There has never been a shortage of trends, and it’s predictable that, as we near the end of every year, a new batch of trends will be published. The real problem for you is figuring out which ones will happen. I have been publishing a list of top trends since 1983, and if you have been a subscriber to my newsletter for decades, you know they have been highly accurate. The reason for this is the methodology that I developed back then, which separates what I call Hard Trends, the trends that will happen, from Soft Trends, the trends that might happen. Knowing their distinctions can make all the difference; and this year’s Top 20 List is no exception.
I have been writing about each one for many years, but to make it on my annual list, they have to be developed enough for you to apply them to exponentially grow your business. Each is growing at an increasingly exponential rate. As such, they will all impact our lives, both personally and professionally, in the coming year and beyond.
These trends highlight enormous, game-changing opportunities in a broad array of applications and industries. I hope the New Year affords you the opportunity to leverage the remarkable promises they all offer.
1. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Advanced Machine Learning and Cognitive Computing Applications
Cognitive Computing Applications Grow Rapidly. Advances in Machine Learning and AI, such as IBM’s Watson, coupled with networked intelligent sensors, will create a giant leap forward thanks to exponential advances in computing power, digital storage, and bandwidth. AI will increasingly become embedded in our applications and processes. Also, thanks to better sensors, increasing Machine Intelligence, and Siri-like voice communications, robots will work with humans in new and productive ways. Advanced Automation and Robotics will likewise benefit.
2. Adaptive and Predictive Cybersecurity Systems
Business, government and education have moved cybersecurity from an underfunded back office activity to a major initiative going forward. With the rapid growth of connected technologies such as the Internet of Things and semi-autonomous, as well as fully autonomous, cars, security systems will move beyond reacting faster to include adaptive security systems using AI and other advanced tools such as Behavioral Analytics. This will add a level of Predict and Prevent, allowing us to stop many, but sadly not all, attacks before they start.
3. Big Data and the use of High Speed Data Analytics
Big Data is a term that describes the technologies and techniques used to capture and utilize exponentially increasing streams of data. The goal is to bring enterprise-wide visibility and insights that enable making rapid, critical decisions. Using advanced cloud services, High-Speed Data Analytics will increasingly be employed as a complement to existing information management systems and programs to identify actionable insights from a mass of Big Data. Separating good data from bad data will also become a rapidly growing service.
4. Advanced Cloud Computing Services
Businesses of all sizes will increasingly embrace new variations on public, private, hybrid and personal mobile clouds. This represents a major shift in how organizations obtain and maintain software, hardware and computing capacity to cut costs in IT, human resources and sales management. Not all clouds are created equal. Some are optimized for IoT applications, while others are designed for different levels of security and speed.
5. Virtualization of Storage, Desktops, Applications and Networking
The virtualization of hardware and software will see continued acceptance through growth in both large and small businesses as virtualization security improves. Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS) is increasingly joining Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), creating what some have called “IT as a Service.” In addition to the rapid growth of virtual storage, virtualization of processing power will continue to grow, allowing mobile devices to access supercomputer capabilities and apply them to processes such as purchasing and logistics. These services will help companies cut costs as they provide access to powerful software programs and the latest technology without the expense of a large IT staff and time-consuming, expensive upgrades.
6. Virtualization of Processes and Services (On-Demand Services)
The virtualization of processes and services will increasingly be accessed by companies needing to update and streamline existing services, and to rapidly deploy new services. The rapid growth of Collaboration-as-a-Service, Security-as-a-Service, Networking-as-a-Service, and many more, are all giving birth to Everything-as-a-Service.
Introduced as a means of transferring Bitcoins, blockchains are fast gaining traction in any number of areas. A system that enables secure digital direct transfers, blockchains decentralize transactions by eliminating the middle man, thereby allowing for direct connection among all involved parties. In addition to currency, blockchains can be used to transfer contracts, insurance policies, real estate titles, bonds, votes and other items of value. Given their security and lower cost, blockchains create a platform that will impact limitless products and services, thereby enabling innovation and growth.
8. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) Apps and Devices
Augmented Reality will quickly become more common by adding just-in-time information to our physical world. Simply aim your smartphone camera at a crowded street to find the stores that have the exact products you’re looking for. Conventional-looking glasses will allow wearers to overlay data on their fields of vision, providing useful information about what they’re looking at. By contrast, virtual reality—using oversized headsets to provide an immersive, computer-generated 3D environment with which the wearer can interact—will grow more slowly due to the need for related software design and other forms of time-intensive development. Instead, growth in VR will focus on more specific industries.
For instance, architects and designers can use VR to show potential clients specific features of buildings prior to actual construction.
9. Smart Virtual e-Assistants and Microphone Enabled Devices
The use of smart e-Assistants is accelerating, offering what is rapidly becoming a mobile electronic concierge available on any smart devices, including phones, tablets, televisions and cars. Stand-alone audio assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home will expand rapidly into business and governmental applications. Soon retailers will have a Siri-like sales assistant, and soon many of us will be using an e-Personal Health Assistant that taps into the real-time health data from a smart watch to predict potential problems and offer suggestions.
