4 Technology Trends That Will Transform Our World in 2018

Predicting the future requires hubris, and it should therefore be met with more than a terabyte of skepticism. In past years, I’ve made some calls that have proved prescient like predicting way back in 2011 that social media would determine the U.S. presidential election. Meanwhile, some took decades longer than I had foreseen such as my 1992 prediction that this new thing called the Internet would lead Hollywood studios to merge with telecommunications companies.

Over the years, I’ve learned that the best way to predict the future is to hang out with the people creating it. When you work with a top consultancy and have leading technology innovators as clients, it’s pretty easy to recognize trends that have the greatest potential impact.

Here are my top four tech trends for 2018:

1. IoT becomes BIoT

The biggest mistake most prognosticators make is underestimating the potential for fast growth in our hyper-connected world. Automobiles took time to catch on because would-be drivers had to wait for roads and gas stations to be built.

But today’s disruptive innovations rely on existing infrastructure for mobile devices that puts most companies just a few clicks from billions of consumers. One of those is the Internet of things (IoT), which involves adding smart sensors to connected devices so that users can do things like ask Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant to turn off the lights or order a pizza.

But blockchain, one of the underlying technologies for the hot cryptocurrency bitcoin, can make IoT devices even more useful. It creates a digital record across hundreds or thousands of computers, vastly reducing the risk of hacking.

Combining IoT with blockchain —or BIoT—ushers in a whole host of new services and businesses. For example, BIoT can be used to track shipments of pharmaceuticals and to create smart cities in which connected heating systems better controls energy use and connected traffic lights better manage rush hour.

In 2018, companies will begin to use Application Programming Interfaces, or software used to connect different databases and computer services. Combined with the blockchain Internet of things, it will be as easy to get data from sensors in a warehouse as accessing websites on our mobile phones. When manufacturers, retailers, regulators, and transportation companies have real-time data from sensors imbedded on products, trucks and ships, everyone in the distribution chain can benefit from insights that they were previously unable to get. With BIoT, companies and consumers can also be assured that their most valuable data on the blockchain cannot be hacked.

2. The fintech renaissance

While bitcoin and blockchain were grabbing the headlines in 2017, social and mobile payments have fundamentally changed the financial markets. In China, mobile payment volumes now exceed $5 trillion annually.

All aspects of the payments chain are open to disruption as blockchain speeds clearing house functions while smart contracts handle settlements. In 2018, look for biometrics such as facial recognition, voice ID, and fingerprints to help make shopping far quicker —by eliminating the need to swipe a credit card at checkout, for instance. Instead, you will be able to verify your identity for a merchant scanning your eyes with your smartphone, in what’s known as a retinal payment. A bold clairvoyant could even predict that some major retailers will hop on the cryptocurrency bandwagon and issue their own secure currency next year.

Fintech will likely also become greener in 2018. With cryptocurrencies reaching over $300 billion in total value, there is now a financial incentive for investments into quantum computing, which involves using the behavior of energy at a subatomic level to process computing functions at a billion times faster than today’s microprocessors.

By some estimates, mining today’s cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, requires more electricity annually than the amount of energy used in 159 countries. With cryptocurrency’s carbon footprint rapidly growing, quantum computing has the potential to greatly reduce the estimated 28TWhs of electricity consumed by all of the current computers processing bitcoin.

Analysts now anticipate that banks will derive over $1 billion annually from blockchain-based cryptocurrencies within the next two years as traditional financial institutions start treating cryptocurrencies and other digital assets similar to traditional fiat currencies with more efficient payment systems, loan processing, and credit instruments. Going green by using less energy to create bitcoins, will translate into earning more green.

3. Augmented reality goes mainstream

Before smartphones existed 10 years ago, most people would consider spending five hours daily staring at your phone as crazy. In 2018, the bent-neck trend will start to reverse itself.

The mobile game Pokémon Go has unleashed a billion-dollar demand for augmented reality entertainment, and major brands are taking notice. Thanks to the introduction of affordable augmented reality glasses, our phones will remain in our pockets and Heads Up Displays (HUD) will improve how we work, shop, and play.

HUDs, best known today as the instrument gauges that fighter pilots monitor on their visors or windshields, will become a standard in consumer eyeglasses. Imagine walking down the street in a foreign country, for example, and having all of the store signs instantly translated into English thanks to your trendy sunglasses.

AR will customize in-store experiences with mannequins that match your body type and display enough virtual inventory to rival any online site. Merchants will create AR experiences with their packaging so that demonstration videos can appear when you look at the product on the shelf or celebrity spokespeople can magically stand in the aisle to pitch the product. Virtual pop-up stores can be built to appear anywhere that crowds are gathered (in a stadium, a busy street corner, or even inside a subway). These non-brick and mortar retail locations will bring new opportunities for merchants to create engaging shopping experiences anywhere with accessible bandwidth.

Li-Fi, a new light-base wireless connection with data speeds 100 times that of Wi-Fi, will bring high-definition virtual objects into stores. With Li-Fi and AR, consumers can see limitless virtual inventory in store, at scale.

