A new year has just begun, with phenomena and trends that were mere ideas just a few years ago. Change will never be as slow as today, and therefore it is important to look up to see the big picture. Here are eight megatrends, plus one upcoming hot topic, you need to keep an eye on.
If digitalization is what many have been wrestling with in recent years, artificial intelligence could be called digitalization 2.0. AI systems are not yet smart as humans, but once information flows and processes have become digital, AI can help with three things—optimizing and streamlining entire businesses, prediction of everything from market reactions to legal decisions, and personalization of services and products to individuals. The challenges are many, both ethical and practical, but AI will change all industries, from manufacturing, finance, and law to healthcare and retail. Start with a small project with direct business benefits.
Robots have long been used for automation in manufacturing, but with AI, automation now enters offices and takes over routine tasks in all possible areas—from sales and customer support to administration and financial advice. Everything that can be automated will be automated, and this also allows people to work with more interesting and stimulating tasks.
3. Internet of Things
More and more products will be connected. The networks of connected things are for AI what the human senses are for the brain—they collect information that enables new, smart, customized services to be delivered. The devices can also talk to each other, on their own, and for example order service or spare parts. Or warn that they are about to break. Through this increased efficiency, the trend is that ownership is shifted towards access, just like in the music industry where we now pay for access to music instead of owning discs and music files.
4. Devices that talk to you
Computers are now learning one of the most human things of all—our spoken language. Soon, we will get used to talking to our devices, from smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Home to digital customer support assistants who even understand if we’re angry, annoyed or happy. For companies in all industries, it will be crucial to follow the development of automated customer support based on natural language processing. A significant advantage is that it will become easier for everyone—elderly people, not the least—to use digital services.
The Blockchain is what everyone talks about but few understand. Don’t worry—it’s not rocket science: A blockchain is a kind of database, with multiple identical copies, that everyone or many people manage together. This entails two things:
1. A blockchain has got superior security since it cannot be manipulated on one single computer or server.
2. It replaces the need for an independent third party, such as a bank, a lawyer or a supervisory body.
There are two other important things distinguish the blockchain—it can contain smart contracts, a kind of application that automatically performs agreed actions, and it can manage both money and other assets in the same system so that transactions of assets and money are carried out in one single process. Altogether, this opens opportunities for the blockchain to dramatically change everything from financial systems and real estate business to consumer services. Many experiments are now being set up, and it is a good idea to start testing blockchain-based applications on a small scale.
6. Self-driving cars
By 2018, the first cars that will let you take your hands off the steering wheel for a long while will be sold, and in a few years, cars will be fully autonomous. The upcoming change will be enormous, not only for transportation. One potential outcome is that the second-hand value of your car may fall to zero when cheap transportation services with electric self-driving cars become widespread. Another is that the price of downtown hotel rooms and short time offices can fall when self-driving hotel rooms and office spaces can be positioned where you want, and get you where you want, whenever you want. The combination of electric power, connected cars, and self-driving cars will lead to a perfect storm and a brand new market—the passenger economy. And the car industry will be tremendously challenged when demand for new cars will start to decrease heavily.
7. Virtual reality
Virtual reality, and augmented or mixed reality—where computer images are “stuck” to physical objects in the real world—are still in their infancy. But the technology is intensely fermenting, from Facebook’s VR mask Oculus Rift to Microsoft’s AR mask Hololens and not least, the intriguing company Magic Leap with its AR system Magic Leap One. Applications range from virtual meetings and tourism to visualization of building projects and tools for service technicians. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.
8. IT security
IT security has always been a race against increasingly smart attacks. Soon, or maybe already, there are AI-based systems that are looking for new weaknesses on their own and that perform attacks without human intervention. Today, the average time to detect a data breach is over six months, and IT security is therefore as much about finding hidden intruders as preventing attacks. The threat is directed towards companies and organizations as well as society’s infrastructure. There is no simple solution—the takeaway is that IT security continues to be increasingly important.
+ One upcoming hot topic—Disruptive Energy
Although yet little talked about, two disruptive and abundant carbon-free energy sources, potentially helping to solve the climate crisis and much more, are approaching commercialization. One is called LENR and could be described as radiation-free nuclear power, suitable for everything from households and vehicles to industry. The other one is hydrogen, producing only pure water when burned. Hydrogen is now facing new possibilities through a new carbon-free process for producing abundant amounts of the gas. This will be discussed at the New Energy World Symposium in Stockholm, Sweden, June 18-19, 2018. Don’t miss it!
So what should I bet on?
As everything is getting increasingly digitalized, automated and streamlined, four human qualities will increase in value: Creativity, the ability to convince and motivate other people, empathy, and fine dexterity. Unique human experiences based on these four abilities—whether it’s a different shopping experience, a travel experience, a visit to a restaurant, or a business encounter—will always be requested. These four areas are where you can look for new opportunities in 2018. Equally valuable is our human ability to see large perspectives, and therefore, as the pace of change increases, never forget to look up, and around!
PS. Want to learn more of one or more of these megatrends? Don’t hesitate to contact me!