Technology is evolving all the time and the pace of change seems to be quickening. It is difficult to keep up with all the technological innovations that the fourth industrial revolution is bringing.

Here, I detail the five trends that companies need to be thinking about at the start of a new decade.

1 Big Data

We are in the midst of a data explosion with 90 per cent of the world’s data generated in the last two years. It now amounts to 20 zettabytes, that’s a trillion gigabytes (ie a one with 21 zeros after it). It will reach 175 zettabytes by 2025… which is a lot.

Everything we do now leaves a digital trace; our car, walking with our phone, our credit card, our online browsing, even our heart beat. And yet less than one per cent of this data is used in any meaningful way.

All the businesses excelling today are the ones using data effectively - Google, Amazon, Facebook. They are collecting and using data to provide better services to give consumers what they want.

Data is every firm’s most valuable asset, but companies not in the tech space often don’t understand the importance of it.

But there is no point collecting data for the sake of it, companies need to think very carefully what data they need to improve their business model or operations.

Just compare Netflix and Disney. Netflix has access to the end-consumer, it knows what movies they are watching, how long they watch them for and more, to gain a granular understanding of its customers.

Whereas Disney just produces content and then relies on other companies for distribution and customer feedback – they lack the complete picture. Disney has now realised if it doesn’t collect data it will be left behind, so now it is opening its own streaming service.

2 Computing power

Computing power has doubled every 18 months for the last 50 years and the key to this growth has been cloud computing that enables us to store almost limitless data, such as our pictures, films and emails.

The cloud is really a distributed network of computers, so that when our phones process large amounts of data it is cut up into tiny fractions and spread across all these computers to use their computing power instantaneously.

This has allowed the development of smart speakers. When we talk to Alexa or Google Home and it answers back that process involves 100,000 computers across the world working together in fractions of a second.

5G will add to this computing power in a huge way; our mobile networks will be as fast as the fibre optics delivering the internet to our house. We will be able to download entire movies in a split second and connect many more devices to the network, eliminating any latency.

This will enable autonomus vehicles, the emergence of the Internet of Things and many more smart devices. It will take time, but companies need to be ready for 5G, as it will allow them to connect any object or product to the internet and work with real time data.

If organisations and companies are not experimenting with this technology then be prepared to be disrupted by somebody who devises a new smart product to enter their market.

3 ArtificiaI Intelligence

It is the most important revolution of our lives, which will change our jobs, how businesses operate and how society functions.

We have had AI for the last 50 years, but now we have the data and computing power to make it happen at scale. In the past AI was an expert system, like recognising handwriting, which the postal service has been using since the 1970s.

What has been the challenge is there are a lot of areas that can’t be written into rules-based algorithms, like a language, because we have learned through experience and evolution, so it is almost intuition.

But now we have AI that is able to learn in a similar way to how we do. If you watch a toddler learning to hold a pencil, it takes many weeks of trying and failing before the fine motor skills are developed to grasp it properly. The connections of neurons in the brain become stronger over time until we can do it without thinking.

Artificial neural networks can replicate this process. It is fed data and then it creates its own algorithms to speak a language or recognise somebody in a photo. Facebook’s AI can now recognise our face anywhere on the internet quicker and more accurately than any human is capable of.

AI can read our social media posts and understand the sentiment; it can summarise and write news stories for Associated Press and Forbes; an AI novel was even nominated for a book prize in Japan, while Sotheby’s recently auctioned its first AI painting.

AI can understand our emotions; it can assess our facial expressions and tone of voice to see if we are unhappy. Disney is using this to see how engaged an audience is with its shows.

This sort of technology may seem out of reach for many companies, but AI as a service is now upon us. Just like cloud computing, companies with lots of data can go to companies such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft or IBM and buy AI capabilities. Amazon has even made its prediction algorithm available to any company, sign up to its cloud and use it to predict your customers’ next purchase.

4 Internet of Things

We have had smartphones, smart watches and smart TVs, now be prepared for smart everything. The explosion of data, emergence of 5G and edge or fog computing mean every object will be able have a sensor in it and become smart, relaying data.

There are 20 billion smart devices in the world today and within four years that will rise to 200 billion. Our clothes, trainers, washing machines, ovens, toasters and more will have sensors in them. Ralph Lauren has already produced a smart shirt for sports stars to record their biometric data and there are smart yoga mats telling people how good their positions are.

Companies need to think about this; can they make their products smart? What sort of data would be useful to them and the consumer?

A decade ago nobody would have thought of a smart thermostat that can control heating, switch lights on and off, double as a smoke alarm and save on your heating bills, but Nest is now disrupting that market - will yours be next?

5 Intelligent robots

Intelligent robots can now lay bricks, learn to walk independently and even pick strawberries or raspberries when they are at the perfect ripeness.

When you think of robots, like the ones on a car assembly line, they are behind a fence because they are so fast and powerful. But now they are smarter and aware of their surroundings so people can work with them.

They are getting smaller as well; the US military has produced robotic mosquitoes, the implications of which are quite mind-blowing. It is now testing drone swarms, dropping 50 from a fighter jet that can co-ordinate to destroy the target and fly back.

We have robots that can monitor what we do, learn how we do it and then takeover. This could be used in a call centre where a lot of conversations are repeated or it could take over answering emails, giving standard responses after watching how it is done for two or three weeks.

Again these sort of intelligent robots are now available as a service, so firms can automate some processes and free-up their staff from the more mundane aspects of their job to increase productivity.

Bernard Marr is a consultant, futurist and author, with his new book Artificial Intelligence in Practice: How 50 Successful Companies Used Artificial Intelligence to Solve Problems available now. He lectures on the Executive Diploma in Strategy & Innovation.

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