Most tech trend listicles just scratch the surface of what they could mean for us as a society—this is a different kind of trend article.
Yes, we know, another tech trend listicle to add to the pile (sigh). Why bother at this point? The vast majority of articles covering the tech trends for 2020 are all talking about the sophistication of AI, the rise of blockchain, the coming of the 5G network, and the Internet of Things. So why write another article if the (mostly obvious) popular choices are already covered?
Because even when those technologies seem to be getting massive come next year, they don’t cover the entire spectrum. In fact, some of them have so many implications that the tech trend listicles just scratch the surface of what they could mean for us as a society. That’s why we decided to compile a different kind of trend article.
Here are 6 of the tech trends that no one is talking about. You could argue that all of them are somewhat connected to, say, AI, IoT, and 5G. And while you’d be right, they are trends on their own – and some interesting ones that are worth keeping an eye on.
1. The Internet of Skills
When the internet started to become mainstream, we all heard a lot of promises about how it was going to bring the entire world together. It was going to democratize knowledge. It was going to revolutionize how we communicated, shopped, and played. And while the internet introduced its fair share of changes, it somewhat feels like it fell short of our expectations.
Yet, 2020 seems like a year when we dial things up a notch. One of the main reasons? The Internet of Skills (IoS). We are sure that you heard a lot of “Internet of something” names, from the Internet of Things (and the Internet of Industrial Things) to the Internet of Money and the Internet of Energy. Do we really need another one?
The Internet of Skills brings the same sense of disruption we felt back in the early internet days. That’s because the IoS will allow us to digitize skills and transfer them to remote locations. In other words, it will let us use our expertise and knowledge in real-time without distance and location limitations.
There are 2 keys for the IoS. First, there’s the combination of robotics and haptics. What’s haptics, you ask? It involves kinaesthetic communication, which is the same as saying that we’ll be able to transmit our sense of touch through the internet by applying forces, vibrations, and motions, tricking the receiver into “feeling” stuff as if they were in front of the real things.
Then there’s 5G. With 2020 being the year many are pointing at as the year in which the new mobile network will become mainstream, it will allow for high speed and low latency for that information to travel reliably. The mix between robotics and haptics with a 5G network will extend our abilities, understanding, and knowledge in an impressive number of ways.
The healthcare industry will surely be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the IoS. Imagine a doctor using a glove that transmits their every movement and transmitting it to a robotic arm halfway across the world to perform remote surgery. This will remove the need for the doctor to be in the same physical place as the patient, saving precious time and granting access to complex practices to people everywhere.
What’s more, the movements and actions could then be recorded and uploaded to a database to let students learn how to properly operate through physical memory.
Since the IoS will send data from source to destination and vice versa, geographical limitations would be meaningless. You could learn to play the piano or repair a complex machine—or even take the wheel of a faulty driverless car to park it safely. Thus, the IoS bridges the gap that exists between remote locations that don’t have access to certain kinds of skills (or to skilled professionals), ensuring that everyone is able to learn about complex stuff remotely.
2. Prescriptive Analytics
Another thing that might ring a bell for you, though it might not be quite what you’re thinking. Using AI algorithms to analyze data is becoming a fairly common thing for a lot of industries and sectors. Yet, its full potential is still untapped. Up until today, we are seeing AI platforms to understand phenomena and their causes in what’s called descriptive analysis. In other words, the most common analysis is gaining insights into things that have already happened.
An emerging use has those algorithms predicting what might happen next based on past data. That kind of analysis is called (yeah, you guessed it) predictive analysis. Many experts think of it as the most advanced form of analysis Artificial Intelligence can bring us. They are forgetting about the possibilities a prescriptive analysis can provide.
This kind of approach will let us use data not just to predict what’s probably coming our way. It will also allow us to understand why certain scenarios are most likely to happen and suggest ways on how to behave when confronted with them.
Maybe an example is a better way to get what this means. Let’s say you have an online store that uses AI algorithms to understand your clients’ behavior. Perhaps you are already using it to gather information about who your customers are and how they shop. With those algorithms, you may have discovered that your clients are mostly old males that take 3 visits to a product page to finally decide on a purchase. You can get that information through descriptive analysis.
Now let’s take things a little bit further. Maybe you found out that your customers are most likely to engage with you during the weekends. Heck, perhaps you discovered that the first weekend of every month your sales go up, so it’s safe to assume that the same thing will happen next month. This, which will allow you to prepare an offer and activate it during the weekends, is a predictive analysis.
