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Did 2019 deliver – and more importantly, what can we expect to see in 2020?

Peter Barker, CTO, Rufus Leonard, shares his thoughts on this year’s tech predictions

Reading technology predictions every year can feel repetitive. Particularly when last year’s predictions of AI, Blockchain, IoT and flying cars all carry through as they are technology foundations upon which we build – except maybe the flying cars.

The exciting bit is how we use these foundations to evolve and uncover new opportunities. That’s the innovative inspiration that keeps us reading predictions year after year.

Reflecting first on the year gone, did we fulfil the predictions made by most senior technology observers in 2019? Did we finally apply artificial intelligence to our big data effectively? Did the introduction of self-lacing and optimised trainers by Nike result in the breaking of the two-hour Marathon?

We certainly made strong progress. AI and machine learning are being applied against many more practical use cases in our everyday lives, from fraud prevention with computer vision to operational efficiencies through increasingly AI driven supply chain and customer demand choreography. Blockchain is rising out of the trough of disillusionment and starting to find relevant applications; some for the good of data democratisation, others just to make the connected world more secure.

But, what should we be looking out for or striving towards in 2020? Honestly, it is more of the same – just better and more refined. Here’s seven of my 2020 predictions:

1. Entertainment will be reinvented through enhanced experience-specific service architectures that support better multi-modal experience design. Including extended reality and super channel convergence. For example, F1 on Twitch, the leading service and community for multiplayer entertainment with real-time group in-race gaming.

2. The commoditisation of AI based recommendation engines, such as Netflix’s recommendation engine as a service. In June, Amazon made it’s AWS Personalize API available to all users. Developers can now add personalised product recommendation and other machine learning algorithms to their apps. More like this, including APIs using more sophisticated AI-powered algorithms (on par with Netflix) will likely follow from other players.

3. DNA computers, or at least quantum computers, will threaten everything we have (only recently) learnt to trust in cybersecurity. When Google’s quantum computer performed a task in minutes that would have taken the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years to complete, some red flags began waving. The reason? The most popular types of security encryption are built on complex, difficult to crack algorithms. With enough computing power, even the most complex of algorithms would be vulnerable. While this scenario is still a long way off, quantum-proof encryption services are already popping up.

4. More human-aware environments. Highlighted by Japan’s famous robot hotel, Henn-na, who this year laid off half of its robot staff as they created too much work for humans; providing some confidence and consolation to those who are worried about becoming redundant to technology. Outside of arguably gimmicky use cases like robot hotels, the field of robot-human interaction (HRI) will continue to evolve into mainstream applications, though perhaps more gradually than we all imagined. The Alan Turing Institute predicts growth in across a number of areas, including cooperative robotics in manufacturing (Industry 4.0), the remote handling of objects in extreme environments (e.g. nuclear energy), and for the rehabilitation and care of the elderly disabled.

5. Better application of IoT to enhance environments and drive both utility and entertainment experiences will become mainstream. As prices drop, Forrester predicts that smart speakers with video display are set to boom, with the emerging use in corporate environments as well homes. In the logistics sector, IoT will be deployed to monitor or even optimise environments along the entire supply chain for perishable foods or temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals. In the facilities management sector, IoT-connected estates promise significant efficiencies – a damaged HVAC unit will automatically schedule the right technician, suggest appropriate replacement parts, and send a full action report to the building manager, all within minutes of the incident.

6. And as sub-part of (5), there will be wider adoption of multi-sensory interfaces which will see the return of mixed reality (MR) glasses with integrated voice interfaces as many brands are exploring how voice can work for them; not just through Alexa. If Apple jumps into the glasses space soon (as they are rumoured to do), it will likely spur the beginning of mainstream adoption and open a world of new opportunities for brand experience. Imagine practicing your French with a Duolingo-generated Frenchman on your sofa or instructing the 3D Charles Tyrwhitt model to “show the red tie with the blue suit”. However, we should also expect to be disappointed with the majority of early brand applications in MR and AR. Many will simply haphazardly apply their existing content to the new medium, with the new interfaces adding no additional value to consumers. No one wants annoying promo messages peppering their vision.

7. With 2020 being the year of 5G, it will also be the year rich mobile vision and voice interfaces become the norm. Vodafone says that 5G will enable ultra-high resolution 4K video calling – image quality that will rival commercial digital cinema. The nearly real-time speeds of 5G will also continue to fuel the rise of haptic interfaces, which transmit the physical sense of touch, stretching them out of just entertainment and into more mainstream applications. The blend of human and robotic automation will become more powerful as a result. For example, doctors will be able to perform robotically assisted surgery with more precision by being able to sense both pressure and texture.