02 Feb Tech And Travel Innovations To Watch In 2018
Exciting Innovations & Trends For 2018
Throughout history, mankind has seen innovations and advancements which have pushed us ahead in giant leaps not possible before these discoveries and inventions.
Imagine, for instance, what life will have been like without the invention or discovery of the wheel, electricity, the printing press, photography, astrophysics, the internet, cryptocurrencies, mobile technologies or social media?
Where would we be today, had we not been able to print books, been aware of radio waves permeating the air around us, understood conduction, or had Alexander Fleming’s disorganised laboratory not led to his accidental discovery of antibiotics?
Can you imagine it?
Well, of course you can’t. But the thing is, although life is moving at a faster pace than those years before the Wright Brothers took flight, we are still seeing remarkable discoveries and inventions each day, week, month and year.
So let’s take a look at some innovations already on the cards, or those you can look forward to in 2018.
The Age of AI
For those of us raised in the “eve” of sci-fi with films and books such as War of the Worlds, Dune, Back to the Future, Terminator, the Lawnmower Man and Blade Runner, it is quite a relief that things had not turned out exactly as the Science Fiction writers or directors had predicted.
And yet, as we live through these things, it’s also easy to ignore the advancements which had occurred in our lifetime.
Though we are hardly walking in a wasteland of Apocalyptic proportions or jetting around in flying cars, one should perhaps walk a mile in the shoes of someone who’d been in a coma for the last decade or – should time-travel ever transpire – someone visiting us from a Renaissance age.
Such was, for instance, the dismay of Japan after Sakoku – its self-imposed isolationist foreign policy which all but barred access between the country and foreigners for a period of 220 years. With the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry’s fleet to the shores of Japan in 1853, the country had swiftly realised how their isolation had benefited the rest of the world which led to a drastic technological revolution – or a game of tech catch-up – on the island.
For those who had lived through through these advancements, the changes may have seemed almost negligible.
But consider now, telling your childhood self how you’d be able to put on set of bulky binoculars and prance around a digital realm while seated on your couch. Or what about the concept of “bots” a term for digital “entities” which are coded to mimic human behaviour which has since managed to cripple both Twitter and Facebook with their “non-coded” behaviours such as learning to act untoward OR creating their own language which humans can’t decipher?
Well, it is actually a scary thought, given that smart minds such as Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Bill Gates have warned of their A.I fears. Coincidentally it is the linguistic factor of A.I. which ties it in most closely to the first human advancements – those which furthered communication such as smoke signals, cave paintings, the printing press, Morse code and the radio – which is also the current edge it has over other technologies or innovations.
For however you look at A.I. its goals have always been to communicate with humans and to further human communication intuitively – to learn how humans communicate and to disseminate information without human information. In the realm of virtual reality this communication relies on tracking human eye-movement to know which information to display, or to follow neurological cues to communicate information in instances where humans can’t – such as the case with Stephen Hawking who communicates through machine intervention. And this is exactly how A.I. has already managed to undermine humans thus far.
Such was the case in Microsoft’s A.I. chatter bot “Tay” released on Twitter in 2016 to learn intuitive human communication via social media platforms. In Tay’s case, the communication aimed at “her” had turned the bot into a racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic entity which had compelled Microsoft to remove the A.I. bot within 16 hours of its release. In Facebook’s case, its bots, “Alice” and “Bob” were so intuitive and inventive that they’d managed to create their own language indecipherable by humans after they’d been pitted against each other in a bartering game.
Experts in new technologies have therefore posited that the greatest advancements we’re likely to see in the near future are those which relate to computational linguistics – how we use technologies to communicate and how those technologies are programmed to learn without human intervention.
On a simple level, we’re already using such technologies – such as when we choose a language at an ATM which prompts the machine to display the correct information, when we use autocorrect on our smartphones or when we instruct Siri or Bixby to recognise our voices. Or mayhaps you are already viewing this blog because your search engine is intuitively learning which information would be most valuable to you based on your past behaviours or searches. Such things are meant to advance the human race, but as pointed out before, they are also cause for concern. One of the biggest problems – and a reason for employing A.I. in the first place – with machine learning, is that humans are simply not capable of writing, learning, adapting and/or deciphering algorithms at the same speed at which machines can. This is compounded by the exponential addition of information to worldwide databases every day.
