IT Trends

Gartner Tech Trends for 2019 Include Immersive Experiences, Autonomous Things and Blockchain

man wearing VR glasses in immersive environment

IT analyst firm Gartner has named its top 10 trends for 2019, and the "immersive user experience" is on the list, alongside blockchain, quantum computing and other drivers influencing how we interact with the world. The annual trend list covers breakout tech with broad impact and tech that could reach a tipping point in the near future.

The 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. The ubiquitous use of Amazon Alexa in American homes to turn on music, turn off a light or tell a joke is one simple case; vocal interaction changes the processes for those activities. But the impact reaches even further in work. 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," explained Gartner Vice President David Cearley, in a video discussing the trends. He also presented on the trends at Gartner's recent Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando.

According to Cearley, our 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.

Autonomous Things

Gartner labels a technology as a strategic trend for two reasons: The technology begins breaking out of an "emerging state" and shows the potential for broader impact; or the "volatility" of the technology suggests it might reach a tipping point within the next five years.

Therefore, "autonomous things" shows up on the list because it's already showing up in everyday life. As Cearley noted, "Autonomous things is about using [artificial] technology to drive new capabilities in hardware and software systems — on the land with autonomous vehicles, in the air with drones and even on the sea with 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.

Augmented Analytics

"Augmented analytics" uses machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, to change how data is "developed, consumed and shared" by users. "Imagine a world," suggested Cearley, "using natural language interfaces, where a sales manager can say, 'What are the biggest issues that are going to impact my sales and whether I'm going to hit quota next month?'" 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," he added. Organizations will be able to use these citizen data scientists "to fill the data science and machine learning talent gap caused by the shortage and high cost of data scientists."

AI-Driven Development

"AI-driven development" applies artificial intelligence to the software development process. "It's about making it easier to create AI-enabled systems," Cearley said. Automated testing tools and model generation is already percolating in industry, the analyst noted. Eventually, "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.

WandelBots, for example, a startup in Dresden, Germany, is using AI to help workers teach robots to perform industrial activities — typically a time-consuming process requiring experienced developers. Startup co-founder Christian Piechnick said Volkswagen, as an example, could spend three months or longer putting in place all the activities required to have a robotic arm handle a job, such as placing a speaker into a car door. And every kind of robotic arm runs its own software, which means that when a company brings in a new or updated model, the process of programming has to be started all over again. What Piechnick and his team have figured out is how to reduce that three-month process to a single week — a boon for manufacturers that want the flexibility to modify their production line work as needed. They've done that by "templatizing" the programming work. The worker performs the activity wearing a sensor-laden coat or sleeve, and the robot "learns" the activity by duplicating the worker's action. Those actions are automatically converted into the code that would otherwise have to be manually programmed. And the programming can be transferred to a "friend," another robot performing the same work.

Digital Twins

The concept of "digital twins," another tech trend in the list, is the label given by Gartner to digital representations of real-world people, processes and things. By 2020, the IT research firm has estimated, there will be more than 20 billion connected sensors and endpoints, and digital twins will exist for potentially billions of things. Cearley said that heavy-equipment operators, airlines and other segments are already using the concept of the digital twin "to monitor real-world assets and drive significant savings in maintenance and repair and operations areas."

Over time, digital twins will be linked to support smart cities and other similar initiatives through "digital twin organizations." As he explained, the DTO will "create more flexible, dynamic and responsive processes that can potentially react to changing conditions automatically."

The Empowered Edge

In edge computing, information processing and content collection and delivery are placed closer to endpoints — whether devices being used by people or sensors embedded around us. In that setup, traffic and processing is kept "local" in order to reduce latency. The "empowered edge" refers to the idea of putting "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."

Blockchain

In its trends report, Gartner described "blockchain," which has become known as a type of "distributed ledger," as "an immutable ledger with an algorithmic-based trust model to validate the transactions that are going in the ledger." The idea with blockchain is to reduce the business and technology "friction" across transactions and applications that require a level of trust within and among organizations. Currently, that trust is handed over for oversight to banks, clearinghouses, governments and similar entities. But that handover comes with delays and extra expense in the form of fees and commissions. Blockchain provides an alternative trust mode, which eliminates the need for those central authorities in settling transactions.

"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."

Smart Spaces

"Smart spaces" are environments, both physical and digital, 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. "This trend has been coalescing for some time," said Cearley. "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." That'll happen, he added, as individual components and applications become more integrated on the way to creating a digital twin of the environment.

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," said Cearley. "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 military people in Iraq. "Suddenly, information about the locations of these soldiers was published on the internet."

Discussions about privacy, advised Cearley, "must be grounded in the broader topic of digital ethics and the trust of your customers, constituents and employees." Trust, as he explained, is the "acceptance of the truth of a statement without evidence or investigation." Expanding an organization's thinking beyond privacy to ethics "moves the conversation beyond 'Are we compliant?' toward 'Are we doing the right thing?'"

"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."

Quantum Computing

The second overarching trend is 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. Cearley offered this explanation for the concept of quantum computing: "Imagine you had a giant library with millions and millions of books. A classic computer would read all those books in a linear fashion but really, really fast. With quantum computing it's like reading all the books at the same time."

How does this play out? Companies such as JoS Quantum 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. As JoS Founder Markus Braun explained, an operation that might take a traditional IC-based CPU 300 years to complete could be done in one minute through quantum computing. Currently, his team works with financial services companies to identify particular lags in their computing processes that can be replaced with quantum computing to speed up those targeted aspects of the operation.

"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. A video explaining the trends is on YouTube.

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