Technology trends 2018 – a look back

Let us take a look back to December 2017, when Ericsson ConsumerLab released our 10 Hot Consumer Trends report for 2018. What were our predictions back then and what actually happened? By asking early adopters across 10 major cities about the future, I believe we got more things right than wrong. Read on and find out!

Ones and zeros on a dark background
Michael Björn

Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab

It is difficult to look at 2018 without touching the subject of fake news. According to Google Trends, we entered the year with a global peak. Although search volume for the term "fake news" stayed reasonably high, volume again started rising in October. However, this trend started earlier – and we followed up on that in our recently released social media report.

Instead, our trend prediction was that in 2018 people would start doing something about the fundamental problem.

One of the most important aspects is the question about dialogue: How do we create it, meaningfully and constructively. This is why we called our trend Social broadcasting. Although there is lots of one-way communication by power mongers, there remains little dialogue. And this was indeed one of the five important problems with the internet pointed to in the nonprofit Mozilla's Internet Health Report 2018, which stated that "A few large players dominate much of the online world, but the Internet is healthier when it is controlled by many."

Another aspect may well be ads, since more clicks can lead to more communication without dialogue as long as it generates profits. Our "Intelligent ads" trend pointed to the expectation that ads will in fact use AI to be so effective that we will not be able to resist them anymore. And although the debate around brain hacking in this sense was started by Tristan Harris' TED talk a year earlier, it really became a hot topic this year when tech companies even felt obliged to help limit time spent on their devices.

The hype around AR/VR cooled down somewhat but the idea that augmenting reality can be used to shield us from some of the surrounding noise did not. We predicted that after visuals, hearing would be the next sense up for AR, with our trend "Augmented Hearing". We said that 52 percent want to block out a family member's snoring, and Bose promptly released their Sleep Buds that do exactly that and nothing else.

In his latest book, Yuval Noah Harari says that if someone describes the future and it sounds like sci-fi, it is probably false. That is how I felt with our trend Streets in the air where we state that 39 percent want a road network in the air in their city. I honestly thought this trend was taken a bit out of thin air.

But Harari continues his discussion by pointing out that if a prediction doesn't sound like sci-fi, then it is certainly false. He is right, and I was wrong. We live in the science-fictional era and Japan started standardizing flying cars. And, more than 70 companies are now developing flying Uber taxis.

Speaking of sci-fi, 2018 also had a moment when you could experience history being spoken in real time, with Google Duplo. Google's assistant technology could now pass for a human over the phone. Although everyone was amazed, it also totally freaked people out, and immediately created calls for robots to have to identify themselves as such.

We predicted this with our Uncanny Communication trend, where we said that people would be spooked out if they could no longer tell the difference.

Interestingly, many would also be spooked by a smartphone that can tell their mood, which is probably already the case if they are using face recognition on it.

So, should smartphones be forced to remind us every time we use them that they are not human? That would create a usability nightmare. And how about all the social media bots out there, why do they not have this requirement?

That brings us to our key trend for 2018, Your body is the user interface, where we said that more than half of digital voice assistant users believe we will use body language, intonation, touch and gestures to interact with tech just like we do with people within only a few years. And it really started in 2018, with smart speakers that started whispering and smartphone apps that can be controlled with your eyes.

The question of what is human and what is not was very much a theme for 2018. And I believe that we will need to continue focusing on this in 2019. But the implications now take us way beyond what we could imagine only a year ago.

What will the key trends in 2019 be then? You will soon be able to find out, as the launch of our new trend report is just around the corner!

Further reading: 10 Hot Consumer Trends report for 2018


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Michael Björn
Michael Björn is Head of Research Agenda and Quality at Consumer & IndustryLab at Ericsson ConsumerLab and has a PhD in data modeling from the University of Tsukuba in Japan.
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