It’s that time of year where everyone is predicting the future — the best movies, books, fashion and even paint colors that everyone should look forward to. Forecasting technology trends for 2018 is particularly challenging. With that said, as the founder of a disruptive tech company, here is my read on what to expect in the year ahead, with a look at technologies that I believe will make a big impact.
Bitcoin reached record-high prices during 2017 and then its value tumbled more than a third in one day. It’s been a rollercoaster, and that isn’t about to change as it continues to capture people’s imagination in the early days of 2018, especially after word got out that Facebook investor Peter Thiel is betting big on Bitcoin.
The market right now is more bubble than wise investment. The rollercoaster will continue. People who jump on the bandwagon in the first quarter might see short-term gains, but a crash is coming once the exuberance starts to cool.
Bitcoin has become a store of speculative value more than an actual currency. The only difference (other than a price) in Bitcoin of 2008 vs. Bitcoin of 2018 is that in 2008, you could at least buy a pizza with it.
Meanwhile, some institutions are considering regulatory intervention, and altcoins like Ethereum and Ripple have made multiple billionaires and several millionaires. This has all the makings of the 2000 dot-com crash except that it is the average Joe who’s leading the speculative market rather than institutional investors. 2018 is going to be big boom followed by a big bust.
Blockchain, on the other hand, is a ground-breaking technology that will have as profound an impact on the world as mobile did 10 years ago.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has followed a cycle of awe, hype and underwhelming delivery since the 1950s. Futurists have overhyped and overpromised artificial intelligence for a long time. Consumers will see this play out once again in 2018. At the same time, it’s inevitable that some very promising uses for AI will also emerge in businesses that will make billions of dollars and have an impact on the economy and value chains.
Amazon Echo and Google Home devices are in more homes than ever, but today they are gadgets, not transformative intelligent devices. They are far from being able to understand even rudimentary sentences, let alone have an intelligent conversation. As necessary improvements take longer to get to market than consumers have come to expect from the mobile revolution, it’s inevitable that the AI revolution will seem like a long way away for most of us.
However, AI solutions are more suited to niche applications. For example, journalists, salespeople and marketing professionals will be the next groups to capitalize on smart AI systems to accomplish specialized tasks. In sales and marketing, we might finally see AI systems replace manual data entry, something that sales and marketing professionals spend an inordinate amount of time doing. That alone could save millions of dollars and free up knowledge workers to focus on the human tasks that machines cannot yet perform.
In short, as we start to achieve the potential of AI promises, it will start to feel that we are not going anywhere. A classic Trough of Disillusionment phenomenon.
Software As A Service
Claiming that software as a service (SaaS) is here to stay is probably the easiest prediction to make. The software industry now derives (at least it aspires to) most of its revenue from subscription-based services. In 2018, more big tech companies will continue to try and make the switch to SaaS now that others have shown that transition is possible and profitable. One need look no further than Adobe and its Creative Cloud for a roadmap of how to pivot successfully.
Other entertainment providers, meanwhile, have subscription services for access to music, video and other content as well as to their software frontends. Now that consumers and business leaders have become increasingly accustomed to subscribing to software, SaaS will continue to flourish.
Globally, venture capital hit record investment in 2017. While U.S. investment exceeded $81 billion last year, seed funding investment lagged. Anyone who is close to VC has already heard the nuclear winter warnings for seed stage startups.
For the last couple of years, investors have been cautious and have focused more on companies that are at least somewhat established and successful. At the same time, the returns and access that more established venture funds expected from their seed portfolios have not materialized. As a result, seed funding has languished. However, since there are still billions of uninvested dollars in pre-seed and seed investment funds, this is a golden opportunity for such funds to get into good deals at competitive terms. Not every idea will pan out, but nimble investors and businesses can capitalize on early successes.
Regardless if these predictions come to fruition in 2018, it’s important to remember that the business of technology is always in flux. While we cannot predict the future with certainty, business leaders who see through the hype and focus on the fundamentals will be around to reassess in 2019, in 2020, in 2025 and in 100 years from now.