Did We Learn Nothing From the Dot-Com Bust?

This promises to be a year of confusion in the tech world. Less than two weeks in, and we’re already mired in this chip flaw madness, while the continued rise in Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies is concerning. What’s a sure thing? Driverless cars? Quantum computing? Nobody knows.

I could go down the list, but I’m feeling a little déjà vu. In the late 90s, those who questioned a stupid idea or trend were immediately told they did not “get it.” We were in a “new economy” where everything had changed, after all.

What didn’t change was an economic collapse when reality set in. Having dogfood shipped to your house by Pets.com was not viable as a business model. It folded.

How is that different from what Amazon is doing today with Amazon Prime? You join Amazon Prime for $99 a year and get all sorts of free benefits including video streaming of movies and free two-day shipping of everything imaginable. Only creative bookkeeping makes it work. Hello 1999. I won’t even bother with the Webvan parallels.

Then there is the mania over driverless cars. According to one observer at CES, if you weren’t there with some driverless car technology, you might as well have stood in the corner.

Driverless cars will only work in a crime-free, vandal-free world. Don’t kid yourself, these devices have decades to go. It’s not because of the car tech. It’s because computers are still stupid and can easily be fooled when placed in the real world to navigate and interact on their own.

Onward to the most dubious of all technologies: quantum computing. Nobody can ever explain it in a way that doesn’t make you draw back your head and flash a sour look on your face. I have listened to the theoretical angles about this so-called technology and, afterwards, felt I was just in a game of three-card monte.

I spent a long time talking to one of the most knowledgeable reporters who has covered the technology from the outset and he still doesn’t know what to make of it and whether the inventors are sincere, deluded, or just full of it. It’s impossible to tell. Yet, Intel and others are jumping on board “just in case.”

Perhaps the most amazing hoax ever perpetrated since Piltdown man is Bitcoin, all the other cryptocurrencies, and the blockchain hoo-hah.

We were all fools not to buy it when one bitcoin was 50 cents. That much I will agree on. But would we be holding on forever? Who knows? For years I have equated Bitcoin with the Beanie Babies phenomenon; its collapse foretold the dot-com collapse. At least a Beanie Baby had an intrinsic worth, that of a small plaything for kids. Bitcoin has removed anything intrinsic. All it has is perceived value. You cannot play with a Bitcoin, you cannot melt them down, you cannot use them as a toy or art. They are magic dust.

But mention this to a Bitcoin fanatic, and I’m told I “don’t get it.” Hello, 1999.

I’ve heard there is a Bitcoin vending machine someplace, but I cannot imagine what a hassle it would be to use. It’s nuts. But through the mechanism of mass hysteria, they are worth a fortune and going higher in value.

How long can this go on? If the scene has locked on to the late 1990’s groove of insanity, it’s possible that we are in an analog of 1998 and can maybe make it through the year without a collapse. But looking at the start of the year, I doubt it. Smoke, meet mirror.


Knock It Off With the Tech Prediction Stories

At the end of each year, tech prognosticators will attempt to predict the upcoming year’s hot products or trends. Others will summarize the year that just ended. Even more will discuss the year’s major flops, many of which were predicted to be the next big thing.

Then comes one of my specialties: ridiculing the bad predictions.

If you look at the predictions made in 2016 about 2017, it was going to be the year of the self-driving truck, for example. I have yet to see one on the road. If you are not in Mountain View, California, you probably haven’t either.

Some of the predictions are cyclical, which makes it easier to ridicule since you can point back in time and say “Hey, that was predicted in 1982. What happened?” Robots fit into this category. AI, too.

The wishful thinking predictions are always with us. These probably began with the idea of flying cars in the 1920s and 1930s. Now that computers can fly quadcopters, the flying car is just around the corner, right? Ask Elon.

A similar evergreen prediction is the desktop computer becoming an easy-to-use appliance rather than a complex machine running millions of lines of software code that is perpetually buggy and needs constant fixing. This appliance idea is not a prediction, it’s a prayer.

The higher-end version of this prediction says that everything will be operating from the cloud. Thus the best machine you can buy is a Chromebook. But what about those rumors that Google will merge ChromeOS and Android?

