Technology trends in 2018

The following are, in my opinion, the top technology trends in 2018:

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)

Machine learning is a branch of artificial intelligence where computers apply statistical learning techniques to recognize patterns in data. In recent years, machine learning has probably been the hottest thing in tech industry due to more effective computational models such as deep learning and the horse power of computing technology that are fast enough to run these models. Until now, computers are only good at simple tasks by following step by step instructions programmed by humans. But with the help of machine learning, computers could be developed to solve very complex problems, which were thought to be too hard for machine or even impossible to accomplish.

In 2017, the AI program named "AlphaGo" developed by a Google's affiliate, the DeepMind team, defeated the world's top Go player. In the same year, Google brain team achieved a top-5 error rate of 3.57% on ImageNet Large Scale Visual Recognition Competition (ILSVRC), a large visual database designed for benchmarking visual object recognition software, whereas human top-5 classification error rate on the dataset has been reported to be 5.1%. Machine learning continues to be a disruptive force as industries shift towards data driven business and turn data into actionable insights.

Related areas of study: machine learning, artificial intelligence, statistics, numerical analysis, data science

Personalized Medicine and Genomics

Nowadays, personalization is everywhere on the web to better serve users. Healthcare also is moving towards more personalized medical therapies. Until now, most of the healthcare we received has been delivered in much more generalized fashion and often focuses on therapies that work on the majority of the population. Precision medicine is a newer concept to tailor treatments using more precise and comprehensive data from individuals, including environmental, life style and genomic factors. Studies indicate that "a substantial portion of variability in drug response is genetically determined, with age, nutrition, health status, environmental exposure, epigenetic factors, and concurrent therapy playing important contributory roles. To achieve individual drug therapy with a reasonably predictive outcome, one must further account for different patterns of drug response among geographically and ethnically distinct populations."

In 2015, the President Obama launched the "Precision Medicine Initiative". Its mission is to "enable a new era of medicine through research, technology, and policies that empower patients, researchers, and providers to work together toward development of individualized care." The initiative is now known as "All of Us" research program with the goal to collect a comprehensive clinical dataset on a diverse population of a million Americans. If successful, the dataset gathered from this research program will give the largest health dataset ever with which health researchers can to conduct studies by looking into how different environments and genes affect health and tailor treatments to individuals.

Related areas of study include computational biology and genomics.

Immersive Experience and Gaming

The next evolution of entertainment and gaming is believed to be in more immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Virtual reality brings the users to an artificial 3-dimensional environment where users' interactions are mapped to actions inside the virtual environment. In contrast, augmented reality is the enhanced view of a real and physical environment in which virtual elements are blended with the real elements. The introduction of affordable VR headsets such as HTC Vive and Oculus Rift allows the general public to experience what the immersive experience would look like in VR. Immersive technologies may eventually transform personal computing and improve the way we interact with machines.

Related areas of study: 3D modelling and game designs

Autonomous Cars

Another sector on the verge of technological disruption is the automotive industry. The speed of innovation in auto industry is tremendous and transformative with the breakthoughs in electrification, connected smart devices and now autonomous driving on the horizon. Smart cars driving themselves without human intervention are no longer fictional thanks to the advancement in computer vision and sensors. New technologies enable machines to drive cars as well as humans if not better. Every year more and more car companies, both startups and already established corporations, put their cars on the rods for getting real world data that fuels the autonomous software system getting better every year.

Waymo, a major pioneer in autonomous driving, has tested self-driving vehicles more than 5 million miles over different cities in United States since 2009. Last year, it launched a public trial of its autonomous vehicles in Phoenix, Arizona. After a few years, it is very likely that we are going to see autonomous cars commercially available to consumers. Recently Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Inc., promised new software features to its Autopilot system that is able to showcase fully self-driving capability from California to New York by the end of 2018. We are seeing a historic evolution of land transportation in the similar way as motorized vehicles drove horse-drawn carriages out of the roads around 1940 in United States. In the next 10 to 20 years, autonomous electric vehicles are predicted to replace existing gas-powered cars.

Related areas of study include computer vision, robotics and sensors.

Blockchain and Decentralized Systems

Bitcoin and its underlying technology blockchain have been a hot topic in recent years due to new possibilities to store and transact data in the unforgeable manner. Bitcoin is a decentralized and distributed ledger system based on cryptography, intended to be used as an electronic payment system based on cryptographic proof instead of trust usually granted by central authorities such as banks. With Bitcoin, transactions can be carried out peer to peer without any help from a third party. Bitcoin's original mission is to reach a stage as the digital currency alternative to the fiat currencies such as the US Dollar. Unfortunately in reality, it has been overhyped and overvalued by educated speculation from technologists followed by the fear of missing out from the general public. However, the ability to create such a trustless system based on cryptography is a technological breakthrough. As the hype around blockchain in the financial industry slows down and the technology evolves, we will likely see many more potential use cases in improving areas such as government transparencies, health information system, supply chains and other industries.

Related areas of study: distributed systems, computer security, applied cryptography and economics