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Tech is about to change dramatically next year. Want to stay up to date? These predictions from the famed design firm frog spell things out for you. In each section, a designer explains all of the details. Which one is already on your radar? I want to hear your viewpoints, so drop me an email.

1. Superhero performance in autonomous vehicles


By now we’ve all heard the news: 1.2 million people die in automobile accidents each year worldwide, but autonomous vehicles (AVs) are coming soon to save us from ourselves. The optimism is probably warranted, given that 90 percent or more of accidents are caused by human error, but even the most ardent AV supporters know that self-driving cars will still sometimes get into accidents. What might an AV do to avoid trouble?

In the instant before an accident, an AV should maneuver in dramatic and utterly non-human ways in order to preserve life. Humans aren’t drivers of our future cars: They are precious cargo, trusting that the AV deep learning network will keep them as safe as possible under the circumstances. Seen from the outside, a dramatic emergency evasive maneuver might seem reckless if it was taken by a human, but under the control of an appropriately trained AI — informed by clusters of real-time sensors — such a maneuver might be as reasonable and life-preserving as any taken by a professional bodyguard.


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Imagine this: An AV stopped at a red light might suddenly roar into an intersection to avoid being struck by a human-driven car approaching too quickly from behind. This same car in Emergency Evasive Mode might even be able to stop the cross traffic and flip the lights to red as it enters the intersection. This isn’t about smart cars — it’s about smart swarms acting in concert to achieve the global goal of preserving life.

“Autonomous Car Performs Dramatic Action-Movie Stunt to Save Family of Five” — that’s the headline to watch for in the coming months. (Matt Conway, frog Seattle)

2. Precision medicine and Big Data will drive health results


To date, medicine has taken a one-size-fits-all approach, but what if we could assess treatments based on the abundant data points captured by caretakers and health care professionals? This is precision medicine, a new form of health care that is based on data, algorithms, and precision molecular tools.

For example, the University of California, San Francisco, a leader in the precision medicine realm, is training doctors to have different conversations with their patients to better understand their social, environmental, and economic contexts when diagnosing and treating illness. Precision medicine changes the focus of health and medical efforts from identifying symptoms to understanding and treating the mechanisms of disease. It also focuses on environmental and social determinants of health, like your postal code. Those who understand technology, and the goals of medicine, will be able to create value in the precision medicine value chain by offering platforms to interpret and connect data points. (Allison Green-Schoop, frog San Francisco)

3. Our spaces become participants


Spaces will no longer simply house and support your activities — they will participate. More and more, the built environment will be a system of evolution and learning, integrating with architectural aesthetics and the utilitarian function of protecting you from the elements. Enabled by the proliferation of low-cost sensors, which can be easily embedded into an environment, machine learning will be used to identify usage patterns and recommend the reconfiguration of a space to drive new behaviors in health care, retail, research, manufacturing, work, and residential spaces.

Here is an example of how a scenario could play out in health care: Hospitals will shift room layouts, update signage, and adapt lighting and sound to optimize individual patient experiences. These will be tailored to patients’ current stress levels, severity and type of conditions, schedules, and personal lifestyle and fitness data. As these spaces learn and evolve, their impact will lead to both better health outcomes for patients, as well as lowering costs for hospitals. (Chad Lundberg and Jud Holliday, frog Seattle)

4. Next year’s best new artist


Sony CSL Research Laboratory recently synthesized thousands of pages of sheet music to produce “Daddy’s Car,” a song generated by AI and refined by a human composer. We’ve felt the effects of procedural generation in video games, too, from the randomized dungeon corridors of Diablo to the nearly infinite worlds of No Man’s Sky. “Sunspring,” a short sci-fi film written entirely by AI, premiered at a London film festival earlier this year.

Sony’s Beatles-esque track is surely a pale imitation — impressive enough to draw YouTube views, but not burning up the charts. And “Sunspring” works as a surreal, bite-size experiment, but would be difficult to stretch to feature-length. So what happens when the song is a hit? When the film nets an Oscar? When your favorite artist is artificial? These imitative algorithms we find writing pop songs, short films, and generating first-person shooter levels will evolve to process broad and diverse inputs — cross-pollinating rhythms, language, and imagery from deep and unlikely corners of our physical and virtual worlds. This is our new creative frontier. (Graeme Asher and Zach Marley, frog Seattle)

5. Synthetic food and cellular agriculture goes mainstream


With a growing need for global initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, fight climate change, and evolve cruelty-free foods, the race is on to define the future of human protein consumption, potentially without involving any animals in the process. We see two distinct product categories taking shape: one in which plant-based proteins are extracted, re-engineered, and re-purposed for products that simulate a meat-like experience. We also see technology breakthroughs in tissue engineering and synthetic biology implemented to grow food — like meat, eggs, and dairy — in laboratory environments.

