Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is renowned for making dire predictions about how artificial intelligence will be a threat to humankind. While it's not yet self-evolving to the point of being an imminent danger, in 2017 AI did grow like crazy. At least that's the topic several CEOs wanted to mention when asked what they saw as the biggest trends in tech this year.

1. The use of artificial intelligence grew in retail.

"Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) have a symbiotic relationship and pose both a blessing and a threat to the future of commerce. With innovations in data mining and automation, the ability for large companies to mine data is vastly improving. This is creating a shift from helpful automation towards immersed AI and immense amounts of data are fueling predictive consumerism that furthers the ability for large corporations to accurately predict and recommend products, shaping consumer habits. This paves the way for traditional verticals of commerce and manufacturing to dissolve, and large data aggregators move directly into manufacturing. Small competitors need beware."

--Bernard Luthi, CEO of Monoprice, an ecommerce seller of high-quality consumer electronics and products direct-to-consumer at affordable prices

2. Social listening helped brands identify new opportunities.

"Social listening provides brands with a bird's eye view of trending topics, sentiment and conversations related to their industry, products and public perception. Brands from L'Oreal to Starbucks are using insights gained from social listening to improve their products, develop new offerings and design more effective marketing campaigns. Given the speed of social and the breadth of insights available from billions of users, more brands are turning to this unfettered focus group for valuable business insights. While many brands understand the value of social media monitoring for customer service, we anticipate more brands will realize the opportunity social listening presents and taking greater advantage in the coming year."

--Andrew Caravella, VP of strategy and brand engagement for Sprout Social, which provides social media management, analytics and advocacy solutions for businesses

3. Voice assistants were increasingly used to shop.

"The rise of voice assistants reached a fever pitch in 2017. We saw the rollout of Apple's HomePod, key updates to Alexa and Google Home partnerships with WalMart and Target. But this new customer touchpoint complicates the overall customer brand experience. When customers shop and buy on a voice assistant, they're not only interacting with the retailer's brand, but the voice assistant's brand as well. What this means for retailers is that there are more opportunities for snags and fractures in the customer experience--so they must be especially vigilant in listening to their customers as they navigate this new technology."

--Andrew Park, senior director of customer experience strategy at InMoment, a Forrester-recognized leader in customer experience feedback strategy

4. Machine learning took over the tech industry, solidifying the importance of automation.

"One of the biggest machine learning highlights from 2017 was when Google's AlphaGo taught itself how to master the game of Go, having been given nothing more than the basic rules. This was a significant milestone because, up until then, machines needed people to teach and help them learn until they were ready to move on to the next level. This proved that we are fast approaching technological singularity, and with it a massive change in the pace of technological advancement and associated societal impacts."

--Ryan Duguid, senior vice president of technology strategy at Nintex, a workflow and content automation platform

5. Marketers became tired of the artificial intelligence hype in 2017.

"Almost half of marketers think artificial intelligence is an overhyped industry buzzword, and 40 percent feel skeptical when they see or hear the term, according to research by Resulticks. All eyes are on AI these days. With so much industry attention and so little to show for it, marketers have already grown weary of the term. Software vendors have to up their game and give marketers the equipment they need to get into shape on AI."

--Redicka Subrammanian, cofounder and CEO of Resulticks, a real-time marketing and cloud platform

6. Advertisers focused too much on millennials.

"In its Q3 2017 Data Report: YouTube's Generational Divide, Strike Social examined a year's worth of YouTube campaigns across 25 industries in the U.S. and found that baby boomers showed view rates 10 percent higher than millennials (31.2 percent for boomers and 28.3 percent for millennials), yet advertisers push much more of their spend to the younger cohort. Baby boomers make up nearly a quarter of YouTube visitors. By ignoring this group, advertisers are missing out on a significant audience that is both highly engaged and highly valuable."

--Jason Nesbitt, VP of media and agency operations at Strike Social, a social media advertising company

7. "The "build-it-yourself" IT era is over.

