Looking back: digital predictions for 2017

It’s around this time of year that digital minds world wide begin to reflect on the year that was, and begin focusing their attention on what lies on the horizon for digital.

With unflinching confidence, we cast out our predictions for digital trends and developments in the year to come – and if we get it wrong – who’s to know? Does anyone really revisit those predictions or do we just hope no-one notices how far from the mark our initial thoughts had been?

Well, we took a look back at some of the more popular predictions that were set in motion at the end of 2016/early 2017 for the year ahead; we’ve looked back at them and critiqued just how close we got to being sage’s in the digital space.

While we won’t be discussing our predictions for 2018 in this post, we will be looking at how particular trends and developments grew or lagged, lived up to their name or fell flat in the dust. So – are any of these trends and developments worth thinking about moving into 2018? Read on.

Machine Learning and AI

Machine learning is something that we’ve discussed in numerous posts throughout this year, and as such, we’d be lying if we said we didn’t play into the hype that was heaped on it at the beginning of 2017. Predictions around machine learning and AI for this year revolved around seeing great strides for artificial intelligence and seeing smart devices like watches, appliances and infrastructure becoming truly smart.

In regards to AI, while older versions of AI like Siri and the newly launched Google Assistant have set the ball in motion, it was predicted that automated personal assistant features would become a lot more proactive and predictive. In addition, we expected to see chat bots get closer to recognising sentiment and ultimately mirror real human interaction in an effort to provide an everlasting presence on the frontline for customers and the like to engage with.

So just how far did we come with machine learning and AI in 2017?

There’s no denying that 2017 was the year of machine learning and AI – we talked about it and set it in our line of sight, but as for progress – we’ll likely see more improvement in 2018. Machine learning is still very much data in and data out. Regarding AI alone, we’ve seen some development from a systems engineering and cloud native perspective, and it’s clear that AI is becoming more complex.

While there were ideas and stirrings that AI would start to take over roles, we are still a long way off from having AI that can truly replicate the role of a human in the areas of Industrial IoT, retail and healthcare but this won’t deter our ongoing push into the space. AI, true AI, requires quantum computing which has not yet evolved to where machines can make independent decisions and learn themselves.

VR and AR take off

Virtual reality has been growing for a number of years, but prior to 2017, it had been an overly hyped luxury exclusive to large companies with budgets to build bespoke systems and software. In 2017, it was predicted that VR would take off among the masses due to an increase in mass market headsets appearing with a view that it would improve marketing capabilities, giving consumers a better insight into the kind of experience they could expect from making a typically high risk purchase.

Furthermore, VR (alongside augmented reality) was predicted to be built into digital concept stores – digital experiences that combine mobile, online and in-store channels to bring a unified experience where customers can shop, try and buy all from the comfort of their home.

Extending beyond a marketing tool alone, custom VR content was anticipated to expand exponentially, acting as a knowledge sharing tool that allowed users to interact with increasingly immersive and realistic environments.

So just how did VR and AR mature in 2017?

2017 was definitely a year of continued momentum and improvement for VR and AR especially with the arrival of Augmented Reality Software Kits from Apple and Google. In a nutshell, VR became incredibly more accessible to the masses through new hardware and a plethora of consumer facing apps that took advantage of AR for retail. Furthermore, an end of year increase in VR hardware sales suggests that this tech is only just starting to ramp up and should be on the radar for brands looking to expand their digital transformation efforts in the VR space in the future.

Blockchain will show its usefulness

If you haven’t heard about Bitcoin and the blockchain in the last year, you must have some pretty strong noise cancelling headphones, because this cryptocurrency has been the talk of the town, or at least spoken of to much length in our agency anyway.

Running behind the scenes of Bitcoin, the blockchain is the distributed ledger technology that has been regarded as revolutionising online payments and contracts, and one thing’s for certain – it’s started a lot of conversations.

It was predicted in 2017 that blockchain applications based around the technology’s potential in IoT devices would start to emerge due to the the smart, automated ledgers being ideal for tracking and logging activities of networks made up millions of devices and virtual processes.

So were we right about blockchain in 2017?

In 2017, the Bitcoin bandwagon was in full swing more than ever before due to the soaring value of Bitcoin and the hard work of miners solving increasingly difficult algorithms in the hopes of verifying more transactions and ultimately receiving more Bitcoins as reward. In doing so, you’ve most likely heard of the alarming reports of excessive energy usage required to sustain the mining process and keep the blockchain up to date. The theory is that by 2020, Bitcoin computer operations could absorb all of the earth’s energy. So will the blockchain survive? If the prospect of wealth is still growing, so too will energy consumption in the immediate future.

There are a number of cryptocurrencies that are beginning to rival Bitcoin with greater ferocity, one such being IOTA which runs without the need for the blockchain, instead using what they call a ‘tangle’ that is likely to keep costs down and increase efficiency. It will be interesting to see if this new method will push the blockchain out of the limelight in 2018 – so keep and eye out and watch this space.

Ultimately, while some of our predictions for 2017 may have been a little off, the exciting thing about the digital space is that it’s constantly growing, shedding old skin and showing off bright and exciting new possibilities. It can be tempting to resist and stick with what we know, avoiding the risk of looking forward to the uncertainty, but that will only leave you behind the pack, watching as they continue to transform in the digital space (even if they make some mistakes along the way).

We’ll leave you with this message for our last post of this year – don’t be afraid of change in the digital space, and if you need someone to guide you forward; you can always call on us.

We’ll see you in the New Year!