By Alberto Granados, Vice President, Microsoft Asia Pacific
2016 was a year full of big technology promises – disruptive, breakthrough technologies which shook up business models, presented new ways of solving old problems and opened a wealth of opportunities for businesses of all sizes and industries.
More than ever before, our day-to-day lives have become increasingly akin to something out of a sci-fi film, as the boundaries between real life and the digital world are increasingly blurred, and technology is ever more integrated into our lives. For example, the average person now has the ability to converse and work with artificial intelligence, while businesses are transforming the way they operate thanks to the advent of blockchain solutions.
Some of these innovations have already been ramping up for the past few years, but they have secured their place as an increasingly integral part of our lives in 2016, making businesses more efficient and able to deepen their reach in key markets.
Here’s our pick of the top three most impressive technology ideas in the past year:
Over the past year, computers have become smarter than ever. We’ve been talking to machines for decades, but in 2016, they now talk back, transforming how we work and play.
Intelligent bots such as chatbots couple the power of natural human language with advanced machine intelligence. In our mobile-first, cloud-first world, technologies are becoming increasingly complex, and people are instead seeking an effortless a solution as possible – such as having a simple conversation.
As a result of advanced machine learning, we are witnessing the rise of conversational computing, where intelligent bots and digital personal assistants can simulate human behaviour, enabling customers to converse with computer systems as if they were another human being. Bots not only make it easier and more efficient for people and machines to interact, be it booking tickets or scheduling appointments, but can also help smaller companies to achieve scale.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be able to reinvent productivity and maximize their staff strength by having bots stand in for customer service representatives, while their human employees handle higher value roles.
As bots’ natural language understanding grows, conversations will be the new platform of the future and such cognitive computing will certainly be something to keep an eye on in 2017.
For years, marketers have been trying to get people to adopt augmented reality (AR), but it has finally taken off in a big way in 2016, with apps such as the Pokemon Go phenomenon driving AR into the mainstream. In fact, by 2020, over 80 million virtual reality devices are expected on the market. As such, the time is now for businesses to seize this innovation.
One of the key reasons for this upward trend is because of the functionality of AR where it is no longer seen as simply a cool, futuristic technology. Another app that has been a huge contributor in the AR revolution is Snapchat which has filters (known as “lenses”) that let users add special AR effects to their faces (such as makeup, facial hair or even animal ears) or surroundings (for instance, by making it seem as if it is snowing), showing users explicitly and plainly what benefits AR has in store for them. Recently, Snapchat has gone even further to introduce Spectacles, ensconcing AR even more firmly into everyday life.
The lines between digital and real life are set to become even more blurred in future, as Mixed Reality develops further, breaking down the barriers between virtual and physical reality. In a mixed reality world, devices will be able to spatially map your environment, mixing real people, objects and environments into the virtual world. As manipulating digital content gets increasingly easy and more natural, this will likely usher in a new frontier for digital collaboration and virtual workspaces.
Betting on Blockchain
This year, the banking and finance industry threw their weight behind blockchain technology, and we saw adoption rates spiking, as more institutions realized its benefits.
As a data structure that is shared among a distributed network of computers, blockchain results in a more transparent and trustworthy system of direct exchange, where the middleman is eliminated for more efficient transactions, improved security, savings and streamlined processes.
For corporations, this means faster deal-making and operations – and hence greater cost savings. Blockchain also promises cybersecurity and reduces fraud, as any contract or payment, for example, will be recorded and publicly verified.
SMEs can also reap large benefits from blockchain, as this technology helps to level the playing field. For example, small businesses who may not be deemed credit-worthy by banks may still transact money and goods directly to consumers and vendors. In fact, anyone with Internet access may engage in blockchain transactions, bypassing any third-party trust organizations and validators that might have barricaded trade in the past.
The Future is Now
The lead-up to 2017 has been characterised by smarter and more secure computing, with an optimistic outlook for the new year. Looking ahead, artificial intelligence and machine learning will increasingly give rise to a spectrum of intelligent implementations, while AR and Mixed Reality are likely to evolve from consumer applications to have an increasing impact on B2B interactions, all the while becoming more immersive and integrated with people’s daily lives. Meanwhile, blockchain is steadily transforming the way consumers and enterprises alike transact, shaping the very structure of multiple industries.