With the start of a new year, FTI answers: What are the most important emerging tech trends that will radically transform business, governing and society in the near-future? We’ve identified 225 Emerging Tech Trends for 2018 plus 10 weak signals for next year.
Last year proved to be a restless nail-biter, and 2018 promises more of the same. Strap in, because you’re likely to witness a number of events that don’t appear to follow the familiar political, technological or business narratives.
At the Future Today Institute, we identify emerging tech trends and map the future for our clients. Yesterday at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, we launched FTI’s 11th annual Tech Trends Report, and in it we identify 225 tantalizing advancements in emerging technologies — artificial intelligence, biotech, autonomous robots, green energy and space travel — that will begin to enter the mainstream and fundamentally disrupt business, geopolitics and everyday life around the world. As of the publication date, the annual FTI Tech Trend Report report has garnered more than six million cumulative views.
- 2018 marks the beginning of the end of traditional smartphones. During the next decade, we will start to transition to the next era of computing and connected devices, which we will wear and will command using our voices, gesture and touch. The transition from smartphones to smart wearables and invisible interfaces — earbuds that have biometric sensors and speakers; rings and bracelets that sense motion; smart glasses that record and display information — will forever change how we experience the physical world. This doesn’t necessarily signal a post-screen existence. We anticipate foldable and scrollable screens for portable, longer-form reading and writing.
- Everyone should be paying extremely close attention to China. The Chinese government is investing hundreds of billions of dollars into artificial intelligence, genomic editing, green technologies and renewable energy sources, smart farming systems and space exploration. To be fair, China has previously failed to deliver on similar bold investments and promises. This time around could be different, given the industrial policies already in play and Chinese-led advancements we’re seeing across AI, genomics and renewables. China has been quietly and strategically acquiring U.S. tech secrets via joint ventures and minority investment structures, giving it a tactical business, geopolitical and military advantage over not just the U.S., but also Japan, Korea, and the E.U. No other country’s government is racing towards the future with as much force and velocity as China, and this could signal big shifts in the balance of geopolitical power in the years ahead.
- The artificial intelligence ecosystem — flooded with capital, hungry for commercial applications, and yet polluted with widespread, misplaced optimism and fear — will continue to swell. You will see the AI ecosystem represented in many of the trends in this report, and it is vitally important that all decision-makers and teams familiarize themselves with current and emerging AI trends.
- Policymakers won’t be prepared to deal with new challenges that arise from emerging science and technology. The tension between privacy and security will increase. As a result, we are likely to see regulations, rules and legislation that are either too restrictive or don’t acknowledge that science and tech are in constant motion. This could mean big problems for tech giants and startups alike — not to mention everyday citizens all around the world.
- In 2018, a critical mass of emerging technologies will converge. Every organization must look for connections between trends, rather than following individual trends themselves. For example, why should a company like Walmart pay attention to the future of CRISPR-Cas9? Walmart could become our primary source of affordable food in the future — or it could find itself disrupted by an agri-tech startup. (We explain why in the report.)
- Decentralization emerged as a key theme for 2018. Citing security concerns and infringements on intellectual property, some democratic governments around the world are restricting internet access and are banning certain content, effectively creating dozens of “splinternets.” Sweeping changes to data privacy regulations, called the General Data Protection Regulation (or GDPR), will take affect in the European Union this year. China is cracking down on virtual personal networks, while the U.S. debates whether or not to allow ISPs to collect and sell subscriber data, meter access and throttle connection speeds. All of this points to a new emphasis ways to circumvent traditional ISPs using private and peer-to-peer networks. How all of this plays out once our connected homes, cars, and wearables go online is still unclear.
Now more than ever, every organization should examine the potential impact of tech trends — and leaders must be willing to take incremental actions. Organizations must factor the trends in this report into their strategic thinking for the coming year, and adjust your planning, operations and business models accordingly. Failing to track trends in a meaningful way will put your competitive advantage, growth and survivability at risk.
Founded in 2006, the Future Today Institute helps leaders and their organizations prepare for complex futures. FTI focuses exclusively on how emerging technology and science will disrupt business, transform the workforce and ignite social and geopolitical change. FTI’s forecasting methodology has been featured in the MIT Sloan Management Review and in the Harvard Business Review, and it is taught at universities around the world. Learn more at www.futuretodayinstitute.com.