Kathy Gibson is at Gartner Symposium in Cape Town – Technology advancements are driving the move to the new era of Continuous Next that Gartner believes will define the business world over the coming years.

The top 10 technologies to look out for in the coming year fall into three areas: intelligence, digital and mesh, says Brian Burke, research vice-president at Gartner.

Autonomous devices is the first trend.

By 2021, Gartner believes that 10% of vehicles will have autonomous driving capability, compared to less than 1% in 2017. Most of this will be Level 4 autonomous driving.

“This means that the car will be driving itself,” says Burke. “You may need to take over at some point, but you won’t be sitting behind the wheel waiting for that.”

This means we have to overcome some of the regulatory and ethical issues still surrounding autonomous driving.

“But autonomous things is not just cars, its robots, drones and appliances. And they will be operating in all environments: sea, land and air,” Burke points out.

These devices will have varying degrees of capability, co-ordination and intelligence. They will be used across industries and use cases, including package delivery, food service, cleaning, surveillance and customer services.

When it comes to capability, this ranges from human-assisted and partial automation that is common today, to conditional automation, high automation and, finally, full automation.

“When we talk about co-ordination between autonomous things, right now they are isolate and independent operation. It will get interesting when it is all connected, then collaborative, and then we will have swarms of things.”

Intelligence starts with dumb, then semi-smart – which is where we are today. Next will be individually smart things and finally hive-smart.

Augmented analytics, the next trend, is set to grow over the next two years, with the number of citizen scientists set to grow at double the rate of traditional digital scientists.

Augmented analytics starts with augmented data preparation where algorithms go through data in an unsupervised way to detect patterns. This will grow into using AI for insight generation and human-assisted AI.

The third technology trend is AI-driven development.

Gartner predicts that, by 2022, 40% of application development projects will have AI co-developers on their team.

“We will be leveraging APIs off the shelf to incorporate in machine learning and we will also create new machine learning models that are specific to our integration,” Burke explains.

Digital twin is the fourth trend and, by 2021, Garner believes half of large industrial companies will use digital twins. The result is that those organisations will gain a 10% improvement in effectiveness.

“This is going to be a big deal,” says Burke. “But when we expand beyond the digital twin of things we get a digital twin of the organisation.”

This is a dynamic software model of an organisation that relies on operational and other data to understand, model and tweak the organisation’s processes.

“We will also have digital twins of places or environments,” Burke adds.

These could be smart factories, smart buildings and smart cities.

“Digital twins drive business opportunities,” he adds.

Today, digital twins are used in the maintenance and reliability of equipment, or predictive maintenance. Future use cases include business process or asset optimisation, the monetisation of data and models, research and development, and new business models.

“We can develop entirely new revenue streams enabled by digital twins,” Burke says.

The empowered edge is the fifth trend, with storage, computing and advanced AI/analytics capabilities set to expand the capabilities of edge devices through 2028.

Burke explains that this will see technology move from the standard edge device or the cloud-attached edge device we have today.

There is also the enterprise-connected scenario where a gateway does intermediate processing and then sends other data back to the server.

What we are moving towards is the cloud-architected edge, Burke says, where a central, cloud a distributed cloud and an edge cloud will look after maintaining the edge devices.

The edge refers to a wide range of devices. Edge computing includes mobile devices, notebooks and PCs. These have a lifespan of one to five years and are getting more intelligence with positional tracking and AI chips.

There is also edge I/O consisting of things like speakers, screens, TVs, cameras consumer electronics and smart signage. These have a lifespan of three to 10 years and are typically cheaper and easier to switch.

These device are getting more intelligent with the addition of sensors as well as local compute and storage.

Simple edge devices are industrial and residential equipment plus things like toasters and microwaves that could last up to 20 years. They are becoming more intelligent with sensors, storage, local compute and analytics.

Complex edge embedded devices include things like automobiles, drones and even factory floors. These are being made more intelligent with sensors, analytics, compute and collaboration.

