2018 will see the continued advancement of some key technology realms: most notably in the areas of Virtual and Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and voice-enabled chat and Chatbot interactions.
Each of these technology themes are at different levels of maturity on Gartner’s hallowed Hypecycle, with some poised to fall into the trough of disillusionment this year, while others already start their steady ascent upwards on the slope of enlightenment.
Trying to analyse each technology theme on its own, however, is the wrong approach. These are evolutionary, not revolutionary changes – they coalesce into one another, feeding off each other’s developments, creating something entirely new.
At those points where they converge, the magic happens. They will fuse together to reshape the ways in which we interact with the world around us, with each other, and completely alter the nature of business.
Trend 1: Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality
Augmented, virtual and ‘mixed’ reality are fast approaching the peak of inflated expectations, with huge buzz and plenty of activity in niche consumer areas, such as gaming. However, the corporate world hasn’t yet found enough foundation to propel these technologies into a place where we’ll see mass adoption.
In 2018, we can expect to enter a ‘winter’ for AR and VR, as the buzz lowers in volume. Technologists will retreat – to thoroughly research the opportunities, better understand the potential use cases, refine the technology, bring down the costs, and start developing the pool of resources needed to bring this into ‘reality’ (whatever that word then means).
Organisations must work out how to organise themselves for a future of AR and VR, balancing the need to fulfil today’s realities, while also positioning for the future. It is time to ask ourselves what are the incremental steps we can take – to change cultures and shift business strategies – so that when the technology becomes mainstream, we are ready to take full advantage.
Manufacturing, Industrial and engineering environments have been significant early adopters of VR and AR solutions, particularly for modelling business processes, spacial planning, training, as well as for prototyping new products and innovations cost effectively. These are some of the applications that will help to push VR and AR out of its winter state, and start climbing the slope of enlightenment late into 2018 or early the following year.
Trend 2: Artificial Intelligence starts changing labour market dynamics
Many believe that AI will spur on a utopian future where lower-value manual, operational and repetitive tasks are automated with smart algorithms and robots. This effectively will leave us humans to stretch our minds towards new horizons and attain greater fulfilment. Others may fear massive job losses…
The reality in 2018 is that the advances in AI will indeed start to slowly reshape the nature of labour markets. Those organisations and nations that own the ‘means of production’ for AI (those that are developing and optimising AI Algorithms, AI Services as well as Machines and interfaces) will stand to gain. But for the sectors that become net consumers of these services, we’re likely to see an erosion of jobs.
South Africa is in a delicate position, and now it seems that we’re veering more towards being net consumers than net producers of AI services. 2018 will be a challenging year for local business leaders, as they battle a lacklustre economy, and consider how we could increase our means of production and embrace the digitally-evolving world around us.
Trend 3: Moving quickly to a state where IoT tech will be in 95% of electronics for new products
Gartner predicts rapid advances in the realm of the Internet of Things (IoT), and suggests that by 2020 more than 95% of new product designs featuring electronics will incorporate connected sensor component.
We are already seeing IoT emerging from the trough of disillusionment, as the ‘real’ conversations about standards, protocols and components are now in full swing. We’ve already seen massive investment in the enabling infrastructure particularly in IoT networks.
Having said that, even if the tools are there, it may still be some time before we can really classify the IoT as mainstream. It’s a similar dynamic to the GPS capabilities on our phones: it’s only since the advent of sophisticated mapping interfaces and value-added services that we’ve could harness the true value of that component. It’s a similar situation with the gyroscopes and accelerometers on most smartphones – which we’ll start truly using in areas such as connected cars and virtual reality applications.
The IoT is in a similar space. Even if most products are “IoT capable” in the next few years, we still have to wait for a broader ecosystem of services to materialise before we can take full advantage of an era where everything is connected.
Trend 4: Many firms will spend more on bots and chatbots, than on traditional mobile app development
Gartner predicts that by 2021, most organisations will be spending more on creating bots and chatbots than they will on traditional mobile app development.
This trend is very closely allied to the rise of voice as a medium of engagement with technology. In 2018, we’ll see a continued maturing of voice-recognition technology, to better understand context, other languages, accents, sentiment and tone.
Our most natural form of engagement is voice-based – so on the one hand, this will be a natural progression for us. On the other hand, for many people the idea of ‘talking’ to their microwave or their room lights is a very foreign concept, and will take some adjustments.
Perhaps the most important distinction is that text is fundamentally slower and less versatile than voice. With text, we really can only be typing it into a particular box at a particular time. Voice allows us to engage with different objects and devices more organically, allowing us to multitask more easily. In an increasingly complex world, this becomes crucial!
2018 will be an interesting year of reflection and preparation, as the major breakthroughs in many of these technology realms is only expected to emerge in 2019 and beyond. 2018 will be about looking inwards at our structures, our skills, our approaches to markets, and working out how to stay relevant a few years from now.
We need to lift our gaze to the next few years, while keeping one eye on what needs to be done today. To try and peer 10 or 20 years into the future is impossible – there is simply too much movement, too much uncertainty – but to look forward 18 months to 3years is the right horizon to watch.
By Mpumi Nhlapo, Head of T-Systems South Africa’s Marketing, Communications, IT Portfolio and Solution Sales