Predictions: 8 ways that humans and technology will intersect in 2020

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Over the past decade, technology has dramatically impacted the way we collaborate. Whether it’s in the workplace or a social setting, we’re able to connect countless participants across different networks to communicate, share content and accomplish work. Now, with Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and the Internet of Things, not only does technology facilitate digital collaboration, but it is also becoming an active participant. Here are eight predictions that we predict will make an impact in 2020 and beyond on our collective digital experience and social condition.

1)      Interoperability among disparate collaborative communities gets priority.

Some of us can remember the early days of email technology, where over a dozen incompatible email standards existed, and each vendor’s proprietary system couldn’t talk to the others. The same thing happened a century ago with early telephone systems. We are the same stage with team collaboration tools, where collaborative communities are divided by the technology they use. In 2020 and beyond, we will begin to see concerted efforts by providers to create interoperability and create an open and standardized way for “any-to-any” collaboration to exist. This interoperability will be seen as a prerequisite for modern team collaboration tools to reach critical mass adoption.

2)      Voice will regain importance due to new speech-driven applications.

In 2020 we will see a lot more focus on voice communications than we’ve seen in the past decade. This will be driven by voice-enabled virtual assistants being adopted by both consumers and professionals, voice-driven software bots that understand natural language for customer service and convenience, voice-controlled devices (especially within vehicles and the home). Not to mention the huge strides in accuracy and performance in voice dictation to capture content, do real-time translations, and ease text composition. It will still be a multimedia world, but voice will get a boost going forward.

3)      Collaboration will be re-imagined with arrival of new ‘virtual’ technologies.

The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence (AI), software bots and augmented and mixed reality will combine to create innovative new ways to collaborate with a mixture of human and machine participation. Rather than eliminate or threaten employee positions, these advances will collectively make us more creative and more productive. Virtual teams will include virtual team members and operate within virtualized environments. For some quick examples of what could be ‘next level’ collaboration, check out this Unify blog and this published Unify article.

4)      Flexible working terms will no longer be seen as a perquisite, but a core responsibility supporting sustainable business.

We now have the tools and technologies to enable ‘anywhere working’ however many organizations are still hesitant to adopt it due to traditional office-centric management assumptions and lack of motivation to change. However, as Millennials and Gen-Z knowledge workers comprise the majority of the new workforce, the common shared value of sustainability will drive employer behavior in terms of provisioning flexible working terms. In order to attract and retain talent, organizations must “do the right thing” to reduce the climate impact and urban congestion of unnecessary commuting to a central office location. Although it has always been the case – a general awareness will emerge that working from home just twice a week can reduce related CO2 emissions by 40% or likewise reduce the load on already over-stressed transit systems and congested roadways. Companies that fail to recognize this trend will struggle not only to attract and retain talent but will be publicly challenged to explain why they are not enabling flexible working in support of sustainable business.

5)      Individual views on personal data privacy debate will become increasingly polarized.

Individual privacy has been an increasingly important topic of controversy in recent years. For some, embracing the latest ‘cool tech’ and digital tools is so important that acquiescing personal privacy and data is simply a given, and a non-issue. For others, while still adopting technology, privacy is still a sacred principle worth fighting tenaciously for and not to be compromised. Debates will emerge centered on themes like “privacy is a fundamental tenet of freedom and democracy” versus the sentiment “I have nothing to hide, so why should I really care?”. This polarization elevates the privacy debate: Is resistance truly futile? Should I just relax and hand over my data? Is government control and intervention needed? Do tech giants need reform?

6)      Virtue signalling will increasingly become a market messaging differentiator for vendors.

With so many competing choices among enterprise solution developers and vendors, pricing, features and function and service levels can no longer be relied upon as influential sources of differentiation in the eyes of customers and prospects. Increasingly, the triad of privacy, security, sustainability will elevate vendor positioning to a form of virtue signalling, as the question of “how” they do things becomes more important than the “what”. But there is a catch – companies will have to demonstrate real evidence of achievements in these areas, and those that fall down on privacy, security or sustainability will be scrutinized more than ever before.

7)      Artificial intelligence will be democratized by open source and standardization.

The huge potential for artificial intelligence (AI) adoption will get a boost as open source AI development communities emerge, and deployable AI modules become available. Likewise, standardized interfaces (API’s) to plug in AI capabilities into virtually any application quickly and easily. The challenge them will be to accumulate or acquire data sets and training expertise needed to make the newly found AI capabilities useful to end-users or enterprises. This adoption comes with the risk of unintended consequences as the decisions yielded by AI software may lead to inexplicably embarrassing outcomes for at least a handful of otherwise unknown enterprises.

8)      The ethical issues surrounding artificial intelligence adoption will become a hot topic.

Whether it is algorithm bias that skews hiring decisions, disastrous maneuvers of self-driving vehicles or unintended and dysfunctional guidance from customer service bots, business leaders and customers will become more and more aware of the ethical risks and flaws inherent with the current generation of artificial intelligence (AI). The debate will surround three areas: the diversity, inclusiveness and completeness of the programming and learning that drives AI systems; the “explainability” of complex AI decisions and outcomes (that is, can a human expert reliably explain or predict why the AI system made the decision that it made); and whether AI should be used as a substitute for human judgement, reasoning and compassion where matters of individual safety, welfare or social justice are concerned.

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