Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will increasingly be embedded into everyday things such as appliances, speakers and hospital equipment. This phenomenon is closely aligned with the emergence of conversational systems, the expansion of the IoT into a digital mesh and the trend toward digital twins.
Gartner’s top 10 strategic technology trends for 2017 set the stage for the Intelligent Digital Mesh. The first three trends embrace ‘Intelligence Everywhere,’ how data science technologies and approaches are evolving to include advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence allowing the creation of intelligent physical and software-based systems that are programmed to learn and adapt. The next three trends focus on the digital world and how the physical and digital worlds are becoming more intertwined. The last four trends focus on the mesh of platforms and services needed to deliver the intelligent digital mesh.
AI and machine learning have reached a critical tipping point and will increasingly augment and extend virtually every technology enabled service, thing or application. Creating intelligent systems that learn, adapt and potentially act autonomously rather than simply execute predefined instructions is primary battleground for technology vendors through at least 2020.
Trend No. 1: AI & Advanced Machine Learning
AI and machine learning (ML), which include technologies such as deep learning, neural networks and natural-language processing, can also encompass more advanced systems that understand, learn, predict, adapt and potentially operate autonomously. Systems can learn and change future behavior, leading to the creation of more intelligent devices and programs. The combination of extensive parallel processing power, advanced algorithms and massive data sets to feed the algorithms has unleashed this new era.
In banking, you could use AI and machine-learning techniques to model current real-time transactions, as well as predictive models of transactions based on their likelihood of being fraudulent. Organizations seeking to drive digital innovation with this trend should evaluate a number of business scenarios in which AI and machine learning could drive clear and specific business value and consider experimenting with one or two high-impact scenarios.
Trend No. 2: Intelligent Apps
Intelligent apps such as VPAs perform some of the functions of a human assistant making everyday tasks easier (by prioritizing emails, for example), and its users more effective (by highlighting the most important content and interactions). Other intelligent apps such as virtual customer assistants (VCAs) are more specialized for tasks in areas such as sales and customer service. As such, these intelligent apps have the potential to transform the nature of work and structure of the workplace.
Over the next 10 years, virtually every app, application and service will incorporate some level of AI. This will form a long-term trend that will continually evolve and expand the application of AI and machine learning for apps and services.
Trend No. 3: Intelligent Things
Intelligent things refer to physical things that go beyond the execution of rigid programing models to exploit applied AI and machine learning to deliver advanced behaviors and interact more naturally with their surroundings and with people. As intelligent things, such as drones, autonomous vehicles and smart appliances, permeate the environment, Gartner anticipates a shift from stand-alone intelligent things to a collaborative intelligent things model.
The lines between the digital and physical world continue to blur creating new opportunities for digital businesses. Look for the digital world to be an increasingly detailed reflection of the physical world and the digital world to appear as part of the physical world creating fertile ground for new business models and digitally enabled ecosystems.
Trend No. 4: Virtual & Augmented Reality
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) transform the way individuals interact with each other and with software systems creating an immersive environment. For example, VR can be used for training scenarios and remote experiences. AR, which enables a blending of the real and virtual worlds, means businesses can overlay graphics onto real-world objects, such as hidden wires on the image of a wall. Immersive experiences with AR and VR are reaching tipping points in terms of price and capability but will not replace other interface models. Over time AR and VR expand beyond visual immersion to include all human senses. Enterprises should look for targeted applications of VR and AR through 2020.
Trend No. 5: Digital Twin
Within three to five years, billions of things will be represented by digital twins, a dynamic software model of a physical thing or system. Using physics data on how the components of a thing operate and respond to the environment as well as data provided by sensors in the physical world, a digital twin can be used to analyze and simulate real world conditions, respond to changes, improve operations and add value.
Digital twins function as proxies for the combination of skilled individuals (e.g., technicians) and traditional monitoring devices and controls (e.g., pressure gauges). Their proliferation will require a cultural change, as those who understand the maintenance of real-world things collaborate with data scientists and IT professionals. Digital twins of physical assets combined with digital representations of facilities and environments as well as people, businesses and processes will enable an increasingly detailed digital representation of the real world for simulation, analysis and control.
Trend No. 6: Blockchain
Blockchain is a type of distributed ledger in which value exchange transactions (in bitcoin or other token) are sequentially grouped into blocks. Blockchain and distributed-ledger concepts are gaining traction because they hold the promise of transforming industry operating models in industries such as music distribution, identify verification and title registry. They promise a model to add trust to untrusted environments and reduce business friction by providing transparent access to the information in the chain. While there is a great deal of interest the majority of blockchain initiatives are in alpha or beta phases and significant technology challenges exist.
The mesh refers to the dynamic connection of people, processes, things and services supporting intelligent digital ecosystems. As the mesh evolves, the user experience fundamentally changes and the supporting technology and security architectures and platforms must change as well.
Trend No. 7: Conversational Systems
The current focus for conversational interfaces is focused on chatbots and microphone-enabled devices (e.g., speakers, smartphones, tablets, PCs, automobiles). However, the digital mesh encompasses an expanding set of endpoints people use to access applications and information, or interact with people, social communities, governments and businesses. The device mesh moves beyond the traditional desktop computer and mobile devices to encompass the full range of endpoints with which humans might interact. As the device mesh evolves, connection models will expand and greater cooperative interaction between devices will emerge, creating the foundation for a new continuous and ambient digital experience.
Trend No. 8: Mesh App and Service Architecture
The intelligent digital mesh will require changes to the architecture, technology and tools used to develop solutions. The mesh app and service architecture (MASA) is a multichannel solution architecture that leverages cloud and serverless computing, containers and microservices as well as APIs and events to deliver modular, flexible and dynamic solutions. Solutions ultimately support multiple users in multiple roles using multiple devices and communicating over multiple networks. However, MASA is a long term architectural shift that requires significant changes to development tooling and best practices.
Trend No. 9: Digital Technology Platforms
Digital technology platforms are the building blocks for a digital business and are necessary to break into digital. Every organization will have some mix of five digital technology platforms: Information systems, customer experience, analytics and intelligence, the Internet of Things and business ecosystems. In particular new platforms and services for IoT, AI and conversational systems will be a key focus through 2020. Companies should identify how industry platforms will evolve and plan ways to evolve their platforms to meet the challenges of digital business.
Trend No. 10: Adaptive Security Architecture
The evolution of the intelligent digital mesh and digital technology platforms and application architectures means that security has to become fluid and adaptive. Security in the IoT environment is particularly challenging. Security teams need to work with application, solution and enterprise architects to consider security early in the design of applications or IoT solutions. Multilayered security and use of user and entity behavior analytics will become a requirement for virtually every enterprise.
David Cearley is vice president and Gartner Fellow in Gartner Research and is a leading authority on information technology. Mr. Cearley analyzes emerging and strategic business and technology trends and explores how these trends shape the way individuals and companies derive value from technology.