it, “We experience the world in 3D, but up until now, our use of computers was mostly limited to two dimensions, contained by a flat stationary screen. With AR technology, computing becomes three-dimensional, which is the way our brain perceives and learns.”
Pamplin said that a perfect example of AR’s potential lies in the Chinese government’s commitment to implementing an AR-based curriculum in all of its schools in the coming years. “I had a Chinese official say to me, ‘We have more students in China than you have people in the United States.’ Education may be the killer app that captures a whole generation of kids.
“Think about it,” he continued. “A medical student is much better off learning about the human body by seeing and moving around it in virtual 3D.”
With companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, among many others, investing large amounts in AR/VR, the 3D computing revolution is approaching. Pamplin even predicted that in a few years smart glasses will gradually begin to replace smartphones as our primary portable computing device.
3. Autonomous Vehicles
The auto industry is where the smartphone industry was just before the iPhone — on the verge of a revolution in technology. Driverless car technology has the power to change our transportation networks. And perhaps more importantly, a national shift to autonomous technology could eliminate about 90 percent of the 32,000 or so vehicular deaths in the U.S. each year.
Driverless cars are going to happen and sooner than many thought possible. In the last two years, statements from manufacturers have coalesced around the widespread availability of fully driverless cars around 2020.
AR will play a big part in the driverless car experience and once all vehicles are connected through data sharing, capabilities will grow exponentially as algorithms that process all that data become more specifically designed for safety and efficiency. Do you have a 12-year-old child? There’s a chance he or she may never learn to drive.
4. Medical Technology
The consensus is that the digital healthcare disruption has already begun. Though current, consumer-facing devices have been available for years, we are approaching a crossroad, where in the years to come consumers are poised to wrest even more control of their health and personal data from the traditional gatekeepers.
The emergence of biometrics, bioprinting and embedded or implanted technology promises to revolutionize the medical and consumer technology industries. Meanwhile, health tracking remote monitoring and other technologies — facilitated by connectivity and the ubiquitous nature of sensors, threaten to upset traditional healthcare models.
What parent wouldn’t want to avoid a car ride to the pediatrician with a sick kid, to sit in a waiting room with a dozen other sick kids, not to mention the cost of the office visit, when they could scan their child, transfer the biometric data to the doctor and get an instant diagnosis and treatment plan? That’s the kind of everyday difference digital technology will allow.
Qualcomm Life’s Mault described the current state of health care as “haphazard, based on trial and error. What you’re about to see within 10 years is the explosion of IoT will itself explode into medical IoT. The data will start flowing as more devices are connected. Big data will yield pattern recognition and the end result will be, among many other outcomes, the very early recognition of symptoms, sometimes years in advance of illness.”
5. Sports Technology
CTA defines an athlete as any person who plays a sport. It can be recreationally or professionally, or just for fitness purposes. The current technologies for monitoring athletic performance are available to athletes at any level. Today we are seeing the first signs of what is to come in the world of sports technology. New products hitting the market will completely change how athletes train.
Biometric monitors are already giving way to smart clothes made from futuristic textiles that can monitor not only performance benchmarks like speed and distance but things like injury risk signs, concussions, hydration and exhaustion levels. Many world class athletes are already altering their training methods to study their own biometrics. The NHL and many college and pro football teams are training players using VR headsets to simulate game conditions.
On the other side, with technologies like 4K Ultra HD and VR, spectators will have a chance to increase the fan experience through interactive spectating and virtual attendance of events. A fan watching a game will be able to choose what he watches, from any angle he chooses, making him his own event director.