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The year ahead for technology by Alex Paquin, managing director of Nomads

In 2018, I believe we’ll see the early applications of new underlying technologies and user-interfaces that will characterise an entirely new era of inter-connectivity and, over time, come to define how human beings interact with our environments – directly, and through non-human intermediaries. Here are some of the predictions that will power that outcome this year.

Voice becomes a primary interface
Voice control has been a staple of tech keynotes and product demos since Apple introduced Siri in 2011. However, seven years later, the technology is just now becoming more than a novelty that can tell you the time or skip to the next song. Recent advances in natural language processing have seen a spike in product functionality, and the markets are responding. Tens of millions of voice-enabled devices were shipped last year, and people are integrating them into their daily lives – shopping, managing schedules and controlling their smart home appliances. In 2018, the walls of the smart home are coming down, and voice control will spread to our cars, our offices and, of course, retail environments.

Smart contracts remove the need for human oversight
In 2018, we’ll start to see the real potential of smart contracts powered by the blockchain. Connected objects will be able to communicate and interact without the need for fallible (and morally flexible) humans. Smart contracts are basically self-executing programs distributed on the blockchain so they can’t be changed or cheated, allowing transactions between trustless parties. Using smart contract-enabled blockchains, such as the Ethereum blockchain, will allow internet of things (IoT) developers to start programming appliances and environments to autonomously interact “robo-à-robo”. Imagine, for example, that your rooftop solar panels have their own crypto currency bank account, and they’re programmed to sell excess energy to your neighbours’ connected home power grids and deposit the profits in your personal bank account.  That’s just the low-hanging fruit of what’s possible with a few lines of code in a blockchain-backed smart contract. The need for human oversight has been the weakest link in progressing countless daily tasks and services. Smart contracts may be the key to automating and innovating many of them. The technology has the potential to be an enormous game changer to the value proposition and business model of almost every product and service imaginable.

There’s an AI for that
The proliferation of connected devices and strong conversational interfaces (Alexa, Cortana, Siri and Google Now) has created a unique role for AI assistants as intermediaries between ourselves and our environments. As we speak to them, they are building a complex understanding of our personal preferences. Soon they won’t ask you what you want; they’ll anticipate what you need and act accordingly. That environmental priming will bring a new level of personalisation to nearly every aspect of daily life – from the temperature of your shower to the lighting in the room when you switch from watching TV to reading your Kindle, to the dietary options you’re presented with when grocery shopping. Smart brands will understand which environmental conditions people will expect to be dynamic, and look at those opportunities for value innovation.

Your universal biological password
Today, here’s how you purchase tickets to the latest blockbuster: log in to your web account, select your tickets, type in your credit card number, prove you’re human, try again, type in the security code, look for another code in the SMS you just received, open the email with your QR code, and show those to a human with a scanner at the turnstile. Seamless, right? Those layers of protection and security all stem from one problem – “how do we know you’re you?” In 2018, we’ll start to see these layers collapse with the integration of advanced biometric verification. With the latest suite of devices, your identity can be confirmed seamlessly via fingerprints, facial recognition, and soon voiceprint. For example, while ordering groceries via a voice-interface, rather than asking you to verbally provide a code to confirm your identity, near-future voiceprint tech will be analysing your voice throughout to automatically confirm your identity. And, for added security, it will be able to cross-check the current analysis with its database of your previous commands to ensure that no one is trying to maliciously use a recording of you. Innovations like this will pave the way for tonnes of new opportunities to move a customer through transactional experiences without interruption.

Privacy becomes a brand selling point
While privacy isn’t a new topic in the age of the internet, the risks and concerns will skyrocket in a fully connected smart life. In a world where every device will be watching, listening, connected – and hackable – users will pay a huge amount of attention, and likely a financial premium, for a brand’s reputation in keeping their data secure. While some notable hacks of 2017 include the Equifax data heist, where criminals stole the personal financial data of 145 million people, and WannaCry, which hit 300,000 machines across 150
countries, we also saw some high-profile companies reveal they had been hacked in the past, including Yahoo and Uber. Brands that want to be ready for tomorrow’s privacy-sensitive consumer will spend a lot of time today simplifying privacy control settings and investing in data-security measures. Putting data-security concerns at the forefront of their brand promise will become table-stakes for businesses just as much as other contemporary values, such as “sustainability”, have been in recent years.