What does 2014 hold for the technology world? One of the exciting things about technology is that it’s never really possible to predict. The most talked-about tech story of the year is likely to be something that is currently unimaginable. Still, there are a few trends that are likely to dominate the news agenda. Here is my top five:
1. The cloud gets personal
It isn’t that long ago that computers filled rooms. Then they sat on desktops before shrinking to sit on our laps and keep our thighs warm. For the last few years they have been in our pockets. With so many devices there is no longer one “master” device, no hub. For the last few years technology companies have been working to adapt their services for this new world. Emails, calendars, file storage, music collections, film libraries and all manner of other services are now hosted in the cloud. Analysts Gartner expect 2014 to be a big year for this trend, ushering in what it calls “the era of the personal cloud”.
2. Virtual currency is virtually here
You’ve probably come across bitcoin by now, though you might not understand exactly what it is or how it works. The virtual currency has, in 2013, been painted as some kind of pyramid scheme, with early investors making big profits, and as a boon to Internet criminals. Elsewhere it’s seen as a way of fixing failing economic institutions. None of those portrayals rings true entirely but you’ll hear more about Bitcoin – and other virtual currencies – in 2014. In particular, get ready for the debate about whether or not they are a tool that Silicon Valley’s libertarian extremists will use to destabilize the world’s governments. You don’t have to go far to find exactly that argument but even a more reasonable presentation of it raises very serious questions. Arm yourself for the debate of 2014 by reading this article by Alex Payne.
3. MOOC: the acronym you’ll just have to live with
Anyone who has seen Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets will know that the term “mook” is an insult. The acronym MOOC, on the other hand, means Massive Open Online Courses – a concept that has the potential to revolutionize education. Coursera, one of the World Economic Forum’s Technology Pioneers for 2014, provides online access to over 400 courses from top universities and already has more than 4 million users worldwide. And it’s free – the company makes its money by charging for certification. As the cost of education rises, there is more potential for services like Coursera to step in. Expect to hear more about MOOCs in 2014.
4. The doctor will Skype you now
For about the past five years, technology pundits have been predicting a revolution in healthcare. Online consultations, doctors who prescribe smartphone apps to monitor patients and data-driven healthcare are all on the horizon but the shift never quite seems to happen. It’s a change that is going to be slower than many expect, for lots of good reasons: people like the personal touch in healthcare, while confidentiality and security are both vital and difficult to implement. Nevertheless, the growth of connected devices and the Internet of things (see my review of 2013 for more on that) provides a good foundation for the coming year. More and more people are tracking their health data – not just tech nerds but “normal” people – and that will create demand for smarter healthcare services. Meanwhile, pressure to deliver cheaper healthcare will drive change from the other side of the equation.
5. Yes, I’m still on about wearables
And finally, let me mention wearable technology once again. (I did write a book about it in 2013, you know. I’ve got to keep plugging away.) As I wrote in my review of 2013, wearables are moving ever closer to the mainstream. If Apple does launch a smartwatch in 2014, expect the whole sector to take a massive leap forward. Even without the iWatch, we’ll still see the growth in the wearables sector continue in 2014. This time next year we’ll know more about the potential for smart glasses as a mass market proposition. Right now, the case is still unproven. And we can expect to see a convergence of activity trackers and smart watches. At the moment they are two separate devices; their functionality is likely to be combined into single devices next year.
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Author: Shane Richmond is an author and technology specialist.
Image: A “bitcoin” rests on top of U.S. dollar bills REUTERS/Jim Urquhart