2018 Social Impact and Technology Predictions

We explore Nesta's insights into the top 10 technological developments which are predicted to change the world in 2018.

von Olwen Smith, January 10, 2018
2018 impact trends

Each year Nesta - a leading innovation think and do-tank - releases their 10 predictions for what to expect by way of innovation the coming year. This year, they foresee artificial intelligence having an ever increasing impact on the world and taking centre stage in many realms of social and political life.

1. The Year the Internet Goes Green

Katja Bego predicts that in 2018 concerns over the internet's impact will switch from its effect on our political system to our environment. As more and more items we use in our everyday lives are connected to the 'internet of things' and energy-intensive cryptocurrencies gain traction, the carbon footprint of such technologies grows exponentially. A rising movement against such habits has emerged recently and this might be the year that the increasing calls for a circular digital economy are heard.

2. Emotional Surveillance Goes Mainstream

The development of AI, and its shocking potential implications, have been discussed at length in recent years. In 2018, however, Lydia Nicholas envisages that such advances will go a step further, uncovering previously hidden aspects of our mental and emotional experiences. While this may have the positive impact of enabling better predictions of mental health outcomes through systems that can predict suicidal thoughts or psychotic episodes, steps must be taken to ensure such powerful emotional intelligence technologies are not abused.  

3. The Collaborative Economy Changes Direction

According to Alice Casey and Peter Baeck, 2018 will be the year that marketplaces are further disrupted by the collective action of workers who power large parts of the collaborative economy. Following the increased scrutiny and criticism of platforms such as Uber which are based on gig work, workers will create services and organisations that themselves disrupt and evolve the marketplace, rebalancing power and distributing revenue differently. These so-called 'platform cooperatives' work by connecting dispersed resources and workers through the web and will offer a collectively governed alternative to the centrally-owned platforms.  

4. Regulators Wake Up to Consumer Data

Over the past decade, data has become a source of advantage in almost every industry and the dominant online business model that has emerged is advertising-based, whereby consumers trade intimate personal data for services. We are however waking up to the realisation that such transaction are severly lacking in regulation. Chris Gorst believes that 2018 will mark a change in this, with consumers taking back control of their data and regulators themselves leveraging data to ensure fairer practices across the board.

5. The Nation State Goes Virtual

Tom Symons predicts that in 2018 the physical sovereign nation state will start to erode as governments instead reconceptualise the meaning of a nation as a virtual entity. In today's world, with technological advancements rapidly changing the world economy and political upheaval threatening traditional notions of national identity, Symons believes citizens will start demand better digital services from governments. The changes predicted range from virtual or e-residencies to a full‘nation-as-a-service’ model, in which countries offer different tiers of citizenship, with taxes based on the number of services used, or tier of citizenship chosen. This could also mean multiple citizenships, including of city-states, as well as nations.

6. Drones Deliver Public Services, Not Just Parcels

According to Olivier Usher, 2018 will be the year that key decisions are taken regarding the future of drones in the UK. The usage of drones is rapidly expanding as the latest technological breakthroughs have made them both cheap and technologically advanced. Their proliferation will, however, raise complex questions for cities as it will require extensive regulation and infrastructure - the highways, speed limits and overtaking lanes of the skies will need to be created. Usher is optimistic that cities will realise that they can guide this new technology in a more socially useful direction, maximising public benefit and minimising public harm.

7. Humans and Machines Create Prize-Winning Art

Georgia Ward Dyer envisages a future in which artificial intelligence reaches the point that it can match human creativity. Following the success of deep learning’s performance in replicating or even outperforming human cognitive skills, the next step is for it to master creative intelligence. By combining such machine creativity with the creative skills of humans, new frontiers of art could be reached and 2018 may well be the year we see an 'Artist & AI' team win the Turner Prize.

8. SimPolicy: Smarter Policy through Simulation

Policymakers are increasingly tasked with solving ever greater challenges such as climate change, the future of jobs or even inequality. Florence Engasser and Sonia Tanna predict that in 2018 they will employ simulation as a mainstream innovation method to help tackle such challenges. Simulation which can be broadly defined as the imitation of a real-world process, system or actor for the purpose of experimentation, will provide more exciting and experimental ways to find solutions to our world's most pressing problems.

9. Tech Giants Race to Buy a Healthcare Provider

John Loder is convinced that in the coming year a global IT company will buy into a healthcare provider, to use it as an engine for creating algorithms for health. Following on from its sucess in numerous other areas, AI has shown some impressive capabilities in healthcare- reaching clinical levels of competence for some diagnostic tasks. Plus, it opens up the possibilities for bringing clinical expertise to developing countries that struggle to recruit professionals with the right skills. In recent years Google and Apple have both invested heavily in health-related technology, but 2018 may well be the year that such a company actually purchases a healthcare provider, thereby opening up access to vast amouts of valuable data.

10. Guiding the Smart Machines 

Geoff Mulgan asserts that in 2018, governments will take the first serious steps towards regulating AI, and will guide its usage in a safer and more ethical direction. In recent years, as advances in the area of AI have grown exponentially, the areas of regulation and policy have lagged behind, struggling to contain the potential risks which accompany these developments. However, the creation of national agencies for robotics and third parties which can adjudicate when algorithms are biased might change all that. One thing is for certain - policy-makers are entering unchartered territoriy and there is no playbook on how to do this well.

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