2019 looks to be the year of using smarter technology in a smarter way. Three key trends — artificial intelligence systems becoming a serious component in enterprise tools, custom hardware breaking out for special use-cases, and a rethink on data science and its utility — will all combine into a common theme.
In recent years, we’ve seen all manner of jaw-dropping technology, but the emphasis has been very much on what these gadgets and systems can do and how they do it, with much less attention paid to why. Many a startup and incumbent has built nifty little highly-intelligent products and services but very few have broken out as enterprise/consumer adoption and go-to-market adaptation issues have affected the growth. One of the key after-effects is that this is forcing a re-think on some of the issues mentioned above. In 2019, look for enterprises in particular to get past the wow factor and ask the big questions of how the technology helps the bottom line.
Whither Artificial Intelligence
AI systems have been successfully embedded in a variety of consumer apps and custom hardware platforms - like Alexa, Siri and Google Home. However, deployment of these technologies in enterprise workflows has been slow. The complexity of the workflows and the higher bars on performance and quality have limited adoption. We expect much more engineering and real-world testing of AI systems as they mature in an enterprise context.
Take natural language processing (NLP), the attempt to have computers overcome the problem that humans don’t normally issue commands or requests in a straightforward, logical, or predictable manner. In 2019, look for companies to harness NLP to make online chatbots that really work to answer customer questions efficiently. Meanwhile, businesses with their finger on the pulse will want to use language processing to trawl social media and online reviews to learn real lessons about their reputation and customer attitudes, breaking through emotionally charged superlatives or the thorny world of irony and sarcasm.
Look also for businesses to make the most of the increasing abilities of computers to analyze images and videos, combining the raw power of the PC with the insight and instincts of the human mind. This could solve a host of problems, from analyzing medical images to tracking the emotions displayed on customer faces as they navigate a store. In particular, look for image processing to act as a form of triage by narrowing down the range of potentially interesting images before humans carry out the more detailed analysis.
Speech recognition is another area where businesses may find creative ways to benefit. Imagine a company call center where every customer service call can be automatically transcribed and analyzed to find patterns that might be missed by relying on notes made by call staff.
This isn’t without risks, however. As an associated trend for 2019, look for businesses to come up against security and privacy concerns with respect to managing customer interactions. How they handle such issues could go a long way to establishing — or irretrievably losing — brand loyalty and customer trust.
Though much of the above discussion focuses on the enterprise-customer interaction, the role of AI within an organization is yet to be explored at scale. We expect as whole range of intra-org AI applications to be launched in 2019 solving a variety of interesting use cases.
Custom Hardware Widgets
Not only is technology such as speech recognition, artificial intelligence, and connectivity getting more powerful and established, it’s also becoming ever more affordable and miniaturized. That makes it much more viable to produce dedicated devices that take a smart approach to solving a particular task.
This will offer businesses an opportunity to take advantage by asking what problems such devices could solve. Take for example the Amazon button, a Wi-Fi connected device that literally has one role: to reorder a specific product such as laundry powder or diapers when pressed by the customer. Smart businesses might see a partnership opportunity, turning the button into a guarantee that the customer gets their brand every time. Smarter businesses will look for a way to use such technologies themselves. Imagine a pizza delivery company that gives customers a gadget they can simply tap to make a regular order or hold to be connected to a local store without even having to pull out their phone or hop on their browser.
One major open area for custom hardware is new office tech - office/org centric variants of consumer hardware. Much remains to be explored here from better meeting and presentation tools, better scheduling tools and much more to make intra-enterprise activities more efficient. These also need to be tightly coupled with work practises in enterprises as work life catches up with the everyday life of a consumer.
Rationalizing Data Science
The third tech trend for 2019 is much more fundamental than services or gadgets themselves. Instead, it’s all about what businesses actually do with all their collected data and analysis tools — and indeed what they actually expect to gain from the exercise.
In recent years, businesses using “big data" have constantly heard about many significant limitations or had dampened expectations. 2019 may be the year that businesses start to consider such limitations no longer acceptable.
For example, those in the data analysis industry have always stressed that harnessing "big data” is limited by the simple fact that it's often collated in an inconsistent or unstructured manner.
At the same time, businesses are told there’s a hard limit on how far data analysis can go because of both the expense and physical space required for processing. Even when it is affordable, there’s still the environmental impact to account for, particularly for businesses where social responsibility is a key selling point to investors.
Meanwhile, data scientists often stress the importance of business users deciding what questions they want answered before deciding what data to gather and how to organize it for analysis.
These are all valid points from the data scientist’s point of view, but what if the business world looks at the development of technology and demands an end to such restrictions?
How this question is answered will be fascinating to watch. It could be that the data science field has to completely overhaul what it can offer, overcoming seeming off-limit barriers. Alternatively, it could be that businesses discover their expectations can’t be met and have to adjust to this reality in a productive manner rather than get bogged down in frustration.
In conclusion, 2019 promises to be a year where smart systems make further inroads into our personal and professional lives. More importantly, I expect our professional lives to get more sophisticated with a variety of agents and systems helping us get more of out of our time in the office!
Also published in Datafloq.