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Gartner Cape Town: 10 strategic tech trends for 2017

Between 3D printing and machine learning, there were plenty of strategic trends predicted for 2016 at last year’s Gartner Symposium.

Now, Gartner analyst Stephen Prentice has revealed 2017’s expected trends, featuring a few of the same entries. But they’re no less interesting anyway – here they are, in no particular order.

1. Conversational systems

Prentice says that conversational AI systems will form part of the so-called “Digital Mesh” – along with the next two entries on the list.

The analyst noted that there are expected to be at least 25 conversational AI systems by 2018, citing examples already such as Siri, Cortana and Amazon‘s Echo.

“These are generation one systems… They don’t always sort of seem to understand properly, what we say. But like all technology, it’s going to improve and it’s going to improve very rapidly,” Prentice explained. He adds that we could see these systems not only understanding what we say, but what we meant.

2. Augmented and virtual reality

The past 12 months have really seen virtual reality and augmented reality make headlines, such as Oculus Rift and the Gear VR for the former and Pokemon Go for the latter. The analyst expects this to continue its upward march though.

“The mobile phone, given its location-based capabilities, its cameras, its inertial sensors and so on, is becoming a very powerful tool for augmented reality,” Prentice elaborates. He adds that distracted smartphone users are even getting guidance in the form of “traffic lights” installed in Sydney pavements.

As for virtual reality, the analyst notes that we’re seeing more powerful VR headsets, being used for everything from immersive experiences, molecular modelling and healthcare therapy.

3. Digital twin

“Every physical object in this environment, is going to have a digital equivalent. As we do things to the physical object, the data from that is being collected… and that’s being replicated in a digital equivalent,” the analyst explains. However, Prentice says that over time, things might flow in the other direction (i.e. manipulation of digital objects having a real-world effect).

Prentice gives the example of having one wind turbine in the real world, but using the digital world to test the effect of having many wind turbines. He also cited NASA testing new technologies as one example of the digital twin concept.

4. Artifical intelligence and machine learning

“If you asked me for a personal point of view… which one stands out as the most significant, the most disruptive, I would have to say… it’s machine learning and advanced artificial intelligence,” Prentice elaborates.

“Over the last couple of years, and largely due to the impact of machine learning technologies, we’ve seen artificial intelligence give us capabilities, achieve things that, even a couple of years ago, we would’ve said were impossible,” he adds. He cites the example of DARPA’s autonomous vehicle challenge from just a decade ago, taking place in a desert and seeing many cars failing. And now the likes of Google and other companies are testing self-driving cars on public roads.

AI and machine learning could be the most significant entry on Gartner’s list

“The imminent expectation is that self-driving vehicles will be commonplace – not the majority – by the middle of the next decade.”

Prentice says that AI systems tasked with doing a specific thing are reaching a point where they can often be better than humans. But there are still reasons to use humans instead.

“In some cases, they’re (the AI system) is expensive. In some cases, it’s just a lot easier to have a person doing it. In some cases, there are regulatory reasons,” the Gartner analyst says.

5. Intelligent applications

When you combine AI and machine learning with applications, you get intelligent applications, Prentice explains.

These applications come in a variety of forms, such as robots, drones, chat bots/Siri/Cortana, smart sensors and smart appliances.

One specific example cited by Prentice includes a machine that visually analyses burger buns to improve quality.

Another example was the use of IBM’s Watson as a virtual advisor at Memorial Sloan Kettering, helping doctors determine treatment for cancer.

6. Intelligent things

So what exactly is this category all about?

“One of the challenges in fact, is when we try to forecast the number of intelligent things being connected to the network, the reality is the vast majority of them have not yet been invented,” the Gartner representative noted. “They’re in categories that we don’t even think of.”

Some examples of intelligent things includes intelligent MRI scanners and stethoscopes. The former could adjusts settings based on the patient’s dimensions and details, while the latter is able to detect minor variations in vitals.

7. Adaptive security

This was one of the trends predicted for 2016, but Prentice says that this will continue to occur next year. He adds that adaptive security will entail the use of AI to help identify threats.

“Let’s be quite clear: the cyber threat is growing all the time. The more devices out there, the more weak points there are,” the analyst says.

“So this is an arms race, and it’s an arms race that, I have to say, the good guys are never going to win. Because the bad guys have access to exactly the same technology as the good guys and they don’t feel compelled to comply with the rules and regulations…”

However, it’s not all doom and gloom, as the analyst points to the auto industry’s recent focus on security as an example of manufacturers prioritising the issue.

8. Blockchain and distributed ledger

Blockchain is one of these things that’s at the peak of hype,” Prentice notes, before adding that it was providing a “decentralised, secure ledger of transactions”.

“It’s about adding trust, in an automated sense, into what is an otherwise untrustworthy environment,” he says, before stressing that it wasn’t “irrevocable”.

What about businesses wanting to use Blockchain technology? Prentice says you should be investigating the technology now.

The Gartner analyst said that Blockchain may be hyped, but it definitely warranted a closer look

“But at the same time, anything you do today… you should be expecting to replace in 18 months’ time.”

So if the technology is going to be changing that rapidly, why not investigate it later?

“That is an option, but we don’t believe that it’s a smart option. This is going to be an important technology, gaining some understanding into what it can do and how you might apply it, is going to be important,” the analyst explains.

9. Mesh app and service architecture

Gartner sees a future of “mesh type things, cloud-based servers… a lot of bots… small chunks of code… linking together in a variety of different ways”.

Prentice says that this type of architecture will allow for a different level of flexibility and faster development pace.

10. Digital technology platforms

When talking about digital technology platforms, the analyst said there were several main areas to take into account. These were internal systems (such as accounting systems, traditional IT), customer-facing systems (CRM, social media, websites) and the internet of things. And all of these systems will feed you or your company with intelligence.

The analyst also suggested a future where smart AI bots will become the customer. “My bot is going to be ordering products and services from your bot. So a lot of your customer relationship management is going to be turned on its head,” he added.

Prentice cautioned businesses against building an entire ecosystem of digital technology platforms on their own, calling on firms to find a “one-stop” solution instead.

Author | Hadlee Simons

Hadlee Simons
Terrible puns make Hadlee Simons difficult to work with, but he brings over seven years of tech journalism experience to the table. When he's not at work or watching motorsport, he's in the foetal position on a jiu jitsu mat. More