Top 10 Tech Trends: Autonomous Agents and Things

As 2015 draws to a close, tech experts are looking to the future – and high on the list of talking points are Gartner’s Top 10 Tech Trends for 2016. But what are these innovations all about? How will they impact us and are they as important as they’re cracked up to be?

We’ll be looking at each of these much-trumpeted tech trends in turn to figure out just what kind of impact they’re likely to have over the coming year. In our last post, we analyzed Advanced Machine Learning; today, we look at the fifth trend on the list: Autonomous Agents and Things.

What are Autonomous Agents and Things?

The logical next step for advanced machine learning – which we talked about in the last post – is technology that can act by itself. “Smart” machine implementations that don’t just connect to the internet and automate a couple of pre-defined tasks, but can actually make complex decisions. Even autonomous decisions. We’re talking robots. We’re talking virtual personal assistants and smart advisers. We’re talking self-driving cars.

We’re talking about a whole landscape of interconnected technologies that don’t just communicate and share data without our intervention, but translate that data into information they can use and understand – and then act on it.

What Does this Mean in Practice?

As Gartner points out, VPAs aren’t new. Apple’s Siri, Google Now, Microsoft Cortana… these tools have been around for some time now, and their potential is firmly rooted in public consciousness thanks to films like Her. But the latest iterations go well beyond simple voice recognition and search functions. They’re getting smarter and smarter all the time.

We haven’t yet reached the stage where our smartphones can run our lives autonomously, but the latest iterations of these VPAs suggest that we’re heading in that direction, and fast. Rather than interacting with our devices via buttons and menus, these innovations encourage users to communicate with apps that act as intelligent agents, acting more as an intermediary than an interface, to interpret our needs and communicate this to our technology.

Combined with the rise of the ambient user experience, the effect is increasingly to have our tech handle our lives with minimal interference from ourselves – anticipating our wishes and putting them into practice with the smoothness and discretion of an invisible butler.

What Gartner Says:

“Over the next five years we will evolve to a post-app world with intelligent agents delivering dynamic and contextual actions and interfaces. IT leaders should explore how they can use autonomous things and agents to augment human activity and free people for work that only people can do. However, they must recognize that smart agents and things are a long-term phenomenon that will continually evolve and expand their uses for the next 20 years.”

What We Say:

Yes, the robot age is finally upon us. In first world nations at least, we’re hurtling rapidly in a direction that will see our technology take care of just about everything on our behalf – not just prompting us with smart suggestions and data-backed options, but actually developing the capacity (and being granted the authority) to make those vital decisions on our behalf.

But while the image of artificial intelligence in the form of robots and synthetic humans is enduringly popular, it’s the less visible, less dramatic manifestations that are proving the most interesting in the short term.

Autonomous software, apps and devices powered by machine learning principles are far closer than AI applications on the horizon. As this slowly creeps into all our tech and becomes a normal way to operate, it is sure to change the way we interact with the world around us for good.

This is the fifth in a 10-part series on top trends for 2016. In our next post, we’ll be talking about another hot new trend, Adaptive Security Architecture. See you there!

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