In 2017, we’ll see a broad range of new plant-based meat replacements at your local grocery store. They will extend well beyond the vegan aisle, where most are currently relegated, and they will taste better than ever. For consumers, a likely question will arise: Was that Thanksgiving turkey sprouted from a seed? (Andreas Markdalen, frog Austin)

6. Business bots will thrive


Internet bots, software that runs automated tasks, will move beyond simple chat applications like customer service and scheduling support, to impact business in more profound ways. As intelligent systems and automation further develop to serve the purpose of critical business functions, the business bot will coordinate services and launch businesses that we’ll experience in the near future.

Imagine an entrepreneur whose mentor has recommended they start a new venture, selling vintage electric skateboards to the aging hipster market. The entrepreneur will commission an assortment of business bots to bring their vision to reality. The R&D bot will crowdsource the selection of designs from on-demand freelance designers, the operations bot will manage contract manufacturers and production schedules, and the sales and marketing bot will optimize ecommerce channels and product promotions. As business bots become more intelligent, their ability to perform complex operational tasks and harness digitally enabled platform services will help new entrepreneurs scale their ventures, faster and with precision. (Toshi Mogi, frog NY)

7. Tricking the brain to do the impossible


Virtual reality therapies (VRT) will extend beyond simply distracting the brain from its current context, to creating multi-sensory environments that trick it into driving biological outcomes beyond the reach of medication. Initially, we will see VRT addressing the psychological — treating phobias, addictions, and other mental conditions — but soon we will see it enabling physiological outcomes and aiding in practices such as neurorehabilitation.

Mindmaze, a pioneer in this space, is already creating virtual environments for stroke patients, causing their brains to rewire themselves and re-establish mobility in forgotten limbs. As the creation of immersive environments becomes more accessible, we will see more experimentation in this space and continue to discover and unlock what the brain can do. Future patients of cognitive behavioral therapies and systematic desensitization can expect virtual reality to become a critical component of their treatment. (Kyle Wolf, frog San Francisco)

8. Farming the sea is the ultimate ‘Blue Ocean’ strategy


As the world’s population continues to grow, humans need to cultivate more from already depleted land and freshwater sources. In the ocean, however, we may have a sustainable solution. Farming of kelp and bivalves, and open water cultivation of fish will enable us to generate vast amounts of food without using arable land, water, or pesticides. Because farming in the sea isn’t constrained to the surface, it can extend down to the bottom of the ocean, effectively being three-dimensional.

On the production side, new tools and techniques for growing and harvesting are being brought online; on the demand side, new value chains and supply chains are evolving, bringing this kind of seafood to more and more tables as the taste for them is developed over time. (Patrick Kalaher, frog Boston)

9. Interface in our ears


Since the early 1980s, human computer interaction has primarily been facilitated through graphical user interfaces (GUIs). However, the combination of screen fatigue and technology embedded in everything from cars to homes, is exposing a need for new types of interfaces that extend beyond the visual. Auto companies, for example, have the opportunity to keep drivers’ eyes on the road by using audio interactions. Devices like Here One are exploring the potential of augmenting reality through sound. Recently, Apple unveiled its AirPods, which will likely lead to more ubiquitous audio experiences for one of the largest consumer demographics in the world. 2017 will be the year of the AUI — the audio user interface. (Christine Todorovich, frog San Francisco)

10. Drones for good


Rwanda is building the world’s first drone airport to provide medicine that can be quickly flown to those who need it. Rather than wait months for roads to be built, drones can quickly provide critical support to people living outside of urban areas. This is an example of a wider movement that is happening globally in developing and developed countries — drones for good.

Many leading innovators of this movement aren’t just from the government or large foundations; they are individual citizens. With a few thousand dollars, citizens are able to experiment with how this powerful, but affordable, technology can be used for good, like helping to identify illegal poachers or find children trapped under rubble after an earthquake.

