2018 has been marked by revelations that Cambridge Analytica used millions of Facebook users’ data to manipulate elections. While Big Data has steadily grown more omnipresent in people’s lives, and concerns about privacy and autonomy with it, this event marked a tipping point in global consciousness – people have started to second-guess the benefits of many technologies.
The implications of the fallout are far-reaching – with Big Data and technologies making the spheres of public and private, business and consumer increasingly interconnected, as well as the introduction of stricter privacy policies in GDPR that give consumers greater control of what data they share – a business world driven by data needs to cultivate trust, communication and responsibility in the core of its practices to succeed, alongside using technological developments to improve people’s lives.
The business world is increasingly reliant on partnerships: partnerships between businesses and consumers, businesses and employees, businesses and governments, and among businesses. These partnerships are built on technology and data – which are now inexorable from how businesses function – but they are also predicated on trust; cooperation cannot exist without trust, and building trust among these interconnected parties presents numerous challenges that require innovation in business practices to bridge.
Tech Trend 01 – Big Data
While businesses across all industries have invested huge amounts in data collection and analysis, not enough has been invested in ensuring the veracity of data – and with automated decision-making playing an ever-greater role within business, untrustworthy data has the potential for disastrous consequences. Not only does false or manipulated data have immediate economic impacts, but in the context of consumer-partnerships, it can cause social disillusionment with the very models that businesses require to succeed.
To tackle these challenges, businesses must develop data intelligence practises. These practises should centre on three primary tenets: that the origin of data is maintained throughout its use (provenance); how and where the data is used (context); and ensuring data is secured (integrity).
Breaking down barriers
Just as cooperation is predicated on trust, developing trust requires means of cooperating. While breaking down barriers between people, places and experience, and developing trust in a globally interconnected environment are both challenging, they are also mutually enforcing. Developing strategic partnerships rooted in technology – allowing businesses to create products and services that complement one another – is becoming a key determinant of success in a rapidly evolving market. Creating these kinds of fluid, adaptable partnerships requires a more agile business model – which legacy systems built for gradual change cannot handle. Two key technologies can help to address this.
Tech Trend 02 – Blockchain
Within a business, using microservices, which break down applications into a library of individual components that can be assembled as necessary, allows businesses to take a more granular approach – which enables a more agile business, and rapid scalability of partnerships without disrupting either business. Between businesses, as the number of partnerships grow, existing systems cannot handle the number and scale of transactions. Blockchain, a distributed ledger system, stores and records transactions on a peer-to-peer network, such that consensus is required for transactions to occur and it can’t be manipulated by any party – meaning that businesses can easily expand partnerships without risking security or accountability.
Tech Trend 03 – Extended Reality
Meanwhile, extended reality (XR) – augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) – is helping to break down barriers of distance, meaning that people can cooperate, communicate and experience in increasingly dynamic ways, and creating an increasingly interconnected world. XR can enable teachers to train staff anywhere in the world, and allow skilled employees to work for businesses regardless of location; to better access data and further knowledge, such as creating 3D medical images; and to simulate experiences, which can not only be used for fun, but for improving lives – for example, AR has been used to simulate traumatic experiences in the safety of a therapist’s office. By developing such technologies in ways that materially improve people’s lives, consumers – and society as a whole – will be more willing to develop trusting partnerships with businesses.
The technology ecosystem
To enable the trends mentioned thus far, businesses need to evolve their use of technology: both introducing new kinds of hardware and software infrastructures, and changing their relationship to those technologies. Technological development should be seen as an ecosystem that interacts with a fluid, dynamic and rapidly evolving world, and needs to be nurtured so that it can grow with it.
Tech Trend 04 – Edge Computing
Developing the computing power to both analyse the world at a macro-scale (requiring huge datasets) and respond to unpredictable events in real-time (requiring rapid processing) necessitates developing a differentiated way of processing data. Instant response to real-world world events should be handled with edge-computing, while relevant data can be saved and uploaded to the cloud for meta-analysis. Finding the right balance to enable macro-understanding and micro-response will be key to developing technology that can integrate with the human ecosystem – and thus create value in people’s lives.
Tech Trend 05 – Artificial Intelligence
Last but not least, of course, is AI. As AI comes to play an increasing role in business and society, many of the issues relating to trust, responsibility, and adding value to people’s lives will be most pronounced in it. Just as we are having to learn how to cope with the challenges, both ethical and logistic, posed by a society evolving evermore rapidly in the wake of technological advance – while simultaneously driving the process – so too will our AI. If an AI is taught to do a finite task, it will quickly become outdated, whereas if we teach it how to approach and solve problems, it can evolve with the changing world.
On the other hand, as children learn from observing the world around them, AIs learn from datasets – including imitating the bias in them, as demonstrated in a study where an AI identified a man standing next to a stove as a woman. As with a child imitating bias, the AI needs guidance. Nurturing AI so that it matures, developing capability and responsibility, involves finding the right combination of controlling and letting go. Just as businesses need to grow more agile, shifting to a paradigm of coordinating-and-cultivating, their AI must learn to become a symbiotic member of this ecosystem.
Here at Velocity IT we are excited to see which tech trends the second half of 2018 will bring us and how these will enable us to better support our clients and develop cutting-edge business solutions. Learn more about the services we offer.