Technology in recent years has evolved at such a rapid pace and taken us further into a sci-fi-like future faster than our ancestors could have ever predicted. From smart home-enabled devices that control our thermostats and refrigerators to cryptocurrencies that provide secure stores of value, recent trends have brought many pipe-dream technologies to life.
Many advancements have been more subtle but equally promising and transformative, from smart analytics in consumer and professional apps to the gradual but complete improvements in artificial intelligence, powering everything from self-driving cars to predictive text on your smartphone.
As we study technology trends from the past year, we get a better look into what trend is still reshaping 2019 and beyond. After all, what seemed fictitious a few short years ago is now possible with an average Apple Watch. Just imagine what the next few years will bring.
Narrow Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence has long been the holy grail of technological advancement. Far from its depiction in science fiction movies, artificial intelligence (or A.I. for short) is a catchall term for machine learning and other computer solutions to seemingly complex problems that can be processed through a system of computer tasks that result in "learning" or intuiting the solutions to problems.
While broad-scale, dynamic learning-style robots overlords like we've seen in movies is still a long way off, Narrow A.I. was one of the biggest trends of 2018 and promises to continue into the new year.
Narrow A.I. consists of highly specialized machine-learning solutions that target a specific task like driving a vehicle or understanding written or auditory language.
From intelligent advertising to photo searches to self-driving or assisted driving cars, A.I. is continually improving as the technology behind it is improved. A.I. is increasingly tapped into by hospitality organizations to resolve some pain points in travel or optimize the guest experience: IHG collaborated with Baidu in 2018 to launch 100 AI-powered suitesin hotels across China.
Intelligent Applications and Analytics
As the first wave of A.I.-augmented apps has demonstrated, intelligent applications and analytics are one of the most direct and promising technology trends in recent years. A.I. runs in the background of many pre-existing applications, and is either already invisibly improving the user experience or is in beta testing, as application developers seek to improve the user experience and business potential of these products through A.I.
Advanced analytics, automated customer service, and intelligent processes are all on the horizon as intelligent applications continue to improve the services computers can provide. Intelligent apps reduce the amount of input and application expertise required by people and the systems they're using, which will continue to transform the workplace and job descriptions across industries.
Virtual customer support, intelligent translation services, and expanded application functionality all promise to reduce the load on workers, as applications provide services that oftentimes used to require a team of dedicated employees.
The intention of intelligent applications is not to replace people, but rather to augment their activity and make the user experience and customer-facing experience better than ever.
With A.I., the same workforce can be radically more productive and customers can receive more thorough and immediate care than previously possible. Similarly, augmented analytics uses machine learning for data collection and preparation; as well as extrapolation and insight discovery which benefits business users, operations teams, and data scientists alike.
This trend began with the widespread unveiling of "the Internet of Things" (or I.o.T.)which meant incorporating sensors and Bluetooth or wi-fi connectivity into previously static devices, from thermostats to washing machines, industrial sensors and monitoring equipment.
By bringing these devices online, developers harnessed the power of the cloud and widespread connectivity to make multiple devices safer, more efficient, and easier to use.
The next wave of Intelligent Things promises to combine the first-wave of Internet of Things connectivity with the advances in A.I. that will make connected things smarter. For example, artificial intelligence in a camera that already connects to a smartphone will power stunningly powerful automated shooting modes that far surpass the antiquated "auto" settings on early digital cameras.
Autonomous tools like vacuums and farm equipment will also make the leap from using simple sensors and geofences to "visualizing" and processing staggering amounts of data, using cloud connectivity, onboard artificial intelligence and advanced analytics to make decisions that may soon surpass even the most experienced human operator.
One of the most interesting future advances is the collaborative nature of intelligent, connected things. Different farm equipment from different phases of preparation, planting, and harvest may work together, or a team of specialized harvesting devices may be able to make intelligent decisions about which rows to work.
In hospitality, hotel companies like Best Western or Marriott have been testing voice-controlled customer service as products like Amazon Echo become increasingly adopted within the home environment.
Cloud to the Edge
Edge computing is an advancement in cloud computing which brings the content collection, processing, and delivery closer to the sources of information.
Greater functionality embedded at the edge is a promising advancement that favors local clouds which can be integrated into infrastructure designs with large numbers of intelligent things.
Colocation and edge-specific networking will become more common as more things become online and intelligent, and new network designs will reflect the increased number of intelligent things in the coming years.
Although hospitality brands have been collecting consumer data from their loyalty programs for years, they simply do not have access to the gigantic amount of data that brands like Amazon or Google are able to collect (and use). Additionally, travelers nowadays are less likely to make booking decisions based on said loyalty points and are above all expecting tailored experiences and seamless UEx. Edge computing provide a unique opportunity for the industry to deliver services on a global scale while still addressing local data needs.
Blockchain was one of the biggest buzzwords in the last few years, thanks to its use in the cryptocurrency world.
Blockchain is a democratized, distributed, and decentralized token ledger that removes friction or ownership from bits of information (hence the name "Bitcoin"). Blockchain allows unverified parties to exchange highly secure information across standard networks and promises to change industries and private transactions alike.
While blockchain has mostly been in the news for its financial implications, it is also promising and useful in security and content distribution models, which would have favorable applications in government, healthcare, content sharing, supply chain logistics, and other data-transfer situations.
The biggest criticism of blockchain is that the protocol is relatively new and untested - but the billions of dollars in cryptocurrency have demonstrated that the technology is ready for the limelight, even if it isn't ready for rampant speculative investment.
Businesses may not be ready to utilize blockchain in their daily processes yet, but the technology is being actively developed and tested and promises to transform data distribution and security across industries.
The Future Is Now
No matter what industry you work in or what technologies your business or personal life currently involve, the future is full of promise. Self-driving cars are closer to reality now than ever before and smart analytics mean that our emails can just about write themselves. As we look beyond 2019, one thing is clear - whether you run a massive, operations-intensive enterprise or just need a little help replying to customer service emails, the future is very bright indeed.