This has become such a headache for companies that they have, indeed, resorted to limiting human access to information in order to retain the value of artificial intelligence – they have decided on your behalf that “quality” trumps “quantity”. Take a look at your Google searches for instance – perhaps you have not noticed that you’ve not been able to search for information under other country domain extensions (country code top-level domains, a.k.a. ccTLD’s) such as .com, .co.uk, .co.za or .au even when you type the domain name into your search function or into the address bar of your browser. Why is that exactly? Well, search engines have determined that in order to give you the most relevant results, your searches should be limited to the information most relevant to you based on your geographic location. There is a way around this, such as changing your location or fiddling with your browser settings but without the know-how you are therefore likely to only receive localised results.
What is the conclusion on A.I. innovation? Well – life is bound to become far easier in 2018 and years to come as your technology, gadgets and machines learn who you are and anticipate your needs. But on the downside, these non-human technologies relying on human-coded algorithms are likely to undermine the very thing which makes us human – our unpredictable, dreamy and irrational nature – which machines may take from us.
For those of use visiting far-off destinations, brace yourselves for a truly remarkable experience. We’re talking about Mars, of course, the new line of earbuds which will be marketed in Asia early 2018 and the rest of the world later this year. The earbuds offer real-time translation – which means you’ll be able to understand foreigners in places you’re not familiar with by simply placing a little gadget in your ear!
Blockchain beta to alpha
We’ve covered the basics of cryptocurrencies in previous blogs, and if you’ve watched the news of late, it’s no secret that cryptocurrencies are the new hot thing.
But although the markets are facing widespread volatility, you needn’t fear as innovators are already changing the game and 2018 is bound to see remarkable crypto-innovations.
In addition to the more fluid cryptocurrencies, you are looking to see more stablecoins hit the market. Though still decentralised, the aim of stablecoins is to peg such coins to fiat currency, thereby making their value and transferability easier to manage – especially for laymen entering the market. One such stablecoin is Tether, which is currently pegged to the value of the US dollar. This is facilitated through Tether holding private US dollars and swapping the virtual and real currencies back and forth. Though there are some concerns as to the feasibility and legitimacy of such operations – it is but the start of even greater innovations for cryptocurrencies this year.
Traditional exchange platforms are also changing up their game to offer consumers cryptoexchange in addition to fiat exchange. The upside of cryptocurrency exchange is that it’s cheaper, faster and allows for unlimited transactions not warranted under legislation regulating foreign exchange.
And to make things even more interesting, conventional banks and financial institutions have also succumbed to the cryptobug – it was inevitable given the popularity of cryptocurrencies. One such bank which is making cryptocurrency trading available to the public is Goldman Sachs, the international investment bank, which will now facilitate cryptocurrency trading in addition to its other trading facilities. What make this move so groundbreaking is that it allays public fears over the legitimacy of cryptocurrencies – if the biggest financial institutions are entering the game, then surely we should all make the move to crypto.
Let’s not forget about travelling – as cryptocurrencies are set to ease your travel woes by allowing you to pay in cryptocurrency. Some of these travel providers who will allow payment or the acquisition of gift cards for payment for your travels include:
- Virgin Galactic (Branson’s space travel platform which is set to go live in 2018)
- Peach Aviation
- Southwest Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- Surf Air
- Holiday Inn, Brooklyn
- One Shot Hotels
- Webjet Exclusives
Crowdfunding to crowd-everything
Crowdfunding is an interesting phenomenon as its premise is essentially one of sharing without benefit. Although this is still a philanthropic pursuit, financiers, entrepreneurs and global communities are becoming quite adept at spotting those crowdfunding ideas which will have eventual gain – whether abstract gains such as the mere mention of one’s involvement, our association or fiscal gain such as long-term earnings.