Then there are the predictions about inventions and raw technologies such as nanotubes. When you read about some invention like graphene, for example, and its imagined impact on the tech scene in the form of a prediction, bet against it and wait a decade. Take the example of the invention of the transistor around 1947. It took a decade before the device would begin to appear in computers, replacing the pesky vacuum tubes. Ten years is a good yardstick for actual adoption of a unique invention.

A more recent example is the invention of electronic “ink” or e-ink invented in 1996 at MIT. The first commercialization was in 2007 with the E Ink Vizplex display. The Amazon Kindle appeared later that same year using the technology.

Once the technology is in place, then improvements and evolution can take place rapidly as we’ve witnessed with the hard disk. That’s an interesting product category when it comes to yearly prophecies. I’ve never seen the obvious prediction that “hard disk capacity will DOUBLE this year.” Yet, beginning in the early 1980s I’ve seen forecast after forecast telling us that this will be the last year we’ll be using hard disks. Yet they are still here. They work, they’re fast, and they are cheap. What more do you want from a technology?

I’d recommend a review of the predictions of 2017 here. You’ll quickly see the patterns of malarkey. The one consistent prediction that stands out is the belief that by now we’d all be wearing virtual reality and augmented reality heads-up displays all the time. Har.

My yearly prediction is the only accurate one: by the end of next year expect to see a lot more predictions.

3 Game-Changing Health Gadgets Spotted at CES

With 180,000 people making their way around 2.5 million square feet of CES exhibit space, it can be difficult to cut through the noise and really zero in on game-changing technology that will have an impact on the way people work, play, or learn.

So this year, I focused on one key area of health technology: products for those with vision problems. I grew up with a totally blind maternal grandmother and understand the challenges that people who are blind or legally blind deal with every day.

In advance of CES, I was alerted to two products in this category that I wanted to check out. The first is called eSight, which are electronic glasses that let the legally blind see. In the demo I saw, a legally blind woman using these glasses could see the street from the 30th floor of a hotel suite and make out what people were wearing at street level.

ESight uses a high-speed, high-resolution camera that captures what it sees in real time. Algorithms then enhance the video and project it onto two OLED screens in front of the user’s eyes. They see full color video images with unprecedented visual clarity and practically no delay.

The legally blind woman who demoed the tech told me eSight has changed her life; they provided her new freedoms and will allow her to work in the future. They are costly, though. They sell for $10,000 and as of now insurance doesn’t cover them. Some organizations provide grants, which is how the woman in the demo got her pair.

The second product of interest, OrCam, came from a co-founder of MobileEye, which Intel acquired for $15.3 billion to help jumpstart its autonomous driving program. The OrCam is a small camera that fits on the side of a pair of glasses; it can look at any text and read it back to you in real time. When I tested it on a magazine article, I used my fist to point to the article I wanted it to read. Within seconds, OrCam began reading it back to me through a tiny speaker at the end of the camera housing.

The $2,500 OrCam can also recognize faces; just point the camera at a person in front of you. You can also use it to identify products, credit cards, money, etc. What is astonishing is the fact that all of the processing is done internally. All you have to do is point and use a simple hand gesture; it then speaks the info you request.

One other product of real interest to me was the Omron HeartGuide, the first wearable blood pressure monitor. It looks like a watch with a large display, but the band inflates like a blood pressure cuff to get a reading on demand. Omron told me that it was working on what is now the HeartGuide at CES 2017, but this year it was able to demonstrate a model that is close to shipping once it gets FDA approval. It will be priced similarly to an Apple Watch, the company said.

Adding blood pressure monitoring to a watch/fitness tracker really extends the value proposition of wearable devices and in this case, it could actually be a life-saving feature for those managing heart problems and heart disease.

For more, check out 7 CES Gadgets That Aim to Keep You Healthy in 2018.

Why CES Is Now the Greatest Car Tech Show on Earth

This week, the tech world will descend on Las Vegas for the gadget extravaganza known as CES. And in the last few years, a large portion of the automotive world has also made the trek to CES, a relatively new phenomenon.

