The exponential rate of technological progress and innovation continues to be, perhaps, the defining factor in the radical way our lifestyles have changed, from the way we interact socially, to the way we consume information about the world around us. Technological advancements have resulted in enormous rises in productivity, and with a host of emerging technologies being developed in what many are calling The Fourth Industrial Revolution, mankind is now faced with new questions to answer, as it leaps into a new decade. In this piece, we take a broad look at some key technological trends and how they may manifest in our daily lives over the next decade.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Reports by leading research and advisory firm, Gartner Inc. detail that every app used in 2020 will integrate some element of artificial intelligence or machine learning. It also predicts that in 2020, AI technology will emerge as a top-five investment priority for Chief Information Officers across national and international companies. As industries become more familiar with AI and machine learning infrastructure, some predict the diminishing of the current ‘trust deficit’ around AI, leading to a warmer embrace of these technologies. The use of software like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google Assistant have already become commonplace.
The future of machine learning will hinge on improvements that allow machines, and software to acquire behaviour that allows them to recognise patterns, trends and routines that inform autonomous decisions. Facebook already uses such techniques to identify content that violates its policies. Netflix uses machine learning to provide more accurate recommendations to its users. The driverless vehicle industry is also predicted to expand over the next few years, with the implementation of 5G infrastructure.
The Internet of Things
IoT, or ‘Internet of Things’ refers to digital systems or physical machines capable of communicating with each other over networks. With the emergence of Big Data analytics, IoT architecture is expected to have a huge impact on our degree of dependence on technology. One of the spaces that experts predict IoT to have a large influence on is that of ‘smart homes’. With the emergence of smart appliances and smart grids, machines will be able to better understand households’ consumption and behavioural patterns, allowing such systems to pre-empt needs and wants. Home security is also stated to improve, with machines being able to send out alerts to family members in case of unusual events.
Healthcare is another industry where IoT and wearable technology is likely to boom, with some even going so far as to predict the decline of the hospital, and the birth of the “home-spital”. Wearable technology will enable machines to accumulate information about users’ physiologies and make informed health recommendations and even provide warnings.
The interplay between private and public IoT infrastructure could also mean the mainstreaming of the smart city, witch such architecture providing the basis for civil planning towards improved traffic congestion and more optimal use of urban space.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
Virtual reality refers to technologies capable of transporting users to simulated environments in which they can interact with virtual objects and terrain. Augmented reality, on the other hand, refers to technologies that project virtual information upon the physical world. Both VR and AR technology are slated to grow radically over the next few years, especially in the fields of entertainment and education. For instance, augmented reality will enable medical students to visualise an individual’s internal organs, thereby improving the quality of decisions, and limiting human errors. VR tech may also have therapeutic uses, providing a means for people to manage and overcome irrational phobias or deal with trauma.
With some experts of the belief that one’s ability to acquire knowledge will be valued higher than one’s actual knowledge in the coming years, VR and AR tech, as learning tools, will certainly have a huge part to play.
Virtual reality gaming is also already on the rise, and will soon develop to a point where enthusiastic gamers can engage with immersive environments, whether these may be battling off a zombie apocalypse or going on adventures in fantasy worlds.
The Rise of the Gig Economy
A recent survey conducted by LinkedIn showed that the millennial generation job hops more than any other previous generation. This was particularly true of individuals within the government, media, education, professional services and entertainment sectors. This trend has not gone unnoticed by companies, with a CareerBuilder survey showing that employers expected 45% of newly hired college graduates to leave their companies within the first two years.
Millennials place a greater emphasis on work-life balance than older generations, and as such are willing to forego the security and other perks of a conventional 9 to 5 job if it affords them flexibility in their working hours. What’s more, millennials also crave more control over their careers than many companies are willing or even capable of providing.
With the emergence of numerous freelance portals, the value of emotional intelligence and collaboration is growing, as individuals are now capable of taking on tasks for organisations halfway across the world. The rise of smartphones and cloud storage has seen the dissolution of geographic barriers (as they relate to employment), and many anticipate that the most forward-looking companies will transition away from hiring full-time workers, to selecting human resources from talent pools, for specific tasks. What’s more, in this manner, discrimination based on sex, race, religion, etc. will also be minimised as workers’ will be screened and selected purely based on their capabilities and prior experience.
As such, the onus may now fall on freelancers and contract workers to develop their own personal brands that highlight their ‘soft skills’, along with their areas of expertise.
With countries striving for higher levels of economic growth, and companies, small or large, competing more aggressively in already saturated industries, it is only a matter of time before we witness the full scale of automation. Machines are already capable of carrying out several tasks still performed by humans, especially those that require repetitive work. As more cost-effective robots come to replace humans in organisations, the next decade is bound to see the decline of certain occupations and the rise of others.
Automation can undoubtedly translate to better prices and added value to customers, but the challenge will arise in ensuring that those humans, who have been replaced by machines, are not left behind to become burdens to society. Affordable re-skilling programs, at both private and public levels, will be critical in the successful transition being made in mass production industries like transport (and logistics) and retail.
Adoption of such process technologies is also unlikely to be uniform across the world, as we are already witnessing. Studies by McKinsey show that 2016 investment into AI technologies was led by the US with $23 billion, with Asia following at $12 billion. Europe was lagging behind at $4 billion. The same study also indicates that approximately 800 occupations worldwide will be affected in varying degrees by automation. Occupations that require a high degree of human interaction such as nursing, teaching, management and expert consultancy are likely to be the least affected.