"For decades, IT teams have been in the power seat of enterprise technology decisions. As new technologies emerge, IT teams are having trouble letting go of this power seat, and end up trying to build and deploy software in-house. As a result, marketing teams and other c-suite executives looking to adopt emerging technologies have come to see IT teams as a roadblock, rather than an enabler. In fact, many executives are actually sidestepping IT to expedite business processes. In 2017, we saw that IT departments are finally realizing that not only does the 'build-it-yourself' strategy cause internal tension, the process is incredibly time-consuming and costly. Unfortunately, the companies whose IT teams continue to create roadblocks by building software in-house will not maintain relevancy in the coming year. If companies want to remain competitive in 2018, companies must select the best, API-forward tools that they can snap into their stack, like Legos. For this to work, IT teams need to work more effectively with business unit buyers to keep the company nimble. By breaking down these IT roadblocks, companies can increase agility and sharpen their competitive edge."

--Dave Taylor, CMO of Impartner, a channel management solution

8. Fintech went head to head against the powerhouses.

"Even before 2017, much of fintech has been concerned with the periphery of a person's financial life. It's about rounding up your purchases or saving $5 here or there. But, the bulk of everyone's financial life still revolves around the giants (think: large banks, traditional brokerages). [This year] proved that fintech players are gaining acceptance as they offer a better experience at a lower cost than the powerhouses and are poised to be the center of a person's financial lives. As fintech starts to grow up, it's challenging those giant firms that have dominated our financial lives. I expect we'll see more of that in 2018, and we may even see more people choosing fintech over those traditional methods."

--Brian Barnes, founder and CEO of M1 Finance, an automated online broker for the engaged investor

9. Retail got a virtual makeover with VR.

"When people think about virtual reality (VR) their minds might go right to consumer-facing use cases, like 360-degree gaming or virtual shopping. But VR has been a huge proponent of the retail industry innovation in 2017--mainly, improving how businesses operate by reducing costs, driving efficiency and cutting time spent on outdated processes. Take a look at Walmart who started using VR headsets to train employees. And forward-thinking retailers and brands like Walgreens and Kellogg's who use virtual reality software to design and test shelf, product and store layout and placement, all in a virtual store environment. Next year has even more growth in store for the retail space thanks to VR technology."

--Mark Hardy, CEO of InContext Solutions, a provider of virtual reality solutions for retailers and CPG manufacturers

10. There was an increase in investment in real estate technology.

"[It] isn't all that surprising given the low rates of homeownership and rising property and rental prices. We're in the midst of a cultural shift as more newly formed--and mostly millennial--households are opting to rent instead of own. Next year will be the year of the digital landlord, as more landlords and property management companies turn to new technologies to not only attract but retain millennial renters with a better tenant experience."

--Ryan Coon, CEO of Rentalutions, a online property management tool that automates, organizes and simplifies the rental cycle for independent landlords

11. Healthcare confusion was increasingly tackled by software and tech.

"In 2017, employees, especially new entrants into the workforce and millennials, felt more confused about health care than usual--whether it be their consumer-driven plans and health savings accounts, new voluntary benefit offerings, or the shaky future of the ACA. In the past few years, new interactive benefits communication software has emerged to help employees sort it all. As hundreds of our own customers would tell you, use of these technologies leads to happier employees because they make smarter benefits decisions with less effort. And because these smarter decisions also save companies significant time and money (in operating expenses and tax savings), we fully expect company investments in benefits communication technology to keep growing in 2018."

--Bob Armour, CMO of Jellyvision, makers of ALEX, interactive communication software used by more than 8 million employees

12. It was a big year for AI and cognitive solutions.

"A technology that once seemed far off and futuristic is now becoming fully integrated into almost every area of our lives, from healthcare to home electronics. What we saw this year was an attitude of preparation. Many businesses made strategic investments in integrated and agile systems, providing scalable architecture that will enable them to implement future intelligent system integrations. Part of this preparation also involved executing the necessary cultural changes within their organization, adopting a collaborative design thinking mindset that will set them up for continued business transformation in 2018. Those who have made these investments in 2017 will have the tools they need to consider additional emerging technologies, how it enables the user experience and its impact on business outcomes in the coming years."

--Barry Pellas, CTO and chief business technologist at the digital transformation firm PointSource, a Globant Company and VP of technology for Globant NA

13. Sports organizations invested more into AI.

"Mark Cuban declared this year that teams need to embrace machine learning and AI, not just analytics. With all sports organizations data-driven in some way, 2017 saw more organizations smarten up with the type of data they use and how they use it. For example, teams across the MLB, NHL, and NBA began to combine biometric data and machine learning for player performance and strategy. But the data revolution is stretching across the entire sports business. Beyond impressions and past game attendance, this year teams and their sponsors invested in engaging and learning about fans: from AI Chatbots that help fans navigate the venue and take advantage of offers to teams using digital footprints to sell high-value season tickets and merchandise, teams are taking unprecedented strides in reaching fans, even if they haven't bought a ticket (yet)."

