Media demand for insight into robotics, digitalisation, med-tech, galactic flights, and numerous other areas in the field of technology has increased considerably over the last year. And no wonder, a lot is happening.

At the ScotlandIS Tech Trends 2017 event earlier this week, Gartner’s Richard Marshall made it clear the next few years are going to bring significant changes to the way technology affects our lives. The challenges and opportunities for the tech industry and those they service (which is well, er… most people) will underpin pretty much every aspect of the way we live by 2020.

From a communications perspective, we’re expecting to see technology filtering into many more areas of the news agenda as its role in society grows. Some of these changes will be obvious; semi-automated cars, robots, and advanced chatbots, for example. Some will be less obvious; blockchain as a means of mediating trade, smart medical devices, and intelligent sensors.

Journalists and those who work with the media will need a very deep understanding of just how big a change is about to arrive, and when it does arrive, a similarly wide breadth of understanding.

Here are some of the issues I believe are likely to stand out as tech grows deeper into every aspect of life. A quick search for any of the below will return reams of results: some news, some opinion, some baffling research, and all pretty interesting!

Deep Learning and better AI: One of the most notable advances this year will be in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ‘deep learning’; software that can recognise patterns in digital representations of sounds, images, and data. Deep learning gives systems the ability to determine basic numerical qualities, such as greater or lesser, without actually understanding the numbers themselves, but learning from them. 2017 is the year consumers will be able to buy and use this kind of technology. Internet of things end-points; wearable technology; apps that learn from users, and medical technology will all begin to normalise and will become, more-or-less, expected.

‘AI-gone-wrong’: For the time being anyway, algorithms can’t be programmed to grasp the quirks that command human judgment or emotion. If, for example, a death is inevitable when a child runs into the path of an autonomous car driving two adults – what’s the decision? The majority of human drivers would save the child. However, a value-driven system might see the decision as 3 – 2 = 1; versus 3 – 1 = 2, where the latter is the higher value and thus the better decision. Social and cultural consensus on automated car-crashes, weapons, sex (there’s a hyperlink I bet you click), and human responsibly toward artificially aware beings is less advanced than the technology itself.

Industrial automation: In December, the head of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, Jason Furman, presented a paper to the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine which claimed:

– Jobs with a median wage paying less than $20 an hour have an 83% chance of being automated.

– Those with less than a high school education had a 44% chance of having their jobs automated.

The social, political and economic implications are going to be big. The brains at the top are going to have to work out how this process is managed. Will Trump favour robots that improve efficiency in business, or will he disapprove of robots because they will create a danger of unemployment within certain demographics?

These changes are exciting, scary, and unpredictable, and there are many others (security being the most obvious) I haven’t even covered. One thing is for sure though, communication will be key to the orderly advance of technological changes. Society will need to know about it, and the communications sector will have to make sure that the implications of the changes in tech are clear and unequivocal.

Many thanks to ScotlandIS for organising the event and to Gartner’s Richard Marshall for his insights.

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