As a 30-year veteran of CES (I tell people I started going in my teens), I’m often asked why CES has become such an important show for automakers and their suppliers. The simple answer is it’s all about the numbers.

CES 2017 drew over 180,000 attendees and more than 7,000 members of the media from around the world. Contrast this with the 40,000 people and 5,100 journalists who attended the press and industry days of the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit a week later, and the largest auto show in the US. (General attendance at NAIAS 2017 by consumers was over 800,000.)

While large auto shows like those in Detroit, Frankfurt, and Geneva tend to draw an international crowd for the press and industry previews that precede consumer days, it’s common to see the same group of globe-trotting car journalists roaming the automaker stands, with locals sprinkled among them. While CES has its grizzled old-timers like yours truly, the show continues to attract newbies like moths to neon.

But beyond the sheer numbers, automakers and their suppliers are drawn to CES because its tech-savvy media audience will amplify their announcements and product reveals in ways other events, including auto shows, cannot. And they know consumers will be paying attention.

All About Moving the Metal

Auto shows are still all about moving the metal. While auto show media days are all about the glitz of new vehicle debuts and unveiling the latest concepts, the public days that follow are all about consumers coming in to kick the tires and comparison shop without the pressure of the showroom.

While it’s changed a bit, auto shows generally highlight vehicle features such as horsepower, cargo capacity, and fuel economy, and maybe mention new tech features in passing. But at CES, it’s all tech all the time and the media lap up the crazy concepts and latest car gadgets.

Being Vegas, there are also sideshows that are impossible for Detroit or even Frankfurt and Geneva to compete with. This will be the second year that CES features autonomous vehicle demonstrations not only in parking lots adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center, but also on city streets, thanks to Nevada being one of the first states to legalize self-driving cars on public roads.

In fact, Aptiv (the automotive supplier formerly known as Delphi) is partnering with Lyft to offer rides to CES attendees in self-driving cars. Try that in Detroit in January or even on Frankfurt’s narrow urban streets.

Given my long history with CES, I also get the question of what auto tech was hot 30 years ago, and the short answer is CD changers. If I even saw someone from a car company at CES, it was usually groups of engineers scoping out the latest car stereos.

Of course, that’s radically changed in three decades, but the real shift in focus on automotive tech at CES has only occurred in the last 10 years. The introduction of Ford Sync at CES 2007 was a watershed moment, and that was simply a pre-iPhone way to integrate a mobile device into a vehicle for hands-free calling and music.

If you want to see the coolest new vehicles and concept cars, auto shows still rule. But there’s no better place to see the future of car tech and transportation than at CES. Stay tuned for all the news from Vegas.

What to Watch Out for at CES 2018

I am what you might call a seasoned veteran of CES. I started going in 1976, and have since attended dozens of shows. More than 180,000 people are expected to descend on Las Vegas next week because CES is the go-to show to learn about what’s new in tech and the major trends for the coming year. Here’s what I expect to see as I roam the show floor, all 2.5 million net square feet of it.

Smart Cars and Autonomous Vehicles

The auto industry has been represented at CES for decades but more in the form of add-on sound systems, in-car entertainment systems, and navigational products. But CES has now become the place for many auto companies to showcase smart cars and autonomous vehicle technology.

Ford CEO Jim Hackett, for example, will deliver a keynote on Tuesday morning, during which he is expected to lay out the company’s vision for smart cars and autonomous vehicles. But all told, there will be at least 15 other car makers on the show floor or in private suites talking about how they plan to drive the future of the automobile.

VR, AR, and Mixed Reality Everywhere

At CES 2014, a prototype VR headset from Oculus VR was one of the major draws. Since then, Oculus was acquired by Facebook, HTC introduced Vive, Sony debuted the Playstation VR, and Samsung started selling the Gear VR.

However, VR so far has focused on games. In the enterprise, it is targeted at vertical apps that bring VR to things like real estate listings, travel, and many other visually driven business disciplines.

This year, the Magic Leap AR goggles will be the talk of the show, even though they are not expected to be showing the device at CES. Magic Leap has attracted over $1 billion of investment to create what they believe will be the definitive AR googles of the future.

