Future-gazing five key 2014 technology trends

10 January 2014

IBM has unveiled a list of five key 2014 innovations that it believes have the potential to change the way people work, live and interact during the next five years as they grow and grow in importance. Martin Borrett, director of the IBM Institute for Advanced Security, explains why he thinks the interaction between cloud computing, big data analytics, location-specific mobile technologies and cognitive e-learning capabilities will revolutionise IT security practices and your bank branch, shops, doctor’s, high street, school, city and life.

Driven by a new era of cognitive IT systems I’d like to use this blog to explore the idea that machines will increasingly learn, reason and engage with us as human beings in 2014 and beyond, in a more natural and personalised way. These coming technology innovations are beginning to emerge and are all enabled by the dynamic interaction between cloud computing, big data analytics and electronic e-learning technologies.

Here are my IBM team’s five predictions for the coming technology trends that will impact us the most in future years:

• A digital guardian will protect you online: Cognitive ‘learning’ computers - allied to big data analytics in the cloud and on the mobile channel - will offer better information security to bank, card and retail customers in the future as dynamic pattern-spotting behavioural software is deployed more and more effectively to battle financial crime cyber-criminals.

• The classroom will learn your needs: Tailored curriculums will be created for individual students in the future using big data from cloud-based e-learning interactive platforms. The trend will improve educational standards and deliver more qualified employees ready for the digital future.

• Buying local will beat online: Augmented reality in-store and in bank branches will aid financial services and retail sales. Faster deliveries will also encourage shoppers back to the High Street to browse in physical locations and order from there after actually seeing their intended purchases or talking face-to-face with an informed assistant that can tap into real-time information to clinch a sale.

• Doctors will routinely use DNA to keep you well and insurers will be interested too: Using big data analytical tools allied to big computing number-crunching capabilities will allow doctors to rollout personalised treatment plans that take account of family histories and the likelihood of falling prey to certain diseases and the best ways to counteract them. Insurers will naturally be interested in this data too and a debate about the validity of sharing such information with life insurers and other financial service providers can be expected to heat up.

• The city will help you live in it: Crowdsourcing alerts can aid mobility efforts to better serve the disabled in large cities around the world. Better connected, instantaneous technology can also warn of traffic jams in real-time and bring city planners and citizens closer together in future to help city-living become easier.

IT Security Helped By Digital Guardians
Security is evolving from being based on static rules and policies in the past, using passwords and so forth, towards becoming an automatic service that is made stronger through ‘just being there’ in the cloud and surrounding us as bank or retail customers living our everyday lives. Information and IT security is going to become more agile and contextualized in the future and will rely on a 360-degree view of an individual’s data, devices, habits and applications. A digital guardian will be trained to focus on the people and items it is entrusted with, so it can make inferences about what is normal or reasonable activity and what is not. This automated system, sometimes guided or responsive to human controller demands, will be ready to spot behavioural patterns and deviations that could be precursors to an attack by a cyber-criminal, signifying a stolen identity or data breach.

Many millions of consumers were victims of identity (ID) theft last year, with more than $21bn in losses reported in 2013 according to a report commissioned by the US Department of Justice from Javelin Strategy and Research. These alarming numbers call for changes in the way personal and financial services information is stored and protected. It demands heightened security procedures and dynamic technologies that can learn and protect, with each transaction that consumers make.

Leveraging cloud computing, big data analytics and the mobile channel, information security in the future will become an entity that will care about you, the individual and protect your personal profile. A digital guardian will become trained to focus on the people and items it is entrusted with. Your IT guardian could proactively flag fraudulent use, while maintaining the privacy of your personal information.

Quickly grasping all digitally available contextual information relevant to a user’s behaviour requires real-time big data processing capabilities, which is assisted by the trend towards cheaper ‘big computing’ computer power resources. It may require comparing contextual information that is days, months, or even years old in an instant, depending on the guarded user action. The digital guardian can do this and proactively monitor things you cannot monitor as a person - it can protect and alert you dynamically. The guardian is non-intrusive and only completes tasks, such as transaction blocking or permitting, when it gets explicit permission from the user - often via a mobile device to ensure speed. You, the user, control what it can monitor and what it can access. You will choose to take its recommendations or not, and you will be the one who finally acts.

For example, using context and location-specific data via your mobile phone GPS, your digital guardian will know you’re at the airport and travelling internationally and can tailor its protection appropriately. So when you try to use an automated teller machine (ATM) upon arrival at your destination the next morning, it knows it’s you and your card purchase or cash withdrawal isn’t denied. As another example, if you’re driving to work, your security persona, based around a smarter car, will put a hold on a large cash withdrawal from your savings account - an activity that isn’t done while driving. All of this is possible via cognitive computing, where machines can learn our behaviours and improve our user experience and security.

In the next 5 years, security is going to become more agile and contextual, making the right decisions for you. No longer will a bank or institution solely decide which transactions look suspicious - your digital guardian acting as an intelligent agent across all your devices and IDs will help determine what’s legitimate and what’s not. The digital guardian will empower its users to act responsibly with awareness and without fear of the complexity of the digital universe.

