A great wave of disruption—anchored in artificial intelligence, robotics, self-driving cars, genomic editing, cognitive computing, the Internet of Things, and big data—is underway. As these technologies move from the fringe to the mainstream, they promise to forever change how we live, work and play.
Following is the Executive Summary of this year's Tech Trends Report, published annually by the Future Today Institute.
The organization's founder, acclaimed futurist Amy Webb, will keynote the Insights Leadership Conference, September 26-28 in Palm Beach, where she will share with business leaders a formal process to research and track trends in a systematic manner to reduce risk, harness new opportunities and drive change within their fields.
The Future Today Institute’s Tech Trends Report, now in its 10th year, focuses on mid- to late-stage emerging technologies that are on a growth trajectory. We have identified more than 150 trends for the coming year across numerous industries, and our broad scope was intentional. In this era of rapidly accelerating technological advancement, changes within one industry necessarily impact another. We listen to signals across different sectors, and we encourage you to do the same.
Now more than ever, organizations must examine the potential impact of tech trends. Whether you are a Fortune 500 company, a government agency, a startup, a university, a foundation or a small business, you must factor the trends in this report into your strategic thinking for the coming year, and adjust your planning, operations and business models accordingly. Failing to track trends in a meaningful way will put your competitive advantage and growth at risk.
If you use our trends during an annual meeting to set your strategy for the coming year, that’s a good start—but it isn’t enough to safeguard your organization from what’s on the horizon. Organizations that use a formal process to research and track trends are more likely to reduce risk, harness new opportunities and drive change within their fields. What comes next won’t arrive fully formed. The future is yours to build.
• Convergence: In 2017, a critical mass of emerging technologies will start to converge, finding advanced uses beyond initial testing and applied research. That’s a signal worth paying attention to. We have devoted extra attention to artificial intelligence, mixed reality, object recognition systems, robots, autonomous vehicles, genomics, bioelectronics and automation.
• Artificial Intelligence: For the first time, artificial intelligence research has advanced enough that it is now a core component of most of our trends. It is vitally important that all decision-makers within an organization familiarize themselves with what AI is, what it is not, and why it matters. We have included an AI Primer in our Trend Report this year to aid in that effort.
• Crossover Trends: Leaders must pay attention to signals outside their immediate industries. In 2017 and beyond, technology developments in one industry sector will impact many others. For example, why should a logistics company like UPS or a grocery store chain like Kroger pay close attention to gene editing? Well...advancements in the CRISPR gene editing technique will lead to seeds for hyper-productive plants that require just a few feet of space and don’t need much water. Those plants could be farmed within dense urban areas, decreasing a reliance on local grocery stores. This would impact merchants, importers, truck drivers, UPC code sticker providers, and marketing agencies, which would all experience a loss in profit. It would devastate the farmers in countries such as Brazil, Thailand and Mexico, who could rise up or revolt, causing political instability in those countries. This scenario isn’t guaranteed, but it is plausible, and it’s why UPS and Kroger should at least have gene editing on their 2017 radar. We can very easily build scenarios connecting the dots between myriad technologies, companies and industry sectors. For that reason, we encourage you to pay close attention to technology trends adjacent to your industry.
• New Ecosystems: Many of the areas we’ve included in this report during the past decade have moved from the fringe towards the mainstream. In the process entire new ecosystems have blossomed: autonomous vehicles, genetics, robotics and the like. We have grouped these together in this year’s report to help you gain a deeper understanding of their ecosystems.
• R&D Moves From Universities To Corporations: One observation we made while preparing our 2017 report: some of the unusual suspects we tracked on the fringes turned out to be R&D departments within very large, established corporations. This is because companies are courting academia now more than ever, and in some cases poaching entire research teams. Companies are successfully mimicking a university culture within their walls, with one big exception: money. They’re able to provide significantly more resources and exponentially higher salaries than what’s offered in academe.
• Government Policy: Both in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, policy, privacy and security will be more complicated than ever in the coming year. Technology is changing faster than the government’s ability to legislate and regulate it—this will lead to complicated discussions and debates in the year ahead.
• More Trends Than Ever: Our biggest takeaway (perhaps yours too, if you took a peak at the very end of the report) is that there are many more tech trends to pay attention to in 2017 than in previous years. Technology begets technology. We are witnessing an explosion in slow motion. Real trends worth your time and attention don’t have clever names. They don’t sound “trendy.”