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4 Hot Tech Topics to Watch in 2018

Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and voice-controlled devices. What new tech is coming to your office and affecting your customers or members?

We’re well past the point of keeping up with every advancement in the tech field – things are simply moving too fast. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t affected when things move forward.

New technology makes its way into our lives and businesses faster every year. Unsurprisingly, that will continue in 2018. But since it’s almost impossible to keep up with every tech change that will affect you this year, we’ve collected four that are on our radar.

These four areas have been in conversations – and the news – recently and will continue to be hot topics in the coming months. If they aren’t already affecting your life or work, they will soon.

1. Privacy and Data Protection

The biggest privacy topic in 2018 will likely be GDPR, which goes into effect in May. Any organization with customers or members in the EU will need to be compliant with the new rules. For those wondering what happens in Great Britain after Brexit, they’re implementing a similar bill that will include most of the same regulations.

Privacy and GDPR may be eclipsed by larger discussions about data protection, however. We were all rocked by the Equifax breach last year – something we’ll continue to feel the effects of for years to come – and news of other hacks seem to come almost weekly.

The fact is that hacks happen. Someone out there is always going to try to find a way to steal information, the important thing to focus on is how we educate and protect ourselves. We’ll discuss data protection in detail this year, including what we can do to protect ourselves and the customers who trust us with their information.

2. Machine Learning and Deep Learning (Artificial Intelligence)

We’ve all heard these buzzwords, but what do they really mean? Definitions vary, but machine learning and deep learning are both under the artificial intelligence (AI) umbrella. Unlike AI, which can mean many different things depending on who’s speaking, machine learning and deep learning have more solid meanings.

Machine learning is a subdiscipline or field within AI that allows systems (machines) to learn from experience and data input, without explicit programming.

Deep learning is a type of machine learning. Large quantities of data are fed through artificial neural networks so learning algorithms can be trained to make decisions about that data.

Both have broad applications, one of which is intelligent and curated content. Marketers, sales professionals, ecommerce leaders, and even online communities could potentially use machine learning and deep learning to provide audiences with better content. However, artificial intelligence still takes significant effort and expertise. It’s pricey, although in 2018 we can expect advances to continue dropping the price point for AI technology. Some platforms are already moving in the direction of AI by way of automation.

You’ll hear more about that this year, but other conversations will revolve around the dark side of curated content and news feed algorithms – negative, even potentially harmful, content recommendations. For example, the fake news phenomenon is likely exacerbated by artificial intelligence and content tools.  Many social media sites use machine learning to determine that user A is similar to user B, so when user B likes a fake news article, user A is shown that same article. If user A then likes the article, the cycle continues with users deemed to be similar to user A.

Expect to discuss ethics in more detail this year. Whatever tools we use, it’s important to manage the content we curate.

3. Voice Controls

Amazon’s runaway success, Alexa, is now available for businesses. According to their website, Alexa can:

  • Help you at your desk
  • Simplify conference rooms
  • Help around the office
  • Add voice to your products and services

Is that good or bad? Voice controlled devices became popular at home in recent years, will they become popular at work in 2018? It’s possible, since voice-controlled devices are great for helping with self-service and connected back-end bots, so they may have positive applications in businesses. There’s talk about how associations can use voice tools as well. However, these devices can be “always listening”, which may raise privacy concerns in the workplace that might have been less concerning in the home.

In 2018, you’ll likely see Alexa popping up in offices near you, maybe even your own. How would you use it?

4. Virtual and Augmented Reality

We’re grateful the hype from Pokémon Go has died down, but it was a great way to get augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in the spotlight. It helped us see just how close the technology behind them are to becoming mainstream. They have applications in personal devices, gaming, education, field training for police and other first responders, and many other fields.

Currently, AR and VR are still too expensive to be standard in technology, but that could change. There’s much talk of inexpensive devices in the pipeline, perhaps this is the year they hit the mainstream and achieve serious market penetration.

Some organizations in our field should start discussing AR and VR this year. Meetings, for instance, will likely be affected once the technology goes mainstream. Imagine how your annual conference or business meetings will change when AR and VR is available to the masses.

2018’s Discussions Will Be Mixed – Be Prepared for the Positive and the Negative

The new technology and tools we see moving forward today are exciting. AI and its many variations could make our lives a lot easier in the future. They’ll continue to gain momentum as buzzwords this year. We’ll probably be using our hands-free, voice-controlled devices to learn more about them.

But with these advances come more serious conversations about the data collection and algorithms. Businesses and associations are collecting massive amount of data and using new tools to analyze them. With that comes a level of responsibility and plenty of discussions about ethics. (And, a new level of data-powered engagement never seen before.)

Keep an eye on the trends to ensure that your organization stays up to date with new technology, because it will affect your staff and the customers or members you serve.

Steve Balthazor

Steve was born and raised in sunny, landlocked Phoenix, Arizona, but his first job was in the US Navy as a Submarine Officer. His career path led him through stints in engineering-related positions in the semiconductor industry, the mining industry, and ultimately, in the software industry. Steve joined Higher Logic in 2017 after the acquisition of Socious, an online community and association management software provider, which he co-founded and where he served as Chief Technology Officer.

Steve has a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in Nuclear Sciences from Arizona State University.