What’s hot this summer?

today's office

Working, as I do, at the intersection of analyst, radar for emerging tech, curator and connector, I sometimes feel like a big I/O machine: I read a lot, hear a lot, see a lot of stuff that is still in the pipeline, and talk to the very people who are building the future every day.

Here’s a quick, unsorted and unprioritized snapshot: Which current trends are most fascinating and which might hold most potential? So find a nice shady spot outside your office, take some time and google away!

Please note that this is by no means a comprehensive list. Just a quick outline of some of the more interesting things that keep crossing my radar.

IoT keeps expanding (for now)

Internet of Things (IoT), as a term, keeps expanding into more verticals, areas, across boundaries.

This is no surprise; but as terminology goes, IoT has always been a love-hate term. It’s good in that it’s inclusive to some degree; it’s bad in that it’s too inclusive to be concrete.

I expect a second consolidation into more discrete terminology soon, equivalent to when ubicomp, social computing, user-generated content and the like were first summarized under the new umbrella term “Web 2.0”, then later “social media”. Only after this phase of consolidation into one term (which we kindasorta see now) could we then break it down into more workable, more discrete units/technologies/processes/cultures, etc. This is beginning already, but it’ll still be a bumpy ride for a bit. Hang in there.

Remember that the basic premise is a simple one (which I’m going to oversimplify even more right now): “What happens if I stick the internet into this? What happens if I stick this into the internet?”

Comeback of the conversational interface

Interaction and interface design has been getting a lot of (well-deserved) attention lately. Driven by the Cambrian explosion of connected devices, post-screen UX is one of the next frontiers: How to design for interactions and a great experience without relying on the black mirror in your pocket? It can be post-screen, tangible, gesture-based: Everything or anything as an interface.

One that had a bit of a heyday way back when (in terms of “lots of people being fascinated by it”, not in terms of actual working interfaces) were voice interfaces, which are back up right at the top in the shape of conversational interfaces. No matter if it’s through spoken word or written word; no matter if it’s conversational input or conversational output. A bit of fuzzy natural language data I/O, driven by smart-ish not-quite-artificial intelligence can go a long way. Keep an eye out for this one, there’s LOTS happening in this space.

For a great list of interesting things happening in that space, jump on over to Matt Webb.


This one is too big to even dive into at any level of detail. Algorithms in all their manyfold forms & shapes are being discussed left, right & center, in varying degrees of detail, competence & panic. The three biggest lenses to look at it that I’m seeing currently are ETHICS (how should algorithms act), WORK (what’s the relationship between algorithms and humans going to be in terms of labor/employment/value creation) and of course LIABILITY/INSURANCE (because that’s always what bubbles up quickly).

Synthetic biology

As mentioned before, synthetic biology is gathering a lot of momentum. Hooked up to hardware and software, bio might turn out to be the third column that extends the internet of (living) things. It’s not possible to print synth bio logic boards, perform calculations, 3D print genetic sequences. The field is just taking shape, but there’s so much happening in this space that now might be a good time to dust off that old high school biology text book.

Smart cities & policy

As smart cities (or smart city-ish projects/initiatives and the like) are increasingly moving from glossy marketing flyer to being implemented/budgeted for/debated about by municipalities, corporations and activist groups, there’s much increased interest about how to deal with all the inherent and often complex questions on the policy level. How to interface between a connected city and its actors and its administration/government. How to adapt governance structures. How to unlock the potentials without neglecting citizen groups or citizen rights.

By way of full disclosure, this topic has been keeping me quite busy recently: blog post overview for “smart city”; background on a report I’ve co-authored on the topic recently; I’ll be speaking about this at SolidCon AMS.

Ethics in design for connected products

A bit of an outlier in this list, and I acknowledge it sounds a bit heavy, but I see a lot of very smart people (not just, but also at ThingsCon) discuss the inherent ethical challenges around connected products & services, esp. with their ties to big data.

And in fact it’s not heavy at all, but rather more about dropping the realpolitik-style cynicism and re-introducing common sense into the design process. Hashtag privacy, hashtag userrights.

What am I missing?