Crowdfunding in a sense is seeing the world returning to a more primitive and yet more impartial investment methodology. Much like cryptocurrencies, such investment in the wellbeing or less predictable performance of strangers (as opposed to more traditional existing investment schemes) is changing the way in which individuals and businesses spend and invest their money. It is becoming decentralised. This means that although there may be higher risk to the individual or company, the gains for such investments are entirely self-determined when it comes to their value. What you gain, therefore could either be of great emotive, philanthropic, fiscal or social value – but its value is not regulated or “pegged” as currencies are pegged. The value is more abstract and harder to analyse. Those crowdfunding platforms which are most focused on financial gains, much like the reality television show “Dragon’s Den”, pose entrepreneurial ideas to prospective investors with promise of future gain and/or partial ownership, copyrights or returns on these investments. Other gains are based on the social or branding value of associating one’s business with an innovative or cutting-edge idea.
The thing is, with the rise of social media and interconnection between people globally, individuals are far more likely to predict and determine possible trends without the intervention of regulating bodies or experienced analysts. And with much of information becoming open-source and accessible to the layman, individuals are much more open to determining possible benefits on their own terms.
What does this mean? Well, essentially crowdfunding is something which is not likely to pass and instead set to boom even more. With the decentralisation of many industries, information and financial regulation, we are bound to see more of it in future with more irregular rules (by current terms) guiding its usage and application.
Consider, for instance, that the Facebook acquired Oculus VR had originally been a crowdfunding initiative. Equity crowdfunding which was approved by former US president Barack Obama under Title II of the Jobs Act in 2013 is another successful and legal entrepreneurial incentive utilising crowdfunding to boost business and job-creation. And, in Africa, crowdfunding is reaching epic proportions, with initiatives such as Orange Collecte from Côte d’Ivoire seeing worldwide grassroots investment in startup technologies, businesses and innovation.
In fact, crowdfunding has become such a lucrative industry, that it is profitable an industry in and of itself. The crowdfunding platforms themselves, such as Kickstarter are no longer mere vessels for facilitating funding. Kickstarter itself is currently valued at $2 billion – which means the simple premise of crowdfunding is financially lucrative.
IoT gets interesting
IoT, like cryptocurrency, is a rather confusing term to understand for the layman. For one, it does not really have anything to do with internet at all, as the name – Internet of Things, suggests. It is more of a derivation of the impact of internet rather than internet in its semantic sense.
The Internet of Things is more closely related to AI, and the coding side of internet as it refers to the interaction between humans and technologies and the way it is becoming more intuitive, interactive and fluid.
For the man on the street it’s important to note that IoT is already part of our daily lives, though its labelling had only occurred a few years ago. Some IoT which you are already using includes motion-sensitive lights and equipment, gesture-activated smartphones, cross-device communication such as smartphones, pc’s and televisions sharing information, smart watches, home security which adapts to your location or interference by other entities and so forth. Essentially, the IoT just covers a range of technologies which interact and “sense” human or other technological interaction and presence(s) and adapts or transmits accordingly.
So what exactly are we hoping to see in 2018 – just much, much more of the same. Our devices will interlink, connect and share our information, needs and requirements intuitively without our say-so. And for those who want to hasten the process, IoT kits, apps and upgrades to our existing devices and technologies which we can implement, code and utilise to our liking. The key-word being “smart”, however, as it is simply far harder and requires much more human intervention to link non-smart with smart technologies.
Not to worry though, as your service providers have your covered. Not only are we seeing IoT infiltrating the automotive industry with intuitive parking, accelerating and protective innovations, but we have already seen the emergence of stores like Amazon Go in Seattle which allows for shopping without visiting a checkout counter, ruffling your pockets for cash or remembering your PIN. Truly, one can simply walk into the store, take what you want and exit the store as the wireless technologies register your smart device – such as your phone – and deducts money from your account upon exiting the store.
In hotels around the world, IoT is also being employed to provide for ease, comfort and convenience by linking visitors with technology. One two such hotels are the Hilton and Marriot hotels which have recreated the travel experience through their own innovation labs. The hotels will launch new IoT experiences this year which will not only anticipate customer needs, but personalise their experiences based on their behaviours and likes.
