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'Intelligent digital mesh' underscores latest trend report

IT analyst firm Gartner recently compiled its list of top 10 trends that will drive disruption and new business models over the next five years. The theme for 2019 is the "intelligent digital mesh," in which smart devices will be "delivering increasingly insightful digital services everywhere,” Gartner Vice President David Cearley said.

Automation tops the list, which also includes quantum computing and seven other trends influencing how we interact with the world. Gartner labels a technology as a strategic trend when it begins breaking out of an emerging state and shows the potential for broader impact, or when the volatility of the technology suggests it might reach a tipping point within the next five years.

  1. Autonomous things. Autonomous things are already showing up in everyday life in robotic vehicles, precision agriculture and autonomous shipping. These "things" take advantage of AI to provide more advanced behaviors. When a drone examines a large field and finds it ready for harvesting, it's a small stretch to imagine the drone calling on an autonomous harvester to handle the job. Likewise, when a self-driving vehicle delivers packages to a specific area, it could also transport the robots and drones needed to make last mile delivery of the packages to the recipients.
  2. Augmented analytics. Augmented analytics uses machine learning to change how data is developed, consumed and shared by users. Before long, a sales manager use an analytics software incorporating natural language processing to ask what issues might impact next month's sales. In that situation, a system could pull up the appropriate data sets, examine different what-if scenarios and generate insights to guide response. "Through 2020, the number of 'citizen data scientists' will grow five times faster than the number of expert data scientists," Cearley said in a videodiscussing the trends. With augmented analytics, organizations will be able to "fill the data science and machine learning talent gap caused by the shortage and high cost of data scientists," he added.
  3. AI-driven development. Applying artificial intelligence to the software development process makes it easier to create AI-enabled systems, Cearley said. Automated testing tools and model generation is already underway, and "AI-driven automated code generation" will also come to the forefront. Gartner predicted that by 2022, at least 40 percent of new application development projects will have AI co-developers on their team. We can also expect to see the emergence of "citizen application developers," non-professionals who will be able to use AI-driven tools to automatically generate new solutions.
  4. Digital twins. Digital twins are digital representations of real-world people, processes and things. By 2020, Gartner estimated, there will be more than 20 billion connected sensors and endpoints, and digital twins will exist for potentially billions of things. Over time, digital twins will be linked to support smart cities and other similar initiatives through "digital twin organizations" that will "create more flexible, dynamic and responsive processes that can potentially react to changing conditions automatically," Cearley said.
  5. The empowered edge. In edge computing, information processing and content collection and delivery are placed closer to endpoints, keeping traffic and processing "local" in order to reduce latency. The empowered edge puts "greater capabilities" into edge devices to push out where the edge exists. This concept has three aspects: One is implanting edge devices with "AI chips, greater compute capabilities [and] more storage," Cearley said. Another is taking advantage of cloud computing to deliver and manage capabilities "out to the edge," not only on centralized servers, but in distributed servers on-premises and on the edge devices themselves. The third aspect is the ramp-up of 5G over the next several years to strengthen communication among devices through lower latency, higher bandwidth and "a dramatic increase" in the number of edge endpoints that can co-exist and communicate within "every square kilometer."
  6. Immersive user experience. The concept of the "immersive user experience" describes what happens when human capabilities mix with augmented and virtual realities to change how people perceive the digital world. Companies are using remote assistance through digital channels, for example, to enable "an expert engineer to work with somebody in a remote factory to get a piece of equipment back online, saving millions of dollars so the production line is not down," Cearley said.

According to Cearley, thinking about individual devices and the multitude of user interfaces we interact with will shift to a "multimodal" and "multichannel" experience. The first "will connect people with the digital world across hundreds of edge devices that surround them, including traditional computing devices, wearables, automobiles, environmental sensors and consumer appliances," he said. The second will "use all human senses as well as advanced computer senses (such as heat, humidity and radar) across these multimodal devices." The resulting "multi-experience" environment will produce an "ambient experience in which the spaces that surround us define 'the computer' rather than the individual devices." In other words, the environment will become the computer.

  1. Blockchain. Blockchain aims to reduce the business and technology friction across transactions and applications that require a level of trust within and among organizations. "Current blockchain technologies and concepts are immature, poorly understood and unproven in mission-critical, at-scale business operations," said Cearley. Even so, he added, "the significant potential for disruption means CIOs and IT leaders should begin evaluating blockchain, even if they don't aggressively adopt the technologies in the next few years."

At the same time, Gartner warned that current applications and services pegged as blockchain solutions may lack some of its key elements, such as the use of a distributed database. These programs are "positioned as a means to achieve operational efficiency by automating business processes, or by digitizing records. They have the potential to enhance sharing of information among known entities, as well as improving opportunities for tracking and tracing physical and digital assets. However, these approaches miss the value of true blockchain disruption and may increase vendor lock-in," the company pointed out. "Organizations choosing this option should understand the limitations and be prepared to move to complete blockchain solutions over time and [be aware] that the same outcomes may be achieved with more efficient and tuned use of existing non-blockchain technologies."

  1. Smart spaces. Smart spaces both physical and digital environments in which humans and technology interact to create "a more immersive, interactive and automated experience for a target set of people and industry scenarios." Think of smart cities, smart homes and connected factories. "We believe the market is entering a period of accelerated delivery of robust smart spaces with technology becoming an integral part of our daily lives, whether as employees, customers, consumers, community members or citizens," said Cearley. That'll happen, he added, as individual components and applications become more integrated on the way to creating a digital twin of the environment.
  2. Digital ethics and privacy. Two trends in Gartner's list have the potential to affect all of the others. The first is digital ethics and privacy, which has become a "growing concern," Cearley said. "Just because we can gather all this information about people, should we?" Doing so can lead to "major privacy challenges." One example he offered was the use of a line of fitness trackers "that had a cool idea to track where their users were." Some of those devices were used by the military in Iraq. "Suddenly, information about the locations of these soldiers was published on the internet."

"People are increasingly concerned about how their personal information is being used by organizations in both the public and private sector," Gartner stated. "And the backlash will only increase for organizations that are not proactively addressing these concerns."

  1. Quantum computing. Advancements in quantum computing can lead to accelerated research and problem-solving in numerous industries, from financial services and insurance to pharmaceuticals, defense and automotive.

How does this play out? Companies are surfacing to help other organizations speed up their transactions through quantum computing-based algorithms that run on services such as IBM's recently released cloud-based Q network. "CIOs and IT leaders should start planning for [quantum computing] by increasing understanding and how it can apply to real-world business problems," Cearley suggested. "Learn while the technology is still in the emerging state." The timeframe isn't immediate, he added. "Most organizations should learn about and monitor QC through 2022 and perhaps exploit it from 2023 or 2025."

A report on the technology trends for 2019 is openly available on Gartner's website. The video featuring Cearley explaining the trends is on YouTube.

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

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