Making guesses about the future is part of what makes life interesting, though we’re not always very accurate. Luckily, one thing we do know about the future is that AI will improve our guesses quite a bit. 5G mobile internet will make it a lot easier to find out about those guesses and will also kickstart the expanding Internet of things.
This could be a privacy and security nightmare but could actually end up with all our personal information safely stored and managed via blockchains on our own home servers.
The most exciting developments of 2019 and beyond will probably be the ones we don’t anticipate, but there are a few major trends that we can depend on to get a lot bigger.
We’re probably not going to have a fully-functional general AI by the end of 2019, but the narrow AIs we have now will be a lot more common. Self-driving cars and job-stealing robots are coming, but the foreseeable future is one of slow integration, using it to identify inefficient business processes, improve cybersecurity, do better data analysis, and automate a few more repetitive human tasks. You don’t need to be a cutting-edge researcher to use AI anymore, and the time is coming when “AI skills” will just be another way to beef up your CV.
The downside: eventually there is going to be an upset in the labor market.
5G has been hyped for a long time, but 2019 is the real deal: several manufacturers have committed to 5G-ready device releases by the end of the year, and several cities will have networks. That said, 5G likely won’t be widely available for a few more years. Only a few cities will have the option to use the blazing-fast mobile tech, and users will need phone upgrades before they can connect.
The downside: as with any new technology, there are bound to be some security concerns.
Internet of Things
Once 5G starts becoming the norm, though, it’ll make a lot more bandwidth available for the burgeoning “Internet of Things” (IoT). Mobile phones are just one part of the vast network of devices – sensors, RFID tags, and machines are already online, and with AI and wireless networks steadily improving, it’s only going to get bigger.
Self-driving cars probably won’t be mainstream for a while, but we already have cars that can send diagnostic information (tire pressure, oil levels, etc.) straight to your smartphones, and cities like Toronto are experimenting with “smart neighborhoods.” Whether it’s streetlights or supply chains, it’s a pretty safe bet that IoT will get bigger.
The downside: lots of potential security vulnerabilities, privacy issues, limited user understanding, and more.
It’s not just Bitcoin – blockchains are a fantastic way to keep track of information and streamline complex transactions. Cryptocurrencies will probably stick around in some form, but the biggest blockchain technologies we’ll see in 2019 and the years after will be large-scale corporate affairs.
It’s a highly flexible technology that can be implemented pretty much anywhere a large amount of transactional data exists: finance, supply chains, media rights management, the Internet of things, identity verification, and a lot more. While it’s gotten a lot of misguided hype, it’s ultimately just another technology, and it’s starting to find its place alongside traditional tech.
The downside: it’s not the easiest-to-understand technology, it’s not standardized, and it’s often less efficient than centralized alternatives.
We’re not about to enter a “Ready Player One” universe or get our smartphones in a contact lens, but VR and AR are getting better all the time. Gaming has been the first major market for this tech, but it’s also gaining traction in education, training, and marketing.
Whether you’re learning history, practicing surgery, or destroying zombies, you can get a lot more out of a fully-immersive environment. It’s a slow burn, and 2019 is unlikely to be the breakout year, but as the tech improves, prices come down, and practical applications continue to appear, it’s pretty easy to imagine a VR-powered future.
The downside: it’s still fairly expensive, a bit clunky, and has a reputation for mostly being a gaming platform.
Remember when “the cloud” was an exotic-sounding term? Well, welcome to “edge computing,” the buzzword that’s swooping in to replace “cloud.” The “edge” here refers to the networks and devices that are furthest from the cloud, like your smartphone. When you ask your voice assistant a question, for example, your request has to be uploaded to the cloud, processed, and returned to you. That journey creates a lot of lag time, puts some strain on the server doing the work for you, eats up bandwidth, and ties a lot of your device’s functionality to an internet connection.
With IoT devices continuing to proliferate, it will probably be a lot faster, more private, and more secure to store and process more data locally. Decentralizing the cloud by putting more data storage and processing power on the local level (in neighborhoods and individual homes) may take a while, but it’s already on the radar and is pretty likely to be a long-term trend.
The downside: local security vulnerabilities, challenging to coordinate, increased corporate control over your devices.
The Future Comes Slowly
Humans aren’t great at grasping large time scales. Most of the major technological innovations we think of as being modern inventions actually took quite a bit of time to build and distribute. The Internet took a long time to be fully realized, and even smartphones didn’t go mainstream for a while. Technology moves fast, but actually integrating it into our daily lives and physical infrastructures takes time. There are undoubtedly going to be some big things coming along in 2019, but a lot of the trends we see now will still be trends in 2020 and 2021. The game doesn’t change – it just evolves.