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AR, automated assistants, and blockchain

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Scott Tilley
Published 10:26 a.m. ET Jan. 4, 2018

Looking Ahead to 2018: AR, automated assistants, and blockchain

I’d do a much better job at predicting the future if I had the proper technology to do so. Alas, there’s no app for that yet, so instead, I’m left gazing into the pundit’s crystal ball to see what exciting new developments might occur in 2018. There are plenty of possibilities, but three in particular might be ready for prime time: augmented reality, automated assistants, and blockchain.

Augmented Reality: The December 8 issue of “Entertainment Weekly” featured Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on the cover, dressed in a Santa suit, holding a large candy cane, and appeared to be singing. If you used the free “Life VR” app, the cover sprang to life: The Rock was indeed singing, speaking and moving around. There were several other examples of embedded video content in the magazine. Although the app has “VR” in its name, it’s not virtual reality (VR): it provides an augmented reality (AR) experience, where video and animation are superimposed on real-world imagery and seen using your smartphone or special glasses.

Apple is one company that is investing heavily in AR technologies. They even provide a sophisticated developer’s kit as part of the latest iOS release. I expect to see a flurry of AR apps coming this year. Florida-based Magic Leap is another company to watch in this space.

Automated Assistants: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have Alexa at home. I use Amazon.com’s disembodied assistant in the Echo on a daily basis. She’s not perfect, but she does get more capable all the time. I’ve come to expect her presence so much that when I’m in an environment without her, such as my car, I find traditional user interfaces cumbersome. Why should I take my eyes off the road to fiddle with knobs or poke at a wonky touchscreen just to change the channel while driving, when Alexa could do it for me so much better?

I expect that automated assistants like Alexa will continue to infiltrate our lives in 2018. They can be embedded in just about every appliance and device we use. Soon we’ll wonder how we ever lived without them – which is not necessarily a good thing.

Blockchain: The technology that makes bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency possible is called blockchain. It’s a distributed ledger system that provides a transparent and secure record of global transactions. Many companies and government agencies are looking into blockchain for purposes other than digital money. For example, IBM has proposed that the Canadian province of British Columba use blockchain to manage the supply chain in the legal marijuana market. Quite timely, given recent legislation in California.

Scott Tilley is a professor at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. Contact him at TechnologyToday@srtilley.com.

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