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As 2018 begins, it’s time to start looking ahead to next year and the big data trends and innovations that will take center stage. And while 2017 saw significant adoption of big data technology in nearly every industry, big data will have an even more profound impact on society in 2018 thanks to its enabling effects on three emerging technologies.

Artificial Intelligence

The concept of AI has been around for decades, but big data has taken what most thought was only possible in science fiction and made it reality. However, before I explain why AI is going to go mainstream in 2018, a few words about AI versus machine learning. These terms are used almost interchangeably, but there are significant differences between the two.

Machine learning enables a system to make informed decisions about changing a process or product. It does this by applying pre-written algorithms to a sizeable pool of data to recognize patterns and then make changes based on those patterns. But machine learning can’t make the more abstract associations between seemingly unrelated data points the way humans do, which is the mark of true AI. Neural networks are widely believed to be the technology that will enable AI, and while big data provides the massive amounts of data they need to fuel their “thought” processes, the compute power needed to drive neural networks has previously been too costly to deliver at scale. Recent developments in GPU-based processing and hybrid memory technologies and an ever-expanding pool of data promise to bring the super compute capabilities needed for true AI to the mainstream in enterprises in 2018.

Blockchain

Blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize record keeping. It’s a technology that’s gaining a lot of attention and is increasingly in demand. While financial institutions seam to have already bought into the value proposition of blockchains, there are other enterprise applications for the technology that may be just as revolutionary. Furthermore, sharing transaction data across thousand (if not millions) of clients in a network means that blockchain technology can address the op-ex costs and privacy and security risks that make centralized repositories of big data so challenging to maintain. Blockchains will have a disrupting effect on networking that I think will be similar in scope to how significantly cloud computing changed networking in 2017.

IoT

I believe 2017 was the year the IoT finally went mainstream. Whether it’s a large transportation company connecting its truck fleet to the Internet for more efficient route planning or consumers using a smart speaker to change the TV channel with their voices, IoT-enabled experiences are increasingly common to consumers and enterprises alike. Accordingly, now that the IoT is more mature, in 2018 expect to see new IoT-enabled applications and user experiences that no one has even considered yet. For example, I recently heard of an insurance company equipping customers’ buildings with moisture sensors to detect flooding so the could issue a payment without the customer even filing a claim or having an adjuster make a site visit to estimate damages.

2018 promises to be a year full of change and excitement thanks to the enabling effect of big data.