One of the benefits of my role as President and CEO of Analog Devices, is traveling the world to meet with customers from a variety of industries and regions and hearing their perspective on the technological, business, and market challenges they face. Our customers produce the wide variety of electronic equipment that we all rely on for transportation, healthcare, communication, and many of the benefits of modern life. Our discussions typically focus on both their current needs to intelligently bridge the physical and digital worlds as well as on the innovation they want to enable in the future. I have drawn upon those conversations and other research to compile the following five technology macro-trends that I believe will have the greatest impact on business and society during 2018.
Customers in every market segment are feverishly trying to understand the value of artificial intelligence and machine learning for their businesses, mirroring efforts of a decade ago to realize the benefits of digitalization. The focus on utilizing AI will accelerate in 2018, with the performance/affordability barrier continuing to be broken down and targeted applications of AI achieving financial and application-level impact in Industrial settings. For example, AI has progressed to a point where industrial robots are able to learn and adapt to new environments or unfamiliar objects without being specifically trained.
AI at the edge will begin transitioning from a novelty to a norm through innovation related to low-power processing, while intelligent edge computing will become a reality with context-enriched data and information driving smarter system partitioning between the edge and the Cloud.
Meanwhile the development of AI applications that rival human intelligence will remain squarely in the university research domain.
Autonomous systems for cars, drones, and robots will continue to advance during 2018, but only to a certain point due to unresolved regulatory and technical issues. Nevertheless, over the coming months, we will continue to see progress in the adoption of autonomous systems through initiatives such as trial deployments of robo-taxis in limited areas. In particular, long-haul transportation such as trucking and trains will be among the applications that experience true advancement of autonomous functionality in the near term.
Driven by the continuing quest for productivity gains, the drive to add intelligence to machines will also accelerate factory automation/Industry 4.0 initiatives. For example, advances in machine learning will significantly improve the ability of systems to provide valuable performance recommendations and predictions based on their own independent condition monitoring.
Ubiquitous wireless sensing networks and data
The combination of advanced materials, enhanced functionality, and MEMS is enabling breakthroughs in sensor form factors and cost, which will enable ubiquitous wireless sensor networks. Deployment of wireless mesh networking in IoT and Industrial applications will enable sensing capability to be added to existing systems without extensive rewiring. However, end-to-end security from the sensor to the Cloud will be the gating requirement for Industrial customers to begin deploying Industrial IoT initiatives at scale.
The drive to make products and systems more intelligent will also increase the need to manage and analyze an ever-increasing flow of data. Data centers will require higher processing performance as the data load continues to increase, as well as advanced power management innovation to mitigate risk presented by high thermal levels in data center systems. We will also begin to see greater intelligence integrated at the edge node to begin to triage and tame the flow of data.
Mixed reality systems will continue to emerge and grow in popularity, with augmented reality and virtual reality ecosystems flourishing and stimulating innovation. As the use of commercial AR/VR systems accelerates, costs will decrease and applicability will extend into spaces such as Industrial for off-site diagnostics and repair.
In addition, voice-as-user interface has now become an expectation but this technology continues to face limitations, especially in noisy environments. Gartner predicts that in 2018, 30% of our interactions with technology will be through "conversations" with smart machines, meaning that technology and service providers need to invest now to improve currently limited voice interfaces.
With the costs of deep-submicron development skyrocketing and Moore’s Law facing increasing technology and economic headwinds, heterogeneous integration of multiple technologies in a package, on a laminate, or even on a single silicon substrate will increase. New business models will emerge to capitalize on heterogeneous manufacturing, enabling recombinant innovation for small-scale semiconductor industry players who cannot afford to invest in state-of-the art IC lithographies. For suppliers with greater scope and scale, the addition of signal processing algorithms to silicon will increase the value of their solutions.
It will be interesting to see where heterogeneous manufacturing and the other four technology macro-trends evolve over the coming year. It is often said that the best way to predict the future is to create it. As semiconductor innovation will be the foundation for many of these emerging applications and analog technology will become even more critical in a data-hungry world, you can be sure that we at Analog Devices will be working diligently to make these predictions a reality in 2018.