As we barrel on into 2018, it should dawn on everyone—not just marketers and business owners, but literally everyone—that robots are taking over the world and transforming it into a terrifying dystopian future wherein all humankind will succumb to a future of subservient drones.

I mean, sure, the situation might not be so dramatic as that. But we truly are entering an unprecedented era blending human with tech and crafting tech to become more human-like than ever before.

Almost every tech trend in 2018 will touch on that theme: that the future of marketing, UX and business is reliant on the future of robots that will in all likelihood soon overpower us wholly and reduce our minds and bodies to… well, you get the picture.

Listen Up: The Future is Voice Control

According to a recent Consumer Technology Association report, a quarter of all holiday shoppers last year used voice assistants while making their Q4 purchases. Regardless of whether it was for research or an actual purchase, it almost doesn’t matter—they’re talking before they’re buying.

Moreover, this follows the overall popularity of smart speakers in households. Shipments have leapfrogged year-over-year from 7,200 units in 2016 to more than 27,000 in 2017, no doubt signifying that price drops and consumer marketing are transforming smart assistants into the new smartphones. Several savvy agencies are leaning into this burgeoning market, encouraging businesses to create their own apps and skills for these devices to catch on during a pivotal moment.

The hype isn’t confined to speakers, though. Voice searches are likewise climbing rapidly in the mobile game, as voice-controlled search finally catches up to the fact that hundreds of millions of smartphone users live in freezing cold climates half the year and don’t want to remove their winter mittens to search for the nearest cafe.

And so, lines such as “Okay Google, where’s the nearest cafe?” will begin springing up even more. It’s well documented that mobile searches already skew local and long-tail, and the increased number of voice searches will push even further in this direction. This is great news for small businesses looking to hone their SEM direction in 2018, as those tenets of search have long been the hallmark of savvy small-business marketers.

Machine Learning: Is 2018 the Year Robots Replace Drivers?

Some are predicting 2018 will be the year we see autonomous vehicles hit commercial roads. While private cars are likely still in the distant future, delivery vehicles may be nearer.

Yet while artificial intelligence and machine learning will fuel a multi-billion-dollar industry in 2018, there are ways for small business owners and agency marketers to get in on the machine-learning industry without investing in self-driving cars.

We are already living firmly in a world where customer service, product support, field research and consumer purchases are all being tackled by chatbots on a level that is disrupting—but not yet erasing—humans from the business side. While every business should still have some person on the other end of the phone (we love ranting to someone who can empathize with us, not just respond with naturalized conversations), chatbots, such as Mobile Monkey, are helping to capitalize on the increasingly enormous space of direct messaging.

Indeed, messaging apps passed social media recently in daily activity, proving that humans crave direct interaction, confidence, privacy and an immediate connection. Chatbots can play into this world, but Facebook’s introduction of pay-per-click ads and quick-loading pages into Facebook Messenger indicates that the universe extends far beyond just thinking of the consumer as someone who interacts with your brand.

AR and VR: Immersion Never Felt So Immersive

With Google leaning into ARCore and Apple into ARKit, the world of virtual and augmented reality appears to be more than just a superficial attempt to wow consumers with new hardware. VR arcades are popping up in major cities, and VR companies are teaming up with brands to create unique customer experiences that showcase their product in new, innovative ways.  

VR and AR have become less about sheer marketing and more about practical tools. Augmented reality can be used to help customers imagine paint colors, furniture and clothes as a real part of their lives. Virtual reality can take people on a finished tour of an under-construction condo. Think about how you can skew your content immersive and the boundaries are limitless.   

Smile for the Camera: Biometrics Are Here

Apple’s initial iPhone X facial recognition demo may have suffered a viral hiccup, but don’t let that dissuade you: facial and fingerprint recognition are only getting stronger, more accurate and more useful.

In an age marked by significant data breaches and heightened security, fingerprint scans denote an obvious solution in lieu of flimsy and predictable passwords. Anyone working in the app sphere, or with sensitive financial data, would do well to look for state-of-the-art solutions, many of which should grow rapidly in 2018.

Meanwhile, machines are learning to recognize users by face (think of a self-driving car that unlocks when it sees your smiling mug), and facial recognition has become a key factor in the growth of goofy app filters from Snapchat to Instagram. With a generation now growing up expecting a phone to know what a face looks like, advancing and securing this tech will surely be a priority for many developers.

Key Takeaways

Overall, the trend is clear: whether it’s vocal recognition, facial recognition, making robots more lifelike or leaning into virtual realities, the biggest tech trends in 2018 will involve a blending of machine life and human life, helping computers understand what humans are like and easing humans into a world where computers do more than sit on your desk.

Marketers, business owners and developers should think about ways in which they can stay ahead of this curve, or at least follow it as rapidly as it changes.