10. The Internet of Things (IoT) Becomes Increasingly Intelligent
Machine-to-Machine communications using chips, microsensors and both wired and wireless networks, will join networked sensors to create a rapidly growing Internet of Things, sharing real-time data, performing diagnostics, and making virtual repairs,all without human intervention. By 2020, there will be well over 50 billion “things” talking to each other, performing tasks, and making decisions based on predefined guidelines using artificial intelligence.
11. 3D Printing (Additive Manufacturing) of Finished Goods
Personalized manufacturing of finished goods using 3D Printing will grow exponentially. 3D printers build things by depositing material, typically plastic or metal, layer by layer, until the product is finished. Originally designed to print prototypes, they are increasingly being used to print final products such as jewelry, iPhone cases, shoes, car dashboards, parts for jet engines, prosthetic limbs, human jaw bones, blood vessels, organs and much more. This allows companies to manufacture one-of-a-kind or small runs of items quickly, locally, and with far fewer costs.
12. Smarter Smartphones and Tablets Drive Mobile Process Innovation
The vast majority of mobile phones sold globally have browsers, making the smartphone our primary computer. This signals a profound shift in global computing, allowing businesses of all sizes to transform the ways in which they market, sell, communicate, collaborate, educate, train and innovate using mobility. An enterprise mobility strategy that puts mobile first is rapidly becoming mandatory for organizations of all sizes.
13. Mobile Apps for Business Process Innovation
As we increasingly transform business processes using mobility, use of mobile apps for purchasing, supply chain, logistics, distribution, service, sales and maintenance will grow rapidly. There will be an increasing focus on Business App Stores within companies, giving users access to the personalized information they need on their mobile devices anytime and anywhere.
14. Mobile Banking and Payments
Mobile banking, using smartphones as eWallets, is already being used in an increasing number of countries. Use is finally taking off on a larger scale in the U.S., thanks to an increasing number of phones with secure mobile banking apps, Near Field Communications (NFC) chips, Biometric Identification and the use of Tokens where no credit card or personal information is exchanged.
15. Wearables and Applications
Wearables will increasingly be used for both personal and business applications. Apple’s smart watch with health sensors and software joins Google, Samsung, Microsoft and others, as they battle for market share. This will drive further innovation and sales in other wearable technology. One example is a patch that can be attached to the skin for remote disease management, diagnostics and general health via wireless transfer.
16. Social Business Applications
“Social” takes on a new level of urgency as organizations shift from an Information Age “informing” model to a Communication Age “communicating and engagement” model. Social software for business will reach a new level of adoption with applications to enhance relationships, collaboration, networking, social validation and more. Marketers and researchers will employ Social Search and Social Analytics to measure real-time sentiment of large groups of targeted people.
17. Visual Communications for Business
Visual communication takes video conferencing to a new level thanks to free programs like Skype, FaceTime and others for video communication on phones, tablets and home televisions. Businesses of all sizes are rapidly embracing this as a primary relationship-building and communications tool.
18. Enhanced Location Awareness For Retail
Location awareness using in-building systems allows customers with smartphones to navigate stores and quickly find what they are looking for. This, combined with Geo-Social Marketing and Augmented Reality, will drive the creation of more business-to-consumer apps. In addition, Geo-Spatial Visualization combines Geographic Information Systems (GIS) with location-aware data, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), and other location-aware sensors (including the current location of users from the use of their mobile devices) to create new insights and competitive advantage.
19. Drones Reach a New Height Adding AI
The number of applications for drones will continue to expand rapidly. Drones have already proven to be of high value for search-and-rescue, and are rapidly being applied to many industries. For example, agriculture uses drones to check crops, fences and cattle; utility companies use them to look for downed power lines; real estate agents use them for aerial photography. The explosion of hobby drones will drive innovation for both personal and industrial applications. AI will be increasingly integrated expanding capabilities far beyond today’s applications.
20. Energy Storage and Micro Grids
Energy storage starts to become a reality as companies such as Tesla begin to sell their smart battery systems to businesses and homes that generate some of their own power using solar, wind or other systems. In addition, as first-generation hybrid vehicles get too old for the marketplace, there will be millions of batteries that will still hold enough of a charge to be repurposed into inexpensive energy storage systems. This will enable a national network of smaller and more secure smart Micro Grids.
(Editor’s note: These predictions are offered in the spirit of light-hearted fun and are not intended to be taken literally. Each merely reflects a broader trend that readers can expect to see, experience or read about in the coming year. For a more realistic perspective on each trend, click on the embedded links. Enjoy!)