In that scenario, a prescriptive analysis wouldn’t just let you know the weekend thing. It would also inform you that this happens because your customer base collects its salary before that weekend and that they don’t have much online activity on weekdays because they are mostly working.
The prescriptive analysis would even suggest you create a campaign to increase your traffic during the workdays by offering specific discounts widely promoted during weekends. Or perhaps it’s better if you offer a discount on the last weekend to everyone that has bought something during that month.
As you can see, being prescriptive means that the algorithms don’t just offer a potential outcome but also informed suggestions based on why those outcomes exist in the first place. That level of sophistication is not entirely developed today, but 2020 will see more and more companies investing in them to make better decisions that will impact businesses and customers alike.
3. AI as a Service
Just as there’s many “Internet of somethings”, there are also several “Something as a service.” From the most widely known Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) to specific options like Housing as a Service (HaaS), the idea of offering something as a service through cloud computing is very common.
So, to no one’s surprise, here comes AI as a Service (AIaaS), which is nothing more than the combination of a SaaS business model with AI services. It’s a no-brainer to tell you the truth. Since AI will play a major role in businesses from now on and given the heavy price tags that hang from AI-powered solutions, some companies are already playing with the idea of offering their AI solutions to companies that can’t afford to develop their own.
In fact, heavyweights like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM are already marketing their AIaaS solutions, mainly to big enterprises. 2020 will see this trend become more popular, as companies of all sizes will start trying to get on board of all the AI craze.
Basically, AIaaS is something of a canned response to the increasing AI needs. In that way, it’s extremely helpful for companies that want to see how AI might work out for them but are reluctant to pay the steep prices associated with creating customized AI platforms.
Outsourcing AI, then, would be like taking something off the shelf in the supermarket: you define what you need and take the product that fits. It’s not that anyone without knowledge can use those solutions, though. These solutions offer clean APIs, coding skills, and graphical user interfaces that have to be put together by engineers to work for a specific purpose.
In that way, your development team can get their hands on advanced capabilities such as speech recognition, instant translation, data-driven analytics, and image identification, among many others. Additionally, the providers will lend you their platform on which you’ll be able to assemble your own solution at a fraction of the price you’d pay if you did everything on your own and from scratch.
Since all companies have different needs and requests, it’s logical for providers to give you the pieces for you to stitch them up together. Sounds promising? It actually is. As we said before, it’s not really something that’s coming out of the blue – companies are already using these AIaaS platforms to leverage the power of AI. What’s new and what will probably be the trend in 2020 is that you, us, and everyone else will start seeing these platforms as allies.
4. Digital Twins
Though “digital twins” sounds like some sort of digitized version of those creepy twins from The Shining, it’s actually less scary and more useful than that. The concept of digital twins has been around for almost 2 decades in which some industries (mainly the manufacturing industry) have been benefiting from it. However, 2020 will be the year in which a lot of more companies will start implementing them in their practices.
What’s a digital twin, then? In simple terms, it’s a replica of an object, person, or entity you can think of. You can have an exact digital replica of a car, a robot, an entire factory, or even of your employees. The goal of having those digital representations is pretty straightforward – to have accurate information about their physical counterparts in real-time.
NASA created the digital twins to control the systems of its space capsules. Since astronauts couldn’t possibly monitor everything that happened with the spaceships, NASA created digital replicas that mirrored what was happening with the real things. Thus, the engineers were able to see how the systems were performing.
Digital twins broke free from that ghetto just recently and thanks to the increasing advances of the Internet of Things. Since this technology is based on sensors integrated into all kinds of devices, experts saw that digital twins could benefit from the information flowing from those sensors to create precise replicas of anything they wanted.
In that way, they started creating representations for everything ranging from aircraft engines and oil rigs to trains and supply chain machines. However, as the Internet of Things grows, the expected uses for digital twins also increase. And the IoT will definitely grow during 2020, especially if the 5G network finally becomes widespread.
Once again, 5G is the key here. Its high speeds and low latency combined with the millions of precise sensors available will be the foundation for more accurate digital twins that could represent anything. Just think of it: companies could develop replicas of wearable devices, driverless cars, and even household items.
All of that will make it possible for companies to identify use patterns, find ways to optimize performance, and even issue predictive maintenance. So, basically, digital twins can let you better understand how your clients use your product while also allowing you to carry out predictive analysis that could inform future updates, designs, and even new products.
