The Digital Trends of 2018 and What Happened Next

2018 was an exciting year for the field of technology. Building on the successes and failures of 2017, companies threw their weight behind digital security and encryption.

The advent of the smartphone and other mobile devices have revolutionized not just how we interact with technology but how we interact with the world around us.

Many predictions were made about how information technology would transform in 2018. But as you might expect, such predictions should always be taken with a pinch of salt. There are always surprises around the corner, especially in the field of technology, and there are also times when technology does not move as quickly as one would expect.

Here are a few things that were believed to trend in 2018, and what really happened.

At the start of 2018, drawing on a lot of evolution in 2017, many tech experts believed that 2018 would be the year the AI would begin to accelerate. It certainly has been an interesting year for AI, but there hasn’t been quite the huge boom that some tech heads believed there would be.

“A lot of new artificial intelligence tech has been devoted to analysis and automation,” says Cheryl N Hauer, regular contributor to researchpapersuk.com and lastminutewriting.com, “Though it was a whirlwind of year for data analysis, with some very high profile news stories putting data security at the center of the public view, how AI interacts with our movements online continues to evolve.”

Through advanced data exchange when browsing, AI transforms what we see online, in terms of adverts, suggested content and recommendations.

Though this has primarily been useful for marketing and sales conversion, we are starting to see a greater amount of independent users such as bloggers and freelance writers utilize AI to extend their reach. The uses and abuses of AI in data analysis may have brought widespread concern amongst the public, but it has also opened it up to a wider field of users as a result.

Chatbots

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Another way that AI has evolved further is the increasing intelligence of chatbots. Using automated machine learning, chatbots learn through experience, meaning that the interactions we have with them improve each and every time we encounter them. Only a few years ago, the rudimentary AI chatbots or automated twitter accounts seemed absurd and often nonsensical.

But in 2018, artificially intelligent advisors consolidated their place as useful tools in customer service. At the beginning of the year, there were already clear signs that chatbots would become an important utility. Many predicted a meteoric rise in interactions with chatbots. Whilst we are not quite at a world-shaking percentage yet, our encounters with chatbots are increasingly natural and flowing.

Many finance companies and commercial sites now use chatbots as a standard support device, and frequently consumers will be unaware that they are talking with a robot throughout an exchange. These kinds of interaction will become commonplace as we roll on towards 2020, by which time some have predicted that chatbots will power up to 85% of customer service interactions online.

Voice Interactive Software

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One of the big movements in AI over the past couple of years has been voice interactive software. Alexa and Siri have continued to make their way into many homes, and voice command technology has become commonplace. One of the biggest events over the past year has been the unveiling of Google Duplex.

When it premiered as a demonstration in May last year, it caused both wonder and trepidation. The demonstration featured a blind test with someone having a conversation with Duplex – an seemed to not know they were talking with a robot. The video of this interaction featured the Duplex calling a hair salon to book a haircut, then an awkward conversation in booking a table at a restaurant. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this video went viral. Drawing on personal assistant technology, this kind of technology signals a radical leap forward in the effort to create natural interactions between humans and digital automation.

Though the rollout of Duplex has not yet been completed, the demonstration has effectively thrown down the gauntlet to other big tech companies to compete in intelligent interactive technology.

Augmented and Virtual Reality

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At the start of 2018, many were forecasting a huge rise in spending on augmented and virtual reality. Though the technology has been around for a while now, companies have struggled to utilize it. For many, the ideas behind the technology have been a mere novelty, not something that has any practical use.

Though some game companies have sought, in the past to harness the power of VR and AR, screen-based gaming continues to massively dominate. Gadgets like the Vive Pro brought a new layer of connectivity to VR headsets, the addition of the Vive wireless adapter in 2018 causing some interest.

Largely, though, there has been more movement in the field of augmented reality. Since the popularity of Pokemon Go in 2016 brought augmented reality into the public sphere, technology firms have found ever more inventive ways to utilize AR. Google Glass didn’t quite hit the market as they expected, but AR apps have taken off very well in 2018. What is interesting about these apps is just how many of them foster creativity or support learning. With these apps, people have been able to modify and edit their selfies in real-time, or play tabletop games with virtual characters.

