Last month, Rakuten brought together some of the world’s most innovative thinkers for our 10th annual Rakuten Technology Conference in Tokyo. Now, as 2016 winds down and we look forward to the New Year, we share some of the conference speakers’ boldest predictions for 2017. From chatbots and deep learning to automation, these are some of the top tech trends to watch for in the coming year:

AR and VR

Mary Reisel, a cyber anthropologist specializing in the psychology of online communities, spoke at the conference about the rise of AI, but she also had some predictions to share about augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR):

“Augmented reality and virtual reality will see much more extensive usage (in 2017 – both in games and other, technical fields such as medicine). Robots will also have a much bigger penetration into social life and may slowly find their place as new members of society and work.”

Another speaker with high hopes for VR was Yasuo Takahashi, Sony Interactive Entertainment’s Director of Hardware Global Product Strategy & Management. Takahashi was instrumental in developing the PlayStation VR, which was launched this year, and he predicted VR will likely become as common as television:

“Putting the (VR) headset on is a really high hurdle for the user, but it can give you incredible new experiences… I think VR is a good candidate to become a new technology for the masses, like TV and radio.”

Despite those promising developments in AR and VR, Reisel also suggested that 2017 will see a slowdown in the development of new technologies:

“It seems to me that in some fields, research is going in the direction of the ‘safe’ rather than the ‘new.’ The slowdown in the tech world and the growing fear of cybercrime is leading many companies to be more careful now in spite of the competition. As such, more effort will need to be invested in improving technologies that are already popular and are guaranteed to succeed (such as smartphones).”

Deep learning

Professor of computer science at Tokyo Institute of Technology Hideki Koike spoke at the conference about human-computer interaction (HCI), a field that focuses on the interfaces we use to operate digital devices. In 2017 he sees existing approaches such as deep learning continuing to benefit from hardware advances:

“One promising approach is deep learning, which is getting more and more popular. I think it will be used in many fields, not just image processing – for example, voice recognition and cybersecurity. Although deep learning is promising, when I was in grad school I studied a lot about AI, and the basic technology hasn’t changed so much. The (current) popularization is based on hardware advances, such as faster CPUs and the ability to store more data on hard drives.”

Chatbots

Bots have been around for decades, but in the last year they have seen a resurgence of interest due to rapidly increasing use of messaging apps, in which they can be integrated. Daniel Ilkovich, the founder and CEO of Dexter (a company that gives writers and businesses the tools to create chatbots without needing any engineering experience) shared his thoughts on why interest in chatbots is on the rise:

“You can’t teach a computer to truly understand a human, but you can teach it to predict what the response will be with increasing certainty.”

More specifically, Ilkovich predicts that, with the industry competition ahead, the ability of chatbots to process requests made in “natural language” will rapidly evolve to new levels:

“I think we’re going to see Facebook and Google specifically, really go head to head on natural language. Google just acquired API.AI and Facebook just acquired Wit.ai. Competition, like everywhere else in tech, is going to make the chatbot industry a better place. That’s going to be amazing for natural language processing.”

Voice-activated devices

Beyond chatbots, Ilkovich predicts a big year for voice-activated tech:

“I think voice-activated devices are going to see a real increase in quality and prevalence. (They’re) already popular, but the number of people who own an Echo or a Home is going to exponentially increase.”

Automation

Michael Ducy, automation expert and Director of Product Marketing at Chef, explained how automation will transform the world of information technology (IT):

“From an IT standpoint, we’ll realize over the next few years that the current style of automation is becoming a bit more obsolete. Increasingly, automation will be used to reduce the complexity of operating systems, eventually removing them from the equation.”

Cloud technology

Ducy also shared his thoughts on cloud technology and risk management in IT:

“There will be a large shift of organizations more willing to embrace cloud, and the risk associated. Companies will accept that data breaches are inevitable and instead of avoiding the technology all together they will build it in as part of their risk portfolio, just like hedging investments.”

Have predictions of your own? Let us know in the comments below.