What to expect in 2018 and beyond

| January 1, 2018

Several of the big social, economic and technological trends which gained prominence in 2017 are set to quickly accelerate in the New Year and beyond, challenging our traditional notions of work and social interaction and perhaps the very nature of society itself.

Employment crumbles

Work will change more in 2018 than it has in any previous year. Major corporations will aggressively drive automation of both manual and office work. The ranks of the “gig economy” will explode, including high-skilled, well-paid roles as well as flexible lower-paid work such as driving and household odd-jobs.

Overall employment levels won’t fall, but the traditional structure of paid work will crumble into smaller and smaller pieces and roles as we shift into an ever-changing fluid economy where work and jobs continually change. The best schools will start to truly transform as they understand yesterday’s education will not be relevant tomorrow.

Everyone becomes accountable
The Harvey Weinstein scandal has resulted in legions of powerful men (and some women) being finally held accountable for their actions over decades. This extraordinary ending of silence will play out much further in the year to come.

Far more hidden behaviours will come to light, and it won’t only impact the rich and famous. Actions past and present will shape how people are seen by their peers. During the year ahead there will also be a backlash as an increasing number feel the frenzy has gone too far.

Humanoid customer service
The machines are entering our everyday lives in earnest, starting by representing the companies we deal with. Speaking to computers on the phone will finally move from intensely frustrating to sometimes even pleasant, and attractive video avatars almost indistinguishable from humans will chat to us on our computers and mobiles.

Robots will be a little slower in taking over in retail stores, often starting as quick-order kiosks, but soon it won’t be unusual to have cute robots wandering around shops trying to be helpful.

Death of reality
The boundaries between the real world and the ‘realities’ we create is blurring at an exceptional pace. The next generation of “mixed reality” glasses, including the long-awaited Magic Leap headset announced last week, will allow us to choose how we see the world, for example replacing obnoxious ads with our favourite images.

Virtual reality will go beyond games deep into work and health, immersing us in amazing worlds that educate and inspire. The ability to create completely realistic – but false – video and audio of politicians and celebrities saying whatever you want them to say means we will not be able to trust anything we see or hear.

The machines decide
As Artificial Intelligence (AI) rises we will find it all too easy to give machines responsibility for many of the decisions we need to make day by day. Algorithms are helping banks to decide who to insure or lend to, police to decide who to release early from jail, governments to decide which companies to audit or inspect, and companies to decide who to interview and hire.

It will sometimes be impossible to know how the algorithms work, and now that computers can tell whether someone is gay better than any human can simply by looking at an image of their face, we have to be concerned about the basis of their decisions. This is leading to a backlash, with New York City already legislating that any AI that impacts the public must be able to explain its decisions.

Crypto craze
The value of Bitcoin rose over 17-fold in 2017, even after recent falls, driving an investment surge of epic proportions as neophytes dive into speculating on the digital currency. While the long-term future value of Bitcoin is highly uncertain, the price will inevitably be extremely volatile in 2018, with many latecomers to the party getting badly hurt in their attempt to get rich quick.

Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) to new crypto-currencies will attract many, with some big winners and some tawdry failures. However blockchain, the technology underlying Bitcoin, will be swiftly adopted by financial institutions, major corporations and governments. The ASX is already the first blockchain-based stock exchange in the world. This is building foundations for greater trust in our economic system.

We become as gods?
The recent development of extraordinary gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR is allowing us not only to make changes to the DNA of human embryos, but also to replace genes in adult humans. In 2018 the first human clinical trials of fixing genetic diseases in people will happen in the US and Europe, while UK scientists have already gene-edited human embryos.

There are massive ethical issues raised by the power to literally create who we are and choose the characteristics of our children. As these medical technologies rapidly advance we will have to decide whether we want to go beyond correcting genetic disorders to playing with the potential of life.