Preview of Gartner’s 10 Strategic Tech Trends for 2017 + more

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While the “official” tech trends for 2017 won’t be announced until the Gartner Symposium next week, I was able to track down a preview which I’ll share later – we’ll see how accurate they are.  But first, some of the news from this week:

Bill Gates has some thoughts on how he thinks the public and private sectors needs to interact with one another when it comes to innovation and as well where he thinks we need to be focusing our efforts to innovate.

ING, a major Dutch lender, has plans to replace 5,800 jobs with machines as part of what they calling a “digital transformation.” A few years back, it was posited that the banking industry was ripe for “computerization,” and now ING and others (including Commerzbank in Germany) are making good on those predictions.  Along with that is this article from HBR on three ways work can be automated and this other one on how technology will replace us all.  Oh, and it’s obviously not just happening in banking today – take a look at the latest eBay acquisition.

As I’ve noted before, Facebook decided to fire its human news editors and The Intersect has done some initial tracking and analysis to prove that since that change, Facebook has repeatedly trended fake news.  No real surprise there, given the level of maturity of AI and how far machine learning needs to come, but still a fair warning for those who rely on social media or entertainment mediums for their news.

Speaking of AI, Deepmind, a world leader in artificial intelligence research and its application for positive impact, has a post this week about some recent work they did around creating a differentiable neural computer.  Their hope was to create a learning machine that could organize information into connected facts and then use those facts to solve problems, which they were able to do.  Then there’s this article on how vector space mathematics helps machines spot sarcasm.  Next thing you know we’ll have Deep Thought at our command. But don’t worry, it hopefully won’t destroy the world.

I honestly don’t even know how to correlate this next article to anything fantastical in the world simply because it seems so incredulous – I tried to make a correlation to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Men In Black, but I’ll just leave this here: apparently the tech industry is becoming ever more consumed as to whether our existence is actually an algorithm.  Follow on to that the desire of two tech billionaires to destroy the universe.  While we’re talking about destroying the universe, take a moment to read this summary of The McFuture podcast’s interview with Jeremy Rifkin, as well as this piece on the future of cities.

Given all the news about cutting cords the past few weeks, Business Insider decided to outline how we can expect to see wireless technology evolve over the next ten years.

Wondering where the top talent in the tech industry will land next?  Fast Company has a good overview of past trends and what we can expect for 2017.

Apparently, at Gartner’s recent event in Cape Town, Stephen Prentice gave a preview of the expected trends for 2017.  As you recall, between 3D printing and machine learning, there was a robust list of predictions last year (which I revisited a few weeks ago).  While the preview of 2017’s trends features some of the same entries, there are a few new ones as well:

Conversational systems

Prentice says that conversational AI systems will form part of the so-called “Digital Mesh” – along with the next two entries on the list.

Prentice noted that there are expected to be at least 25 conversational AI systems by 2018, citing examples already such as Siri, Cortana and Amazon‘s Echo.

“These are generation one systems… They don’t always sort of seem to understand properly, what we say. But like all technology, it’s going to improve and it’s going to improve very rapidly,” Prentice explained. He adds that we could see these systems not only comprehending what we say, but what we mean.

Augmented and virtual reality

The past 12 months have seen virtual reality and augmented reality make headlines, such as Oculus Rift and the Gear VR for the former and Pokemon Go for the latter. Prentice expects this to continue its growth.

“The mobile phone, given its location-based capabilities, its cameras, its inertial sensors and so on, is becoming a very powerful tool for augmented reality,” Prentice elaborates. He adds that distracted smartphone users are even getting guidance in the form of “traffic lights” installed in Sydney pavements.

As for virtual reality, Prentice notes that we’re seeing more powerful VR headsets, being used for everything from immersive experiences, molecular modeling, and healthcare therapy.

Digital twin

“Every physical object in this environment is going to have a digital equivalent. As we do things to the physical object, the data from that is being collected… and that’s being replicated in a digital equivalent,” Prentice explains. However, Prentice says that over time, things might flow in the other direction (i.e. manipulation of digital objects having a real-world effect).

