Technology to watch in 2018

2017 saw some remarkable technology breakthroughs, but they didn’t penetrate the public consciousness

Article updated: 29 December 2017 12:00pm Author: Michael Baxter

The backlash

2017 also saw its technology backlash. I see President Trump as an example of this. For me, Mr Trump represents a clash between analogue and digital thinking, the latest moves to remove net neutrality is an example of this, favouring as it does, old school telecoms over techs, especially tech start-ups.

We are also seeing regulators take a more proactive approach, witness, for example, the clash between Uber and regulators across the world. This is a tough one, the so-called sharing economy offers the tantalising prospect of making more effective use of existing assets. It has to be regulated, but not so much that only large corporates can take part in the business. There is a danger that for individuals the legal risk associated with taking part in the sharing economy will become too great unless you work with a large company.

May 25th 2018 will also see the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation – GDPR, the successor to the Data Protection Act, but applied across the EU, and indeed in EU exiting countries. GDPR forces companies to put much more emphasis on their customer’s privacy. According to The Economist, big data is the new oil, it will grease the wheels of the digital economy. But I wonder whether GDPR will hand a lot more power to the consumer, we may eventually be offered commercial inducement to allow companies to collect data about ourselves, but, even then, subject to rigorous limitations.

Health tech

2017 saw remarkable advances in health tech, with CRISPR – the new gene editing technology – opening up extraordinary new advances. In 2017, a human embryo’s DNA was edited using CRISPR, while a CRISPR treatment was used to edit the DNA of a 44-year old man with Hunter syndrome.

I expect CRISPR to make a regular appearance in headlines in 2018. The day a major pharmaceutical company announces a CRISPR project, is the day I become an investment bull on that company.

We also saw the creation of an artificial womb, used to incubate a prematurely born lamb but which could ultimately be used to save the lives of prematurely born babies, bringing with it some important implications regarding the ethics of abortions.

Elon Musk

It sometimes seems to me that the world is divided into two types of people, those who think Elon Musk it little more than a snake-oil salesman, and those who think he is the most important man on the planet – then again, there are still many people who have not heard of him. If that is you, I suggest you do some Googling. I am a fan, but have some concerns.

This year, Space X developed a reusable space rocket – the implications of this are far reaching indeed, both literally and commercially. Tesla revealed an electric truck and the world’s biggest battery in Australia. Meanwhile, Tesla totally failed to keep to its targets for the Tesla 3 – I sometimes wonder if all the whizzy stuff we hear from Musk is designed to act as a distraction from the missed deadlines. But I predict that by the end of 2018, 20,000 Tesla 3s will be made each week, putting the company back on target.

It is difficult to know what the future is for Musk and his enterprises. Rumours still persist that his businesses will merge with Apple and he will become the new CEO. I doubt this will happen, but just imagine what Musk could do with Apple’s money.

Branson

Meanwhile, Sir Richard Branson is getting in on the Musk Act, orchestrating a major investment in hyperloop, so that Hyperloop One is now Virgin Hyperloop One. As you may know, hyperloop was originally Musk’s idea, but Branson seems to be commercialising it faster than anyone. How long will be it be, I wonder, before we can go from London to Edinburgh in less than an hour by Hyperloop? It won’t happen in 2018, but it may happen within five years.

Sir Richard Branson has predicted that within a few years, planes will be made of graphene.

Graphene

And that takes me to the wonder material that is Graphene. Isolated in 2004 at the University of Manchester, the one atom thick carbon material is said to be 200 times stronger than steel and a superb conductor of electricity.

In 2017, the most spectacular graphene related announcement was the claim it is being used to desalinate sea water. I am aware of at least two teams of scientists who are working with graphene to create new computers and both claim that their technology will made computers 1,000 times faster.

I believe that 2018 will see further graphene related breakthroughs, maybe in energy storage or quantum computers.

Quantum computing and the re-birth of Moore’s Law

Moore’s Law, the idea that computers double in power every 18 months to two years seems to be coming to an end. But the cloud, which gives companies access to specialist computers, especially in the field of AI, neural networks, for example, will still mean that computer technology continues to advance. But the rise of the cloud may mitigate against the need to upgrade our smart phones or computers every two years or so.

2017 saw DeepMind (the British subsidiary of Alphabet) develop an AI system that was taught the rules of chess, and within four hours of being turned on, was able to analyse enough data to beat the world’s best human chess player – that’s four hours. I expect AI to be a huge story in 2018, but if we see a breakthrough that combines AI with either graphene or quantum computers, or both, then this may prove to be the most important discovery since the wheel. Also, watch China in this field, by the way.


These views are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect reflect the view of The Share Centre, its officers and employees. 

Michael Baxter portrait photo
Michael Baxter

Economics Commentator

Michael is an economics, investment and technology writer, known for his entertaining style. He has previously been a full-time investor, founder of a technology company which was floated on the NASDAQ, and a director of a PR company specialising in IT.