By Bernard Marr for Forbes
Every year, many of my clients ask me about the key technology trends that I believe will define the coming year. Here are my predictions of the tech trends that have the potential to make or break careers and businesses in 2019.
While some of these may seem obvious – no one will be surprised to hear that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are likely to remain hot topics – the disruptive nature of tech means it’s likely we will get a few surprises.
Artificial intelligence everywhere
The year 2018 will be remembered as the year that artificial intelligence (AI) hit the mainstream, but in 2019 and beyond it’s going to be absolutely everywhere.
This is because hardware and software developers have passed the trial period – experimenting to see where AI fits, and where it can deliver the biggest improvements in customer experience and productivity improvements.
In many cases we won’t even know it’s there – as machine learning services work quietly in their clouds, managing everything from power networks to distribution logistics and financial transactions.
In other cases, it will be highly visible – as our smartphones, home assistants, kitchen gadgets and cars put increasingly sophisticated tools at our fingertips.
The AI we interact with day-to-day – whether it is Google search engines, Netflix recommendation engines or assistants like Alexa or Siri – will become increasingly ubiquitous as well as useful, as breakthroughs in deep learning and reinforcement learning lead to more capable and reliable services.
Rapid changes in healthcare delivery
Undoubtedly one of the most crucial and worthy applications of technology – expect machines to be credited with saving more lives in 2019.
With much of the world facing a shortage of trained medical professionals, and even rich nations feeling the bite due to economic pressures, technology is often hailed as a potential savior.
From AI systems capable of detecting cancer or heart attacks to the rollout of telemedicine allowing patients to be treated in their homes, perhaps no industry is pinning its hopes for the future so firmly on tech as healthcare is.
This year could be the year that their impact on patient outcomes and quality-of-life comes to the attention of the mainstream. With projects moving out of pilot phases and beginning to go into operational deployment, we will see technology costs coming down and more providers such as hospitals and clinics being able to cover the up-front cost.
At the same time, a growing awareness of personal data issues – particularly in developing countries where they have so far not been given much thought at all – will lead to growing concern over what is happening with all of the data that is being generated by these 21st-century solutions.
There will also be voices cautioning that when ill people are being examined remotely and diagnosed by machines, the “personal touch” which has long been an essential skill for doctors and nurses will be lost, and the long-term implications of this are far from certain.
You won’t hear as much about blockchain – but it’s far from dead
One “hot topic” on a lot of last years’ lists (including mine) was blockchain. This year, it is somewhat conspicuous by its absence.
A lot of this may be down to the slump in the price of cryptocurrency Bitcoin – still blockchain’s most public-facing application. However, reports that many private commercial or industrial blockchain initiatives are still failing to demonstrate much real-world value are also a factor.
Does this mean that blockchain is dead? I think it’s far too early to make that call. The fundamental principle of a distributed ledger, secured by encryption, providing an immutable record of transactional activity, still holds a tremendous amount of potential value.
Organizations may be struggling to see their way to building the most successful implementations, and in 2019 we may well see the folding of any number of previously highly-publicized attempts.
But innovation is still going on behind the scenes, and it is probable that less publicized but well thought-out initiatives may start to generate value. A rise in the value of Bitcoin (which has crashed just as spectacularly as it did this year in the past, before rising to ever-greater heights) would reinvigorate interest in the underlying tech, too -for better or worse.
Smart cities will become smarter
Residents of cities where investment has been made in environmental, utility management and transport infrastructure tech will start to see real benefits in their daily lives during 2019.
All of these infrastructure initiatives require one thing – beyond even money or innovation – to deliver real results, and that’s real data, gathered from real-world applications.
With many of these projects around the world beginning to mature, the volume of data will reach a critical mass meaning the impact on our lives – from cleaner air to cheaper energy and more efficient public services, can start to take effect.
Those that aren’t generating value by this point will be abandoned – in line with the “fail fast” ethos that drives tech development today. On the other hand, where pilots and trials in global showcase smart cities have been demonstrated beyond doubt, we can expect those initiatives to be adopted elsewhere quickly.
Global eSports revenues hit $1 billion
According to research from Deloitte, the market for eSports – video games played as a spectator sport – will expand by 35% in the next year.
The growth in the number of people wanting to watch professional video game players, particularly although not exclusively among the younger demographic, has already swept through Asian countries. Experts predict 2019 could be the year it hits the big time in the US, too.
Franchise rights, advertising, and broadcast agreements will drive spending as audiences get hooked on newly formed leagues, tapping into the fanbase for successful video game series such as Fifa, NBA, Fortnite, and Overwatch.
eSports have grown in popularity due to their existence at the convergence of several trends -notably changes in our leisure habits, with younger people watching less television and playing more games. And a move towards building online, social communities where fans interact and converse.
The elevation of professional game players to the level of professional athletes and sportspeople is a developing trend which is also likely to continue, with big money on offer for those who prove they can attract audiences to this entertainment.