What’s next in technology? Gartner looks five years ahead

How will computing change over the next few years?  Gartner Research dives into this tricky question with a new report.  Their target: developments manifesting over 2018-2020.  It’s an interesting and useful list.

I think their trends fall into three categories: advances in artificial intelligence; growth of the Internet of Things; mobile intelligence, or the first two categories mashed together.  There’s also a cute bit about customers being to blame for cloud computing errors.

1: advances in artificial intelligence

Giant robot, Pittsburgh airportGarter invites us to imagine these developments, assuming AI and intelligent software just keeps getting better:

By 2018, 20 percent of business content will be authored by machines.

By 2020, autonomous software agents outside of human control will participate in five percent of all economic transactions.

By 2018, more than 3 million workers globally will be supervised by a “robo-boss.”

By 2018, 45 percent of the fastest-growing companies will have fewer employees than instances of smart machines.

These don’t depend on conceptual breakthroughs happening.  The content authoring trend, for example, we’re already seeing in bot-writing for sports and finance journalism.  Software agents in the economy is also a thing now, starting with high frequency trading.  Automated bosses: I think this is inspired by the role of software in managing Amazon’s warehouses.

2: Internet of Things

Gartner imagines a world transformed by the IoT like so:

By 2018, six billion connected things will be requesting support.

By year-end 2018, 20 percent of smart buildings will have suffered from digital vandalism.

By 2018, two million employees will be required to wear health and fitness tracking devices as a condition of employment.

I like the way these trends turn a bit to the dark side.  Connected objects are requesting support, rather than joyously performing their tasks.  Smart buildings get trashed and workers get new collars.  After all, identifying stresses and problems is a key aspect of futurism.

3: mobile intelligence, i.e., 1+2 mashed up

What happens when we combine advanced AI with mobile devices?

By year-end 2018, customer digital assistant will recognize individuals by face and voice across channels and partners.

By 2020, smart agents will facilitate 40 percent of mobile interactions, and the postapp era will begin to dominate.

These strike me as more daring predictions.  I’m not sure our silo-happy tech industry will be fond of letting Cortana, Siri, et al move freely between devices, much less third parties, unless that imitate Amazon and its go-everywhere Kindle app.  Similarly I’m not sure we’re ready to move beyond apps, but I’m happy to credit Gartner for considering that possibility.

Putting these trends together, what do they mean for education?

Specifically, what does this report mean for institutional IT support?

To begin with, institutional IT departments will face escalating demands, both in quantity (how many networked devices?) and complexity.  It’s hard to see how campuses will be able to fund support sufficiently in this area of tight budgets.  Perhaps the specter of such an expanded IT environment will cause some colleges and universities to further outsource their IT units.  Increased partnering with other academic institutions and/or businesses might be another way forward.

Dealing with increasingly complex and intelligent software may demand new staff skills in information units, including IT and libraries.  This means increased demand for professional development and training. Not mentioned in this Gartner report is turning the problem around, with campuses using smart systems to assist in support services.

Privacy models will probably be rethought to some extent, given ever-increasing data collection on a personal level.

Institutional and disciplinary boundaries might blur as technology continues cutting across them.

Missing from this report are many specific technologies: social media, 3d printing, practical robotics, etc.  I think Gartner is working on a bigger picture level here.

(thanks to David Fusco for the link; photo from the Pittsburgh airport is by me)

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4 Responses to What’s next in technology? Gartner looks five years ahead

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  3. The chilling takeaway for me is this: “like the way these trends turn a bit to the dark side. Connected objects are requesting support, rather than joyously performing their tasks. Smart buildings get trashed and workers get new collars.”

  4. Pingback: Trends to watch in 2016: technologies | Bryan Alexander

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