‘An algorithmic and smart machine-driven world where people and machines must define harmonious relationships.’ How about that for a slice of dystopia? It might sound like the backdrop to a bad sci-fi movie, but it’s how analysts at IT research company Gartner recently described the digital future for 2016 and beyond.
Autonomous intelligent agents
It’s the ‘age of the machine’ and the ‘rise of the robots’. Except, it’s not really. There’s no violence, no hot-wired machines on the rampage, and no de-humanisation. There’s not even much new hardware – and that’s the trend for 2016 right there; it’s now the software and apps in existing hardware that will decide our digital future, not machines. For example, we’ve already got Siri, Cortana, Alexa and Google Now on our phones, but these first-generation digital assistants are merely introducing us to a new concept – autonomous intelligent agents. As we continue to surround ourselves with smart devices, be they watches, phones, weather stations, smart glasses, connected cars or even kettles, we’re collecting more and more contextual information. Autonomous intelligent agents of the future will use to make decisions on our behalf so we can be more human, not less.
The post-phone ‘device mesh’
The moment that humans and machines become indistinguishable is called the Singularity, more sci-fi terminology that describes the blurring of physical and virtual reality. And yet that blurring is a definite trend for 2016 as we see the emergence of the device mesh. As many of us begin to wear a Fitbit, an Apple Watch, perhaps even a heart-rate wearable or a GoPro, we’re beginning to surround ourselves with sensor-packed devices. Mostly they don’t talk to each other, but will developers begin to make them co-operate? You bet – and it’s on the to-do list for 2016; the device mesh is just an app away.
User interfaces that flow
We know 2016 will see more, and better apps, but there’s an expectation that as well as joining-up the data from all of our devices and apps, user interfaces will begin to flow across them. Perhaps it will reach its zenith in the dashboard of an Apple Car (there are rumours that Apple is working on a car under the title of Project Titan), but for now expect to see apps that promise to control all of your connected devices using voice, location and other contextual information. Gartner calls this the ambient user experience, a more immersive scenario which ‘preserves continuity across boundaries of device mesh, time and space’. For example, an album on Spotify could follow you around your house, from phone to hi-fi to tablet, then into your car and onto your laptop when you reach work without you ever having to stop and search.
Smart machines take control
In 2016, machine learning – where computers are able to recognise patterns – will get so good that it will have immediate consequences for IT and society. Gartner predicts that by 2018, 20 percent of business content will be authored by smart machines. Once computers can identify patterns in data and turn it into natural language, automated writing will be with us. However, journalists are safe; we’re talking about shareholder reports, legal documents and press releases. We could even see decision-makers in the workplace, such as line managers and section heads, replaced by smart machines.
The automated, algorithmic economy
Automation is a rampant trend for business in 2016. Expect a good chunk of banking, insurance, markets, exchanges and crowdfunding to soon be performed by autonomous software agents, with Gartner predicting that they will account for five percent of all economic transactions by 2020. So important is Big Data in automation that successful companies will likely be the ones that utilise smart machines to sift through and analyse it. Gartner predicts fully automated supermarkets, and security firms offering drone-only surveillance services; some occupations are bound to disappear.
We may not see all of this in 2016, but on the horizon there’s a definite spike in advanced technology that will take us from the digital business of today to the automated, algorithmic economy of tomorrow.