The beginning of every year invariably launches a slew of prediction-based stories as scribes from across the globe look into their crystal balls (or just perform a series of related Google searches) and attempt to tell the future. With the first quarter of 2016 already past, I thought it would be interesting to flag a few of these prediction-lists and see how we are progressing so far.
The Next Web
TNW has a short list of high-level predictions for us, half of which I put in the “no kidding” category with the other half -- the last three -- being more interesting.
Predictions that payments will become even easier, security will increase and that communications will get more embedded are nothing special. Does anyone not believe that companies aren’t working 24/7 to make it easier for us to hand them our money? The continued rise of mobile phones makes easy, mobile-based payment systems a no-brainer. The real question is whether official documents like driver's licenses and social security cards will ever go digital. Will I be able to one day use my phone exactly how I currently use my wallet? If I can make payments from my phone at a store and don’t need to carry credit cards, most of what’s left are assorted government-issued cards or ones from supermarkets.
Communication is similar to payments -- there’s so much money to be made by connecting to customers better that of course there is a ton of R&D money wrapped up in it, because the easier you make it to communicate, the easier it is to do the end task.
With all the recent data breaches, security is another no-brainer prediction. This will be a never-ending game between the encryption specialists and the hackers that try to beat them, and innovation is the only way to keep leading the race.
The next three predictions are where the article gets far more insightful. Discussion about connected devices using sensors to track real-time data and predict things like low inventory or potential part failures illustrate how powerful data can become when cheap sensors are relaying information to powerful processors that can predict things before they happen. My question is, do we end up with over-engineered devices that have sensors monitoring other sensors? For things like a passenger aircraft, I hope so. For a box of bolts, hopefully not.
The prediction of wearables reaching employees was also interesting, just because it’s really a human extension of the prior prediction. Stick sensors on employees and see how they interact or flow throughout the office -- I’m sure that doesn’t make anyone paranoid. They can also be used to help track inventory and other mundane tasks, but expect some civil liberties pushback when employees are expected to wear things that monitor health or other potentially private information.
The final prognostication is that this year will be the year that businesses move a greater chunk of their resources and computing power to the cloud. While there is still plenty of room for cloud growth, I think this trend is more a matter of the cloud -- and computing power in general -- disappearing into the background. This allows sales managers, for example, to purchase a cloud-based CRM system without any need for the IT department, because the entire program runs in a browser. So yes, businesses will continue to embrace the cloud, but I think it’s more a matter of natural progression than someone sitting in an office declaring that they are moving x percent of their business to the cloud this year.
Gartner, which seemingly cranks out research as fast as McDonald’s cranks out hamburgers, listed its 10 predictions for this year. Some were the same ones covered by The Next Web, including interconnected devices and improved communication and data, so I’ll focus on the ones that jumped out at me.
The first of those is 3D printing. While nothing new, this technology is growing at more than 60 percent annually and the ability to print an ever-expanding range of materials means the disruption this could cause is enormous. What used to be a long production process that probably made its way to China and back might be cut down to visiting a local specialty manufacturer down the street. No need for two dozen specialized machines when one printer can churn out material for aerospace, pharmaceutical and construction companies. This could drastically level the playing field between small firms and large ones.
One of the other trends -- encompassing three of their predictions -- was the increase in artificial intelligence across just about everything, including security systems. Machines will have to learn how to protect themselves from ever-changing hack attempts, meaning big data trends and AI will have to be used to constantly adapt to new threats, which I think is the plotline for just about every “robots take over the Earth” movie ever written.
In the meantime, expect to see more self-driving vehicles, robots and computer programs that can make predictions far better than any human.
I had never heard of Frog Design until finding this article (an illustration that content marketing works). Of the three articles, I found this one the most interesting, as the predictions were more far reaching and more original than the others.
Frog discusses data-driven design impacting how retailers sell to consumers, how microbiomes will affect medical treatments and how AI will change financial institutions. Of course all three of these are really just data analytics applications, but I think predicting the how and why is more interesting than sticking with a generic “big data rules” prediction.
Virtual reality and FDA-approved video games as methods of treating mental disorders are also fascinating ideas. I’m not sure the technology is quite ready for that this year, but the seeds have certainly been planted for this in the future (meaning a few more years).
One other prediction in the VR space is that by immersing yourself in someone else’s real world, people will gain a better understanding of what refugees and victims of war are going through, turning news stories from something you see to something you experience, opening up new conversations and pushing political change.
There are a lot more thought-provoking predictions in this piece, and though I don’t think they’ll all happen in 2016, I think this is definitely a window into the future.
Predicting technology trends is more fun than science. All it takes is one disruptive technology to show up on the market to wreck what seemed like can’t miss predictions. And while big corporations typically see the impacts of a changing technology landscape first, it pays for small businesses to keep tabs on what’s going on so they can exploit openings that others miss, or are just too averse to change to try.
Todd Shryock is the director of content for Emerge. If you want to discuss technology with him or have technology-related needs at your business, contact him at tshryock@EmergeInc.com.