This technology continues to advance in entertainment, but has an will also become a useful tool in learning as well as commerce. Combining both well-being and learning was the award-winning My Special Aflac Duck. This extraordinary innovation seemingly came out of nowhere, winning the CES 2018 award for Best Unexpected Product. It is a perfect example of the wider social benefits of augmented reality, having been developed as an interactive soft toy for children diagnosed with cancer. Along with being tactile and reactive through its sensors, it contains software which helps to educate and comfort children undergoing some daunting treatment. Though this isn’t commercially available, the Duck opens up the possibility of fantastic opportunities for AR in supporting health and wellness.

Visual learning

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Part of the revolution in augmented reality has been the ability to connect our cameras with the internet in real time. In fact, the nature of the camera on our phone has changed drastically over the past year. Our smartphone has become an opportunity to learn about our surroundings in ways that were the realm of science fiction before.

There are apps that utilize this interactivity between phone camera and the internet to help you learn languages, for instance, MondlyAR which became a popular Android App in March 2018. There was also the popular Anatomy 4D which will increasingly become an important resource for biology and anatomy students, offering a virtual insight into the workings of the human body.

Theodolite is another app which came out in 2018 that has an enormous real-world application. As a landscape surveying app, it enables users to interact with their surroundings in meticulous detail using geo-location. It also has uses in engineering and property surveying.

But we’re now starting to see other applications for this technology in the field of commerce. Roar Augmented Reality took off in a big way in 2018. We’re likely to see some competition to Roar, but it is perhaps the very thing that high street retailers have been either dreaming of or dreading. With this app, you can take photographs of all kinds of products and it will discover for you full, comprehensive information on any given product, brand or service. These kinds of apps have expanded greatly to not only include products and services but also property and automobiles.

The uses of phone camera based interactive technology were big news in 2018 and it will be interesting to see how the field progresses in 2019.

Social Media and Video Marketing

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2018 may just have been the year to push social media and internet-based video content over to the most accepted platform for marketing and advertising. The world of marketing has been remarkably slow to pick up on the usefulness and cost-efficiency of internet based marketing. Many would have predicted years ago that internet advertising would have superseded TV advertising by now, and it is somewhat surprising it has not.

However, we saw a huge take-up of social media and viral advertising in 2018. Though we’ve still yet to see big brands abandoning the expensive TV or print ad, (something which may not happen in our lifetimes) we are seeing a huge amount more internet content from bigger brands, indicating a recognition of the power of social media.

“The diversity of platforms in digital media, as well as round the clock accessibility has dramatically altered the market place in 2018,” writes Peter M Baker, writer at draftbeyond.com and writinity.com, “The fundamental guiding principle in digital marketing is an understanding that everyone has access, all the time, to multiple information flows.” Marketing experts are increasingly turning to sophisticated analytical tech in order to better understand their target demographics, even using AI to create Avatars of their ideal customers.

The nature of this advertising on the internet is changing. Twenty years ago, the internet was mostly text-based, whereas now we are expecting to see video replacing text and image as the most consumed content. Social media networks launched their live streaming services and we are now starting to see brands adopting the technology for their own ends.

Blockchain Technology

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One of the most dramatic stories of 2018 was the long-awaited crash of Bitcoin. The cryptocurrency had enjoyed years of steady growth which came to a climax in February when China banned Bitcoin. The resulting crash may have ruined the reputation of Bitcoin for a long time, and prices continue to fall even now.

However, though Bitcoin may have fallen off, Blockchain technology isn’t going to go anywhere. Industry leaders have pointed to the way in which Blockchain uses data as a reference for how the economics of the future are going to look. Countries and states have through their weight behind DLT-based structures, with a transition away from paper-based monetary systems to digital.

Blockchain technology is evolving naturally, as more and more operators come forward to compete. Eventually, there is likely to be standardization and collaboration between providers. Before this happens though, there is a need for credible backing. Bitcoin was a PR disaster for blockchain, but the technology is evolving. In some countries that, for instance, may not even have credit cards, blockchain technology will almost certainly be adopted as the internet becomes more accessible to a wider global audience.

For users, the structure of Blockchain will remain attractive going into 2019. The transparency and accessibility continue to give it an edge of trustworthiness that traditional currency cannot, but it may be some time before we see a wide scale adoption of it.

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