--Lisa Pearson, CEO of Umbel, a fan engagement and data management platform for sports and entertainment

14. Machine learning and algorithms played a greater role in customer service and sales calls.

"There has been an explosion of start-ups like VoiceBase, Gridspace, gong.io, TalkIQ, and others looking to take speech analytics to the next level for a variety of applications. VoiceBase even claims they can identify a customer a high potential buyer within 30 seconds of a conversation. Well-known AI companies like IBM can detect your mood throughout the conversation, to guide the agent on how to get the best results from each interaction. For businesses themselves, has been a year of increased speech analytics adoption: according to Forrester, more than 35% of companies with a contact center of 50 people or more have implemented speech analytics tools with real-time feedback that help agents deliver customized offers to callers. Rather than replacing agents, AI has become a tool to help increase efficiency and guide call recipients to create more value with relatively low costs."

--Chad Hart, head of strategic products for Voxbone, a Communications as a Service (CaaS) provider that supports giants and growing businesses with voice and messaging services in the cloud and via API

15. Predictive analytics helped companies hire better talent and reduce turnover.

"During 2017, we saw the predictive analytics emerge as the next frontier for various different industries including banking, marketing, and finally--human resources. Rather than relying on gut instinct, recruiters are using a more scientific approach to decision-making. This is transforming HR operations and boosting business outcomes, by making better hiring decisions and reducing employee turnover. Collectively, analytics will be able to reduce the time required to fill positions, reduce panic hiring, and retain employees who are looking to abandon ship. Interestingly, among those companies that have invested in data-driven HR technologies, almost half use them to make better hiring decisions, while 17 percent use them to reduce employee turnover. Eventually, employers might even be able to use this kind of data to predict employee behavior, deliver personalized recommendations, and change the entire way that an HR department functions."

--Pete Lamson, CEO of JazzHR, a recruiting solutions provider for small and medium-sized businesses

16. Cities got smarter.

"Cities continue to look for innovative solutions to become smart. At the forefront of this change has been sustainable energy and intelligent electric vehicles. In 2017, our company saw a direct correlation between interest in our solutions and the need to address urban densification and transportation issues. New technologies and continued growth of innovative electric mobility solutions will power the smart cities revolution over the years to come, and we will continue to see an increase in tech and mobility solutions that will enhance the current infrastructure of our cities as well as the experience of commuters using both private and public transportation options."

--Daniel Huang, founder and CEO of Immotor, a technology company that is committed to the research and development of electric intelligent personal transportation devices

17. Some utilities deployed AI and machine learning to optimize fuel, reduce emissions and accurately forecast wind.

"AI in industrial businesses can be used to automate processes based on real-time and historical data. Within power plants, for instance, AI can be used to recognize patterns in a machine's behavior and make a change based on desired outcomes. This may be as simple as understanding maintenance cycles so that a certain part is serviced in the most optimal way to prevent degradation and save O&M costs. And it can be as complex as manipulating an asset so that a power plant can save fuel costs while delivering the max capacity of power for traders in hour-ahead and day-ahead markets. Applying AI and modeling the data in these processes means that the information goes directly where it's needed, and with a closed loop the system improves with each turn. AI also enables energy businesses to free up human capital for the high-level tasks requiring human intervention."

--Peter Kirk, former CEO of NeuCo and now executive, business operations, for GE Power Digital

18. Advances in robotics, CRM tools, security and computer vision demonstrated the increasing importance of AI and machine learning to a company's future.

"From many retailers demanding 'human-like' AI customer service, to a shift in cybersecurity from reactive security practices, to more predictive AI-powered security approaches, AI is starting to show its muscle. We started to see machine learning and AI methods being applied in many industries because of comprehensive and predictive approaches that can solve real business challenges. What we're looking at now is both a pull and push market. When it comes to AI, there's a unique opportunity for all of us and it is just the beginning, thanks to the availability and accessibility of AI."