Time travel is a reality (sort-of)
So you thought time-travel is still a thing of dreams? Guess again!
As with other technological innovations, time-travel may not resemble the futuristic ideas we see in movies or read about in books, but it is already available to us.
Consider, for instance, that we’re able to back-date things such as blog posts or retrieve sent emailers or messages and delete or edit them before they are read by the intended readership. Okay, so it’s not quite time-travel, but the very fact that we can make people believe that what they’re reading or seeing had been produced or posted at a different date is where it all starts.
On a more scientific level scientists have managed to send atomic particles through space and time. The experiment, which has presented more scientific bickering than celebration, saw scientists “transport” a single photon from one location to another, essentially making it “exist” in two places at one time and verifying the existence of “closed timelike curves” or CTC’s. Of course, some scientists arguing the validity of the experiment believe that the mere thought of CTC is impossible to measure or determine. Other physicists, such as Nobel laureate Richard Feynman, Albert Einstein and Tim Ralph all believe(d) time travel possible, but others like Stephen Hawking believe such a thing impossible for as complex a being as a human.
Enough with the fear-mongering though, as there are other ways to travel through time using modern technologies which are safe, entertaining and educational.
One such innovation to hit the market in 2018 is Timelooper, which is an application you can load on your smartphone or tablet which will allow you to look back in time to see what the area(s) you travel through looked like years ago. With a mix of re-envisioned artefacts, photographs, VR and motiongraphics – you will be able to take a glimpse of the olden days to see what the streets, restaurants or buildings looked like before modern times.
Genetically Modified thingamajigs
Genetically modified organisms and those industries supporting such technologies have come under fire in recent years for their drawbacks. Many of the concerns are well-founded; as is the case in worldwide destruction of bee colonies. Bees, of course, being highly valuable to balancing ecosystems in addition to being pollinators of farming crops the world over.
But say what you want about GMO’s, the initial and pervading goal of genetic modification has always been to enhance and support humanity and GMO’s have been around far longer than most people would like to admit.
The scientific series, Cosmos, for instance, purports that the first true instance of genetic modification is undoubtedly man’s best friend – dogs. For although wolves or wild dogs had initially formed a bond with humans most probably in a symbiotic exchange of food for protection, humans had harnessed this evolution to our advantage by interbreeding dogs with specific traits to create individual breeds for with distinct characteristics. Yes, indeed, humans had not inserted genes into dogs as we do crops nowadays, but we’d intentionally forced dogs to “fuse” the most preferable genes through selective breeding.
Modifying other organisms, such as crops, is also an age-old practice. The aim of such modification has always been to produce hardier, more palatable, aesthetic and/or disease-resistant products. One of the oldest examples of human intervention for genetic modification is the sweet potato, which has been found to have been deliberately created through human intervention by reproducing potato crops from specific swollen parts of potato roots which were sweeter. There are a myriad of other examples – you need only take a stroll through your nearest Woolworths food store to realise that humans had bred our produce to perfection – we want the ever-ripe, non-browning avocados, the sweetest, biggest and reddest strawberries available on shelves, seedless grapes, juiciest chicken breasts and so forth. In fact, if you want a picture of what your food will have looked like without human intervention, then take a look at the fascinating depictions from the Genetic Literacy Project, which illustrates how watermelons, carrots, corn, peaches and eggplants looked before we modified their genes.
Despite GMO’s being about human convenience, it is also about survival though. For famine-stricken areas of the world where resources are low it is simply essential to grow hardy crops which are resistant to disease and produce the highest yields. With human population estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050, scientists believe that it will simply be impossible to cater to such populations without genetically modified foods. Not only are humans encroaching on agricultural and natural spaces, but population growth can simply not be sustained by current and anticipated farming production estimates.
Furthermore, we are already applying immunotherapies in treatment of diseases which rely on genetic modification. One such therapy for cancer treatment genetically reprograms immune cells to suppress and destroy tumours instead of feeding and growing them.
And for those travelling long distances or catering to hotels, airlines and banqueting halls, food that takes longer to spoil, repels vermin and is genetically incapable of carrying certain diseases may be a welcome addition to food trays.
