7 Technology Trends That Dominated 2017

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The rate of acceleration in the tech sector continues to astound consumers—and provide them with a steady stream of new gadgets to chase after. For marketers and professionals, these forward bursts in technology represent even more opportunities, for productivity, cost-efficiency, and greater brand perceptions.

But regardless of which side you’re on, what you hope to get out of technology, or why you’re interested in it, 2017 was a spectacular year in tech. Let’s take a moment to visit—or revisit—some of the most important tech trends that shaped 2017:

1. Machine learning. Machine learning has made massive progress in 2017, in multiple different directions. For starters, consider that last year, Google’s AlphaGo program was able to beat one of the best human Go players in the world—a momentous occasion, by all standards. But this year, the same team created an even better algorithm—AlphaGo Zero—which was able to master the game of Go using no historical data and nothing but test games against itself in the span of just a few weeks. It’s now able to hypothetically beat all the world’s greatest human players, and every other version of AlphaGo. Add to that the fact that machine learning is becoming more common and prevalent in all forms of tech, from search engines to customer service platforms, and it’s safe to say that 2017 was a revolutionary year for machine learning.

2. Smart speakers. Do you have a smart speaker in your home? If not, you may soon be part of a minority. With 76 percent of the market share, Amazon Echo sales reached more than 15 million this year (before the holiday shopping season), putting the total sales of smart speakers north of 20 million. Smart speakers have introduced new methods of interacting with technology, relying on voice commands and responses, and have represented a massive step forward toward unifying different devices in the internet of things (IoT). They’ve ushered in the beginning of a new era of search, and they’re here to stay.

3. Intelligent assistance. You can’t have a smart speaker without some kind of digital assistant guiding it. We’ve had “intelligent assistants” before, in the form of Siri, Cortana, and Alexa, but this year, these three (and a host of others) have taken a significant leap forward. Voice recognition is now so sophisticated that errors are down to a rate of about 5.1 percent—which matches the error rate of human transcribers. On top of that, intelligent assistants and their close cousins, chatbots, are showing up in more and more apps, and are being used as communications tools by more brands than ever before.

4. Blockchain. Tech evangelists have been whispering about the blockchain for a few years, but in 2017, they started screaming it. Late last year and early this year, technologists started professing the enormous potential applications for blockchain technology in different industries, and mainstream consumers started to get on board. Of course, the prevalence and success of blockchain was undoubtedly best represented by the massive surge in price of Bitcoin, the digital cryptocurrency fueled by blockchain architecture. While it’s unlikely that the massively high prices will keep growing forever, this is a soft proof of blockchain’s effectiveness—and consumers’ faith in the technology.

5. Security. Security is a huge category for technology, ranging from smart cameras to keep watch over your home to advanced firewalls and protective measures designed to keep major companies safe from data breaches. This year’s Equifax breach stoked fears about the privacy and security of personal data—even with massive, trusted companies, and more products designed to keep consumers safe have flooded the market at the same time. In an age with cloud storage, more consumer data, and more points of technological vulnerability, consumers and engineers alike are doing whatever they can to stay safer.

6. Integrated audio. We’re starting to transition to an era of technology that depends on auditory and spoken interactions, rather than visual and touch-based interactions. Smart speakers are a good example of this, and wireless earbuds are starting to take the place of traditional headsets. Using conversational cues instead of typing warrants a much different approach to user experience, and companies are already starting to take advantage of it with more conversational options, and fewer tactile or visual experiences.

7. VR and AR. I feel like every year for the past few years, I’ve had something to say about virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), two closely related technologies that just can’t seem to fully take off. Oculus Rift launched last year, amid optimistic hopes that it would be the pivotal technology to win over consumers, but it was too expensive and niche-focused to reach mainstream audiences. But this year, despite two solid years of tight competition and disappointing sales, the sophistication, price, and targeting of VR seems to have reached critical mass; sales are picking up, and more applications are making use of the technology.

Were you an active part in these influential tech trends, or are you still on the sidelines, waiting to see how they develop from here? Tech never stays in one place for long, so while these technologies will likely develop even further in 2018, by the time I write my next retrospective piece, there will likely be dozens of additional technologies to select from.

Keep reading your favorite tech blogs and authors, and make sure your 2018 marketing budget has some funds earmarked for what will undoubtedly be some game-changing technology in the near future.