But keep your eyes on the Lenovo Mirage AR headset, which was bundled with Star Wars: Jedi Challenge, an augmented reality game created with Disney. It uses the smartphone but overlays the action on your environment; I fought Darth Vader in my living room, for example. But this is a low-cost way to deliver mixed reality in more immersive ways.

8K Is on the Horizon

4K or HDR TVs were a hot topic at the last three shows, and they will be popular again in 2018. 4K TVs are now more affordable and anyone upgrading their TV should should consider the technology, even though 4K content has been slow to roll out. But roll out it has, and 4K programs will be more plentiful in 2018.

CES will also have at least five TV vendors showing off “8K” TVs. The goal is to start moving people to 8K by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which will be shot in 8K. By early 2020-2021, the TV industry wants to move consumers over to 8K in earnest.

But two other types of TV designs will be at CES: wallpaper TVs and picture frame TVs. Samsung has done a lot of research and has found that for some demographics, the idea of having a large TV in its current form factor does not fit into the asthetics of the home. So it created the Frame TV, which delivers a flat, ultra-thin TV in a picture frame but can also be used to display digital art. Special sensors light the picture so that it resembles what you might see in a museum.

Last year, LG showed off its wallpaper TV, which is so thin it looks like it’s part of the wall. LG will show an updated version at CES and, along with Samsung, push the idea of the TV blending with a room’s decor.

IoT and AI Everywhere

The Internet of Things (IoT) will be represented in just about every product shown in one form or another. Everything from wearables and health products to appliances and vehicles will connect to the web.

This year, I have seen dozens of pre-CES announcements about IoT-based health and wellness devices. CES has these types of products in dedicated zones now, and if you are going to the show check out this CES zone chart to see where these types of products will be on the show floor.

The big addition to CES this year will be artificial intelligence. Most vendors are applying AI features to all they do, so expect this theme to be rampant and overused at CES.

Everything Has a Voice

Voice is emerging as the next big evolution in man-to-machine interfaces. While Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and the Google Assistant have made great strides in delivering voice through PCs, tablets, and smartphones, voice-based smart speakers are bringing voice into the home in new ways. But at the show, we will see voice-enabled refrigerators, toilets, and many other devices that do not have screens but can benefit from voice for navigation purposes.

All the Rest

Corning, which last year demonstrated how smart glass could impact the future design of automobiles, will be in private suites this year, showing off a new level of 3D sensing in glass that could allow OEMs to use glass in more creative ways. It will start in mobile devices, but Corning will also be showing a bigger vision for use in smart homes, smart appliances, and automobiles.

Given the amount of invites I have received about personal robots, I expect to see quite a few on the show floor. Some are task-oriented such as robot vacuums and robotic coffee makers, but some are small robots that follow you around and act as a type of personal assistant.

Also hot will be personal transportation devices like hoverboards and different variations on the idea of giving people new forms of personal electronic transportation options. And we should see dozens of new drones introduced that target business and consumers.

As a techie, this is my candy store. PCMag will have a top-notch team at CES, so check back during the show to keep up with all of the important announcements from the show. I will also be tweeting from the show so check out @Bajarin for my CES discoveries and commentary.

The Real Reason Voice Assistants Are Female (and Why it Matters)

Ask your phone, Echo, or computer something. Or call your bank and talk to the automated menu. I’ll wait.

Whatever you asked, a synthesized version of a woman likely answered you, polite and deferential, pleasant no matter the tone or topic.

That’s because Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and their foremothers have been doing this work for years, ready to answer serious inquiries and deflect ridiculous ones. Though they lack bodies, they embody what we think of when we picture a personal assistant: a competent, efficient, and reliable woman. She gets you to meetings on time with reminders and directions, serves up reading material for the commute, and delivers relevant information on the way, like weather and traffic. Nevertheless, she is not in charge.

When performed by humans, these tasks have sociological and psychological consequences. So one might think that using an emotionless AI as a personal assistant would erase concerns about outdated gender stereotypes. But companies have repeatedly launched these products with female voices and, in some cases, names. But when we can only see a woman, even an artificial one, in that position, we enforce a harmful culture.

Still, consumers expect a friendly, helpful female in this scenario and that is what companies give them.