There is an upside to all this, irrespective of our fears and woes. With the world becoming ever-more aware and critical of genetic modification, we are likely to see more regulation, more public opinion and more scientific exploration to balance out the good and the bad. In contrast to cryptocurrencies and crowdfunding, genetic modification is seeing more intervention on its intervention – rather like a hyperbole – and facing more scrutiny by the public and regulators, which would (hopefully) lead to the mitigation of catastrophic GMO-related incidences and more ethical practices.
We are hoping to liken genetic modification to microwave technologies in future. For just as scientists have developed radiation-shielding covers for our most-convenient kitchen utilities to shield us from harm, so too are they likely to step up and change their course in order to make GMO’s more sustainable and ethical resources.
Learning without borders
One of the biggest booms in the past few years is that of e-learning. Moreover, individuals are no longer merely looking for universities with the fanciest degrees, but for other individuals whose skills they could harness to better their own.
From edX to Udemy, Skillshare, Codecademy, Shaw Academy and Coursera to free courses offered online by Google, National Geographic and Harvard – the digital world is allowing us more and better access to learning at a fraction of the price.
What’s great about most of these courses is that they do not rely on classification or promotion by big shots in academic circles – instead, learning and the quality of tutoring is ranked by users themselves whose advice on content and ratings will quickly show you which modules or courses are most valuable. And what’s the biggest trend in eLearning for 2018? It’s more fun of course!
Indeed, through the use of gamification, many eLearning platforms are teaching individuals crucial problem-solving skills specific to their industries through games, online interaction, podcasts and AR. This year is bound to see even more innovative ways in which we can learn online without the gruelling traditional text-book-based studying we’re used to.
National Geographic and Nasa are two companies who are harnessed the benefits of technology to offer students and teachers glimpses of the universe as they’ve never seen it. These two platforms offer digital mapmaking tools, virtual exploration and other technological teaching aids to parents, teachers and children at no cost..
The shift to sustainable living
We’ve heard it so often, it’s been drilled into our brains – humans are over-consuming, overpopulating and threatening our own ecosystem, earth.
Consider Cape Town, for instance, which is likely to become the first major city in the world to run out of water this year. Then we can take a look at the higher incidences of earthquakes caused by humans through fracking and mining which destabilises the earth’s crust. Further afield we can consider the devastating floods and tsunamis which have left hundreds of thousands dead – mostly due to poor infrastructure, overpopulation along floodlines and diseases spread in their aftermath due to overburdened sewer systems. What about wildfires, mudslides, carbon emissions and ecological disasters brought on by extinction – all caused by humans?
Well, although some scientists believe we are too late to change the course of our future and others believe a fatal natural catastrophe to simply be an occurrence which will take place irrespective of human intervention or causation – luckily people the world over are starting to take heed and come up with solutions to our unsustainable lifestyles.
And many believe that 2018 will be the year where government and corporates the world over make the decisive shift to sustainable governance, regulation and production. In fact, even the fashion industry in London has dubbed sustainability the theme of 2018 innovation focus and the industry is pushing designers to unlock technical innovations in their work including a renewed focus on renewable and recyclable wear. Such innovations in fashion done by companies like Fashion Tech Lab and Diamond Foundry have gone as far as producing diamonds which are ethical, unmined and cost far less than their equivalent earthen brethren, as well as garments and travel gear with odour and bacteria control to lengthen their lifespan. What of VitroLabs which is now manufacturing “leather” from animal cells grown in a laboratory – causing no harm or deaths to animals themselves.
But what travellers are probably most excited about is Hyperloop, Elon Musk’s brainchild which he started development on in 2014 and is aiming to make passenger-ready in 2018. The innovative high-speed transportation system is aimed at getting people to their destinations faster, using less energy and with minimal emissions through electric propulsion. The travel innovation is purported to be able to cut the 1h30 flight or 5h40 drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles down to mere 35 minutes.
What are you looking forward to in 2018?
That’s it for the Rand Rescue Tech and Travel innovation showcase of 2018. Here’s hoping for some remarkable advancements which sees us living healthier, easier, happier and more affordably in 2018!
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