Tech predictions for 2016: sex tech, artificial intelligence and robots

21 Dec 2015

Sex technology, robots and artificial intelligence loom on the horizon and the world will never be the same again.’s editor John Kennedy examines the trends and looks into his trusty crystal ball to predict the future. Sex technology, robots and artificial intelligence loom on the horizon and the world will never be the same again.

Not only is the future hard to predict, but it is getting faster to predict thanks to the sheer amount of innovation that humanity has taken on.

Where will this get us? Nobody knows for sure. But the world of science fiction we only dreamed about or read about through visionaries like Arthur C Clarke is happening before our eyes.

And, in 2016, this will reach light speed.

Sex tech gets hot


Sex tech is set to go from strength to strength in 2016. This isn’t just about sex toys but entire entrepreneurial endeavors from online platforms like Slixa to adult-oriented versions of Airbnb such as KinkBnb. In fact, expect to hear lots, lots more about sex tech entrepreneurs and ventures, as MakeLoveNotPorn‘s Cindy Gallop puts it in Hot Topics: “Sex tech is technology, and technology-driven ventures, designed to enhance, innovate and disrupt in every area of human sexuality and human sexual experience. Sex tech is important because sex and sexuality lie at the heart of everything we are and everything we do.” You’ve been warned, don’t blush.

Unicorns set to eat little unicorns as Silicon Valley’s cash dries up


From adult fantasy to entrepreneurial fantasy, the tech bubble may not show any signs of bursting just yet, but it may just run out of air. That’s right, the cash well that exists in Silicon Valley may be showing signs of drying up, according to recent reports. While top-tier firms will continue to attract funding, there’s an adjustment happening and smaller, more vulnerable start-ups will struggle to get funding in Silicon Valley. If anything, the until now easy money available in Silicon Valley will dry up as investor appetites change. External factors like federal interest rate hikes will also bring about a correction. This will put pressure on the so-called unicorns valued at between $1bn and $10bn to go public and demonstrate a return on investment. This pressure to float may result in acquisitions of smaller unicorns by bigger players like Uber in 2016 as it may be the only way that some of these companies will achieve a return on investment for shareholders and investors.

Artificial intelligence goes mainstream


Every second interview at the Web Summit this year, from Facebook to Deloitte and Accenture, mentioned artificial intelligence, and 2016 will be a pivotal year in mainstreaming the technology. From Facebook doing incredible things with Messenger and adding in artificial agents through its enigmatically titled technology ‘M’ so consumers can talk with brands to order goods, to questions about whether robots will take our jobs, 2016 will be very interesting. Accenture CTO Paul Daugherty claims artificial intelligence will augment our capabilities and make humans super. “It’s really multiple technologies, deep learning, machine learning, semantic ontology, expert systems, video analytics, etc. A lot of different technologies coming together that allow us to create these new capabilities, either for consumers to change the way they live or employees to change the way their jobs work and the way they work in organisations.”

Mobile wallet war comes this way


With Apple Pay already live in the UK and terminals of retailers like Marks & Spencer and KFC in Ireland already geared up to accept Apple Pay transactions, it is a no-brainer that Apple Pay will launch in Ireland during 2016, and you can imagine that the main banks in Ireland are chomping at the bit to oblige.

Korean rival Samsung is also keen to be a force in the mobile payments world with its rival Samsung Pay product, but if Apple Pay launches reasonably early in 2016 in Ireland, it is unlikely that Samsung Pay will launch until later in the year, if at all. Also, keep an eye on Google, and what it may do with Android Pay.

The big question will be how ready will actual retailers be to handle the technology, so expect Apple Pay to launch in signature stores like Brown Thomas (for the smart set, don’t you know) as well as multiples of UK retailers like Tesco, Debenhams, Halfords and more. Smaller retailers and merchants will be slower to join in, but as contactless terminals sweep the retail world the onus will be on banks to make it seamless and inexpensive to join the Apple Pay revolution.

Virtual reality gets very, very real in 2016


Facebook acquired Oculus in 2013 and we have all been anxiously awaiting the outcome in terms of the Oculus Rift headset, which is due for its public release in early 2016.

But Facebook had better hurry up, as cheaper competitors are entering the fray. Having tried out the Samsung Gear VR headset at Mobile World Congress earlier this year, which works by snapping a smartphone onto the goggles, and with HTC about to bring out its Vive headset, the market is going to get saturated by cheaper competitors and there are loads of VR apps that can be downloaded to your smartphone. One example is the Immerse virtual reality headset that costs around €40 to buy. Sony is also working on a VR headset for PlayStation VR. Microsoft’s HoloLens will work right across its Windows 10 and Xbox platforms.

TrendForce estimates that VR headset shipments will jump to 14m in 2016 and 38m by 2020. “VR hardware’s market positioning is clearer than smartwatches,” said Jason Tsai, TrendForce’s wearable device analyst. “Since VR device’s strongest feature is providing users with an immersive audiovisual experience, its early application will be related to gaming.”

Eventually, mobile operators are likely to start handing out VR headsets for free, along with smartphones to sweeten the deal at their stores. But the bigger picture is what we will do with virtual reality. From attending concerts on stage with live bands to being in the stands among crowds at football matches to an actual successor to video conferencing, the possibilities are endless.

The dynamic return of Google Glass


Two years ago, Google Glass was shaping up to be Google’s moment of destiny to transform computing forever, a bit like Apple’s iPhone moment so to speak. But then reality struck last year and Google pulled back on trying to make Glass a consumer phenomenon because the technology just wasn’t ready.