“We tested many voices with our internal beta program and customers before launching and this voice tested best,” an Amazon spokesperson told PCMag.

A Microsoft spokesperson said Cortana can technically be genderless, but the company did immerse itself in gender research when choosing a voice and weighed the benefits of a male and female voice. “However, for our objectives—building a helpful, supportive, trustworthy assistant—a female voice was the stronger choice,” according to Redmond.

Apple’s Siri and the Google Assistant currently offer the option to switch to a male voice; Siri since 2013 and Google since October. But Alexa and Cortana don’t have male counterparts.

Consider that IBM’s Watson, an AI of a higher order, speaks with a male voice as it works alongside physicians on cancer treatment and handily wins Jeopardy. When choosing Watson’s voice for Jeopardy, IBM went with one that was self-assured and had it use short definitive phrases. Both are typical of male speech—and people prefer to hear a masculine-sounding voice from a leader, according to research—so Watson got a male voice.

Women, meanwhile, use more pronouns and tentative words than men, according to Psychologist James W. Pennebaker. Pronoun use, particularly of the word “I,” is indicative of lower social status. AI assistants are very prone to using “I,” particularly in taking responsibilities for mistakes. Ask Siri a question she can’t process and she says, “I’m not sure I understand.”

It’s critical that we challenge stereotypical gender roles in our personal assistants. Our interactions with AI teach and train it, but we are also shaped by these experiences. It’s why parents are concerned about unintentionally raising rude children when Alexa does not require a “please” or “thank you” to carry out a task.

As our relationship with technology enters a new stage of intimacy, it’s worrying to think of what will happen when some people’s primary sexual experiences will be with a sexually acquiescent robot. Sexually harrassing Siri for a YouTube video might be amusing to some, but it’s unsettling to hear how similar that language is to what women hear from street harassers. There is the same societal expectation that both just accept it.

Humans aim for linguistic style matching in their social interactions, meaning they try to match the language patterns of the human—and now AI—with which they are speaking. But as AI enters our physical realm, there are serious personal and social consequences for treating it in a degrading manner. The companies behind AI are cashing in on bias and that is not the way to a utopia, tech or otherwise.

We Are Already Living in the Future

This month’s cover story for the PC Magazine Digital Edition is loaded with tech predictions for 2018. To write it, we interviewed dozens of engineers, executives, and futurists and got their opinions on where technology is heading. Our story is filled with revealing insights from a wide spectrum of industry pioneers. But I want to clarify one thing: We are already living in the future.

This assertion was best expressed by William Gibson, who said, “The future is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed.” Indeed, while there the are important debates to be had about the negative effects of unequal income distribution, unequal “future distribution” may be the more important issue to track.

To see the future, you just have to look in the right places. I’ve been travelling a lot during the past few months and have had the opportunity to see the future right now, all over the world. Here are just a few examples.

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I was in Hong Kong a few months ago and got to see what a cashless society looks like, and it looks an octopus. Octopus is a cashless payment provider operating in that city that allows for NFC transactions to purchase cab rides, parking, convenience store items, and even meals. The company just launched a QR-code-based system to augment Octopus that doesn’t require the presence of NFC readers. Now the market is about to be taken over by WeChat Pay and Alipay, which offer even more ubiquity.

You may not know this if you don’t work in law enforcement, but cities across the world have dramatically improved their ability to identify the location of gunfire. Using a network of publicly installed microphones, a service called ShotSpotter can triangulate gunfire within 10 feet and instantly report that location to the police. The sensors can be installed as standalone devices or built into street lights. This technology is currently being used in more than 90 cities, including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, and Cape Town, South Africa.

In Needham, Massachusetts, a company called Big Belly is making smart garbage bins. Big Belly bins are solar-powered trash compactors that can separate glass, plastic, and paper recyclables from traditional garbage. The bins need to to be cleared 75 percent less often than ordinary bins. And they can be configured to deliver public Wi-Fi. Bigbelly bins are currently installed in all 50 US states and more than 50 other countries.

In cities as diverse as Paris and Kansas City, municipalities are using Cisco Kinetic to track the availability of parking spaces in real time. The technology has made finding spots faster for drivers, reduced traffic congestion, and even increased city revenue with better enforcement reporting.

