It is not easy to imagine a technology that will receive as much publicity as the blockchain did last year but there’s little doubt that other new and innovative technologies will make even greater inroads into our daily lives in 2019.
Certainly, rapid progress in artificial intelligence will continue to be made and be widely reported. Despite the controversies, autonomous vehicles will proliferate, and it would be good to see serious, in-depth articles about industry regulation (licensing for the use of autonomous vehicles on public roads, safety standards, insurance, etc.) rather than last year’s sensational coverage focusing on accidents and disasters. We may also hear much more about connected vehicles: automobiles that are always online.
2019 is likely to witness continued debates on data security (focused particularly on social networks – their use and misuse, especially as regards the personal information of its users). And while it is difficult to predict quantum computing breakthroughs (these would be a technological sensation), research in the field is certain to continue. This year undoubtedly will see China make further leaps in smart technologies as it announced its intention to become a global center for AI by 2030.
What follows is a discussion of the key trends that will capture our attention in 2019.
Blockchain, which dominated the news last year, will continue to do so, and not just in the IT community. Global spending on blockchain was estimated at $2.1 billion in 2018, and the finance, insurance, real estate development and energy sectors are all keenly aware of its potential to transform their industries. Despite sensationalized reports on the hacking of cryptocurrency exchanges, the blockchain is well secured. Tamper-proof and transparent, it is succeeding in cutting out third-party middlemen with automated contracts and the most advanced and secure updatable ledger ever created.
What can we expect from blockchain in the near future? Standardization and financialization. The time has come to weigh the benefits blockchain can provide against the costs of its implementation. Leading blockchain providers (and their customers) will focus on drafting regulations as well as user and implementation standards.
As Blockchain 2.0 (yes, it’s reached that point) becomes easier to understand, it will increasingly find its way into various tools and applications, becoming practical for more industries. According to IDC, spending on blockchain implementation will reach ca. $12 billion in the next three years, rising at 73 percent annually.
Artificial intelligence, which comprises machine learning, neural networks, and advanced robotics, will become even more autonomous, astounding people with independent responses to changes in data and circumstances. More than ever, we will be confronted by machines that think and make decisions, at times in ways that exceed our understanding. Once AI becomes more autonomous, it will boost the usability (and therefore the popularity) of self-driving vehicles, drones, robots, and other applications. But, as people begin to demand that we comprehend the algorithms that are driving our devices, technologies based on more transparent algorithms will gain an edge. The point is for people to know not only what decisions machines make, but also how they reach them.
The most common manifestations of AI in daily life will take the form of smart speakers and personal voice assistants, helping us shop, search the web and book tables in restaurants. The next two years will see an explosion of such technologies. According to Gartner, by 2020, 25% of all online queries will be made with voice commands (through smart speakers and assistants).
Given its strategic importance for society, AI will become a competitive battleground between governments and corporations. The United States and China will take center stage (with China gaining the upper hand in the next few years). According to IDC, AI spending will triple from 2018 to reach $77.6 billion in 2022. And while 15 percent of companies worldwide claimed to be using artificial intelligence in 2018, that will double this year.
According to a McKinsey Global Institute survey of the world’s largest companies, half are developing AI and deploying it in day-to-day operations. Another 30 percent are piloting AI initiatives. By comparison, only 19% of businesses were doing that in 2017.
To skeptics, the quantum computer remains a pipe dream, with no truly groundbreaking solutions to be expected anytime soon. Nevertheless, when the breakthrough comes, it will be huge. Jeremy O’Brien, physicist and professorial research fellow at the University of Bristol, says that “in less than 10 years, quantum computers will begin to outperform everyday computers, leading to breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. The very fast computing power given by quantum computers has the potential to disrupt traditional businesses and challenge cybersecurity.”
Will the coming year bring new, significant developments on the quantum computing front? That’s a tough call, but we can be sure that work on qubit-based machines will continue.
In 2018, Microsoft announced it would produce a computer capable of breaking RSA code in a hundred seconds. It claims it will achieve this feat within the next five years. Time will tell whether this a mere marketing gimmick. I think the test of the technology will be in its usefulness for communications, specifically the so-called quantum internet and the latest Chinese research that has put a quantum-transmission-supporting satellite into space. Perhaps 2019 will see other satellites enable quantum particles to travel even faster.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
Many people express misgivings about having their homes run by intelligent devices that communicate with each other through an IoT. Lighting fixtures that respond to the time of day, home temperatures autonomously adjusted to weather conditions, refrigerators that know when their owners run out of certain foods (and then order them on their own) and cameras that oversee security are only some of the many features of an interconnected smart home. Admittedly, a smart home is rather expensive to maintain and service (by subscription). But what worries people is security. Do we trust these machines to supervise our living spaces? Do we trust the businesses behind these machines?
