The Tech Trend landscape of 2018

Trends don’t change overnight, and they don’t change year over year as well. Instead, they evolve over time, slowly or rapidly.

Sifting through dozens of postings about technology trends for 2018 (and beyond, because that’s what you add these days to stand out from the crowds), two things occurred to me: First, there doesn’t seem to be anything really, really new out there. Most 2018 trends are simply the same trends we have been dealing with here at NEXT for the last couple of years. Some of them have been slightly refurbished, but that’s what you would expect from a fast-moving industry like tech. Secondly, it feels a bit odd to talk about trends for next year at the end of a year when covering trends is what you do year in and year out.

Trends don’t change overnight, and they don’t change year over year as well. Instead, they evolve over time, slowly or rapidly. Gartner has a long-standing tradition observing these movements through their hype cycle model, which has its limitations. To its merit, the hype cycle deals with trends not only while they are hot, but also during drought periods. Some trends are quite short-lived and disappear after one year or two, others are real long-term trends. Besides, Gartner happily mixes hardcore technology trends, like edge computing, with more application-oriented ones, like connected home.

With our focus on the user, the customer and, in 2017 terms, the human, we are more interested in the latter group of trends. Technology trends are important to us as far as the user (customer, human) is concerned. Peering into 2018, we are looking for the kind of trends that Isobar predicts in their 2018 trend report titled Augmented Humanity. In their eyes,

technology enhances and scales our most human attributes. In 2018, technological interfaces will become more natural and instinctive, technology will automate repetitive tasks to free up time for creativity and compassion, and artificial intelligence will meet emotional intelligence.

To me, it seems a bit of a stretch to expect all these things from a single year, but the overall picture is something I can agree with. There is a long-term trend towards ever more natural and instinctive interfaces, from the punchcard to the terminal, to point-and-click with the mouse, the browser and the web, multitouch and now voice control, virtual and augmented reality. This isn’t going to stop anytime soon.

Likewise, automating repetitive tasks has been going on at least since the first industrial revolution – you can even think of Gutenberg’s printing press as a means to automate the repetitive task of producing copies, and that was more than 500 years ago. The challenge always was how to use the freed up time in a way that people still can earn their bread and butter. Creativity and compassion are great, but do they pay the bills? The Isobar folks believe that emotional intelligence is what separates humans from machines: “The power of being human is in empathy. This cannot be automated or outsourced.” I tend to be of the same opinion, but perhaps emotional intelligence can be simulated?

What else? I go along with Bernard Marr’s trends forecast: The big data explosion will continue, as will the rise of the internet of things (IoT), and the exponential growth of computing power according to Moore’s Law, with quantum computing as a possible successor to integrated circuits once their further miniaturisation runs out of steam. Artificial intelligence won’t go away either, but instead take over more and more tasks from humans, driving automation up to new levels and changing (replacing, augmenting) more and more jobs. This can affect half of today’s jobs, if not more.

3D printing seems to be anything but dead, instead it might remake industries like manufacturing in profound ways. New interfaces like voice, virtual and augmented reality will change how we interact with technology and businesses. Likewise, blockchain technology shouldn’t be underestimated. The Bitcoin hype of 2017 might lead to disaster or to new, unknown heights (who knows?), but Bitcoin is only one of many possible applications of blockchain technology. We’ll see way more. And the platform economy is another megatrend that will continue for the foreseeable future. All of these nine trends have been the subject of NEXT for the last couple of years and probably will continue to be.

Deloitte paints an IT-heavy, enterprise-centred picture of pretty much the same bunch of trends in their annual Tech Trends report. These folks use their creativity mostly to come up with fancy buzzwords like the “symphonic enterprise”. What’s really funny is their take on treating robots and AI as our work colleagues and developing HR programmes for them. At least that’s an innovative approach.

Our real, flesh-and-blood colleagues from Fjord released their annual Trends 2018 just a few days ago. Not surprisingly, they view the trends landscape from a design perspective. Computer vision, the ability to understand images and to interact with humans in a more human-like way, is one of Fjord’s additions to our list. Others, like the rise of the algorithms as gatekeepers between consumers and brands, are not really new, though they are gaining importance with new interfaces like messaging, chatbots, and voice. And the ethics economy, stressing that brands increasingly take political stances, is not a tech trend at all, but a broader societal and political issue.

To sum things up, we are probably not too far off the trends grid with topics like digital humanism, human experience and AI-first, to name a few examples. We’ll continue to explore the scenery in 2018 (and beyond), and that’s something you can look forward to. At least that’s what I do.

Disclaimer: NEXT is hosted by SinnerSchrader and FAKTOR3. SinnerSchrader is part of Accenture Interactive, who also owns Fjord and is a premium partner of NEXT. Deloitte is a competitor of Accenture, and Isobar is a competitor of Accenture Interactive.  

Photo by Jan Kršinar on Unsplash