Drones have made it affordable to do humanitarian work that was only accessible to large institutions with the resources to invest in satellite and helicopter technology. The definition of a drone is “unmanned aircraft,” but behind the unmanned aircraft is a person driving the intention and potential of what the aircraft can do for people in need. And this year we’ll see more folks begin to push this potential. (Lillian Tse, frog London)

11. Scalable automatic data processing is the new last mile


We all thought that Google was insane when it said it was going to drive every mile of every road, and record everything it sensed — audio, video, weather reports, and traffic — to make a map. Using millions of drones or sensors to gather the information sounded like the (relatively) easy part; making sense of this information in an automated way seemed impossible at the time. Fast-forward to present day and scalable automatic data processing has become an integral part of a successful roadmap for other companies.

The art and science of scalable automatic data processing is nearing prime time, and monitoring weather, predicting traffic patterns, counting fish in the ocean, or listening to forests to determine their health will be used by organizations of all kinds, not just large tech firms like Google and Microsoft. (Patrick Kalaher, frog Boston)

12. Buildings work smarter, not harder


Not only will smart cities leverage sensors to use energy efficiently, but buildings and highways will also be constructed out of materials that work more intelligently. Taking a nod from natural patterns, material scientists and architects have developed bricks with bacteria, made cement that captures carbon dioxide, and created building cooling systems using nothing but the available wind and our vibrant sun.

This trend could be a massive opportunity for cities, as well as industries like hospitality that depend on large energy-intensive buildings. MGM Resorts, Wynn, and Las Vegas Sands have all recently been outfitted for solar, for example, showing that large companies are taking the first steps towards sustainable infrastructure, both to cut costs and to appeal to environmentally conscious customers. (Agnes Pyrchla, frog San Francisco)

13. VR-on-demand


As VR’s accessibility grows to a mainstream audience, live entertainment venues and performers will be increasingly displaced by low cost/high engagement entertainment options that people can access from the comfort of their home. As a supplement to the cost of empty seats, or perhaps even profit on top of an already sold-out show, the entertainment industry will find ways to sell VR tickets to the best seats in their live events in 2017 — from watching Beyoncé at Madison Square Garden to seeing the UEFA Champions League — as well as opening up an immersive streaming VR catalog of past performances.

One particularly intriguing concept is the idea of VR micro-experiences, which allow users to transport themselves in space and time in order to experience wonderful little moments that refresh their senses. Think of it as a fast and inexpensive vacation for the mind.

Content creators will be able to deliver low-cost, high-quality experiences that are traded on an open, social market. For those consumers who don’t have the VR hardware, the community can provide VR Stations in malls, transportation terminals, and open spaces. (Piet Aukeman & Sonny King, frog NY)

14. The rise of soft robotics


Robots today are hard, made of metal, and tend to operate in a deliberate and sharp manner. As humanity begins to encounter robots in our everyday lives, we will need our robots to interact with us in a human way, with a human touch.

Over the next few years, we will begin to see robots soften, using materials that closely resemble the human body. A movement is already underway to leverage soft robotics in products such as the SoftRobotics Gripper. Taking this a step further, some R&D departments are experimenting with electro-active polymers, such as a dielectric elastomer, that change shapes when a current is applied. We will see applications of this in multiple industries. For example, we will want our vehicles to be equipped with soft robotics to support us and help us perform functions in transportation; in the workplace, soft robotics can enhance our strength and precision for creative and thoughtful actions where human empathy, emotion, and life experiences are important to the outcome; in medicine, soft robotics may not only help us treat patients, but may also find a home inside the body as well.

The soft robotics revolution will be gradual but vast. As robots and robotics become increasingly pliable, they will fold into our everyday lives in interesting and vital ways. (Mark Freudenberg, frog San Francisco)

15. Learning from machine learning


Machine learning has been a constant on tech trend lists for years. But this year we’ll embrace what we, as humans, can learn by interacting with machine learning. AlphaGo’s victory over the world’s greatest human Go player, Lee Sedol, marked a milestone for machine learning. But in training and playing against AlphaGo, the human Go players who interacted with the computer also became better players. We are already indirectly learning from algorithms in other ways, whether by refining our music tastes while helping Spotify refine its algorithm or by learning about the brain by watching neural networks learn.

In the future, as we draw on people’s behaviors and choices to help machines learn, we will embrace the way humans learn from machines as well. Could watching a computer make new connections between words make us more creative writers? What if we could teach a child and a computer to translate at the same time? Learning from machine learning could have an immediate impact on the way we think about education and training, fostering a symbiotic approach to human-machine learning. (Rebecca Blum, frog San Francisco)

This article appeared originally at frog.

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