Amazon’s Virtual Mall Becomes Reality: After its 2014 acquisition of Switch and its quiet move into virtual reality in 2016, the online retailer has now put all of the pieces of the puzzle together and unveiled “The Mall of Amazon.” Users can now don a pair of virtual reality goggles and browse “the Amazonian Mall of the Future”–a virtual mall and that puts the physical Mall of America to shame in terms of the sheer number of items available for purchase. To make matters even more concerning for traditional retailers, Amazon Prime customers purchases are shipped within 15 minutes.
Power Plant Hack Edges Country Toward First Cyber War: In what was believed to be the first verified cybersecurity breach of an American nuclear power plant, utility officials in New Jersey were forced to shut down the Salem Nuclear Power Plant for three days. The outage affected 3 million people in southern and central New Jersey. Government officials are praising the fast actions of artificial intelligence platforms in rapidly locking down the reactors and preventing an even greater human tragedy. President Trump is reportedly weighing appropriate response options.
The City of Columbus to Add Autonomous Cars to Public Transportation Fleet: Fast on the heels of being awarded the $50 million Smart City grant, Columbus has announced plans to add autonomous vehicles to its public transportation fleet. The small experiment is being run in conjunction with Uber and is designed to help lower-income citizens in the inner city travel to jobs in the suburbs which are currently not well served by the city’s buses.
Hormel Acquires Major Stake in Major Artificial Steak Company: Hormel, the maker of Spam, announced its was acquiring a majority position in Beyond Meat, an innovative new company specializing in using plant protein to produce artificial meat. “At least this new “mystery meat” won’t involve the wholesale slaughter of innocent animals,” quipped the director of communication for PETA.
Chatbot to Aid the Unemployed: In an irony not lost Josh Young, a banker whose job was taken by artificial intelligence, was guided through the state’s new unemployment system by a Chatbot. “I hate to say it but the Chatbot–or the algorithm of whatever it was–was great, and it answered all of my questions and clearly explained the benefits I was eligible for,” said Young. “My only question is this: Is the state employee formerly responsible for guiding people through the unemployment line now also out of a job?”
Drones Put the “Over” in Drug Overlord: Always quick to use the latest technology –be it pagers in 80’s, smartphones in early 2000’s or nowadays, social media — drug overlords in Mexico are now using drones to courier drugs to clients. The drones are used in remote areas not easily patrolled by police or drug enforcement officials. “After we receive the patron’s Bitcoin payment, we snapchat the drop off location to the customer and our drone operator takes care of the rest,” said an unofficial spokeswoman for the drug cartel.
Microgrids Go Major: Following on the heels of the Port of Los Angeles announcing its intention to power its facilities using a new microgrid, scores of other manufacturers, hospitals, educational institutions and hotel chains have announced their intention to switch to microgrids that allow them to disconnect from the grid. “This is a major problem for the industry,” said the president of a leading public power company.
Gene Editing Cuts Obesity Down to Size: Utilizing the latest CRISPR technology, Editas announced this month that it had selectively removed the Gene GAD2 in a morbidly obese patient. Seven weeks after the procedure the patient had already shed 35 pounds. “The test appears to have been successful,” said Editas’s chief scientific officer, “but there is still a danger that the patient is losing weight too quickly. He will remain in the hospital under observation until his weight loss has stabilized.” Obesity is estimated to cost the U.S healthcare system $190 billion annually
Supercomputing Computes (For Some): Less than a month after acquiring Nvidia’s new $129,000 supercomputer, a leading hotel linen delivery service reported the computer paid for itself in reduced labor and fuel costs by optimizing the delivery schedule for all 350 trucks in its fleet. In related news, five union drivers from the company received their official layoff notices.
All State Augments Augmented Reality: Shortly after seeing how the Pokemon Go phenomenon caused millions of people to take to the streets in search of elusive digital Pokemon, All State Insurance seized upon augmented reality games as a way to encourage people to engage in consistent exercise. To incentivize this healthy behavior, they are providing a 20 percent discount on health insurance to those customers who walk more than 20 miles per month in search of the companies “Good Hands” icon which are often in “healthy” destinations such as the fresh produce aisles at grocery stores.
Do You See What I See: In its latest revelation, Wikileaks is reporting that DARPA has already produced a contact lens that can record whatever the wearer is seeing. It is believed that government informants and sleeper agents inside ISIS cells have already been fitted with the devices and are capturing valuable intelligence. In a related development, reports have surfaced that legitimate ISIS supporters have been executed by their own leaders solely for the crime of wearing contact lens.
Blockchain Unblocks Electronic Medical Records: To ease concerns over the security of Electronic Medical Records, Mount Sinai Hospital, and the Mayo Clinic are engaging in an experimental program to secure the medical records of their patients using Blockchain, the new digital ledger technology. “If successful and we are assured the patient’s records can’t be hacked or shared without their permission, we will move to wide scale adoption,” said the Mount Sinai CIO. “The technology has the potential to save hundreds of lives, improve health outcomes for thousands, and slash millions of dollars from the bloated administrative systems.”
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