Will 2017 Bring Us False Promises in Technology?

Will our connected home actually be more connected? How will tech work with government? We share our predictions (and needs) for the new year.

2016 didn’t shape out quite like we thought for many reasons (RIP childhood icons), but we’re keeping to tech to talk about what was predicted this time last year.

Last January, people were definitely hyped up on the excitement of chatbots and the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT). What can chatbots do for us? How far will this all really go? And don’t forget the self-driving cars. We thought those might take over the road and eliminate Uber driver jobs (then this happened). Oh, and VR. So much VR. From games, to sports, travel adventures, enabling experience-based empathy, and even pornography — VR had a lot of attention. We kind of thought 2016 would turn everyone into goggle-wearing fanatics.

They didn’t all get the momentum we expected, but there was definitely an impact on the tech landscape most obvious from the variety of products that came along. And while many of these products have been introduced to an immense level of fanfare, let’s be real — they’re still not exactly mainstream or common household products.

So of the industry predications and forecasts, what was most interesting last year? Really, it’s as simple as the advancement of IoT, which if you don’t know, is the internetworking of physical devices, vehicles, buildings, and other items — embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data. So, basically everything. But what stood out was the accepted presence of IoT in our connected homes.

We welcomed companies like Nest, Wink, and Phillips into our home. Google jumped in, releasing Google Home and so did Apple with iOS10 and HomeKit. Alexa keeps selling, and we keep talking to her. Some people even have smart curtains and automatic coffee makers. We can now perform a lot of simple tasks just by saying a command — reorder laundry detergent, text a family member, change the temperature, turn on lights, start some music, etc. But, that’s not really very exciting and not nearly what we anticipated.

We’re anxiously waiting for the moment when we can perform a series of independent tasks with all of these smart devices working together. Like, “Hey Alexa, I want some coffee” and bam, the Keurig starts and gives us a perfect ratio of foam to espresso, made especially for whoever is making the command because Alexa should know our coffee preference based on who is speaking.

Guess what. That technology is actually available (check out IFTTT and sign up) it just hasn’t hit the broader market yet — it’s more of a hobby hacker’s thing. But it’s poised to become the norm for anyone who can buy a $50 Echo Dot and gradually expand on the connected devices and sensors in their home. And this really is the gateway to the rest of the IoT ecosystem. Once we get a taste of talking to Alexa to reorder printer paper or to play our favorite song, we’ll be more likely to fork out the cash to buy that cool Nest thermostat, August Lock, smart light bulbs, and all of the other things we ogle over. And integrating these with your favorite and most used applications will probably be just a matter of time.

As these products begin to fill our homes and saturate the market, and developers tap into the technology with IoT and other applications, the data and usage will increase and the learning will improve. We know we’ll see more integrations, more connected homes, and more practical applications of the technologies this year — but, just how much and how far will it go?

What we need in 2017.

If we’re being honest, we’re expecting pretty gradual change amidst a lot of hype this year.

We’d love to see businesses and government catch up with technologies, and we’d love for people to support the adoption of these technologies.

That means that businesses and government need to understand what they’re regulating, restricting, and innovating on. And public policies should help sponsor the research, implementation, standardization, and funding for such things. Because truth be told, there will be major legal and cost barriers to any of these technologies really taking off. The roadblocks to wider adoption are less about feasibility or even cost, and definitely more about policies and business interests.

Think about it. We have the capability to stream any media anywhere, but licensing complications prevent us from being able to actually access what we want where and when we want it. Drones can deliver products within hours of placing the order online, but liability and privacy laws prevent this from being implemented in most countries.

We also need to have more honest discussions about the dangers of technology.

Product manufacturers and governments should require security standards on connected and IoT devices to have standardized certifications on security and user privacy moving forward. Something similar to the “UL” (Underwriters Lab) sticker on your appliances. It ensures that there’s a layer of safety assurance that prevents your internet-enabled toaster from burning down your house, for example. And we’re just talking about a smart toaster, think about the ethics of those self-driving cars.

As our industry continues to rapidly advance, in IoT and beyond, we need to ask ourselves — what’s the ideal relationship between government regulating and the tech industry creating?

In 2017 this conversation is critical — probably more than ever.

Leaders in tech are creating tools that change the pace of innovation. And innovation, over time, will eliminate jobs just as surely as it creates new ones. Technology that advances communication can enhance our lives in our ability to connect with friends and family, to become more efficient in our daily habits and work, and in our ability to spread messages more quickly and more directly. But those same technologies can create technological advancements that fuel war and terror.

Any entity that creates digital experiences or products are part of the IoT. Anything that connects to the internet and is inputting data should be expanding skill sets, implementing future technologies, and comprehending the possible ramifications — whether made for the home, or beyond.

We’re not saying that we agree or disagree with any of these things, but in 2017 we need to see some progress made in solving the non-technical problems that would allow technology to actually solve the technical problems — or, to at least make our lives more convenient and allow us to connect with people in more meaningful ways.

Thoughts from: Dan Connolly, Chief Executive Officer. Josh Demolar, Group Technology Director. Kevin So, Technology Director. Craig Nanaumi, Group Creative Director. Level is a purpose-driven digital design firm and we’re always looking for like-minded people to join our team.