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'Tantalizing' advancements in emerging technologies on tap for 2018

New report predicts artificial intelligence, biotech, autonomous robots, green energy, and space travel will begin to enter the mainstream

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The Future Today Institute, which provides forecasts on how emerging technology will disrupt business, transform the workforce, and ignite geopolitical change, has released its 2018 Tech Trends Report -- and the study is chock full of interesting predictions.

We're likely to witness "a number of events that don't appear to follow the familiar political, technological, or business narratives," noted Amy Webb, founder of the institute. "Tantalizing advancements in emerging technologies -- artificial intelligence (AI), biotech, autonomous robots, green energy, and space travel -- will begin to enter the mainstream, which could eventually mean significant economic growth and healthier living."

Among the key takeaways of the report is that 2018 will mark the beginning of the end of traditional smartphones. Over the next decade, we'll start to transition to the next era of computing and connected devices, which will be wearable and controlled using voice, gesture, and touch.

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The transition from smartphones to smart wearables and invisible interfaces -- earbuds with biometric sensors and speakers; rings and bracelets that sense motion; smart glasses that record and display information -- will change how users experience the physical world. "This doesn't necessarily signal a post-screen existence," the report said. "We anticipate foldable and scrollable screens for portable, longer-form reading and writing."

Another main prediction of the report is that the AI ecosystem, "flooded with capital, hungry for commercial applications, and yet polluted with widespread, misplaced optimism and fear," will continue to grow. The AI ecosystem is part of many of the technological trends that will unfold in the coming years, and the study said it is vitally important that all decision-makers and teams familiarize themselves with current and emerging AI trends.

Decentralization emerged as another key theme for 2018. Citing cyber security concerns and infringements on intellectual property, some democratic governments around the world are restricting internet access and banning certain content, effectively creating dozens of "splinternets."

Sweeping changes to data privacy regulations, due in part to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), will take affect this year. China is cracking down on virtual personal networks, while the US government considers whether or not to allow ISPs to collect and sell subscriber data, meter access, and throttle connection speeds.

"All of this points to a new emphasis [on] ways to circumvent traditional ISPs using private and peer-to-peer networks," the report said. "How all of this plays out once our connected homes, cars, and wearables go online is still unclear."

And everyone should be paying close attention to China, the report said. The Chinese government is investing hundreds of billions of dollars into AI, genomic editing, green technologies and renewable energy sources, smart farming systems, and space exploration.

"To be fair, China has previously failed to deliver on similar bold investments and promises," the study said. "This time around could be different, given the industrial policies already in play and Chinese-led advancements we're seeing across AI, genomics, and renewables."

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In 2018, leaders across all industries will confront difficult questions about the future of technology, the report says. Now, more than ever, organizations should examine the potential impact of technology trends -- and leaders must be willing to take incremental actions.

Failing to track trends in a meaningful way will put organizations' competitive advantage, growth and survivability at risk, Webb said.

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