Technology is set to profoundly change the way we live over the next 10 years, with technology-led shifts such as sentient cities, connected mobility and robots going mainstream.

Research shows that we’ll experience a more immersive, deeper partnership with machines, driven by the uptake of emerging technologies like 5G, AI, extended reality (XR) and Internet of Things (IoT).

These are among the findings from Dell Technologies’ Future of Connected Living research that explores how emerging technologies will transform how we live by the year 2030. The research, conducted in partnership with the Institute for the Future (IFTF) and Vanson Bourne, surveyed 4 600 business leaders across 40+ countries, including respondents in South Africa.

Although 77% of local business leaders admit that digital transformation should be more widespread throughout their companies, only 13% worry that they’ll struggle to meet customer demands in five years’ time.

IFTF and a forum of global experts forecast that technologies such as edge computing, 5G, AI, XR and IoT will combine to create five major “shifts” in the coming decade. These shifts will have the power to change lives across the globe.

IFTF forecasts the following shifts between now and 2030:

* Networked reality: Over the next decade cyberspace will become an overlay on top of our existing reality as our digital environment extends beyond televisions, smartphones and other displays.

* Connected mobility and networked matter: The vehicles of tomorrow will essentially be mobile computers. We will trust them to take us where we need to go in the physical world as we interact in the virtual spaces available to us wherever we are.

* From digital cities to sentient cities: Cities will quite literally come to life through their own networked infrastructure of smart objects, self-reporting systems and AI-powered analytics.

* Agents and algorithms: We will each be supported by a highly personalized “operating system for living” that is able to anticipate our needs and proactively support our day-to-day activities to free up time.

* Robot with social lives: Robots will become our partners in life – enhancing our skills and extending our abilities. Robots will share newfound knowledge to their social robot network to crowdsource innovations and accelerate progress, in real time.

Many businesses are already preparing for these shifts. For example, the survey of businesses found that:

* 76% expect they will restructure the way they spend their time by automating more tasks. South African respondents ranked this even higher, at 84%.

* More than half of businesses surveyed indicated that they anticipate networked reality to becoming commonplace.

* Local organisations are a bit more conservative, with 36% welcoming mind-computer control. But 59% are open to day-to-day immersion in virtual and augmented realities.

These major technology-led shifts may challenge people and organisations that are grappling with change, according to the research. Organisations that wish to harness the power of the new emerging technologies will need to take steps to effectively collect, process and deploy data to keep pace with rate of rapid innovation.

Additionally, concerns around the fairness of algorithms that do everything from decide how companies hire to who is eligible for loans must be addressed, as will growing concerns from the public about data privacy. Governments will need to learn how to work together to share and deploy their data if cities are to go from digital to sentient.

Business leaders are already anticipating some of these challenges:

* 74% of surveyed businesses leaders say they consider data privacy to be a top societal-scale challenge that must be solved. South African leaders ranked even higher at 78%.

* South African business leaders are less concerned about AI regulation and clarity on how it’s use: only 30% called for this, in contrast to the global average of 44%.

Local business leaders are not out of touch with global views, but they also don’t just blindly follow the trends:

* 51% of local business leaders believe they will travel in a self-driving car by 2030 (global: 50%).

* 19% of local business leaders fear they will be left behind (global: 30%).

* 59% of local business leaders would welcome people partnering with machines/robots to surpass human limitations (global: 70%).

* 85% of local business leaders expect that in 2030 they will be more concerned about their privacy than they are today (global: 68%).

“I think the Future of Connected Living research shows South Africa is a maturing digital economy that marches to its own beat,” says Doug Woolley, MD of Dell Technologies South Africa. “We can see this among our customers and partners: there is a serious appetite for digital improvements, but they still keep their feet on the ground and look for solutions that change lives and experiences.

“They are not scared of technology, but they don’t just believe the hype. They want solutions that matter and last.”