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Gartner's top 10 strategic technology trends for 2019

Among Gartner’s top 10 strategic technology trends for 2019 are blockchain, augmented analytics and digital twins. Underlying all the key trends are fueled by the mother of all technology trends: artificial intelligence, says the research firm. 

As artificial intelligence continues to wend its way through enterprises, it will remain the most transformative trend in 2019, predicts Gartner Research. Gartner recently highlighted its picks for the top 10 strategic technology trends affecting enterprises. All 10 trends are informed by artificial intelligence (AI) to some extent.

Artificial intelligence is now being infused into most business operations and products, enabling processes to become more efficient and data-driven. Digital personal assistants can now schedule meetings and categorize email, AI-driven process can help optimize manufacturing lines and truck delivery routes; and AI can provide insight on appropriate investment strategies in financial services.

These real-world uses of enterprise AI indicate why the technology has become so pervasive—even amid some enterprise circumspection.

Figure 1 on worldwide growth of AI. Sources: Accenture, Frontier Economics. Statista 2017

Worldwide spending on cognitive and AI systems will reach $19.1 billion in 2018, an increase of 54.2% over the amount spent in 2017, according to IDC data. AI spending will grow to $52.2 billion by 2021, with a growth rate of 46% between 2016 and 2021. And according to the survey "Artificial Intelligence in Business Gets Real; Pioneering Companies Aim for AI at Scale," 66% of companies are implementing or exploring AI, while 34% have no interest in AI at this time. (See Figure 1 on worldwide growth of AI.)

Gartner says AI’s effect on business processes and outcomes is so extensive that enterprises have to take note of these developments today.

“These are the trends you can’t afford to ignore,” said David W. Cearley, vice president and Gartner fellow, in a video unveiling these trends in advance of Gartner’s 2018 Symposium and ITxpo.

Gartner’s top 10 strategic technology trends

Gartner predicts that AI-driven devices, processes, products and services will converge to form “the intelligent digital mesh.” This convergence will result in the intertwining of people, devices and services to support more fluid, secure and digital business operations, bolstered by a “continuous innovation process.”

In 2017, Gartner identified AI and its impact on the intelligent digital mesh in 2017 as key trends to watch, suggesting these trends will take several years to realize their full effect.

  1. Intelligent: AI will pervade virtually every existing technology and create entirely new categories of technology.
  2. Digital: Digital merges the digital and physical worlds to create hybrid, immersive experiences.
  3. Mesh: The mesh is the connective tissue, exploiting connections between expanding sets of people, businesses, devices, content and services.
  1. Intelligent.
    1. Autonomous things. Autonomous things use AI technology to drive new capabilities in hardware and software: These things operate with “varying degrees of capability, coordination and intelligence,” Gartner wrote in a brief on its top 10 technology trends, underscoring as well that these things are best used for “narrowly defined purposes” rather than generalized uses.

      There are five categories of autonomous things:

