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CES 2018: Six key technology trends take center stage

The major consumer technology show gives some clues to the key enterprise technology trends in 2018 worth watching.


The CES 2018 show takes place in Las Vegas this week. Historically, CES features many futuristic technologies—not all of which are for prime time and the enterprise. But the show also provides a barometer of the key technology trends to watch in 2018. Here are six key themes to watch at CES — and beyond.

1. Robots. As artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning systems become more sophisticated and able to reflect business processes, robots are more likely to emerge in the workforce as well as in other environments, such as smart homes and schools. The triumvirate of technologies—connected sensors, voice-activated systems and deep learning—now make robots’ presence in the workforce an increasing reality—maybe not this year or next, but over the next several years. With the market for consumer and business robots expected to grow to $1.5 billion by 2019, robots will likely infiltrate not just assembly lines, but myriad industries, including accounting, law and more. And while many experts have intoned that robots will simply augment human work, other predictions suggest that 49% of work activity could be supplanted by automation by 2055. CES will sport many incarnations of robots that are designed for smart homes, the workplace and the shop floor; stay tuned.

2. Virtual assistants. While virtual assistants have been gathering steam for more than a year, they will be ubiquitous at CES 2018. Conversational assistants are key to offerings like Amazon Alexa as well as smartphone assistants like Siri and Google Assistant as well as new smart speaker offerings from Google. They enable users to devise queries with their voice, in natural language and in more of a hands-free mode, which is why experts predict that conversational interfaces will be the communication medium going forward. According to some experts, more than 90% of communication is still done with voice; additionally, by 2020, an estimate is that 200 billion searches per month will be done with voice activation rather than typed text. "Coming out of CES, we're going to clearly have established that voice is going to be the go-to user interface," said Steve Koenig, senior director of market research for the Consumer Technology Association.

3. Smart city infrastructure, enabled by IoT and AI. As metropolitan areas balloon—with some estimates that cities will make up 60% of populations by 2030—cities have become increasingly overwhelmed with delivering services safely, efficiently and cost-effectively. Smart city infrastructure can optimize various city services. With Internet of Things (IoT)-connected sensors, as well as data gathered from existing systems, smart infrastructure can optimize traffic lights to better manage traffic patterns and minimize accidents; sensors in waste bins can alert trash pickup to make a stop at a garbage can; and IoT sensors can also aid with water sanitation and video surveillance on city streets.

4. Augmented reality. Augmented reality can make virtual reality a true reality by creating immersive experiences for users without becoming onerous or so immersive that users are cut off from the outside world. While augmented reality is maturing, devices are still largely single-purpose. Consider, for example, augmented reality glasses that control drones. The hope is that some of these immersive tools will help companies promote collaborative environments for workforces, whether they are global and dispersed or centralized.

5. Smarter transportation. Much of the buzz at CES surrounds technologies like IoT that enable self-driving vehicles. Again, self-driving cars will be combined with voice-activated, virtual assistants and artificial intelligence as well. This will enable self-driving capabilities but also the ability to identify available parking as a vehicle moves or anti-collision information to prevent an accident. But smart transportation has other incarnations, such as public transportation. AI and IoT are helping city transportation alert travelers about wait time, delays and safety information, and digital payment.

6. 5G technology. The fifth-generation broadband technology paves the foundation for key trends discussed above because it enables speed and better connectivity. 5G is based on the 802.11ac standard and enables various business applications and IoT devices. 5G can help promote the mundane, such as extended life for IoT devices and less latency, but it also supports business process, such as data analytics at the edge (e.g., edge computing). 5G will help enable the connectivity needed for devices to process large volumes at the edge, rather than in central locations such as public clouds or enterprise data centers.

Watch for our continued analysis of these technology trends in 2018. The CES 2018 show stands as just one indication that these are key themes that will shape our workplaces and personal lives this year.

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Lauren Horwitz

Lauren Horwitz is the managing editor of Cisco.com, where she covers the IT infrastructure market and develops content strategy. Previously, Horwitz was a senior executive editor in the Business Applications and Architecture group at TechTarget;, a senior editor at Cutter Consortium, an IT research firm; and an editor at the American Prospect, a political journal. She has received awards from American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), a min Best of the Web award and the Kimmerling Prize for best graduate paper for her editing work on the journal article "The Fluid Jurisprudence of Israel's Emergency Powers.”