From the ascension of VR with the Oculus Rift to a few tiny steps closer to real AI, 2016 had a lot of promising technology that may just lead us to that magical future we see in science fiction movies. Most of it should take a few more years to show signs of maturity, but 2017 will probably have a few surprises. Based on everything we’ve read, tried and experienced, here are our bets.
Many intelligent hubs arrived on the market in 2016, with the promise of making your home respond to your voice commands. This facilitates turning lights on and off, controlling your AC, getting the news while you cook, listening to music, and even shopping for you.
An ingenious idea, but still not as frequent as we would expect it to be by this point, one of the main reasons being too much competition from different parties, which leads to people feeling unsure about the investment. But it seems bigger names in the industry have noticed the potential and are joining forces to create more possibilities for the future.
Perhaps the most notable available option so far that managed to catch the public eye was the Amazon Echo series of gadgets. It’s a portable Bluetooth speaker that responds to voice commands, connecting to other smart home gadgets, while being capable of tasks like reading the news, telling the weather, helping you with shopping by keeping tabs of your stock, and even reading audiobooks.
Smart hubs implemented with sensors in specific parts of the house should serve as an intelligent way to help the user save energy, maintain better habits, and improve safety.
The price is attractive and it caught the public attention due to Amazon’s insistent promotion, greatly surpassing other smart hubs in popularity. However, Samsung's SmartThings Hub was generally regarded as the best of the year because of its versatility and slightly lower investment, making it ideal for someone who wants to try a smart hub for the first time.
With the interest for the technology rising, it’s only natural that bigger names like Google and Apple either support one the existing technologies by letting the hubs implement their already established variety services into the mix, or by creating their own hubs.
The Ascension of Virtual Reality (VR)
2016 was a big year for VR - the boom started with the release of the Kickstarter-funded Oculus Rift early this year, developed by Oculus VR, a company bought by Facebook for $2 billion dollars two years before.
It didn’t take too long for the technology to catch everyone’s eye (no pun intended) as soon as it hit YouTube with gamers trying it for games and getting incredible results. Many other companies soon had their own version of the gadget, including Sony, Samsung, and Valve.
The only reason VR didn’t fly higher is because no one knows how to use it yet.
It’s not to say the technology isn’t impressive: anyone who got a VR around their heads and played a simpler optimized game will tell you the immersion is total - there is a long line of YouTubers getting traumatized by horror games on the VR to take that point home.
In the realm of video games, upcoming survival horror title Resident Evil VII seems to be the first to truly implement VR as a gameplay mechanic in a seamless way, being the first step into maturing the technology, instead of having it as a gimmick. Outside video games, uses for VR are still unsure, although there has been a growing interested to explore the possibility of social networking.
There are three obvious reasons for the initial setback, starting with the price. The HTC Vive costs as high as $800, and the necessary hardware to have it working properly implies a secondary costly investment. On consoles, you could get one for cheaper (around $400 individually) and get it working immediately, but then there’s another problem: the lack of games to play. There are many demos and short immersive experiences, but nothing good enough to justify the investment.
Simply put, the VR market is in its infancy. The year 2017 will show us a more mature version of the technology, having it put to better use for video games and other medias as well. VR is a promising child, we can only hope it becomes the adult we dream of.
Outside of video game world, VR should be implemented into therapy for relaxation purposes, as well as for military simulations.
The Promise of Augmented Reality (AR)
As VR proved to be a successful investment with lots of promise and potential, we’d think the ascension of AR would come naturally, but there are still many obstacles to overcome before we can say AR is a reality (again, no pun intended).
Pokemon GO was a very successful first step towards the idea, but still many miles away from maturity or other practical uses. Social networking seems to be the intended use, but devices such as Google funded Magic Leap and Microsoft’s HoloLens are but promises for now.
Google released their lightweight Google Glass to the public in 2014, but the product was largely criticized because of privacy and safety concerns. To work properly, it needed constant internet access and GPS location, not to mention it offered visual distractions to the user, making it unsafe for driving and unfit for constant use. They stopped selling the product but promised to keep working on the technology.
In fact, it’s speculated that Magic Leap will not live up to its promise, as we’ve discussed here, and Microsoft may have the upper hand with HoloLens, but once again, nothing but promises. Prices should pose another problem for most interested users, as most won’t (and shouldn’t) consider investing in such new and probably limited technology.
However, it’s not to say 2017 won’t have surprises regarding the future of AR. With so many giants investing on it, including Google, Facebook, Apple, and Samsung, we’re bound to see some improvement, maybe something substantial enough to reconsider.
Technology experts say social networking and marketing should be the future of AR - for example, imagine walking down the street visually checking your Facebook feed, incredible 3D animated billboards, store signs and contextual information, all with the help of an optical gadget. Architects and designers may use it to visualize ideas in real size and scale.
One Step Closer To Artificial Intelligence
We won’t be seeing the science fiction AI we dream of in 2017 (or anytime soon), but some improvements are bound to happen.
The problem with AI, and the main reason it would be unwise to have high expectations is the same basic problem we’ve been facing for years - programming AI is humanly impossible. The solution is having the AI teach itself, but that’s easier said than done.
In 1996, the chess-playing computer called Deep Blue won several matches against human participants, and at the time, that was mistakenly considered a great step towards real AI. It was a mistake because the computer wasn’t programmed to LEARN chess, in fact, it was thought manually by both computer experts and renowned chess players. Furthermore, it lost several games to human players before it was upgraded to perform better, meaning once again, it had nothing to do with real AI.
Nowadays, we have accessible services like Google Now, which absorbs all of Google’s services into a one-app hub and provides useful information to the user based on his or her habits. Google Now can tell when the user leaves home and arrives at work to give useful contextual info, but only after being told where “home” and “work” are. It can identify these patterns and ask for confirmation as well, but this is not real AI - it’s a program doing what is was programmed to do by humans.
It seems that if any improvements were made at all to achieve real AI are being kept secret for now, with companies like Facebook, Microsoft, IBM and Amazon investing heavily on it.
The purposes of AI are still mysterious and access to the general public is far from becoming a reality. But 2017 could have a few surprises up its sleeves.
What do you think we will see in 2017? Do you think there’s more to it than we expect? Let us know your thoughts in the comments and follow us on Facebook for awesome daily articles about everything you need to know!