At the same time, every major city is converting to LED street lighting. Los Angeles spent $57 million to switch to LED—and since doing so, it has saved $9 million a year in utility costs. Streetlights also provide a platform for delivering other services, including WAN (wide area networking). By 2020, 10 percent of US cities will be using streetlamps as the backbone for WANs, according to Gartner.

Standing on a street in Washington, DC recently, I saw real-time digital billboards that told me when the next bus or train was arriving. They also told me how far away the nearest Lyft or Uber driver was. This represented a blending of public and private data and technology platforms that will replicate across industries.

We live in troubled times, for sure, but they are also amazing times. Here at PCMag, we’ll keep looking for those places where the future first appears. We’ll endeavor to bring the future to you in these pages with speed, accuracy, and passion. And by reporting on the future, we hope to be a partner to making it available to everyone, equally.

The January issue of the curated, ad-free PC Magazine Digital Edition is available now.

Facebook’s Messenger Kids Is a Bad Bargain

Facebook recently rolled out Messenger Kids. At first glance, it’s a well-intentioned, innocent effort—an ad-free messaging app with strict parental controls that protects kids from predators, pornography, and a thousand other online ills.

But you might be giving away much more than you’re getting when signing up your child for Messenger Kids. Ask yourself: Why would a company that has built an empire on digital ads offer a free app that displays no ads? Here’s the give and take.

What You Get

Messenger Kids gives near-full control to parents. You have to install and activate the app on your kid’s device with your own Facebook account. Also, your children aren’t alllowed to manage their own contacts—only you can specify with whom they communicate. This prevents your kids from falling prey to pedophiles and other predators who lurk in social media networks.

Facebook also clearly states: “There are no ads in Messenger Kids and your child’s information isn’t used for ads. It is free to download and there are no in-app purchases. Messenger Kids is also designed to be compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA).”

Messenger Kids is packed with fun, safe features for your kids, including “specially chosen GIFs, frames, stickers, masks and drawing tools” that let them “decorate content and express their personalities,” as Facebook’s announcement says.

What Zuck Gets

Facebook gets a lot more out of Messenger Kids than you do. For starters, it locks you into its platform, since you need a Facebook account to set up your child’s Messenger Kids account, manager their contacts, and chat with them.

It also gives Facebook a workaround to COPPA. Mark Zuckerberg has never been a fan of COPPA and has said he will challenge the regulation at some point. It prohibits online services such as Facebook from collecting data from children under the age of 13—unless their parents consent to it. And that’s exactly what you’re doing when you use your own Facebook account to register your kid with Messenger Kids.

Its privacy-policy page shows how much data Messenger Kids collects about your kids, the devices they use to access Messenger Kids, and how they use the app. It also states that it can share the data with third parties to help improve Messenger Kids. Zuck wasn’t able to change the law, so now he’s now using you, the parents, to circumvent it.

Facebook also says that it won’t serve ads to your children while they use Messenger Kids. But that doesn’t mean it won’t use their data to better understand you, their parents, and serve more personalized and profitable ads to you.

To its credit, Facebook won’t automatically upgrade your child’s Messenger Kids account to Facebook when they turn 13. But it doesn’t need to, because it has already locked your family into its platform, and they’ll likely create a Facebook account on their own, possibly even before they’re 13. As kids grow up, Facebook will have plenty of time to create a digital profile of their tastes and preferences and ripen them for monetization. By the time kids migrate to the main platform, Facebook will have so much data about them that it’ll be able to immediately integrate them into its huge money-making machine.

What Should You Do?

In its defense, Messenger Kids does a pretty good job of protecting kids from things they’re “not developmentally prepared for,” as one children’s psychology expert who helped Facebook develop the app told the Guardian.

But that’s true only as long as your kids remain in Messenger Kids. Nothing stops them from signing up for Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and other social-media networks with the same device they use for Messenger Kids once they hit the age of 13 (or lie about their age). In fact, Messenger Kids will probably whet children’s appetite for the more extensive features of other platforms, most prominently Facebook itself.