It’s true that the widespread adoption of digital twins is intimately tied to the introduction of the 5G on a massive scale. However, a Gartner report says that by 2020 there will be 21 billion connected sensors and endpoints, a colossal amount of devices that will gather the information that can bring the next generation of digital twins and help companies take a step forward in research and development.
5. Retail revolution
Among the many industries that are more prone to adopt new technologies, retail is the one that shines the brightest. While it’s true that retailers often wait for trends to be more developed before investing in them, recent years have shown that they aren’t afraid of revolutionizing how they work. In that sense, 2020 won’t be the exception, as there are many ways in which the retail industry is about to change.
Some of the trends we already saw sparingly will become standards, such as the use of Augmented Reality (AR) and the increasing product customization that provides a whole new array of shopping experiences. But in the creative use of new technologies is where the true revolution will bloom.
Picture this. You are walking down the street and see a shirt that you love on a store’s window. The store is closed, there’s not a price tag to be seen, and you can’t see what brand it is from. But, heck, you have to have it! What do you do? Come back the next day when the store is open? Not in 2020! Thanks to AI-powered algorithms, you’ll be able to snap a picture of the shirt to find it online across several sites and retailers. You’ll even be given the chance to buy it right there!
That’s a feature that you can already enjoy with Pinterest’s Lens but that will surely grow in popularity as image recognition grows more sophisticated. Another thing you’ve surely seen already that will change retailing for good in 2020 is social commerce.
More and more brands are betting on their existing social channels to sell you stuff at the click of a button – and without leaving the post! In fact, platforms like Instagram feel like the perfect fit for this kind of trend. Since it’s the natural habitat for influencers, companies will be able to partner with those users to reach people more organically while offering them the ability to buy what they are seeing on the spot. Thus, social commerce will bring visibility and comfort in one neat package.
Finally, retailers will have to be on the lookout for how supergiant companies will disrupt their industries. It’s only likely that Amazon will keep expanding and be a place of reference for online shoppers, but as it has happened until now, it will also lead the way by example, creating new shopping experiences customers will start to demand from other online retailers.
What’s more interesting is the evolution of Google Shopping, which has introduced an interesting set of features that will surely change online shopping. The ability to shop for things from Google image searches and the introduction of a universal shopping cart that will let us buy across any retailer to be shipped on one package will surely make splashes during next year.
6. Deepfake (GANs)
Finally, here’s a trend that’s as interesting as it is disturbing. Deepfakes have been around for some time now and they have always been a subject of controversy. It’s not a surprise, really, If you’ve ever watched the video of Bill Hader impersonating Tom Cruise, you might start seeing why this can be problematic.
Watching Hader’s face seamlessly metamorphosing into Cruise’s face is as astonishing as it is troubling. What you’re seeing here is a series of machine learning techniques known as autoencoders and generative adversarial networks (GANs). Those are the technologies responsible for that funny clip and for the ability to replace a person with someone else’s likeness.
On a positive note, these methods can be used (and will surely be, starting next year) for entertaining purposes. Be it to replace actors that couldn’t complete the filming of a movie or to power filters in an app, GANs feel unique, powerful, and certainly enjoyable toys to play around for a while.
As the technology that powers the deepfakes becomes more available, more of those funny uses will start popping up here and there. In that sense, 2020 will see more uses for GANs. It’s what’s hiding beneath these seemingly innocent uses that we should be worrying about.
Deepfakes have already sparked a lot of heated discussions, especially for its use in pornography and in the creation of fake news. Given the current state of online discourse, it’s only imaginable that contents like those will continue to appear online, whether we like it or not. And they will be the ones that will have the biggest impact.
Using deepfakes to improve the results of CGI in a movie is harmless but having the possibility to create videos misleadingly edited to show someone negatively can have a profound effect. You don’t need us to tell you how certain people are willing to believe anything they read. How would you explain to them after they see something with their own eyes?
Thus, the main changes will happen in our own perception of what’s online and how we prevent this technology from disrupting our society. California has already taken steps towards regulating this kind of content and China will start doing so in 2020.
As we said above, all of these trends find their roots in “bigger” trends. Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and 5G are obviously big right now, so “predicting” them as trends for 2020 feels like cheating. Instead, it’s interesting to see how those technologies will allow for other trends that can change your daily life for good.
Thus, 2020 might not be the year in which they are born but will certainly be when they boom and get under the spotlight. So, maybe not many people are talking about them today, but be patient. By the end of 2020, everyone will know about all of these.