IF you work in the tech sector, you probably love reading Gartner's predictions for the years ahead. They don't have a crystal ball, but they do come up with some thought-provoking forecasts.
So as we approach the end of 2018, here is a flavour of the things the global research and advisory consultancy is suggesting we might see in 2019 and beyond.
• Virtual care improves health
Gartner reckons that artificial intelligence could be key to driving down emergency visits to hospitals over the next five years. It predicts that by 2023, emergency department visits in the US alone will be reduced by 20 million due to enrolment of chronically ill patients in AI-enhanced virtual care.
A lot of this will be done via devices on the body, such as wearables. Devices and apps will connect patients and care providers, and become part of integrated healthcare systems. Indeed, there are already virtual hospitals in the US and some are predicting that AI-based virtual assistants will be central to healthcare in the future.
Gartner says that virtual healthcare has already demonstrated that it can offer more convenient and cost-effective care than conventional face-to-face care, and that successful use of virtual care lowers costs and improves quality of delivery as well as overall access to care.
• Consumers ignore security breaches
We've seen quite a few social media scandals and security breaches in recent times, but Gartner predicts that they will effectively have no lasting consumer impact. They say that the benefits of using technology will outweigh security and privacy concerns.
Whilst people generally feel technology companies should be regulated, Gartner says that despite recent security breaches, most continue using digital services and companies make very limited changes in the wake of an event. They say that the number of people using social media every day will increase steadily through 2019.
• AI locates missing people
Gartner predicts that by 2023, there will be an 80 per cent reduction in missing people in mature markets like the UK and Ireland compared to 2018, due to AI face recognition. They say that over the next few years, advances in AI will lead to increasingly sophisticated facial recognition technology, particularly useful in identifying lost children or elderly people.
• Personal data poisons blockchain
Gartner say that by 2022, 75 percent of public blockchains will suffer “privacy poisoning” — inserted personal data that renders the blockchain non-compliant with privacy laws.
They say that with the steep learning curve associated with blockchain technology, developers are at risk of accidentally storing personal data in a non-compliant way. Because blockchains are immutable, personal data can't be deleted without compromising chain integrity. However, continuing to store personal data violates privacy legislation.
• Privacy laws cripple ad sales
Interestingly, Gartner predicts that e-privacy regulations will increase online costs by minimising the use of “cookies,” thus crippling the current internet ad revenue machine. As legislation to protect consumers' data becomes more prevalent, Gartner says that it will impede the current internet advertising infrastructure and its major players.
Traditionally, companies use consumer data via cookies to personalise and direct ads, but GDPR and e-privacy laws require informed consent of how that information will be used and possibly sold.
Whether Gartner's predictions turn out to be exactly correct or not, one thing that is for sure is that technology and the tech sector will continue to be a major talking point in 2019 and will play an ever more central and growing role in our economy and society.
Some of it will significantly enhance our lives - but there will no doubt be many talking points, challenges and controversies to come as well.