The Trend guru's five future technologies
Preben Mejer is accustomed to taking a look at the IT landscape of the future from new angles. Here, he presents his personal Top Five technology areas that he finds most exciting to watch.
For anyone interested in new technology, Preben Mejer will not need much introduction. For many years he has commented on future technical innovations, and their potential impacts for people and society. Best Practice asked Preben Mejer to weed out some of the many global IT trends and narrow the field to the five IT areas he expects most of, in both the immediate and more distant future.
1. Cognitive computing
"First and foremost, I believe that cognitive computing will be the next big era in IT," Preben Mejer begins. "While today we ourselves define the purpose of using a computer, in future computers will increasingly be able to act for themselves. A good example of this development is a case involving IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, from the summer of 2014. Watson was invited to a Board meeting in a large company, where it was set up to read the company's business plans. Based on this input, Watson was able to recommend which other companies the company in question should acquire, to support the overall strategy," says Preben Mejer.
Is this a dangerous or exciting trend?
"A little of both. In just five years, cognitive computing is estimated to achieve financial potential of 50 billion dollars in the USA alone, making it a huge future business area. But I've also seen surveys showing that, in time, cognitive computing will affect 47% of all current jobs. Some will disappear, while others will change character."
Several estimates show that by 2020 the world will have approximately 30 billion devices connected to the network. This is a crazy number, compared to the Earth's population.
"The exciting aspect of Machine-to-Machine technology is that all these devices move from being relatively unintelligent today – most of them can only perform simple functions such as registering switch on/off, temperature, etc. – to being connected to the Cloud, where a lot of intelligence is added to them. This brings us over to the Internet of Things era. Or you could almost say the Intelligent Internet of Things era," says Preben Mejer.
"I recently saw an experiment in Texas with Google's Nest thermostats. As will be known, they can keep an eye on the household's habits, and adjust the temperature accordingly. The experiment was that the local energy utility offered free Nest thermostats for customers' homes. They did this because it's a massive problem that 50% of energy consumption in Texas today is spent on fans during heatwaves. This can cripple electricity supplies. Under the Nest project, a household allows the power company to turn off the air conditioning when there are problems and brownouts in the supply system."
As IT becomes more intelligent, the use of apps will also develop, is Preben Mejer's prediction.
"Apps will fundamentally be able to predict your next needs, before you do so yourself. It's not very practical that today we have to call up the apps we need. We're moving away from a toolbox philosophy, where we fumble around in the toolbox to find the right tool for the right situation. In future, the tools will run discreetly in the background, popping up automatically when the device registers that you need them, and disappearing again, once you are done. This development will also affect the business model for apps, as we will move from reactive IT to ambient IT. In the future, apps will be delivered as a service, to a greater extent."
4. Phablets and hybrid PCs
Just as we thought there were no limits to sales of smartphones and tablets, both devices suddenly ran into difficulties and are no longer sold in the same volumes as before.
"The name of the game now is phablets," says Preben Mejer. "This is the hybrid between a smartphone and a tablet, with a screen size of between 5”and 7”. This development is driven by how, with today's Internet speeds, we are more and more visually oriented."
"Another surprising development within devices is that even though we thought we had buried the PC, it has been reincarnated as a hybrid device to which a keyboard can be connected, so we do not have to carry both a tablet and laptop, but can use just one device. So the PC is not dead at all."
5. Cloud wars
Finally, Preben Mejer outlines the coming years' Cloud power battle, which he assesses will be between Amazon, Google and Microsoft.
“Many consider Amazon to be primarily an E-commerce company, but Amazon is actually an advanced technology enterprise with E-commerce at the top. They are incredibly good at Cloud and the clear leader in this area."
"Google is waking up after sitting at the top of the Cloud development for eight years, without doing anything to expand this position and move forward. Their big strength, and weakness, is their advertising business. Everything they do is aimed at supporting this. But now Google is beginning to offer Cloud services and is so big that they will get back into the game again," says Preben Mejer, before concluding with a look at Microsoft's Cloud potential:
"Microsoft has managed to put together some good Cloud solutions, with a decent customer base that is very loyal to their products. They recently took the sound strategic decision to separate Windows from Office, and they have also shown the way forward with good updates of their products and the Azure platform. Microsoft seems to be well prepared for the future."
13-year-old Ukrainian boy passes the Turing test
Preben Mejer relates how a group of researchers at Reading University in the UK recently succeeded in getting a chat robot to pass the Turing test, which is when a panel of judges chats with the computer, as well as two human beings. If the panel erroneously believes that the computer is one of the human chatters more than 30% of the time, the computer will have passed the test. Rumour has it that a chat robot has passed the Turing test before, but nonetheless Preben Mejer finds that cognitive computing has come far if a bot in the year 2014 can get people to believe that it is human. In the specific scenario from Reading University, the chat robot had the identity of a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy. The chat robot's nationality and age were intended to mask any linguistic and spelling errors.