Every year Gartner produces one of the most comprehensive lists of the trends that CIOs and other senior executives should be paying attention to. As usual, Gartner vice president and fellow David Cearley presented this year's Top 10 strategic technology trends, and again grouped the trends under the rubric of building an "Intelligent Digital Mesh," as he did last year and the year before.
Here is this year's list:
1. Autonomous Things
Gartner believes that autonomous things—such as robots, drones, and autonomous vehicles—will use AI to automate functions previously performed by humans. It predicts that by 2021, 10 percent of new vehicles will have autonomous driving capability, compared with less than 1 percent in 2017.
Cearley said that we're already seeing this in other areas, such as mining, and talked about a range of possible things from robotics to agents and drones to autonomous shipping. He said what is important is not only the capability of isolated devices, but how these devices are connected and coordinated. Cearley also said this will be combined with other changes to create new digital experiences, like pizza delivery by autonomous vehicles or drones.
Gartner predicts that through 2020, the number of citizen data scientists will grow five times faster than the number of expert data scientists. Cearley said we are entering the "third age of analytics," moving from semantic-layer based platforms (traditional BI) to visual-based data discovery platforms (like the tools many of us implemented earlier in the decade) to augmented analytics. He said it's important to automate data science to assist business users (aka citizen data scientists). Examples he gave included finding unknown correlations for crop yield, and he cited a study that looked at 22,000 hypotheses in 5 seconds. Cearley also noted a bank that found younger people, and not older people, are most profitable for wealth management.
3. AI-Driven Development
Gartner predicts that by 2022, at least 40 percent of new application development projects will have AI co-developers on the team. Cearley said the market is rapidly shifting from an approach in which professional data scientists must partner with application developers to create most AI-enhanced solutions to a model in which the professional developer can operate alone using predefined models delivered as a service. AI will be applied to the development process as well, he said, through things such as Google AutoML and other "virtual" members of the development team for tasks like QA testing and even generating code. This transition will help "citizen application developers."
4. Digital Twins
Gartner said that 24 percent of enterprises implementing IoT projects are using digital twins, or digital representations of a real-world entity or system. Today this is mostly being used for predictive maintenance, Cearley said, as well as business process and asset optimization, monetization of data, research and development, and developing new business models. It will evolve into creating "digital twins of organizations," that use operational or other data to model how a business process works. This is particularly visible in medicine, where digital twins of people or processes are used to simulate surgery.
5. Empowered Edge
Cearley talked about the growth in edge or endpoint devices, either used by people or in embedded applications, and said that storage, computing, and advanced AI and analytics will expand the capabilities of edge devices through 2028. He focused on how edge computing compliments cloud computing, with the model evolving to include an edge cloud and a distributed cloud, and cited Office 365 as an example of an edge cloud, as it installs software on the local device, and Azure Stack as an example of a distributed cloud. Cearley also talked about how edge devices are now getting embedded AI capability, from computers and I/O devices to more complex embedded edge applications that have many parts with different lifecycles which create complex and ongoing management and integration challenges. Finally on this point, he noted that 5G will be the technology for connecting the edge, because of its faster speed, lower latency, and most importantly, its support for greater density. He said that while 5G will start rolling out in 2019, it will take it 5 to 6 years to mature.
Gartner predicts that by 2022, 70 percent of enterprises will be experimenting with immersive technologies for consumer and enterprise use, and 25 percent will be deployed for production. This isn't just virtual reality, but is about "flipping the interaction model" so that systems learn and adapt to humans instead of the reverse. Cearley also talked about VR and AR applications such as training and simulation, marketing, design visualization, and field service. Chatbots and voice-activated chatbots will be part of the answer, but the experience will evolve to include multiple senses, or as he called it, "multiexperience." Cearley believes we will see a 10-year journey to an immersive, ambient user experience. However, in a factory environment or targeted workspace, you can more easily integrate such features.
Gartner believes blockchain will create $3.1 trillion in business value by 2030, but Cearley said this will be a long process. Today we're seeing "blockchain-inspired" solutions designed to improve operational efficiency, but with more centralized management, and different kinds of certification. We are on the road toward more complete blockchain platforms, he said, but this transition will take a few years. Cearley gave examples of things being done today, such as blockchains for shipping, e-health records, digital gold, and permission-less marketplaces.
8. Smart Spaces
Gartner defines these increasingly connected, intelligent, and autonomous spaces as physical or digital environments populated by humans and enabled by technology. Cearley noted that we have had connected factories for a long time, but that these are now being integrated with a digital supply chain using things such as augmented intelligence and digital twins. In particular, Cearley focused on smart cities, with examples such as London opening up its city data, Dubai using blockchain, Singapore focusing on IoT and a digital twin of the city, and Montreal working on intelligent snow removal.
9. Digital Ethics and Privacy
According to Gartner, by 2021 organizations that bought compliance risk and are caught lacking in privacy protection will pay 100 percent more in compliance costs than best-practice-adhering competitors. Cearley noted that we have billions of endpoints that collect data, which can be quite useful, but that organizations need to look at privacy laws, such as GDPR. But the issue is complex, he cautioned, and particularly so in a multi-national world. Organizations need to move from being compliance-driven to being ethics-driven, in order to build trust into their brands. Digital ethics and privacy are growing concerns for individuals, organizations, and governments, and Cearley said people are increasingly concerned about how their personal information is being used by organizations in both the public and private sector. The backlash will only worsen for organizations that are not proactively addressing these concerns.
Gartner predicts that by 2023, 20 percent of organizations will be budgeting for quantum projects, compared to less than 1 percent today. Cearley said quantum computing is still nascent, but argued that organizations need to be monitoring what is going on in the category. Early adopters may use it in areas such as optimization, material science, chemistry, and eventually, cryptography. But he said people shouldn't buy into all of the hype, because there is a real problem with things such as decoherence, and it won't be until between 2023 to 2028 that quantum computing begins to create meaningful work. These are specialized computers, he said, and rather than buying a system, he urged people to look at "quantum as a service."
In summary, Cearley returned to the "Intelligent Digital Mesh," and said that the things he thought were most important this year were smart spaces, and privacy and digital ethics.