Five technologies we can’t live without over the next decade
I couldn’t for the life of me hope to choose a more meaningless title: five technologies over a decade... that we can’t live without? We’re talking about a decade where everything will be about rapid changes and adapting to them.
A couple of years ago, every other presentation on innovation, digital transformation or automation used the saying attributed to Darwin: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, but the most adaptable." (For accuracy’s sake, the father of evolution never exactly said that. He was misquoted back in the 60s and as it fits Darwin’s profile, it has stuck with him ever since, according to the all-knowing online community).
The fact that this statement has become so trendy lately is most probably due to the fact that it matches our everyday experiences. The business sector is continuously changing at an ever-faster rate, which can be more rapidly and closely monitored the more digitalised our activities are. Yet, even if we are capable of quickly adapting to the current situation, we still require long-term plans and goals. Short-term market changes are like the shoals, rocks and straits that the explorer Magellan’s ships faced while circumnavigating the globe for the first time. They could be navigated with the occasional sharp turn to the left, or the steady running of the ship... without ever forgetting that the goal was the fabled Far East. Magellan’s ship reached the East by heading west, which led to a revolution that would fundamentally change the world.
That is why it’s so important to make plans for the short-term, mid-term or even a decade in advance and make sense of the present in order to observe signs that show which direction the changes of the world are headed in.
COVID-19 has reconfigured our world
Based on the difficulties faced throughout the year, for me, it seems as though there are two fields that will determine which technologies will prove to be successful in the long term. The first is location independence. Companies are becoming increasing virtual in nature and are more frequently referring to a network of cooperating employees and things than a well-defined physical entity. The other is the demand for flexibility. 2020 has proven that anything can happen at any time – even its opposite – and one can only prepare for this by improving the capacity for rapid response. However, one thing hasn’t changed, all of this has to be about the people.
These three factors will identify the technologies that will most likely become essential over the next decade.
1. Digital collaboration platforms
After 2020, I don’t think anyone doubts whether this deserves a place in the top 5. We attended online meetings; shared and collaboratively edited documents through cloud services; began using some of the growing number of tools for supporting the efficiency of online discussions; and so on... There is no shortage of platforms, comprehensive collaborative office solutions (Google, Microsoft), nor storage services (Box, Dropbox). Not to mention communication interfaces (Slack, LogMeIn) and video communication applications (Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Zoom, Cisco WebEx, etc.).
So, there is somewhat of an abundance of supply. Yet, the focus here still isn’t on the technology. All users can most likely establish a set of criteria to decide whether they prefer one solution over the other, and they can transition to a third choice at any time. The underlying approach is of far greater interest. There was a time when ‘remote’ (reach, access, desktop, etc.) was the keyword, yet these were one-way remote connections and forms of access that were barely suitable for cooperation. When using these collaborative solutions, everyone is of equal distance from one another and the data and documents they work on together. In fact, these solutions proved to be so effective that it’s hardly a risky bet to assume that the collaboration platform will be the basis of technology for the decade, making it impossible to judge the extent and directions it can develop in (e.g., holographic display).
2. Low-code platforms
The success of such platforms is based on the fact that reducing response time has become critical for businesses. As the business environment is rapidly changing, only an agile approach can prove to be successful. Low-code platforms will prove to be an excellent and increasingly indispensable tool for this need, and analyses of market research points in entirely this direction. Gartner’s study from last year listed low-code development platforms and the rise of citizen developers as one of the key trends of the current age. This summer, Research and Markets predicted that the low-code platform market could potentially have an average annual growth of 24 percent until 2026. This is based on the simple fact that the gap is increasing between the need for rapid solutions for businesses and the capacity for IT to deliver.
Companies have two major benefits to gain by introducing a low-code platform, namely it can reduce the risk of shadow IT and it can accelerate business processes. Naturally, this requires innovative citizen developers with establish boundaries, clearly designated limits of their competences and an understanding of the point at which IT should step in and deal with the task at hand.
3. RPA (Robotic Process Automation) tools
The success of RPAs partly lies in the same necessity as low-code platforms, the demand for speed. A further important element is the advantage of freeing ourselves from the burden of monotonous, time-consuming and structured activities and letting RPAs (commonly known as process automation software bots) take care of them. RPAs fill in the same gap in digitalised processes as physical robots do in automated production lines, they carry out a series of operations when told to and do them for as long as necessary, leaving time for people to busy themselves with identifying the next objective to be digitalized.
Manual labour is becoming increasingly scarce, so a huge benefit is that with RPAs it can be concentrated on tasks that cannot be entrusted to software as they require creativity. A forecast from this year by McKinsey indicates that Europe will be facing a labour shortage of 6 million jobs by the end of the decade. This is already underway, so it’s no coincidence that there’s a huge demand for RPA devices. Grand View Research calculates there will be an annual growth rate of 34 percent in the US market, likewise the European markets have been predicted to have a similar rate of increase.
Gartner is already hinting at hyper automation. This combines RPA, intelligent business process management software and AI to create a digital twin of the organization, thus enabling AI-controlled decision-making.
4. AI, Artificial Intelligence
AI will be everywhere and in everything, as it is already. Intelligent assistants have appeared on mobiles, various AI engines can be used and developed from the cloud, the OpenAI GPT-3 model will be capable of things that would have been considered science fiction just five years ago.
To carry on my favourite subject of development, a small San Francisco development firm, Debuild, has constructed an AI-based tool with GPT-3 that can be easily told what kind of web application they’d like to make (what it should do, what kind of data it should use, what it should display on the browser interface, etc.). The artificial intelligence will produce everything, including the API. Though the code is still far from perfect, the research definitely shows that the opportunities are endless.
5. Natural language processing
One of the most exciting fields of computer science, and regarded by many as the key to general artificial intelligence is natural language processing. The interpretation and generation of living speech is a complex issue. This is yet another field that is being led by OpenAI. The previously mentioned GPT-3 model operates with 175 billion parameters which, believe it or not, is still far from perfect, but even at this stage of development it can make our lives easier. Customer service chatbots answer the standard questions of clients and simpler, voice-controlled virtual assistants can help us navigate through our daily activities, which enable intelligent semantic searches (in both corporate documents and online). These will become a part of our lives by the end of the decade. Needless to say, the goal of intelligent cognitive communication has yet to be achieved but perhaps it might be by the end of the decade.
You might have noticed that a number of important technologies are not included in this list like 5G, IoT and VR/AR. Without doubt, these will also bring about profound changes. For example, low latency 5G data transmissions can come in handy when using cloud-based AI-models, opening up new horizons for existing and limited use augmented reality applications, particularly in industrial environments. Moreover, it goes without saying that we shouldn’t forget that all of this will take cyber security to a whole new level. In a world where digitalisation and automation permeate both our personal and professional lives, cyber security is and will continue to be of vital importance.