      • Robotics
      • Vehicles
      • Drones
      • Appliances
      • Conversational agents
    2. Augmented analytics. Analytics have become integral to business processes, but the increasing volume and complexity of data places a burden on data scientists that’s impossible to keep up with. Augmented analytics helps alleviate this burden by giving data scientists automated algorithms to explore more hypotheses and to better manage their data analysis.
      Gartner predicts that by 2020, more than 40% of data science tasks will be automated, resulting in increased productivity and broader use by citizen data scientists: laypeople who have the tools to analyze data.
      It’s not about replacing people but rather augmenting people through AI. Using natural language interfaces, salespeople can ask whether they are on track to hit quota. The system can deliver data as well as come up with insights.
    3. AI-driven development. AI-enabled development processes make it easier to embed artificial intelligence into applications through tools, technologies and best practices.
  2. Digital.
    1. Digital twin. A digital twin is a replica of physical assets, processes, people, places, systems and devices that can be used for various purposes. Digital twins enable proactive monitoring of systems before problems develop, and they deliver new development opportunities through simulation. While digital twins aren’t new, AI elevates simulations to identify opportunities. Plus, the closer tie between virtual and real enables greater interaction with what-if scenarios.
    2. Empowered edge. Edge computing is an architecture to complement cloud computing and reduce data latency by bringing capabilities close to the users, devices and data that need these resources. Much of the focus for edge computing is a result of the need for Internet of Things (IoT) systems to deliver distributed capabilities. IoT-connected edge computing is about empowering edge AI devices with better chip technology, greater compute, more storage and other resources, and communicating to the edge with architectures such as 5G, which will ramp up next year.
    3. Immersive experiences. Immersive experiences encompass augmented, mixed and virtual reality environments as well as conversational interfaces and voice-activated intelligent devices. Gartner predicts that, by 2022, 70% of enterprises will experiment with immersive technologies for consumer and enterprise use, and 25% will have deployed these environments to production.
  3. Mesh.
    1. Blockchain. This shared, distributed ledger enables secure, digital exchange of value. Using a trust model, transactions can be made, tracked and validated without a centralized party to broker the exchange. Blockchain technologies could reduce costs, improve transparency and enable those without access to centralized resources to engage in transactions—all while maintaining the security of the parties involved. Today, however, blockchain remains nascent and unproven.
    2. Smart spaces. Smart spaces bring technologies and trends together. Humans and technology-enabled systems interact in increasingly open, connected, coordinated and intelligent ecosystems. Calling on new technologies including AI, edge computing and IoT, these smart spaces are designed to be efficient, more ecofriendly and habitable in the case of smart cities and more productive and collaborative in the case of smart workspaces.
    3. Privacy and ethics. Numerous consumer data breaches have heightened awareness about the risks for individuals and enterprises that aren’t good stewards of data. As Gartner notes, “Enterprises that don’t pay attention are at risk of consumer backlash. Conversations regarding privacy must be grounded in ethics and trust. The conversation should move from ‘Are we compliant?’ toward ‘Are we doing the right thing?’”
      To forge continued success in relationships with customers and to protect company brand (and data), enterprises must safeguard customer data and stay abreast of regulations. Otherwise, they risk customer churn or financial and legal repercussions.
    4. Quantum computing. This architecture involves a type of nontraditional computing that represents information as elements denoted as quantum bits, or “qubits.” The result of quantum computing is faster and more complex computational possibilities. A classic computer, for example, would read all books in a linear fashion—very fast. Quantum computing enables a computer to read all the books simultaneously. Quantum computing and AI need intensive computational resources to perform their tasks.

AI, displacement and disruption

While these trends are gathering steam, not all are enterprise-ready or in widespread use. Many will continue to evolve over the next several years. And it’s critical to note that even for the underlying technology at issue here—artificial intelligence—most enterprise AI projects remain fledgling.

According to a 2018 Gartner survey, 37% of organizations still need to define their AI strategies, while 35% are struggling to identify suitable use cases for AI in their environments. Another Gartner survey of CIOs found that only 4% of respondents had deployed AI. However, the survey also found that one-fifth of the CIOs are already piloting or planning to pilot AI in the short term.

Figure 2 on global perceptions of AI. Source: Spring 2018 Global Attitudes Survey, Pew Research Center

The slow pace may well be because organizations lack in-house expertise to guide more widespread AI projects. In Gartner’s 2018 CIO survey, 47% of CIOs reported that they needed new skills for AI projects.

There is also a good deal of anxiety about AI’s massive displacement of human jobs. A September 2018 Pew Research Center study indicated that large majorities in 10 countries surveyed said automation would “definitely” or “probably” lead to significant job losses. The lowest percentage was in the United States, where 65% of people held that view, the report said. (See Figure 2 on global perceptions of AI.)

Enterprises view the emergence of artificial intelligence as a cost-cutting tool, but a better strategy, counseled Gartner in “Lessons from Artificial Intelligence Pioneers,” is to look at AI as a way to create applications that help and improve human endeavors. AI promises benefits far beyond automation, and organizations that embrace this perspective are more likely to find workers willing to embrace AI.

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Lauren Horwitz is the managing editor of Cisco.com, where she covers the IT infrastructure market and develops content strategy. Previously, Horwitz was a senior executive editor in the Business Applications and Architecture group at TechTarget;, a senior editor at Cutter Consortium, an IT research firm; and an editor at the American Prospect, a political journal. She has received awards from American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), a min Best of the Web award and the Kimmerling Prize for best graduate paper for her editing work on the journal article "The Fluid Jurisprudence of Israel's Emergency Powers.”