Well, we’re almost at the end of January 2018!

It’s the time of year where you’ve seen all the pundits try to make predictions for the changes which we’ll see this year. I’m going to reflect on some of the changes, evolutions, and growths in technology which 2017 brought in. Over the past year, we’ve witnessed major changes in terms of Cyber Security and Data Protection, Blockchain and BitCoin, AI and Intelligent Assistants as well as smartphones and augmented reality. What is the impact that these changes have had and how will they affect future trends?

In Cyber Security, we’ve seen some major incidents this year. The public became more familiar with “ransomware” (software which locks files and programs until a ransom has been paid) through the “WannaCry” infection which affected thousands, particularly the NHS in the UK. For a refresher take a look at the Telegraph.

This attack would have been more serious if not for a cyber-security researcher who discovered a “kill-switch” for the ransomware. Unfortunately, this led to the researcher losing their anonymity. Articles appeared discussing the researcher in depth along with information scraped from Social Media accounts with some outlets downplaying the individual’s contribution to halting the biggest ransomware infection ever. Unfortunately, this leads to the researcher being “outed” and painted a target on their back for criminals to seek revenge.

Another large-scale cyber-attack (Petya, NotPetya, Pneytna, Petrwrap, SortaPetya or Goldeneye depending on variants) happened a month later as Maersk, FedEx, WPP and others were infected after Ukrainian businesses were compromised by infected tax software updates. This resulted in over $1billion in related losses. Both of these attacks have been linked to “state-sponsored” hackers which begins to paint a terrifying picture of our digital future.

In a more simplistic attack, two of the world’s biggest technology companies fell victim to a Phishing attack (impersonation of another party to gain payment or sensitive information) where the criminal impersonated a mutual manufacturer receiving around £76million over 3 years. This highlighted that even technology giants such as Facebook and Google are not infallible when it comes to Cyber Security and Phishing attacks.

The impact of this is the growing threat of “hacking” for everyone. Cyber Security and Threat Intelligence are rapidly growing markets in IT for both professional and personal purposes.

Amazon and Google’s “Artificial Intelligence” platforms have been gaining in popularity for a while helping users to automate processes within their homes from turning lighting and heating on and off to more complex routines with smart plugs, music, appliances and online services. Apple announced their entry into the space in June with the HomePod (which is yet to be released) while Microsoft’s Invoke platform with Cortana at its heart has quietly flown below the radar. SmartHome technology has been evolving to keep pace with more manufacturers embracing “Smart” technology to remain relevant and improve sales of their devices from coffee machines and ovens to fridges and security systems. This technology looks set to more deeply embed itself in our lives, becoming more capable and more “intelligent” over the coming years.

These SmartHome AIs struggle to convince users of genuine intelligence though as the majority of their functionality comes from pre-defined responses and routines yet while we may be a few years away from HAL 9000, Roy Batty and ED209 running rampant, controlling our lives and discovering consciousness, we are definitely getting closer. 2017 saw DeepMind’s AlphaGo Artificial Intelligence beat the best human “Go” player in the world. This was a momentous event for AI development as Go is not a game of pattern recognition and permutations which Chess and other “test” games can be boiled down to. Go requires a combination of knowledge, experience and “understanding” to win. While the utility of the AlphaGo AI is limited to playing Go, the methodology and elements of the software behind it could be used to develop an AI more capable of learning, interacting with humans and understanding the world around it.

The best opportunity for AI to find out about and decipher the world around it is through portability and constant presence. Smartphone manufacturers and Operating System developers are aware of this and are embedding their AI assistants into their hardware and software on portable devices. Apple’s assistant “Siri” is present on all of their computers and phones now, sending more information back to Apple’s data processing centers to try and comply with requests and demands to improve on the “intelligent” aspect of its functionality. Google’s “Ok, Google” smart assistant is available on all smartphones (including Apple’s iPhones) and provides a more customisable user experience allowing users to predefine responses and reactions to requests as well as performing searches to provide information as requested. Amazon’s “Alexa” is limited to their “fire” tablets, the “Echo” range of smart home devices and the Amazon App on Android and iPhones, limiting its exposure to real-world interaction on a regular basis. Microsoft’s “Cortana” is available for Android and iPhones as well through its adoption is much lower than the previously noted assistants, proving itself to be less accessible than them.

These assistants function with and thrive from the processing of information, both personal and general but with the build-up, throughout 2017 towards May 2018’s General Data Protection Regulation adoption this could all change.

The General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR was passed by the EU in 2016 with an enforcement date of 25th May 2018. The GDPR is a revolutionary piece of legislation, superseding the Data Protection Act and thrusting more accountability and transparency of personal information handling onto companies. Primarily this legislation is there to reinforce the rights of the individual to be aware of who holds their information, in what form and for what purposes. This should fundamentally change the nature of services which users are familiar with now. Service providers, retailers, and organisations, in general, must now have consent from the relevant individuals in order to store or use their information. Marketing services and advertisers must receive pro-active, voluntary and unconditional consent from individuals in order to add them to mailing lists and mailshots. Firms must take affirmative steps to protect this data and ensure that it is used only for the pre-consented purposes, remaining able to be accessed, transferred or deleted at any time by the individual(s) concerned. Non-conforming companies will face fines of between 2% and 4% of their annual turnover should they be found to breach the terms or fail to protect the information which is held.

Bitcoin has been making waves this year with 1 BTC (bitcoin) being worth $1,005.81 in January 2017 and rising to an incredible $19,343 on 16th December 2017. Over the past 7 years, the growth of Bitcoin has been turbulent growing from a value of $0.06 in July 2010 to almost $1,000 in 2013 before crashing down to $200 in 2015. As of mid-January 2018 Bitcoin has crashed again to $11,800.

Cryptocurrencies have seen a stark rise over the past year as Bitcoin has become more prevalent. Bitcoin is synonymous with cryptocurrencies now in part due to the anonymised nature of them and the fact that most ransoms and untraceable purchases require payment in Bitcoin. Analysts are split as to how to predict Bitcoin growth and success with some arguing that the growing time between starting and finishing a transfer of ownership, the currency is going to be superseded or replaced by one of the “younger” currencies available just now, offering much-shorted completion times.

The real impact of this is on the growth of blockchain technology which is the backbone of cryptocurrencies. One of the best breakdowns of “Blockchain” technology is on Lifehacker’s website https://lifehacker.com/what-is-blockchain-1822094625. Blockchain could affect secure information including the transfer, storage and availability of it in all walks of professional life in the near future.

We’ve got an exciting future with technology, and we can only hope that innovations can continue to improve on this. Texaport aims to keep ahead of the curve with emerging technologies and disciplines, so if you want to learn more about them let us know.