Every December I write a blog post looking back at the leading technology trends of the year. I first started doing this in 2004, when Read/Write Web was my personal blog. That was also the year “Web 2.0” was named, denoting the trend of using the Web as a platform.
There’s a connection, at least in my mind. What Web 2.0 was to 2004, blockchain was to 2017. As with Web 2.0 in ’04, it’s early days for blockchain. But I believe we’re seeing a new and significant Internet platform develop. Hence my top two picks.
One note before I begin. This year I’ve been writing a weekly column about technology; first on Newsroom and now on Stuff. So for each of the following five trends, I’ve linked to my recent writings on the subject.
1. Bitcoin & cryptocurrencies
If 2016 was the year of Virtual Reality, then 2017 has been the year of virtual currencies. The spectacular rise of Bitcoin and “altcoins” like Ether has certainly been the dominating storyline to end the year. But we’ve also seen cryptocurrencies challenge the status quo in various other ways this year; for example, ICOs have opened up a brand new funding mechanism for startups.
- Dec: Should you invest in cryptocurrency and ICOs?
- Oct: Bitcoin bottleneck continues to frustrate kiwis
- Jun: Bitcoin startups stalled by banks
Even more intriguing is the underlying technology that has fuelled Bitcoin’s growth. Blockchain is a new kind of Internet platform, one that emphasizes decentralization. In a year in which power on the Internet was further consolidated among the big 5 technology companies – Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft – blockchain represents a ray of hope for escaping the current digital oligarchy. We’re still in the infrastructure buildout era of blockchain, so we’re not there yet. But there’s a lot of future potential.
3. AI assistants
I had voice-activated virtual assistants as my #2 trend last year, and they’ve continued to evolve this year. Amazon’s Alexa is the clear market leader, but all the big Internet companies have them. Indeed one of the most interesting announcements this year was from Samsung. Powered by the developers of Viv (the same team that built Siri), Samsung’s Bixby 2.0 will enable AI assistants to be integrated into TVs and other household objects.
- Nov: AI assistants are the next computing revolution
- Oct: How New Zealand can thrive in the age of AI
- Aug: What to do when AI takes your job
- Jul: Holding algorithms accountable
- Mar: Why Google puts AI first
4. Social media backlash
Last year I said that social media had “jumped the shark.” This year many of us got out of the water and put shark repellant on. While I still find Facebook good for keeping in touch with family and (real) friends, and I continue to use Twitter daily for topic tracking, in general I’ve reduced my social media usage. Judging by the conversations I had about this over the year, many others scaled back their social media usage too.
- Nov: Curbing your social media addiction
- Oct: Twitter is an essential barometer of our times
- Oct: How Twitter went from banal to brutal
- Sep: We’ve created an online dystopia
- Mar: A dangerous new era in social engineering
5. Apple & Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality, or “mixed reality” if you prefer, has had a slower than expected delivery into the mainstream. Last year’s Pokemon Go craze was a big boon to the nascent industry, and this year Apple’s new AR-friendly iPhones were expected to be the next big thing. As it turned out, we’re still waiting for the breakthrough AR apps to arrive. Nevertheless, Apple’s entry into the AR world is noteworthy for the industry and augurs well for AR in 2018.
Those are my picks for the biggest tech trends of 2017. Let me know yours in the comments, or by @ replying me on Twitter.
Image credit: The Bitcoin Supper, an art work by Youl