Thursday, January 04, 2018

Have a Techie 2018

I recently worked on a couple of 2018 tech trends pieces for clients. One was a look at software applications in a specific vertical. The other was a bit deep-tech geekier – blockchain, digital mesh…

So it’s kind of fun to look at tech trends that will impact us consumer-civilians, in this case via the crystal ball of The Washington Post’s Geoffrey Fowler. Here’s what Fowler foresees for us, which he bucketed 5 reasons to be excited, and 5 reasons to worry.

First on the excited list is something that, okay, doesn’t excite me all that much, given that it’s automobile-related: the Tesla Model Three should start shipping in volume to the nearly 500K people who pre-ordered it. What’s the big deal with the Model Three? It’s really, really, really electric – souped up with all sorts of electronics. I’ve seen it described as a smartphone on wheels. Fowler’s “favorite Model 3 idea:”

It comes with the cameras, sensors and computing power it needs to eventually allow the car to drive itself.

Although I don’t have a car at present, and may never own another, I enjoy driving. So I’m not 100% eager to see self-driving cars. But a self-driven car that I’m riding in when I summon an Uber? Sure, I have sympathy for the Uber drivers that will be displaced come the autonomous car revolution – which is coming: Uber has placed an order for a massive number of those self-drivers – but still I say bring it on!

Half the people I know got an Alexa or equivalent for Christmas. I suppose I’ll fall in line at some point. But when I do fall in line, it won’t be with an Apple HomePod. I am not now, nor have I ever been – with the exception of an iPod in the way back – an Apple person. So while this is no doubt exciting info for Apple folks, again, I’m not all that excited.

Another thing that doesn’t excite me is augmented reality, which, according to Fowler, will be “going places” in 2018, thanks to an “AR headset from Magic Leap, a much-hyped start-up that has raised $1.9 billion in funding,” which Magic Leap is billing as:

A “lightweight, wearable computer that enriches your experience in the real world with digital content” — though to me it looks like a prop from “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

$1.9 billion. That’s some augmented reality, I’ll give you. And I’m sufficiently old-school that the real world experience is plenty enriched when you keep your eyes and ears open to what’s going on around you. I don’t need any digital content floating out there in the corner of my eye, thank you very much.

Back to Apple-ville, there’ll be support for wireless charging for the iPhone Well, yawn-y, yawn, yawn. I already enjoy wireless charging for my Android, thank you. But, but, but…

The tech to charge gadgets without plugs has been a non-starter for years because one very important brand was missing: Apple. But the iPhone maker just added wireless charging to the X and 8, putting its stamp of approval on a charging standard called Qi. Now coffee shops, furniture makers and car companies might be more confident about building wireless charging pads into everyday things. Let’s hope they do, because phone battery life isn’t improving nearly fast enough to keep up with how much we use them.

Fowler’s final exciter is the growth of digital subscriptions. He cites a Deloitte forecast that predicts that, by the end of 2018, half of all “adults in developed countries will have at least two online-only media subscriptions.”

Does subscribing to The Boston Globe and The New York Times count? Amazon Prime? Netflix? Paper + digital for The Economist? Despite being Spotify and  Hulu-less, am I actually ahead of the curve here? Now that’s exciting!

Mostly, the exciting things aren’t that exciting to me. But that’s because I’m a bit jaded about technology to begin with. So what about Fowler’s 5 reasons to worry?

Online political ads get more devious. Well, that’s certainly a scary thought.

Instead of just demographics, ads could use “psychometrics” — gleaned from how we use social networks and other data — to target us based on our mindsets and personalities. It raises a host of thorny questions about how technology, particularly social networks, can be used to manipulate us and divide society. Online ads may also still be a lure for foreign meddlers, though Facebook and Google have promised more disclosure about who’s buying political ads.

Having succeeded so bigly with the presidential race in 2016, I can only imagine the sorts of folks that Putin et al. will want in Congress. Good thing we can trust Facebook and Google to do the right thing, Oh, wait.

An equally horrible thought: the cybersecurity menace keeps growing. Two big sources of worry? Hackers going after all those smarty-pants gadgets that make up the Internet of hackable Things. And going after our voting systems.

My recommendation: Take an hour and change your password to something unique on every site with personal information.

It won’t do much about voting machine hacking, but it’s time to get one of those single sign-on apps going.

Dongles, dongles, dongles.

Dongle is the icky term for an adapter we need to connect things to phones and computers and proceed to lose at the bottom of bags. And it’s an icky part of gadget life that isn’t going away soon.

Things to do on a snowy day. (Which will be today.) Count my dongles.

Bad enough that you can’t look at anything online without an ad popping up for the item you bought yesterday. Worse still: AI will be getting smarter, and more judgmental. In addition to:

….making decisions about what we watch and read. It can even be used to create authentic-looking fake content that has a scary name: “counterfeit reality.”How might AI be used to judge our voices, faces, emotions — or even whether we’re worth hiring? Companies are starting to discuss AI ethics, but keeping this tech accountable will be hard because we won’t always recognize its invisible hand.

Counterfeit reality? Does this mean we’ll have counterfeit augmented reality? I think I’ll stay in bed with the covers over my head.

The final worrisome trend is that big tech keeps getting bigger. Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon…

Expect to see tech giants flogging their “social good” efforts in the year ahead, but our trust won't be restored by watching them act like benevolent dictators.

Since the flapper era, we’ve known – or thought we’ve known – that one thing we’re sure of, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In the meantime, in between time, ain’t we got fun?

Dongles don’t much bother me, but election interference, more hacking, judgmental AI, and way too big tech companies? Think we’ll have to rethink that “ain’t we got fun” piece. Not enough on the tech excitement list to outweigh the worries.

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