So what you’ll get, at most, is the false impression that your kid is totally safe online. Meanwhile, Facebook gets more users and the chance to gobble up your data and those of your kids, which translates to dollars. Imagine how many gray t-shirts Zuck will be able to buy with all that money.

And Facebook’s history in handling user data paints a grim picture. A leaked report in May revealed that Facebook was considering allowing advertisers to target teenagers when they felt “insecure,” “worthless” and “in need of a confidence boost.” A few years earlier, Facebook caused another uproar when it published the results of a mass experiment that involved manipulating the emotions of nearly 700,000 unsuspecting users by altering the content of their news feeds.

I could be wrong; Messenger Kids might be a sincere effort to make the internet safer for the young. But until Facebook takes some concrete measures to prove that its goals go beyond deepening its own pockets, I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt.

5 Tech Trends to Watch in 2018

I’ve been writing a tech predictions column for over 30 years now. I study research from my firm, Creative Strategies, and look for data that provides hints of what might be the hot topics, trends, or issues in the coming year. Here’s what I see on the horizon for tech in 2018.

Cyber-Security Threats Worsen

This is not a new prediction, but “state” actors have now entered the scene, reportedly with backing from countries like North Korea, Russia, and China. They fund armies of hackers, who try to steal everything from nuclear secrets to bank codes, hacking into power grids and private accounts.

So it is not a stretch to predict that this will get even worse in 2018 now these hacking armies have learned how to game US systems, especially as we head into midterm elections next fall.

What makes this worse for us in America specifically is that we just don’t have enough security experts to counter many of these major threats. Without the talent to develop more powerful cyber-security tools (and hold on to the ones we do have), our networks are highly vulnerable. I fear this will lead to new hacking disasters in 2018 that we are ill-prepared to fend off.

More Folding Smartphones, Tablets

I saw some very interesting folding and dual-screen phone prototypes in late 2017, and I expect to see market-ready products next year.

ZTE released the dual-screen Axon M last month, but it’s exclusive to ATT, limiting its reach, and PCMag found it to be a bit buggy in testing. With a few tweaks, though, we could see at least one foldable smartphone and one foldable tablet late in 2018 from major players, setting in motion a new trend in mobile design going into 2019.

You Can’t Escape Augmented Reality

In 2017, Apple finally embraced augmented reality with ARKit, while Google revealed ARCore, leading many to believe we’d see the first killer AR apps by the holidays. But as of now, I have not seen an AR app I can’t live without.

I do think the smartphone is a great place to start in terms of getting people interested in the technology; we’re already staring at the devices all day anyway. But I am becoming more and more convinced that for AR to really impact our lives, it will have to be delivered through some type of smart glasses, which I don’t see happening before 2020.

AR, meanwhile, is often mentioned in the same breath as virtual reality. But I see VR taking off largely in vertical markets, where all types of industries are experimenting with it to see how it affects their workflow and potential profitability. For more on that, check out PCMag’s October feature, How Augmented Reality Is Transforming Work.

All-Day Laptop Battery Life

PCMag’s Sascha Sagan and I were in Hawaii recently for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Summit, where it talked up its always-connected PC initiative. The premise is that these Snapdragon 835-based devices, like the HP Envy x2 and Asus NovaGo, have built-in LTE radios that provide constant internet connections and 20 hours of battery life.

I’m not quite sure the always-on aspect will be these machines’ biggest selling point, though. In our iPad research, we found that 50 percent of iPads sold include the LTE radio chip, but that only 25 percent of those machines ever have their LTE activated. I think the bigger story from Qualcomm’s event is that incredible battery life. Imagine heading off for the day and not having to think about carrying a power cord for your laptop since you know you will get at least 20 hours of real use.

Social Media Regulation

I know this might be considered a bold prediction, but my contacts in Washington say legislators from both sides of the aisle are increasingly concerned about the negative impact social media has had on the election process and the political climate in general.

Although Washington had hoped Facebook, Twitter, and Google would police themselves, insiders I speak with are growing skeptical that these companies can handle it alone. Full regulation is probably not likely, but I would not be surprised if we do see some legislation. After all, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai already went after Twitter during the net neutrality debate.