Technology, like love is all around us, and innovation keeps it unpredictable and ever-evolving.

Whether you are a consumer, researcher or industry professional, chances are, technology fills your life. You already own several connected devices, or come into contact with a new service or improvement wrought by technology, as can be seen in Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative.

Next year, we will see even more interesting developments in the tech scene, fueled by big budgets.

As forecasted by research company Gartner, Inc., global IT spending is projected to reach US$3.5 trillion in 2017, led by growth in the software and IT services sectors.

Let us gaze into our crystal ball, and offer you our take on 7 tech trends that might just possibly become big this year.

(Ok, so our crystal ball likes to hedge its bets).

1. Virtual Assistants and Chatbots

Jamie

The lovely virtual assistant known as Ask Jamie is ready to chat with you on this GovTech website.

Move over, Siri — Alexa is here to make virtual assistants bigger than ever. Amazon.com’s Alexa, a neat piece of artificial intelligence (AI) that comes wrapped up in the Echo speaker, is one of the most popular voice-activated virtual assistants around.

Users may ask questions or give commands to Alexa. Among her 3,000 skills, she can stream music, read users the headlines of the day, monitor traffic, set alarms and even control smart homes.

Other virtual assistants you may have spoken to or chatted with, include Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana and of course, our very own Ask Jamie and her counterparts on several Government websites.

Now that Amazon.com has opened up Alexa to third-party developers just this month, you may expect more interesting things to come for the AI platform in 2017.

2. The Internet of Things (IoT) Meets AI

IoT

So IoT devices will become intelligent with the addition of AI. No, don't say 'Skynet'.

Everything from your fridge to your toothbrush could technically be fixed up with sensors or chips that can then relay information to a network.

So, it makes sense that if such devices can communicate with each other, they could also help each other make decisions.

Technologies such as cloud-based AI, collaborative robots and machine learning algorithms means that in 2017, we could see these intelligent devices emerging in smart homes and the industrial sector, for example.

Furthermore, according to a Gartner estimation, six billion connected ‘things’ will be actively requesting support from AI platforms by 2018, Business Insider reports.

3. Smart Homes and Connected Living Solutions

Home

The Smart Home of the future puts control of the automated home in your hands.

Who doesn’t want to live in a home where everything is automated or controlled from your smartphone?

We are seeing the rise of the WiFi-enabled smart home, where everything from the speakers to the security cameras can be controlled—as long as WiFi outages do not throw a spanner into the works, of course.

This year, we have seen the launch of more Amazon Echo products, Google Home and the much-awaited Apple Home app. These are meant to bring together disparate smart home devices, so that you could fiddle with your lights, thermostats and locks while on the go if you so wanted.

4. Digital Twins

With all this talk about IoT, it’s impossible not to mention the digital twin.

This term refers to the computerised companion to an entity in the real world, which could range from an individual’s health profile to General Electric (GE)’s jet engines.

engine

A digital twin of the jet engine allows engineers to carry out simulations to test its performance efficiently.

Think of it as a digital alter-ego which is highly realistic and essentially a one-to-one scale model.

Modern supercomputers and simulation software allow scientists and engineers to create virtual models that behave almost exactly like their real-world counterparts, thanks to data analytics.

You can use a computer simulation to accurately simulate how a car crashes, for example.                         

Using GE as an example, flight data from their engines help their clients minimise fuel consumption, increase efficiency, and save tens of millions of dollars on unnecessary service overhauls.

So we expect to see more examples of digital twins in action this year. Virtual Singapore, anyone?

5. Blockchain and Distributed Ledgers

You may have heard these terms being thrown around, but what do they really mean?

Well, blockchain allows suppliers, consumers and even competitors to share a decentralised digital ledger across a network of computers without the need for a central authority.

Bitcoin is a prime example of blockchain tech in action.

This essentially creates public, tamper-proof ledgers and ensures transparency and accountability.

Why this technology is disrupting the financial sector is because it bypasses the third party, allows direct peer-to-peer collaboration and creates value from existing assets—similar to how Uber and Airbnb work.

6. Mesh App and Service Architecture

How many apps do you have on your smartphone? What about your Mac or laptop?

mesh

 

All these apps link up to a broad mesh of back-end services called the mesh app and service architecture (MASA).

The MASA needs to be flexible enough to be able to link up numerous endpoints, such as devices, apps and microservices, while still providing a consistent user experience.

Moving beyond the old three-tier models that separate presentation, processing and data, MASA solutions must be agile, integrated and scalable so that programmers can build distributed applications.

We expect to hear much more about MASA this year.

7. Beyond Smart To Cognitive

Here is where neuroscience and technology collide.

Cognitive technology is based on the human brain, with researchers attempting to teach machines how to think, learn, understand and reason like a human. IBM’s artificial intelligence platform Watson is one such example.

brain

Cognitive technology is based on the human brain.

Imagine the possibilities: in the future, a cognitive web app could help you cook up dishes based on your preferences, help city planners overcome urban challenges, or help farmers predict weather conditions and choose the most profitable crop for a piece of land.

Whichever field you are in, cognitive technology could help you make sense of the data, and from that reasoning, deliver value. 

 

And there you have it, several tech trends we reckon might just go big this year.

Check back here in 2018 to comment on how accurate we were — or not!