Welcome to 2018, a time when the impossible to imagine is becoming a reality and when the outlook for the betterment of humankind has never been so bright — not just for the privileged few, but for everyone.\n \nThis is the year that will go down in history as the start of humankind’s uninhibited acceptance of human-robot interaction (HRI). That’s because HRI — the ability for humans and machines to communicate with each other — has finally passed Alan Turing’s simple test, the “imitation game,” to determine whether a computer is thinking. The mathematician, logician and founder of computer science theorized that if the responses from a computer are indistinguishable from that of the human, a computer must be thinking (see “AI: the theory,” Technophilia, April 2017).\n \nHumankind started its journey with HRI in the 1980s with the introduction and widespread use of automated telephone assistants. These systems allowed callers to be connected to extension numbers without interacting with human operators.\n \nNatural voice-recognition so ware has been slowly integrating radical improvements into our day-to-day activities. This technology has allowed us to normalize one-way voice commands to machines. The technology was first widely used in cars, allowing drivers and passengers to direct voice commands to their synced mobile phones while driving. This led to voice dictation transcription software and voice-based queries using Apple’s Siri and Microso ’s Cortana.\n \nMost of us are aware of smart speakers such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, although they are still not available in many countries outside the US and UK. These speakers have microphones that are always listening. They will respond to voice commands to turn on a radio station or television channel and answer just about any question, including the weather forecast.\n \nThis year two-way voice communication between human and nonhuman systems will continue to become commonplace. Something almost magical is starting to take place as we combine these next-generation voice-communication apps with artificial intelligence (AI). We are starting to see the natural acceptance of HRI via chatbots — computer programs that use AI to conduct conversations. They are often the “people” you are talking to during phone support calls. Most of us can’t tell whether we are speaking with a human or a chatbot.\n \nThese technologies are creating ways to connect with your customer online. The data streams are mapping personal connection points previously unheard of. For example, Pokémon Go, released in 2016, ignited our imagination for what is possible with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) experiences. This year, thanks to the decreasing cost of wireless VR hardware, we will see almost all sectors start to rethink how this technology can be embraced to provide an improved client experience. Realtors are already offering virtual walk-throughs of their listings to prospective homebuyers.\n \nWalmart announced that it will be releasing a Google assistant app this year that will allow you to shop online via voice. So, if you order a jar of peanut butter, the AI-supported technology will ask if you’d like the same brand and size you last purchased or an alternative. By 2020, I’m betting you’ll be able to virtually walk along the aisles, pick up items and put them into your shopping cart just like you would in the physical world.\n \nI am hugely optimistic about this new year. HRI will provide powerful capabilities that will result in new and enhanced ways to interact on demand with our clients. It will continue to establish new ways of working with the Internet of Things and no doubt provide some useful big data points of connection with our marketplace.\n \nSo, stick around. We have lots to talk about in 2018.