Spectacular opportunities coming in the digital economy says Gartner


Hype cycle

The latest emerging technologies report from Gartner, announced last week, contains a wealth of analysis and prediction about what technologies will be the drivers of the digital economy during the coming decade.

While many of the technologies cited by Gartner will already be familiar – they include artificial intelligence, the connected home, machine learning, autonomous vehicles, blockchain, augmented reality and virtual reality – the focus is very much on the relationships and inter-connectedness between individual and related technologies, and the business opportunities they present for those who are prepared and able to take advantage of them.

In the Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2017, Gartner sees three distinct technology trends that the firm believes will profoundly create new experiences, with unrivalled intelligence, and offer platforms that propel organizations to connect with new business ecosystems in order to become competitive over the next five to 10 years:

1. AI Everywhere

Artificial intelligence technologies will be the most disruptive class of technologies over the next 10 years due to radical computational power, near-endless amounts of data, and unprecedented advances in deep neural networks; these will enable organizations with AI technologies to harness data in order to adapt to new situations and solve problems that no one has ever encountered previously.

2. Transparently Immersive Experiences

Technology will continue to become more human-centric to the point where it will introduce transparency between people, businesses and things. This relationship will become much more entwined as the evolution of technology becomes more adaptive, contextual and fluid within the workplace, at home, and in interacting with businesses and other people.

3. Digital Platforms

Emerging technologies require revolutionizing the enabling foundations that provide the volume of data needed, advanced computing power, and ubiquity-enabling ecosystems. The shift from compartmentalized technical infrastructure to ecosystem-enabling platforms is laying the foundations for entirely new business models that are forming the bridge between humans and technology.

It’s worth considering the overall picture of the hype cycle to get a keen sense of timing (how soon?) and probability (if and when?) – in many cases, Gartner sees at least 10 years before they get to mainstream adoption (indicated by the yellow triangles in the chart).

Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2017

And that’s a key aspect of Gartner’s hype cycles – the start of mainstream adoption, called the Plateau of Productivity in the hype cycle. This is not about early adoption or niche appeal, it’s about technologies that will profoundly impact or change business structures and behaviours at scale as those technologies reach that plateau of productivity over time.

Five of particular note:

Artificial General Intelligence (more than 10 years away) – We are surrounded by talk of artificial intelligence and we’re familiar with the abbreviation AI. But AGI is one to get to know as this is all about a human-level intelligent machine, capable of successfully performing any intellectual task that a human being can. Expect to see and learn more about AGI in the coming year as it’s just starting its journey through the hype cycle.

Virtual Assistants (5 to 10 years) – Think of chatbots and tools like Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa, and you have a sense of the current state of these software agents and their innate appeal to many people. Yet in their current form they’re relatively simple in terms of what they offer their users, and current expectations may be ahead of what’s coming and when (this technology sits almost at the Peak of Inflated Expectations in the hype cycle). But it’s very clear that companies behind the tools mentioned, plus the likes of IBM and others at the enterprise level, intend to take virtual assistants to a much higher level in enabling people to achieve more, both in the business and personal senses, with what IBM calls cognitive personal assistants. Gartner’s view of 5-10 years before the mainstream looks likely assuming virtual assistants don’t languish in the Trough of Disillusionment.

Autonomous Vehicles (more than 10 years) – Notwithstanding automotive developments in the past year or so with regard to self-driving cars, truly autonomous vehicles in the mainstream are a decade away. Such a view is broadly consistent with other credible opinion and takes into account numerous things that must align before we have the tipping point including automotive technologies, government support and a regulatory framework, and consumer acceptance. Without doubt we will see huge innovation and experimentation in the coming few years – especially concerning electric-vehicle development and the impacts of pressures to eliminate fossil-fuel vehicles (notably those running on diesel) from our towns and cities – and it will be an exciting time. But autonomous vehicles aren’t in our immediate future.

Blockchain (5-10 years) – This technology is already travelling downwards from the Peak of Inflated Expectations to the Trough of Disillusionment, perhaps reflecting the current extreme hype surrounding it, Gartner notes in a specific hype cycle report about blockchain. One to watch nevertheless, perhaps with an eye to how quickly it can depart the Trough and emerge onto the Slope of Enlightenment.

Augmented Reality (5-10 years) and Virtual Reality (2-5 years) – These two technologies are often combined into a single view that some refer to as Mixed Reality. Yet Gartner sees their progresses as very different, with the former at least 5 years away from the mainstream  – it’s now almost at the base in the Trough of Disillusionment – and the latter’s progress much likelier in 2-5 years. Virtual reality is already on the Slope of Enlightenment heading to the Plateau of Productivity so Gartner’s time estimate looks good.

Others to consider adding to your watch list are 5G (enabling massive-scale networked communication for Internet of Things devices), smart workspaces (improving effectiveness of employees and enabling them to contextually interact with IoT devices), deep learning (by software that can simulate the large array of neurons in the human brain’s neocortex – where thinking occurs – in an artificial “neural network”), cognitive computing (a phrase much hyped in the marketing context; described by leading player IBM as “systems that learn at scale, reason with purpose and interact with humans naturally”), and cognitive expert advisors (no widely-accepted definition but think of it as bringing cognitive technologies together to act as expert advisors to humans).

In sum, communicators should be clear on their role in their organization’s acquiring knowledge about and understanding of these emerging technologies and how to leverage that, a suggestion I first made in 2006 – pre-smartphones, tablets and ubiquitous connectivity. Just look at the hype cycle for that year and see what was emerging a decade ago. A simpler time to be sure.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.