E-learning: The Classroom Will Learn You
The number of individuals who don’t have a sufficient education is a major global challenge. Estimates show that, on a global basis, nearly two out of every three adults have not achieved the equivalent of a high school education. What if a student could go through their entire stages of education and master the skills critical to meeting their personal goals in life by harnessing electronic e-learning tools and personalised curriculums though? Wouldn’t that be better and deliver a more qualified IT-ware workforce?

The classroom of the future will give teachers the tools to learn about every student, providing them with a tailored curriculum from school, higher education and on to employment. In the next five years the classroom will learn about each student using longitudinal data such as test scores, attendance and student’s behaviour on e-learning platforms, not just aptitude tests. Sophisticated analytics delivered over the cloud will provide decision-support to teachers so they can predict students who are most at risk, their roadblocks, and then suggest measures to help students conquer their challenges based on their individual learning style.

Augmented Reality: Buying Local Will Beat Online
Shopping online is a human past time. Online sales topped $1 trillion worldwide for the first time last year, and are now growing faster than in-store sales. The bank branch has also been overshadowed in recent years by online and mobile bank service platforms but I predict a renaissance for branches and stores in 2014 and beyond.

In five years, new innovations will make buying local the choice du jour once again. Savvy FIs and retailers will use the immediacy of the store/branch and its proximity to customers to create experiences that cannot be replicated by online-only platforms. They will magnify the digital experience by bringing the web right to where the shopper can physically touch it.

In five years, retailers or retail banks could rely on Watson-like technologies to equip sales associates to be expert about every available product. With technologies such as augmented reality and the recently announced plan to open Watson as an app development platform, IBM is providing shoppers’ with better in-store physical browsing and buying experiences.

As mobile devices and social media updates, supported by cloud computing, increasingly enable individuals to share what makes them tick in a public environment, the trend will be reinforced. Banks or retailers will soon be able to predict customer sentiment and intentions, and to anticipate with incredible accuracy the products they are likely to buy. Given their proximity and multiple footprints, branches and stores will be able to use this information to deliver a faster, more personalised and local experience.

Predictive Power: Doctors Will Routinely Use Your DNA
Cancer is a complicated disease and despite tremendous advances in research and treatment, cancer incidences have risen by more than 10% worldwide since 2008, striking more than 14m patients and claiming the lives of 8.1m every year around the world.

Imagine if treatment could be more specific and precise, however, with computers helping doctors to better understand how a tumour affects a patient down to their DNA and providing a set of medications tailored to offer the best chance of fighting off the disease. This is becoming possible, but the data will also be of interest to life assurers and other financial services providers, so a debate about the parameters of DNA data will also be necessary.

In five years, advances in big data analytics and emerging cloud-based cognitive systems coupled with breakthroughs in genomic research and testing could help doctors to accurately diagnose cancer and create personalized cancer treatment plans for millions of patients around the world. Smart machines will take the output of full genome sequencing and scour vast repositories of medical records and publications to learn and quickly provide specific and actionable insights on treatment options for oncologists.

Cancer care, personalized right down to a genomic level, has been on the horizon since scientists first sequenced the human genome, but few clinicians have access to the tools and time to assess the insights available at this level. Within five years, cloud-based cognitive systems could make such personalized medicine available at a scale and speed never before possible. IBM is beginning to explore this opportunity, working with health care partners to develop systems that could deliver genomic insights and reduce the time it takes to find the right treatment for a patient from weeks to days and minutes.

These systems are destined to get even smarter over time by learning about people, their genomic information and response to drugs - opening up the possibility to provide DNA-specific personalized treatment options for conditions such as stroke and heart disease.

Crowdsourcing: The City Will Help You Live In It
By 2030, the towns and cities of the developing world will make up 80% of urban humanity and by 2050, seven out of every 10 people will be a city dweller. In five years smarter cities will understand in real-time how billions of events occur organically as computers learn how to understand what people need in real-time, what they like, what they do, and how they move from place to place.

Soon it will be possible for cities and their leaders to understand and digest new information freely provided by citizens, knowing which city resources are needed, where and when, so the city can dynamically optimize around the needs of its citizens.

Mobile devices and social engagement will enable citizens to strike up a relationship with their city leaders. This concept is already in motion. For example, in Brazil, IBM researchers are working on a crowdsourcing tool that allows users to report accessibility problems, via their mobile phones, helping people with disabilities to better navigate challenges in urban streets. Meanwhile in Uganda, UNICEF is collaborating with IBM on a social engagement tool that lets youth communicate with their government and community leaders on issues affecting their lives promoting engagement with the democratic system. Such online, social media and mobile-enabled tools can also be used by businesses and financial services firms to promote engagement and enhance customer service.

The top five IBM technology predictions, detailed above, provide a glimpse into the future and I believe they will come into full fruition over the next five years. The above list challenges us to think about the possibilities of technology and how it might impact the consumer, business and society in the future. These innovations are based on the insights and trends that our IBM Research teams and consultants see in the marketplace at the moment and in the near-future. In some cases they reflect discussions already taking place with clients today, while other ideas are more free-form and predictive. I hope the five tech predictions have fired your imagination about what is possible.

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