Last year, I recommended Google take Glass technology and apply it to industries where it might actually be of some use, such as by police to record incidents or emergency workers like firefighters and nurses to administer care with instructions from doctors remotely.

During this year, Tony Fadell, the founder of Nest and the creator of the iPod, volunteered to save Google Glass because he sees some redeeming future for the technology.

As Microsoft gets ready to ship its HoloLens augmented reality technology and 2016 shapes up to be a big year for virtual reality, Google could return in force with consumer and business versions of Glass that may give the technology 20-20 vision when it comes to real-time information that will make humans super.

Security breaches will get CEOs fired


The relentless pace of security breaches of businesses shows no sign of slackening. However, instead of IT managers or CIOs being in the firing line, the loss of reputation to a business and questions over how stringent data protection measures had been in the first place means CEOs will now be expected to fall on their sword if their firm becomes an embarrassing public victim of an attack.

In Ireland, a painful public lesson was learned during the LoyaltyBuild hack in 2013 and, with attacks on the rise, there could be more high-profile breaches in 2016. In 2014, the CEO of Target, Gregg Steinhafel, resigned after the company succumbed to a credit card security breach that affected 40m customers. 2016 will see cyberattack fears heighten amid an uncertain geo-political landscape.

Reputation and trust will be the digital currency of 2016 and onwards and CEOs will have to toe the line.

CIOs will be replaced by Chief Digital Officers


The digital transformation of the business landscape is well underway and this will be either a blessing or a curse for the traditional CIO.

The smart ones will see their opportunity and grasp a moment in the spotlight by becoming visionary leaders that will help their organisations navigate new fields like big data, cloud and analytics.

The victims will be those CIOs who still see their jobs as effectively keeping the lights on and the machines ticking over.

2016 will no longer be about the technology of business, technology will be the business.Facebook Messenger becomes an e-commerce engine. And, hence, the arrival of the Chief Digital Officer as these leaders at AIB, BT, the White House, Accenture and Renault confirm.

Facebook Messenger becomes an e-commerce engine


As we mentioned earlier, Facebook is working on an artificial intelligence bot called M.

If you were paying close attention to what Mark Zuckerberg and his management team were talking about at F8 this year, the idea is to turn Messenger from being a private or group messaging tool into a dialogue engine to manage everything from buying flowers to booking a holiday or ordering a dress. You will buy something and engage with a brand through conversation, with Messenger being the conduit.

Last week, one of the earliest examples of what’s coming was revealed in the tie-up between Facebook Messenger and Uber that allows you to order a ride directly within Messenger. Savvy e-commerce strategists will be taking note.

An actual Apple television set, it’s only a matter of time


This is one of those wildcard predictions that may or may not happen in 2016, but eventually the fabled Apple TV with 4K display will become a reality. The Apple TV set-top box was given a long-overdue update this year and it gives you a clear insight into how Apple believes TV content should be accessed in a fun and natural way. I think of it not as a device, per se, but a container for a new Apple operating system that could spread to other Apple devices.

“More great content is being created for TV than ever before, it really is the golden age for television. But TV itself hasn’t changed,” lamented Apple CEO Tim Cook before he unveiled the new Apple TV at a special event in San Francisco in September.

Apple has been dabbling in TV tuner technologies since the 1990s and rumours of an Apple television set have been going around and around since 2010.

If Apple has perfected the guts of the machine – the Apple TV – with a new set-top box and remote controller device then it is only a matter of time before it takes its edge 4K (and potentially 8K) to create a physical display optimised for viewing content as well as finding it.

It is only a matter of time and possibly more likely to happen sooner than an Apple car.

Then again, my predictions about Apple aren’t always on the money. Last year I predicted an actual Apple Store for Ireland, instead we got a €850m data centre and 1,000 additional Apple jobs in Cork. I still reckon an Apple Store in Ireland is also just a matter of time.

The robots are coming – but the home automation revolution has already started

Nest Thermostat slant

The drones are already here – 4,000 of them in Ireland and more to come this Christmas – but robots that help you out around the home will become more mainstream in 2016 thanks in large part to the popularity of Star Wars and the fabulous new BB-8. They will also become part of the working world and Dublin Fire Brigade fosters plans to even introduce firefighting drones.

Robots will only come into their own if they will be useful rather than amusing. Early in 2016, Dyson will bring its Dyson 360 Eye robot which uses artificial intelligence and machine vision to map rooms. Big deal you say, it’s just another Roomba you say. Wrong! Imagine the potential of home automation where you marry the internet of things with smartphones and the ability to remotely turn on heating, get your robots cleaning and lots more while you are stuck in traffic or a never-ending meeting.

We already have digital home automation – or internet of things technologies – in the shape of devices like the Nest Thermostat and Nest Protect, which learn consumers’ behaviour and shape services and solutions around your lifestyle. Samsung is about to get into this home automation revolution in a very significant way following its acquisition of SmartThings in 2014 for $200m.

If Samsung is doing it then other consumer electronics giants are on the case too, whether it is Philips with internet of things lightbulbs or other manufacturers like Sony, LG and Panasonic.

2016 will be the year that home automation and robotics becomes less science fiction and more science fact.

Futurology, unicorn, artificial intelligence, Apple Pay, Oculus VR, Google Glass, Facebook Messengerdata breach, Apple Store, and chief digital officer images via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years