Only three decades ago, personal computers were a rarity that, while technologically advanced, offered little real computing power. Fast-forward to today and you find a world where smartphones — smaller but far more advanced than those early computers — have changed the way we live and work. New models are released regularly, each with more capabilities than its predecessor.
Technological advances don’t just seem to be happening faster, they actually are.
In 1965, Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, observed that transistors were shrinking so fast that every year twice as many could fit onto a computer chip. This exponential doubling, now known as Moore’s Law, is the reason modern smartphones can affordably pack so many features and capabilities into a handheld device. Over the last five decades, the number of transistors on a single computer chip has grown exponentially.
Advances like these demonstrate how quickly technology is changing and allow us to theorize about the incredible advances that will take place in the next 10 years. The rate of change is accelerating and, in the process, our world is becoming digitized, dematerialized and democratized. Today, everything is accessible and anyone can invent. The only obstacle? Our own ability to comprehend the possibilities.
What’s here now?
Not long ago, the idea of having a conversation with a robot was the stuff of science fiction. Today, advances in artificial intelligence, specifically machine learning and natural-language processing, have made chatbots not only a reality, but an effective, efficient and affordable means of customer service for many businesses.
For instance, a dynamic and growing system of travel companies has developed chatbots for all stages of the travel funnel. Through a combination of structured and unstructured interactions, companies like Expedia, Kayak and Skyscanner are offering bot-facilitated bookings for flights, hotels and entertainment. Using information and search terms provided by the customer — a structured interaction — the bots can better prompt for additional conversational inputs — an unstructured interaction. Businesses are leveraging this technology to automate a wide range of processes in an increasingly humanlike way as these bots are able to learn over time.
Developers are at last able to build tools — even if somewhat raw — that can learn, adapt and even “think” by going through a stack of data to identify hidden relationships and unexpected connections.
What to expect in the short term
Today it’s chatbots, but the next disruptive technologies aren’t far behind. Businesses will continue to become more sophisticated in how they use cognitive analytics, cognitive computing technologies, natural language processing, probabilistic reasoning and machine learning across all points of the customer journey. As more of a brand’s consumer experience is driven by artificial intelligence, the emphasis on a fair exchange of value between business and consumer will become even more important.
It is consumers, however, not the brands, who will determine what is fair. According to the 2016 LoyaltyOne Primary Research Study, 57 percent of North Americans are willing to give their personal information if companies send them relevant communications. A strong majority (64 percent) said they would give even more personal information if companies allowed them to request details about what data they collect.
Consumers are willing to share more because they recognize the value they receive and have a degree of control over how brand interactions take place. Consumers want personalized interactions; to be mindful of that desire, brands will need to become more open and transparent with consumers about their data and how it’s used.
What to expect in the definitely-not-so-long term
The principles of cognitive technologies — like in the chatbot example described above — have been around for years; what’s new are the advances in processing power that make real-time answers to complex questions more feasible.
With processing power poised to skyrocket, the immense growth of these technologies is inevitable.
Companies are diligently fine-tuning the technologies available today and building upon them, redefining capabilities, increasing capacities and magnifying potential. Google, already a multinational leader in internet-related services and products, continues to push forward and is now set to become a trailblazer in the area of quantum computing.
Quantum computing has been around in theory, if not in practice, for several decades. Unlike traditional binary computers, which use a series of zeroes and ones to calculate, quantum computers take advantage of superposition, which allows for far more computing power; tasks are performed much more quickly while using a lot less energy.
Google is already testing a 20-qubit processor — its most powerful quantum chips yet — and is expected to have a working 49-qubit chip by the end of this year. The 49-qubit chip will allow Google to solve problems that are beyond the abilities of today’s digital computers. The potential for such a system is beyond most of our imaginations now, just as today’s capabilities were once the makings of fantasy.
Exponential technologies are among the most powerful forces in the business world today and need to not only be embraced but pursued. A look back at the not-so-distant history of technology has proven that those willing to welcome disruption and find new ways to use it can and will drive transformative change.