Keeping up with potentially disruptive 2020 technology trends is an exciting yet daunting task when it comes to the pursuit of innovation.
As we enter a new decade, we’re starting to see exactly how previously-hyped digital capabilities are beginning to reshape the way we experience the world – as both individuals and organizations – and what the implications could be for businesses.
Five technology trends in particular are expected to have a major impact within the next five years: cryptocurrencies, edge computing, brain-to-computer interfaces, AI-driven development, and autonomous delivery.
Here, we’ll take a high-level look at each of these trends, what they are, and where you can expect to see them.
2020 technology trends that could alter business as we know it
Arguably the most well-known use for blockchain technology over the last decade has been cryptocurrency.
Cryptocurrency is a digital form of currency (meaning no bills or coins) that’s managed and secured with cryptography by computer networks versus a government. Bitcoin hit the scene in 2009, and now there are over 2,000 different cryptocurrencies existing today.
Initially associated with the darknet and anti-establishment motives, Bitcoin and these other “altcoins” have since become legitimate (and lucrative) financial assets. In fact, the newest wave of “cryptos” are actually being created by big corporations, such as Microsoft, Facebook, and Walmart.
The appeal for brands and businesses is access to new and developing markets. Cryptos could potentially open up commerce opportunities to markets that were previously unavailable, like consumers without bank accounts or those in countries where cash is the only option.
It also offers the chance to build in transactional loyalty. Retail giant Walmart recently filed a patent for its own “stablecoin” (cryptocurrency backed by stable currencies). As an alternative to traditional payment, shoppers could participate in loyalty programs that reward them in Walmart coins, accepted only at Walmart and their partners. Much like when companies only issue store credit for returns, this would keep customers spending within the brand’s retail ecosystem, making it one of the 2020 technology trends to watch.
2. Edge computing
From smartphones to smart traffic lights, edge computing is already embedded in our everyday lives, whether we’re aware of it or not.
Edge computing is the method of processing data closer (physically) to where it’s being generated. That generally means on the device the data is gathered from or inputted into, referred to as the “edge” of the network, versus in a central data processing center.
Edge computing lowers network reliance and cuts processing times because there’s no need to send data to the cloud and wait for the results (known as latency).
It also helps to address privacy issues, as raw data doesn’t need to leave the device to be processed. By adding artificial intelligence (AI), systems can handle more complex data and make decisions in real time, without latency. This greatly enables Internet of Things (IoT) devices, VR/AR, 4K content streaming, automated machines and self-driving vehicles.
By 2022, Gartner predicts that 75% of enterprise-generated data will be created and processed outside of a data center or cloud, and IDC forecasts that 45% of IoT-generated data will be stored, processed, and utilized close to or at the edge.
Will edge computing replace the cloud? It’s unlikely. It’s not an either/or situation – cloud processing is better for some cases, edge computing for others. As hybrid approaches emerge involving 5G and WiFi 6 networks, companies will need to invest in both to succeed.
3. Brain-to-computer interfaces
What was once just a trope of science fiction is en route to becoming reality: the ability to control objects with our minds.
Believe it or not, we already have “mind control” devices – for example, neural interfaces in hearing implants and various devices equipped with Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) and Electroencephalography (EEG) help thousands of people worldwide.
Going beyond medicine, researchers are making breakthroughs combining non-obtrusive, multifunctional brain-to-computer interface (BCI) systems with deep learning algorithms and virtual reality to develop ‘everyday’ BCIs.
In July 2019, Elon Musk announced a startling new technology called Neuralink, which he promised would allow paralyzed people to control computers with their thoughts, changing their relationship with the technology they depend on to communicate and move. The company hopes to complete its first human patent of the technology in 2020.
While Neuralink has the potential to radically change lives and alter the human-machine interface forever, it’s still some ways off. But 2020 technology trends note there are other methods of controlling objects and devices without touch that are either available now or coming soon:
- Radar gesture sensing: This lets you control devices and objects using gestures detected by radar waves. It works in the dark and can detect the finest of movements. The latest radar-emitting chips are cheap and tiny, making them a cost-effective addition to just about any smart device.
- Ultrasound haptic feedback: Create haptic feedback without needing to touch anything. Known as mid-air touch, this could be a huge step towards making VR and AR feel more real. It’s less of a BCI and more a method of adding another dimension to gesture control, allowing you to see and feel the thing you’re “touching” virtually.
- Non-invasive neurotechnology: Imagine being able to read the body’s electrical activity and translate it into machine actions, without a physical connection to the nervous system. It avoids the need for surgery, although signal strength is compromised by barriers such as the skull and muscle mass. But demos already show the ability to type without a keyboard and to precisely control objects in a virtual space.
4. AI-driven development
The rapid growth in cheap, easy-to-use artificial intelligence is changing how we create technology, from the rise of “citizen developers” to the potential for AI to develop new technology all on its own.
As development becomes more automated, creating AI-driven programs and apps gets easier and easier. The citizen developer movement is just beginning: anyone with the motivation can create apps, regardless of formal IT or coding skills, but they still need someone to do the programming.
With AI taking care of the routine coding, citizens could truly become developers and developers would have more time for creativity and advanced problem-solving.
5. Autonomous delivery
With our appetite for convenience and ever-faster delivery showing no signs of waning, get ready for a new wave of AI-driven robots bringing parcels to the skies and roads.
The hardest part of delivering parcels is the last mile – the bit that involves getting the delivery to the door. It’s expensive, time-consuming, and resource hungry. Autonomous delivery is a solution to these problems, using artificial intelligence to teach machines how to navigate the complexity of cities or, in the case of drones, fly safely to get items to their destination.
Initially, access limitations (many robots can’t climb stairs, for instance) mean these machines will act more as assistants to humans, completing straightforward last-mile deliveries or flying parcels to remote locations. But as technology and infrastructure develops, it’s likely that we’ll begin seeing autonomous machines increase in numbers and sophistication.
Transformative technologies have our world in a state of constant evolution, rising to meet increasing demand for augmented experiences.
With innovation and change being constant, it’s up to executives and decision makers to maintain a laser focus on their customers’ needs and priorities as they forge a tech strategy for 2020 and beyond.