Predicting the future is often as effective as changing the past.
Despite the frequency of getting it wrong, each January I like to try, like a lotto player that is sure their numbers will come in this week.
So if I am more confident of being wrong than being right why would there be a need for a piece about stuff that is very unlikely to happen?
Well, it is the "how" and "when" that is hazy not the "if".
When it does happen you will recall the moment you first heard about it and think you agreed at the time and knew it would be a big deal all along.
It was a decade ago that the iPhone launched. I am sure you remember it being a big deal and no doubt were planning to get one as soon as possible, only you didn’t. It may have been years later before you actually got a new smartphone, but you will agree the iPhone defined the shift.
So, you can change history and so, sometimes, it is worth trying to predict the future.
Here are three items that all start with an “S” (it makes remembering the list easier) that will be big in 2017.
Speech, Security and Sales
Speech - the demise of the keyboard and typing
Going back to that iPhone launch, one of the key features was that it was a smartphone with no keyboard. Well, no physical keyboard as most phones at the time had. It was a touch screen.
10 years later and we have shrunk our writing or replaced it with emoji. Next we will drop it all together and just tell machines what we want.
Google’s assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft's Cortana and Apple's Siri are happy to answer or do whatever you need.
While actual calls are still declining, the use of voice notes is climbing. We seem happy to talk more, just not to each other.
Talking to bots, robots, cars, appliances - anything other than your kids and your boss - looks set to be a major trend.
Most new phones and cars due to be released this year have voice activation. Soon the time before everything was voice-activated will feel as long ago as the time before mobile phones.
A short film by Google from 2014 that illustrates how difficult the challenge to get machines to understand us has been.
Security - hacking
This is hardly a prediction but as many don’t seem to take the growing issue seriously it may feel that way.
Ever since humans started making stuff, there were people willing to steal it from you. When most stores of value were physical, stealing was an active process with risk for those trying to get it away with their spoils (consider how hard it would be for Kim Kardashian's robbers to sell the very valuable and very famous jewels without someone asking questions).
When what is being stolen is digital, though, it is just a bunch of ones and zeroes that used to denote you had something of value but now you don’t. There are many ways for people to get their hands on stuff that does not belong to them and only some of that will be things like cash.
Information about you, or changes to what others know about you, could be worth more (it could be changes to credit info that prevents you or your company getting a loan, it could be confidential info that could affect the outcome of an election, it may simply prevent access to a needed website or the theft of users' login information).
Lloyd's of London estimated that it could be as much as $400 billion in losses by corporates for just one year.
The thieves are getting smarter, users are not.
Don’t wait until you are part of that stat to start improving how you protect your digital assets.
Long, complex passwords, a password manager and a two-factor authentication - or else you may be a hacking stat in 2017.
Sales - blockchain
Okay, sales is too loose a term, but blockchain does not start with an “S”.
While it is often assumed to only refer to the cryptocurrency element, typically Bitcoin, it is far more sophisticated.
The blockchain is a public database of assets that don’t need a trusted third party to verify the contents of the database.
One project to shift all diamond certification to the blockchain would allow anyone to confirm the details of a diamond simply by checking it against the blockchain database that captured the details. In this case, it would still require an authority to add it officially to the database but from that point onwards the details are set and can’t be forged or changed without requiring it to be re-certified by the authority.
This ability to centrally store vast numbers of records could allow for almost anything to be tracked and verified.
The more ambitious projects seek to take away the middleman from some of the most successful and disruptive services like Uber and AirBnB while the idea of creating smart contracts which will automatically execute when certain conditions are met.
Consider a will that uses a blockchain verified notification of your death. The smart contract will designate the assets you own to have the digital ownership transferred to those you have nominated with no need for a court and executor to work their way slowing through the process.
This could apply to any contract between parties.
Another element looks at connecting the Internet of Things, or a blockchain ledger, to a smart contract that can monitor the updates from the expected trillion sensors reading a vast range of information to trigger the conditions of a contract.
The list of what could be done is long; from verifying your identity to voting, gambling to energy generation and even the world wide web itself.
In essence all assets and information can be verified and traded in a decentralised process that move control to the community rather than a trusted third party.
All three will will see some setbacks, like Alexa’s mistaken purchases, the massive DDOS attack that took down some of the world’s biggest websites or the attempted theft of the Ethereum network Dao fund.
If the mistakes are not fatal it should allow the system to become stronger. If that is the case the threats and opportunities listed above will be very real during 2017.