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Tech that's worth the hype

The latest version of Gartner's "hype cycle" report shows emerging technologies moving from the drawing board to commercial use faster than ever.

The acceleration is being driven by cloud computing, ubiquitous computing power and massive amounts of information and data, according to Mike Walker, research director for technology innovation and enterprise architecture at Gartner and lead author on the report.

"The biggest takeaway for all levels of government is the rate of acceleration of these technologies. The velocity is moving much, much faster than it ever has before," said Walker.

The hype cycle, which shows the maturation level and likely adoption of new technologies, helps IT leaders better manage the deployment of new and existing technologies. For the digital workplace, for example, crowdsourcing and citizen developer technology will reach the "Plateau of Productivity" in less than two years. Smart badges and human augmentation are more than 10 years away.

According to the hype cycle, conversational user interfaces, or chatbots, are expected to have a transformational impact in the next five to 10 years. Several agencies are already experimenting with the technology. Los Angeles' City Hall Internet Personality, or CHIP, fields about 180 questions a day and has cut emails to the Los Angeles Business Assistance Virtual Network in half. The North Carolina Innovation center is testing chatbots to help employees who need basic IT help -- to recover lost or forgotten passwords or usernames, for example.

Agencies are also testing virtual assistants, which depend more on artificial intelligence and machine learning. The General Services Administration, for example, is piloting a program that makes government information available to consumers via personal digital assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Microsoft Cortana, Google Assistant and Facebook Messenger. The Department of Veterans Affairs is working with partners on a voice-activated virtual assistant that makes it easier for veterans to schedule appointments.

AI is still a newcomer in the government space, where agencies are still mostly relying on one-off procurements and pilot projects in order to gather more information about how it fits into their larger IT infrastructure.

"AI Everywhere" is Gartner's buzzphrase for the increasing number of technologies under the artificial intelligence umbrella, and the firm's analysts see it as one of three emerging megatrends over the next 10 years. This term encompasses technologies like deep and machine learning, autonomous vehicles, cognitive computing, commercial drones, robotics and smart devices, among others. Implementation and impact timelines are all over the map, with some (like commercial drones) expected to break through in the next five to ten years while others (like tiny wireless microelectronic systems, or "smart dust") are still in the research and development phase.

Whit Andrews, vice president and agenda manager for artificial intelligence, said Gartner believes AI will help drive advances in the internet of things space, another emerging technology on its list. Today, Andrews said less than 10 percent of enterprise IoT projects have an AI component, and Gartner predicts that percentage will soar to 80 percent by 2022.

"Artificial Intelligence will penetrate the vast majority of applications and IT strategies in many ways, because the ability to improve from data and outcomes instead of tuning and configuration is broadly applicable," said Andrews.

Digital platforms come as another megatrend, with blockchain leading the pack. Right now, most of the publicity and uses for the technology are focused within the financial services industry, where validating digital peer-to-peer transactions could bring obvious benefits. In a twist, Gartner actually believes that government is one of the sectors that will be quickest to adopt and integrate blockchain.

Walker said the technology's ability to create an "irrefutable record" attack governments looking for solutions in identification, taxes, records management and regulation.

"We've got a master data management solution built into our transactional integrity," he said. "That’s a huge deal when we’re looking at voting, where there are companies trying to create a blockchain enabled voting machine to solve a very real problem we've seen in the press over the past six or seven months."

However, blockchain is currently falls in Gartner's "trough of disillusionment" -- that period of high adoption across multiple industries that can often expose a technology’s limitations.

Ray Valdes, a research vice president and Gartner fellow, elaborated:

"The challenge to implementing [use cases] is that the current generation of blockchain technology has severe limitations -- most notably lack of scalability -- that inhibit adoption across industries, not just government," he said. "Government use cases have even more of a challenge, because national governments typically deal with many millions of data records."

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN. 

About the Author

Derek B. Johnson is a staff writer at FCW. He has a Master's degree in public policy from George Mason University. His journalism has appeared in The Washington Post, GoodCall News, Foreign Policy Journal, Washington Technology, Elevation DC, Connection Newspapers and The Maryland Gazette.

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