The power of technology to disrupt business, government and influence how people interact was never more apparent than in 2015.

Whilst hoverboards were one of the must have Christmas gifts of 2015, they didn't quite live up to those envisaged by the writers of Back to the Future, however we did see countless other technical innovations. And yet as we look to what 2016 may bring, in the infamous words of Shakespeare, "The best is yet to come". 

 

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1. Social Media

Whilst 'social media fatigue' is a real thing with people becoming both overwhelmed and burnt out by the sheer volume of its noise, it would be negligent to ignore it for its continuing role changing the internet. 

It highlights a shift in the way social media and the internet are used: the internet more than ever is becoming a global ecosystem with fewer and fewer barriers between shopping, social networks, entertainment and sources of information. Notably, people are increasingly bypassing Google for search, going direct to the likes of YouTube, Pinterest and Amazon.  

Consequently, social media is increasingly powerful in all aspects of life - personal, business and political. Just think back the role Twitter and YouTube played in the Arab Spring or the solidarity shown through '#Je suis Charlie'; but also consider ISIS' use of social media. The rapid growth of mobile internet has only accentuated the changes.

 

2. Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable technology 

Many have partaken in the IoT hype train, but business has struggled to create anything of real use. Until now. 2015 saw the IoT start in earnest, but 2016 is when many predict products will hit the mainstream. Big money companies such as Google, IBM and Cisco are investing heavily and viable products are beginning to emerge in a range of industries, including retail, healthcare and utilities. This is a space worth watching.

An example for in retail is the Amazon Dash Button, a small device with one button that when pressed, instantly orders the product it's programmed to order. It is beginning to powerfully disrupt the retail industry for the ease with which things can be purchased. Pretty cool, right? However . . .

More significant is the potential in the health industry, through wearable technology which monitors sleep, heart rate, calories burned, blood glucose levels, steps taken and stairs climbed, to revolutionise the way our health is monitored- part of a wider push towards personalised healthcare. Sensor and battery technology is enabling this, whilst consumers have overcome their reluctance to wear computers on their bodies - largely thanks to Apple. Many of those around you right now will probably be wearing some variation of a Fitbit.

But the reality is that this technology is still in its infancy - much like the first generation MP3 players. The next big thing will be for these devises to be directly connected to the Internet rather than through a third-party mobile device. Look out for the Internet of Things becoming the Internet of Everything.

 

3. AI

Whilst the possibilities for technology are fascinating, AI (by that I mean Artificial Intelligence, not Donald Trump) has been subject to much dread in pop culture - think I, Robot, Terminator and the Matrix - and among many commentators too. Elon Musk, the billionaire business and tech genius behind Tesla, has even suggested it's "our biggest existential threat" and invested in an organisation to monitor it!  

AI attempts to mimic human beings, specifically our ability to learn and make decisions, so as human and machine are indistinguishable. Researchers even argue that Alan Turing's infamous test - whether a person can tell the difference between a human and machine in conversation - has already been passed. That's all well and good, but what does AIreallymean in 2016 and how will it affect us?

The technology is being applied in self-driving cars, facial and voice recognition, personalised online advertising and shopping experiences, and is also been extensively used in Windows' Cortana and iOS's Siri and Google's search engine technology.

Notably, China's Government has welcomed AI with open arms, viewing it as the way to maintain manufacturing competitiveness as workers' wages rise. Machines which traditionally perform precise but simple, repetitive tasks are increasingly able to learn and share between each other. Automation has already replaced many people's jobs whilst also creating new ones. The technology is rapidly improving. Watch this space in 2016.

 

4. Driverless cars

The technology for driver-less cars made significant advances in 2015, propelled by Google, Apply, Uber and China's Baidu. Newer cars already extensively rely on computer technology (as the Volkswagen scandal recently highlighted) and self-parking cars are becoming less uncommon. My Grandad, a former mechanic, recently lamented that mechanics don't actually fix anything anymore, they diagnose problems using a computer and replace a broken part.

Unmanned vehicles in the transportation industry and reductions in road accidents could be highly beneficial - and disruptive - to people and business. And driverless cars may happen sooner then we think. A recent software update for Tesla's Model S electric cars gave it self-driving capabilities.

Whilst the tech is regarded as near ready, it will be a few years before it becomes mainstream. Regulation may need to play catch-up, but perhaps more importantly people will have to trust the technology. Many fear the risk of accidents from software bugs and hacking, as well as a loss of skills and pleasure of driving.

 

Changing People

This is a mere snapshot of what's happening in the world of technology and many of these advances are interlinked, - with Cloud Computing a critical enabling factor in them all. Whilst technology's influence on science, politics and industry is captivating, perhaps the most fascinating aspect of technological change is the way it's changing people and society - not just how we live, but our assumptions and values.

The generation coming of age right now, born between 1995 and 2009 - Generation Z - are unlike any other before them. Having grown up in a globalised world with social media and the internet, Generation Z have their eyes wide open; they've also been influenced by factors including global terrorism, the financial crash and climate change. Consequently they're characterised as being entrepreneurial and progressive. They think in a completely different way to Generation Y's Millennials and have even less in common with Generation X's baby boomers.

However, it's particularly interesting to note that many of the significant technology trends I've mentioned have been met with degrees of fear and scepticism (I've not even touched on privacy issues and cybercrime!): But progress stops for no one. It is a considered truth that it's a particularly enthralling time be alive, even more so if you're interested in technology. Bring it 2016.