Five Surprising Big Ideas about the Future

Jay BergesenMarket research firm Gartner is in the business of trying to make forecasts about how markets and technologies will change. But each year, the firm tries to go a step further with its Maverick program.

The Maverick program lets Gartner analysts step outside their comfort and coverage zones and identify big, sweeping ideas and trends that might be over the horizon. It was the Maverick process, for instance, that led Garter to make early predictions of the importance of things like cloud computing, social media, and the consumerization of IT in the workplace.

Not a bad track record – and so it’s worth reading about what they think is coming next. In their latest summary of their Mavericks sessions, here are five things Gartner says we should all be watching.

1. Big Data

This one may be particularly surprising. Gartner says we are not being skeptical and critical enough when it comes to the “insights” we think we are getting from Big Data. The analysts worry that data scientists who lack business backgrounds may be interpreting data in ways that don’t actually reflect what’s happening in the real world, or the way businesses work. “A naïve faith in the infallibility of big data analytics and decision-making algorithms does more harm than good,” Gartner writes. “People must rediscover a questioning and skeptical approach that asserts their authority over these useful tools and stops the tail from wagging the dog.”

2. Machine Learning

The good news is that machines that teach themselves are going to allow businesses to automate a wide range of labor-intensive tasks. The fear, however, is that this wipes out large classes of jobs. Will the productivity gains be offset by sluggish or even declining job growth? Gartner is optimistic that over time, “the sum of employment gains and losses will come out positive”.

3. IT Careers

This one may seem totally counterintuitive: “IT departments will be forced to fire or reassign most of their existing workers over the next several years.” Huh? For anyone who uses IT at work, they likely wish their IT department had more people with more resources to keep things running smoothly. But Gartner suspects that the advent of more agile development and cloud-based development will allow IT departments to move much quicker with far fewer people. “The transformational nature of this change requires IT departments to eliminate most of their existing positions and define new ones to be filled,” Gartner says.

4. Quantified Self

We’re all hearing plenty about wearables that let us track our exercise, heart rate and calorie intake. But the next step, according to Gartner, may be that these new types of data get formally incorporated into the health insurance industry, creating scenarios where the results of this information determine the type and cost of coverage we can get. “People will be held accountable for living healthy lifestyles — enabled by analyzing data about what they do and buy,” Gartner says.

5. Digital Economics of Personal Data

As we agree to put more personal data online, and more valuable and sensitive data, a kind of data bank will emerge that will allow us to store and protect that information. At the same time, these banks will create ways for us to “lend” out this data to create value, or even get paid in some form. “The system will lend this data under carefully controlled and limited conditions to others at the owner’s discretion to generate an income stream for the owner,” Gartner says.

Interesting ideas, all.

Image credit: Jay Bergesen

Posted in Big Data by Lisa Petrucci

Lisa Petrucci is Vice President of Dun & Bradstreet Global Alliances and Partnerships.

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