In the world of emerging technology, prognostication is a tricky business. Things can change quickly in the tech business, where one breakthrough -- in research, application or even legislation -- can trigger a cascade of rapid consequences. But what the hey -- we'll give it a shot. Here are ten tech trends to watch for in 2015, including developments in personal stealth wear, immersive virtual reality and artificial intelligence.
Mobile payment systems -- in which you use your smartphone in place of your credit card -- are expected to become more widespread in 2015, withApple Pay
and competing services likeCurrentC
staking out new territory. The upside is that mobile payment systems can make transactions much faster and potentially reduce credit card fees. The downside is that mobile payment systems open up perilous new territory in privacy and security concerns. Which leads us to our next item.
Mobile payment services like Apple Pay communicate with point-of-sale devices by way of near-field communication (NFC) technology. As with older radio-frequency identification (RFID) systems, these transactions are vulnerable to hackers who can steal your information just by being in physical proximity. (One of 2014's most popular video games, "Watch Dogs," was based on this kind of scenario.) In response, several different kinds of stealth wear and accessories are expected to become widely available in 2015. In addition toRFID-blocking wallets
for your credit cards, look for jackets, bags and evenjeans
designed to block wireless signals to your phone or other mobile device. Or you can go right to the source with privacy-first devices like Silent Circle'sBlackphone
or the BoeingBlack
The much-anticipated Oculus Rift virtual reality head-mounted display is expected to finally hit stores in 2015, and should bring with it a fleet of new VR technologies and applications. Sony'sProject Morpheus
will be a direct competitor in the realm of gaming, but the prospect of a truly viable VR headset is already spinning off new weirdness. Several film production studios have sprung up promising to bring new and retrofitted 3-Dvirtual reality movies
directly to your eyeballs.
The Internet of Things, or IoT, is the emerging designation for the next wave of Internet connectivity systems that will network not just our computers and devices, but virtually everything else on the planet. The term actually refers to a range of integrated technologies including wireless communication, augmented reality, robotics and microelectronics. Current examples include Internet-enabled home appliances that let you control your refrigerator from your smartphone. But it could go the other way, too -- your fridge telling your phone what you need to buy when you're out grocery shopping. IoT principles are at the core of future transportation initiatives breaking new ground in 2015 -- likeautomated city traffic grids
for self-driving cars.
In December, Skype released the first iteration of itsreal-time translation system
for spoken English and Spanish. In theaccompanying video
, featuring students from the U.S. and Mexico, the system works just like in the sci-fi films. You speak your piece in English, the computer instantly translates to Spanish, and vice-versa.Skype says
it hopes to roll out additional languages soon and industry watchers expect more breakthroughs in real-time translation in 2015. Decades of research in speech recognition are coming together with machine learning and "deep neural network" A.I. technology to facilitate new possibilities. The real killer app -- instant voice translation on your smartphone -- is one of the most exciting possibilities of 2015.
Hollywood and Stephen Hawking both warned about the dangers of artificial intelligence in 2014, but that hasn't stopped researchers from going forward with plans for the new year.Artificial intelligence
continues to be one of the busiest areas of study in emerging technology. For instance, IBM's A.I.Watson
-- the former "Jeopardy" champ -- has been working in the field of medical research for several years now. Advanced A.I. systems like Watson can mine decades of medical data in a fraction of the time it would take human technicians. In 2015, IBM hopes to deploy Watson's natural language processing and hypothesis generation in several additional industries through commercial and research partnerships.
The promise of self-driving cars has been motoring around for a few years now, but 2015 may well be the first calendar year that we see some real, on-the-street results. Truly autonomous vehicles still have plenty of technological (and legislative) hazards to navigate, but many improved "driver assist" technologies are expected in 2015. Just before the holidays,Google
announced that its prototype was ready for testing. Volvo already has a car on the road that feature tech developed for self-driving. Itsnext-generation model XC90
sedan has built-in adaptive cruise control that maintains a set distance, in stop-and-go traffic, between you and the car in front. Thepark assist pilot
allows the car to steer itself into tight parking spots.
The idea of flexible displays -- screens that can be bent, twisted and even rolled up like a newspaper -- is another one of those sci-fi ideas that keeps surfacing then submerging again. Functional flexible displays actually date all the way back to the 1970s. But we should see some movement in 2015 as major players like LG and Samsung continue development on paper-thin OLED (organic light-emitting-diode) panels. The technology is being explored for both small screens (smartphone) and large screens (television). OLED displays are much more durable than traditional screens as well, promising future displays that are both tougher and more flexible than the one you have today.
Pepijn W.H. Pinkse
In the wake of the epic Sony Pictures hack and a scary increase of online security breaches, you can expect to see a significant surge in products and services that offer to help protect your money and information online. Developments on the horizon include improvements inbiometric authentication
, credit cards that usequantum physics
, and moresubscription services
that act as pre-emptive identity theft protection systems. Also watch for companies that store your information -- from social media to shopping -- to beef up security protocols, on both their end and yours.
Drones will continue to swarm the news headlines in 2015, for good or ill, thanks to their potential utility in hundreds of industries -- and some percolating issues around regulation. According to a recentWashington Post report
, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has 167 pending applications for commercial drone projects, with "hundreds more" expected in 2015. Amazon is aggressively testing drone package delivery systems, insurance companies hope to use drones for inspections, and industrial concerns want to use them for monitoring facilities. Meanwhile,artists
are finding new uses for UAVs, and a huge market is emerging forpersonal camera drones
. The skies are about to to get very crowded. Let us know what your own predictions are in the comments below, and we'll meet back here at the end of 2015 to see who was right. Happy New Year.