The Upside of 2020: Trends to Monitor
The continuation and expansion of many current technology trends will make 2020 an interesting year.
- By Brian J. Dooley
- January 9, 2020
Today's capabilities represent a midway point in many tech areas, so we can expect progress to continue into 2020. Advances have recently been made in many areas, and in others new directions are beginning to emerge as the complexities behind early concepts are gradually revealed. The convergence of ideas in these diverse areas is certain to make for an interesting 2020.
AI Still Top of Mind
The top-of-mind technology for everyone is artificial intelligence (including machine learning). The greater understanding of AI that has developed during the past year is creating a new consensus about how AI will be used and will interact with the workplace. This understanding will affect several other trends such as autonomy for vehicles and robots, automation, and analytics -- as well as having consequences for jobs. We are beginning to understand the differences between human and machine intelligence, where the boundaries might lie, and how the two might best be combined to achieve desired outcomes.
During 2020, AI and understanding of cognition will both continue to advance, but there will be less talk of general artificial intelligence -- which essentially re-creates human thought -- and greater recognition that we have embarked on a long-term process. AI deployments will continue to grow in scale and sophistication, and competition will continue both for key data scientists and for patents in new areas.
Issues impeding AI development, such as data quality, will become more visible (see Artificial Intelligence and the Data Quality Conundrum). Sensor data use cases such as facial recognition, audio recognition, and other pattern matching will be employed increasingly in population control, surveillance, and commerce. Autonomous vehicles will also continue to develop, but expectations will be somewhat lowered. The range of semi-autonomous vehicles will grow to include delivery units, robots, drones, and other elements of the expanding Internet of Things (IoT).
The IoT, the Network, and the Cloud
As for IoT itself, we have seen its beginning and its potential; in 2020, the universe of things could begin to grow exponentially -- particularly as 5G networks are rolled out across the United States and China. This will spark intense competition and rapid improvement in device coordination and capability by the end of the year as the scramble for smart devices at reasonable cost begins to accelerate. It will also increase data networking and storage requirements (see The Curious Impact of 5G on Data and Analytics). One likely outcome is further development of autonomous cooperation between devices -- such as herds of micro robots and drones.
Given more devices, more data storage, and improved networking, online data management will also inevitably change. Trends we saw in 2019, such as renewed interest in data management as a service and process automation, will continue to unfold this year (see How Process Mining Can Aid Your Digital Transformation).
Movement toward a more heterogeneous and distributed cloud environment, evident from the beginning of 2019, will continue as newer forms of computing are added to the mix. These already include neuromorphic engines and the beginnings of quantum computing, added as callable assets from the public cloud. As everything moves to the cloud and newer devices are added, data management must be available in the cloud and we will see an upsurge in data management-as-a-service (DMaaS).
The continuing move toward democratization of specialist processes, including analytics and ML, will continue as AI is brought deeper into the fray and new roles emerge (see Data Democracy: Advantages, Issues, and Implementation).
Automation and Maybe VR
In 2019, robotic process automation (RPA) reached a median level of development and started to expand into other technologies. In 2020, this trend will begin to bloom. If RPA can perform human tasks, then many more such tasks can be learned and managed through an AI-based RPA system. However, this automation will require serious integration and hybridization creating new synergies between man and machine. The boundaries of what a process script can do will expand further into human territory, and humans will become more reliant upon AI-based systems to efficiently perform work. Process mining will be in greater demand to ensure that complex procedures continue to perform adequately in this environment.
In 2019, little progress was made in VR and AR technologies, and 2020 is unlikely to be much different. The technology will develop, but widespread adoption will continue to wait on better user interfaces and lower cost. When the cost drops, the adoption rate will rise. A vast number of devices and use cases will eventually create critical mass to unleash the creative power of widespread usage.
Privacy, Security, and Cyberwar
In 2019, privacy began to emerge as a major issue through the GDPR as well as through the growing awareness of how data can be gathered and (mis)used for nefarious purposes. We can be certain that 2020 will see increasing efforts to control data and to ensure beneficial use. The U.S. election at end of year may draw greater attention to this area.
Data provenance is likely to be a considerable issue for forensic reasons, and this is likely to feed the development of blockchain as a means of creating distributed, verifiable, and unalterable streams of data.
As all of these technologies blossom, new vectors will be created for cybercriminals and security issues are likely to rise further in importance (if possible!) in 2020. Through the fog of coming cyber wars, both hot and cold, it is hard to see where the next threats will occur. Certainly AI will be involved in both threat creation and threat mitigation. Quantum computing could also begin to create disruption in data security that will play out through the next five years.
On the whole, 2020 is likely to prove an interesting year. Prepare to be disrupted.
Brian J. Dooley is an author, analyst, and journalist with more than 30 years' experience in analyzing and writing about trends in IT. He has written six books, numerous user manuals, hundreds of reports, and more than 1,000 magazine features. You can contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.