With just a wave of your hand, a car salesperson can change the model, color, and customized features of the car “sitting” on the dealership’s showroom floor. Combining real and virtual objects can enhance experiences for all out-of-home activities. Sports stadiums will be brought into the 21st century with personalized HUDs of players on the field. Imagine watching a live football game in the stadium and seeing personalized stats floating above the fantasy sports players you follow. When watching sports from home, AR has the potential to bring the excitement of life-size boxing matches into your living room. The real promise of AR is to bring people the information they need without having to ask for it.

For many, 2018 will be the start of living an augmented life.

4. 2018 is the year of the bots

We all have gotten use to speaking with bots whenever we call to make airline reservations or to confirm our bank account balances. The use of natural language bots will expand from use as automated customer service agents to become routine for daily living.

Home bots will do more than just respond to requests, to being able to provide timely information such as, “It’s time to take your medicine.” You may even feel like Don Quixote as mobile bots become dedicated Sancho Panza servants—always at the ready and by your side.

Imagine a bot whispering in your ear “don’t make that purchase or you will be over your credit limit” or “your parking meter expires in two minutes.” Bots will help with the children, act as financial investment advisors, and be an omnipresent value-add from the brands you trust. With phones staying in our pockets, businesses will likely spend more on creating chatbots in 2018 than on apps in an effort to better serve their customers.


The Power Politics Behind Trump’s Jerusalem Declaration

A few days after President Trump announced that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, I went to a friend’s house in Ramallah for dinner. We were by no means a cross-section of Palestinian society: I am a lawyer, and among the group was an architect, a professor, a researcher, and a former employee of an investment fund that aided Palestinian small businesses. Nonetheless, we represented a group that has largely disengaged from the Palestinian national movement. For years, apathy and avoidance had caused us to rarely discuss the dire state of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, or Palestinian politics in general—but we found ourselves doing it over dinner. One of the guests, a journalist who had covered the demonstrations that took place after Trump’s declaration, had recorded images of the protests on his phone that he wanted us to see.

“Look at how the police arrested this seventeen-year-old Palestinian, clamped his hands and dragged him,” he told us. “Yes, literally dragged him from the French cultural center all the way to the post office at the other end of the long shopping street. Look how the horse-mounted policemen attacked these women. Can you just see the fear on their faces as they back up against the shut door of one of the stores observing a commercial strike? Look, just look, at this informer disguised as an Arab demonstrator as he moves around taking pictures of the activists. He sends these to the police and they swarm at them and now that they have the evidence, they arrest them. And look how careful they are to hurt but not kill these demonstrators. They don’t want casualties.”

As I looked, I thought that one has to give the Israeli police credit. Clearly, they were applying lessons that they had learned from decades of demonstrations. With their ability to adapt, I had no doubt that the Israeli police would eventually succeed in containing the demonstrations denouncing Trump’s declaration. Clearly, they had the power and means to do it.

Next, our journalist friend insisted that we listen to the protesters’ chants. They included one against Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, demanding that he leave office. They expressed it with contempt, openly taunting the moderate Palestinian leader and demanding, “Abbas, abandon your basta,” using a word that normally means a peddler’s stall. They chanted against the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, as well, denouncing his handling of the peace process, which they declared dead.

During our long discussion after dinner, we concluded, together, that Israel and its ally, the U.S., had made a vast mistake. For Palestinians, Trump’s Jerusalem declaration ended all hopes that the long-moribund peace process might lead to an independent Palestinian state. Had Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, held off on the announcement, it might have still been possible for the status quo to continue, with Israelis claiming that they were pursuing peace while relentlessly pushing ahead with settlement construction that violated international law and made the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible. This fortunate situation for Israel might have continued for another five or, perhaps, ten years. But after Trump’s declaration, it was over.

The announcement also may prove politically fatal for Abbas, who had built his strategy and placed his hopes on the U.S. reviving the peace process. In recent years, Abbas has satisfied all of Israel’s demands but has still been rejected by Netanyahu. And now, Trump’s declaration had exposed the hopelessness of the U.S. serving as a fair arbiter. In an effort to regain some credibility among Palestinians, Abbas announced that Palestinians would no longer accept the U.S. serving as a mediator in peace talks in the wake of Trump’s decision. “Jerusalem is and will forever be the capital of the Palestinian state,” Abbas declared at a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, in Istanbul. “We do not accept any role of the United States in the political process from now on, because it is completely biased towards Israel.”

For many years, I have watched Abbas, whom I know personally, do his best to satisfy the conditions, often ludicrous, placed on him by Netanyahu in order to restart peace negotiations. I’m not an admirer of Abbas’s negotiating skills, but I appreciate the fact that, if Abbas is forced from power, Israel would lose a leading Palestinian moderate who is a firm believer in a negotiated peace. Yet Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders have done everything they can to discredit Abbas. And by lobbying Trump to make his declaration, Netanyahu and his supporters have likely delivered a final blow that will end Abbas’s rule. The U.S., a sponsor of the Oslo Accords, has openly violated one of its paramount provisions: that the status of Jerusalem be decided in final-status negotiations. Any pretense of Trump’s impartiality is gone, and, no Palestinians will be waiting to hear the promised peace plan by Jared Kushner.