While laying these concerns to rest may take a while, IoT advances will meet less resistance in public urban spaces, industry and the energy market. The market value of connected devices is expected to reach $457 billion over the next two years, with the majority of that market in the domains of smart cities, industry, health care, and construction. Also, the IoT is stimulating growth in the security services sector.
I believe that in 2019 trust will become the most valued feature of cloud technology. Today, trust is critical in all digitized fields, including finance, trade and online activities. As it is universally sought-after in the digital realm, the companies whose products offer top levels of security will gain our confidence and, with it, a competitive advantage. This view is supported by experts who forecast that 2019 will see an exceptionally high number of hacking attacks. Hackers will employ new, more sophisticated techniques without abandoning the ones we are already familiar with, such as fake links and compromised chatbots.
2019 is expected to bring more multi-clouding – the use of multiple clouds to eliminate downtime and accelerate the deployment of IT projects. According to SaaS provider RightScale, 95 percent of the companies today use hybrid infrastructures that rely on multiple private and public clouds for their workloads, managing them to reduce costs and increase uptime.
Augmented and virtual reality
Modern technologies make our interactions with the world richer. The best example of this is augmented reality (AR), which superimposes digital information, objects and images on the physical world. The resulting blend changes – and enhances – and cognitive capabilities. A mechanic using AR software no longer needs to bother with technical drawings and operating instructions. All he needs to know to do his job will be displayed on his smartphone (or AR goggles). AR has much greater information potential than virtual reality (VR), which is not being developed nearly as quickly as the fans of artificial worlds would wish as it has hit a few stumbling blocks, such as an unpleasant user experience. The near future is brighter for AR, which soon will be introduced into industry, medicine, and architecture. By 2022, an impressive 75 percent of companies will have tried and tested various forms of AR and VR. In 2018, the market value of AR- and VR-enabled devices doubled from 2017, reaching $27 billion. Over the next three years, this market segment is set to skyrocket. According to Statista, the market value will reach a head-spinning $210 billion by 2022.
In 2019, advances will be made in smart spaces – environments that allow people and technology to interact. In a smart urban space, traffic lights and street lighting adjust to the time of day; trains and busses automatically accommodate changing numbers of potential passengers; building ventilation systems respond to the weather in real-time; Wi-Fi is ubiquitous and connected devices proliferate. This is happening already, and all across the globe cities are promoting active human-machine relationships. Although Singapore is the world’s smartest city now, half of the world’s smartest cities are in Europe, including Barcelona, London, and Oslo. China is home to over a hundred cities that deserve to be called intelligent. The biggest challenge in the coming year will be to keep smart cities cyber-secure. Atlanta learned this the hard way in March 2018, when a cyberattack locked municipal workers – including the courts and the police – out of their computers, paralyzing the city for days.
While in 2018 the public was preoccupied with autonomous vehicles, 2019 is likely to see things get very interesting in the connected cars sector, which enables vehicles to be permanently connected to the internet, allowing them to communicate with other cars. Always connected gain access to more accurate traffic information as they move around. Combined with autonomy, this potentially gives the idea of the mobile office a whole new meaning.
Today, connected vehicles are most popular in the United States and China. The interactive cars in use in the United States account for an impressive 54 percent of all such vehicles in the world. Statista estimates that 64 million connected cars will be in use around the world in 2019, and that number will double over the next four years. According to analysts, the mandatory eCall security system will bring more connected vehicles to Europe, especially France and Germany.
Ethics and security
These two concepts are of key significance for our evolving technological ecosystem. Debates on securing personal data and people’s right to know how artificial intelligence affects them will likely be even more heated than they were last year. It will be interesting to follow the Chinese “social credit” (or social surveillance) experiment, in which the government will reward and punish people for behaviors it considers positive or negative. It will also be interesting to see how far legislators will go to compel corporations to be more careful handling our data.
2019 will be a critical year for humanity as learns to live with ever smarter and more pervasive technology. As we’ve seen, the technology is not going anywhere. The question is, where are we going with it?