Immersive experience, the sixth trends, will see 70% of companies experimenting with immersive technologies for consumer and enterprise use by 2022. But only 25% of them will have deployed the technology to production.

“The primary limitation is that we really don’t know how to create these experiences,” Burke points out.

These experiences have to move from flat 2D interactions to 3D interactions, which is a major step forward.

Some of the use cases include training and simulation, marketing, sales and demos, design visualisation, field service and workspaces.

How we integrate with the world is going to be the biggest change in immersive technology, Burke adds. Integration technologies like voice, eye tracking, gestures, position tracking, emotions and others will all drive this trend.

“How we engage our senses in this immersive experience is really changing,” he says. “Customers are now demanding a multi-experience where there is seamless interaction with technology regardless of where you are.”

No list of technology trends would be complete without the distributed ledger system of blockchain.

“Blockchain means we no longer have to rely on a central authority, but can rely on the distributed network to ensure that transactions happen,” Burke explains.

Blockchain can also be used to track he provenance of goods, which is important in industries like pharmaceuticals.

Optional characteristics include smart contract, centralised management, control access and updates, and an alternative consensus mechanism.

“But we are on a long road with blockchain,” Burke says. “In terms of commercial applications, we see this as a multi-phase environment.”

There are a lot of pilots and proofs of concept currently underway, but not too many commercial implementations.

The next phase will be blockchain-inspired projects, the blockchain-complete services, with the ultimate goal blockchain-enhanced applications that work with autonomous devices to create a distributed autonomous organisation.

Blockchain value propositions include the efficiency play, as in logistics; the record keeper, such as an e-health record; the digital asset market, like the Digital Gold service; and the blockchain disrupter, for instance in permissionless marketplaces.

The eighth trend is privacy and ethics.

Gartner predicts that, by 2021, organisation that have bought compliance risk and are found to be lacking in privacy protection will pay 100% more in compliance costs than best practice-adhering competitors.

“Going forward we need to look at what the privacy concerns are that we need to understand, and get ahead of that,” Burke says.

Although not a technology issue itself, privacy is enabled by technology, Burke explains.

There are millions of endpoints out in the field, he points out, which are collecting information about who you are, where you are, what you are doing, and even what you are thinking.

Burke points out that companies should not just aim to be compliant, but should avoid having personally-identifiable information that could cause reputational or financial damage.

And the threat of financial damage is real: under Europe’s GDPR legislation, organisations can be fined up to 4% of revenue if found to be in breach.

Countries around the world display an evolving patchwork of privacy laws. “The challenge is that, with all this diversity of privacy laws, you have to be compliant.”

Burke suggests that organisations start with compliance and then look at mitigating risk. They could then start to consider a more open and aggressive approach to privacy, thinking about whether they make a difference, and following their values.

“What we want to get to is a state where we ask if something is the right thing to do. It might be allowed, but do we want to do it?”

Smart spaces including factory floors and smart cities, are the next technology trend.

These are physically evolving from isolated spaces to connected systems, then co-ordinated systems to finally become intelligent environments.

Burke explains that we are starting to enter the era of co-ordinated systems now.

The final trend is quantum computing.

Gartner believes that, by 2023, 20% of organisations will be budgeting for quantum computing, compared to less than 1% today.

“Quantum computing is only just on this list, because there are very few commercial applications,” Burke says. “But we believe that, with three to seven years, it will have a significant impact.”

Quantum computing deals with qubits that are super-position rather than just one or zero, and which can entangle so they can respond to each other regardless of distance.

“The technical challenge is coherence, and maintaining coherence with super-position and entanglement,” Burke explains.

Quantum computing will be used for applications like optimisation problems material science, chemistry, personalised medicine and biomimetics.

“It’s not going to change everything, but in specific instances it will have major impact,” Burke says.

We are currently in the early transient quantum supremacy stage, where quantum computers are set to soon outperform supercomputers. The ultimate goal is to develop quantum computers that will be able to crack all of the historical RSA encryption.