2016 in technology: what will be the next big thing?

When you hear predictions for politics and world affairs in 2016, you would be forgiven for thinking that it is not going to be the best of years. Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom – there are plenty of exciting things to look out for in the world of technology.

You will hear your neighbour boasting about their new electric car

This year will undoubtedly see key developments in the future of personal transportation. As of yet, electric cars have been too expensive for the majority of buyers. However, with many affordable options unveiled at the recent Detroit motor show, they are set to become an increasingly compelling choice. Expect to hear about it at the street Christmas party. 

Perhaps even more interesting is that the big players – Google, Ford, Toyota and Renault-Nissan – look set to release their driverless cars this year. Though Apple have not formally announced their intentions to develop a car, as Tesla CEO Elon Musk put it, “It’s pretty hard to hide something if you hire over a thousand engineers to do it”. 

Driverless technology is gaining speed, but how it will be regulated remains uncertain. With recent reports about driverless cars struggling to recognise cyclists, I have chosen to invest in a helmet. 

Artificial Intelligence will replace merchant bankers 

As we all settle down to the delightful prospect of another term of learning followed by quickly forgetting, we can take comfort from the fact that computers do not have to spend hours in the library to do things better than we can. 

Artificial Intelligence is a bit of a confusing description. It doesn’t just mean the humanoid robots of Hollywood blockbusters, but also things which we already use every day, such as search engines. It has already impacted our lives in a number of ways, but will become increasingly commercially relevant in the finance and health sectors, used to generate reports, handle so-called ‘big data’ and provide diagnosis assistants to healthcare professionals. The technology giants are paying more and more attention to Artificial Intelligence companies, and the established systems such as IBM Watson and Google (with their latest ‘D-wave 2X’) are branching out. 

There are important ethical debates to be had about the long-term direction and regulation of this technology, and many respected scientists have voiced their concerns about its possible implications, going so far as to say that it spells the end of the human race. While the doomsday predictions are still a while ahead of us, greater public discussion about the robots we want and those we don’t want, to establish an ethical framework for research in this field, is vital. 

Our phones will know more about our health than our doctors 

Healthcare systems are still running on a 1960s model and, much like the Rolling Stones, nothing really stays at its prime for that long. While doctors are no longer wearing flares, healthcare has yet to take full advantage of omnipresence of technology in our lives. This year will see an increasing number of health-related apps being released, spanning more than just the fitness industry. 

Google already knows a worrying number of things about us, but soon they may even know our blood pressure. There will of course be commercial applications, but I also sincerely hope that technology can begin to have more positive impact managing and treating medical conditions. This will require a more innovative and involved approach from healthcare providers, working alongside technology companies. Debate over the handling of sensitive data will come to the fore and, shock horror, we may even have to start paying for services if we don’t want the information we provide them to be sold to advertisers. 

Pollution of the oceans will become a more important issue 

We all like our oceans, but we also dump around eight million tons of plastic into them each year. An estimated 100,000 sea mammals and millions of seabirds and fish die each year as a result of entanglement or ingestion of plastics. 

20-year-old Boyan Slat and his crowd funded company The Ocean Cleanup have tested several prototypes of their cleaning system, which relies on a network of long floating barriers that help the ocean currents gather plastic passively. A 100-metre barrier segment will be deployed in the North Sea in the second quarter of this year, with the aim to deploy the first operational cleaning system off the coast of Tsushima Island (between Japan and South- Korea) shortly afterwards. 

Whether this will help to clean up the river Cherwell is as of yet unclear. 

Jupiter will become a little less mysterious 

NASA’s Juno spacecraft is expected to enter orbit around Jupiter on the 4th of July. As of January 8th 2016, Juno is approximately 457 million miles (735 million kilometers) from Earth and is travelling at approximately 56,000 miles per hour (around 25 kilometers per second) relative to Earth. By analyzing Jupiter’s atmosphere and magnetic field, it hopes to shine light on the origin and evolution of Jupiter and give us more clues as to the origin of our solar system.