On a recent afternoon, I was walking home in Ramallah and looked at the rolling hills to the north. On one side, I could see new Israeli settlements being built ever closer. On the other side, new Palestinian housing projects were doing their part to destroy the beautiful landscape that I adored when I grew up here. Three Palestinian policemen mounted on horseback rode by me and I thought that one needs to live here to keep track of the constant changes. If I would leave Ramallah for any length of time, I would find the situation too difficult, confusing, and demoralizing to understand.                                                                                                                                                   Forty years ago, I left Ramallah to study law in London. Since returning home, in 1978, I have closely tracked the stream of legal changes that allowed Israeli settlements to develop near Ramallah and in numerous other parts of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. I wrote extensively about Israel’s plans to annex the areas it occupied in 1967 by gradually extending Israeli laws to its ever-growing settlements. I firmly believed that if these violations of international law became known, Israel would no longer be able to carry them out. I was wrong.

The Israeli effort to erode any official Palestinian presence in Jerusalem has been underway for many years. In 1996, Israel allowed the first Palestinian parliamentary elections to take place in Jerusalem, and local residents ran as candidates. Officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization met in Orient House with international diplomats visiting Jerusalem. Gradually, during the early two thousands, the Israelis limited Palestinian access to Jerusalem by building the separation wall. They justified it as necessary to stop suicide bombings, but none of the restrictions were reversed when security conditions improved. Palestinians concluded that the Israelis had other objectives, namely keeping Palestinians away from East Jerusalem, a city that had been an integral part of the West Bank until the Israeli occupation, in 1967.

The decades that have passed since I began practicing law here have included hopeful periods when it seemed that change could come through nonviolent activism and negotiations. And there have been years when violent resistance, in the form of two intifadas, was viewed as the only way to end to the occupation. After Trump’s speech, calls for a new intifada have greater resonance. Over time, I’ve become used to this ebb and flow and have learned that the most important lesson is to hold on, or persevere, which, in Arabic, we call sumoud. If I leave, I may find the situation here too strange and incomprehensible to endure.

At our dinner, there was one last thing that our journalist friend wanted us to see. He showed us images of the Israeli police preventing Palestinian demonstrators from flying the Palestinian flag in Jerusalem. As soon as the protesters noticed this, they challenged the police and argued that the mutual recognition established between Israel and the P.L.O. under the Oslo Accords has allowed the Palestinian to flag to fly for the past twenty-two years. They asked what had happened to change this.

Three weeks after Trump’s declaration, only one other nation, Guatemala, has followed the U.S. in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Last Thursday, the U.N. General Assembly voted a hundred and twenty-eight to nine, with thirty-five abstentions, in favor of a resolution condemning Trump’s action. Egypt, normally a close Trump ally, sponsored the original resolution. Across the West Bank and in Gaza, the Israeli military is showing less restraint—a dozen Palestinians have been killed and more than three hundred injured.

In view of the fortunate position Israel was in regarding Jerusalem, what prompted its decision to rock a smoothly sailing boat? Did it feel it no longer needed the cover of the peace process because it is now strong enough to say it wants more Palestinian territory? Did the Israelis, perhaps, feel they had created enough settlements to make the situation irreversible and force the world to come to terms with it? Was this behind Netanyahu’s extensive lobbying of Trump to declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel?

I believe not. It is unlikely that the Israeli Cabinet carefully discussed the pros and cons of this declaration. More likely, it was another example of events being driven by power politics. Netanyahu, threatened with looming corruption cases, needed to boost his popularity. The declaration may, at best, extend his hold on power for another few years. On the other side of the world, an obdurate U.S. President was eager to please his wealthy donors and his political base, particularly evangelicals. Surely, neither politician is a statesman and neither is thinking of the good of his country.

It is important to remember that the Palestinians have consistently called for Jerusalem to remain undivided, and urged that when it became the capital of both states, Israel and Palestine, it would remain an open city. After a peace settlement, the city would serve as a model of coëxistence. Instead of furthering this objective, Trump and Netanyahu have condemned us, both peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, to perpetual conflict.

How else can the Israelis continue to control millions of Palestinians under their rule without representation except through force? Watching the images of the police in action in East Jerusalem on my friend’s phone, I had no doubt that they will continue to successfully quell demonstrations. But what I, as well as many other Palestinians and Israelis, wish for is to end violence as the modus operandi between our two peoples. I refuse to be cured of my naïvety. I refuse to believe that power politics alone will determine the future of our suffering region and nations. I have always believed, and will continue to believe, that peace will allow us to do much together. Trump’s intervention only takes us further from that dream.