Prentice gives the example of having one wind turbine in the real-world, but using the digital world to test the effect of having many wind turbines. He also cited NASA testing new technologies as one example of the digital twin concept.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning

“If you asked me for a personal point of view… which one stands out as the most significant, the most disruptive, I would have to say… it’s machine learning and advanced artificial intelligence,” Prentice elaborates.

“Over the last couple of years, and largely due to the impact of machine learning technologies, we’ve seen artificial intelligence give us capabilities, achieve things that, even a couple of years ago, we would’ve said were impossible,” he adds. He cites the example of DARPA’s autonomous vehicle challenge from just a decade ago, taking place in a desert and seeing many cars failing. And now the likes of Google and other companies are testing self-driving cars on public roads.

“The imminent expectation is that self-driving vehicles will be commonplace – not the majority – by the middle of the next decade.”

Prentice says that AI systems tasked with doing a specific thing are reaching a point where they can often be better than humans. But there are still reasons to use humans instead.

“In some cases, they’re (the AI system) is expensive. In some cases, it’s just a lot easier to have a person doing it. In some cases, there are regulatory reasons,” the Gartner analyst says.

Intelligent applications

When you combine AI and machine learning with applications, you get intelligent applications, Prentice explains.

These applications come in a variety of forms, such as robots, drones, chat bots/Siri/Cortana, smart sensors and smart appliances.

One specific example cited by Prentice includes a machine that visually analyses burger buns to improve quality.

Another example was the use of IBM’s Watson as a virtual advisor at Memorial Sloan Kettering, helping doctors determine treatment for cancer.

Intelligent things

“One of the challenges, in fact, is when we try to forecast the number of intelligent things being connected to the network, the reality is the vast majority of them have not yet been invented,” the Gartner representative noted. “They’re in categories that we don’t even think of.”

Some examples of intelligent things include intelligent MRI scanners and stethoscopes. The former could adjust settings based on the patient’s dimensions and details, while the latter is able to detect minor variations in vitals.

Adaptive security

This was one of the trends predicted for 2016, but Prentice says that this will continue to occur next year. He adds that adaptive security will entail the use of AI to help identify threats.

“Let’s be quite clear: the cyber threat is growing all the time. The more devices out there, the more weak points there are,” Prentice says.

“So this is an arms race, and it’s an arms race that, I have to say, the good guys are never going to win. Because the bad guys have access to exactly the same technology as the good guys and they don’t feel compelled to comply with the rules and regulations…”

However, it’s not all doom and gloom, as Prentice points to the auto industry’s recent focus on security as an example of manufacturers prioritizing the issue.

Blockchain and distributed ledger

“Blockchain is one of these things that’s at the peak of hype,” Prentice notes, before adding that it was providing a “decentralized, secure ledger of transactions”.

“It’s about adding trust, in an automated sense, into what is an otherwise untrustworthy environment,” he says, before stressing that it wasn’t “irrevocable”.

What about businesses wanting to use Blockchain technology? Prentice says you should be investigating the technology now.

“But at the same time, anything you do today… you should be expecting to replace in 18 months’ time.”

So if the technology is going to be changing that rapidly, why not investigate it later?

“That is an option, but we don’t believe that it’s a smart option. This is going to be an important technology, gaining some understanding into what it can do and how you might apply it, is going to be important,” Prentice explains.

Mesh app and service architecture

Gartner sees a future of “mesh type things, cloud-based servers… a lot of bots… small chunks of code… linking together in a variety of different ways”.

Prentice says that this type of architecture will allow for a different level of flexibility and faster development pace.

Digital technology platforms

When talking about digital technology platforms, Prentice said there were several main areas to take into account. These were internal systems (such as accounting systems, traditional IT), customer-facing systems (CRM, social media, websites) and the internet of things. And all of these systems will feed you or your company with intelligence.

Prentice also suggested a future where smart AI bots will become the customer. “My bot is going to be ordering products and services from your bot. So a lot of your customer relationship management is going to be turned on its head,” he added.

Prentice cautioned businesses against building an entire ecosystem of digital technology platforms on their own, calling on firms to find a “one-stop” solution instead.

Last this week is a TED talk by Jim Hemerling that speaks of five ways to lead in an era of constant change.  He contrasts the difference between how we view self-transformation versus organizational change – one we get excited about, the other we dread.

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