We love to think that we are already living in a high-tech world, with most devices being connected to either the internet, to each other or to us. While that may be true to a certain extent, the future’s about to become a bit messier.

According to Gartner’s Brian Burke, by the year 2020 planet Earth will have around 25 billion devices on it that generate information. These device won’t just include the usual suspects like mobile phones, laptops and wearables, but also connected cars, appliances and secondary devices as well.

“Smart teller machines, connectivity on planes and all kinds of things that will be connected all fall into this category. There will be an explosion of devices,” Burke said.

The key question for device manufacturers will be how people interact with them, and the typical idea of mobility will change. Burke predicts that the devices that will surround you will change and adapt, and the resulting mix will work in concert with the apps you use.

But with people having multiple smart devices and the opportunity to connect in a number of ways, how people interact with them will also pose a bit of a challenge for information providers. To be successful, Burke said that machines must be able to integrate all the devices that you use – regardless of if they are borrowed or owned – so that you can seamlessly move from one device to another without interruption.

As an example, if you are busy with a piece of work on your laptop at an airport, in the future devices should allow you to continue working on the plane, which will also have a screen and keyboard for that exact purpose.

“It will be a much more contextual world. There will be changes in application design, and apps will be customised for the devices that are around you,” he said, calling it the “ambient user experience”.

But with devices and machines looking to hand you off to the nearest and best possible solution, they will also need to learn your behaviour.

In the not-so-distant future, machines will adapt to human behaviour and become curious. Facebook’s algorithms that kick in when you post a photo is a good example of this, as it has learned who your friends are. Using an algorithm calls Deep Face, it scans and detects faces in your images. If it recognises any, those will be flagged for tagging. Deep Face learned how to do this, and machines will only get smarter as time goes by.

According to Burke, the smarter machines get, the more implications there are for people. Machines will be able to scan large crowds of people to search for anyone who seems nervous or out of place – and call the police automatically. This is already possible, he says, but only on a smaller scale.

And speaking of smarter machines, virtual personal assistants will eventually migrate to a post-app world. Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana can today do things for you, but you still need to tell them to perform those tasks.

These tasks, according to Gartner will be done on your behalf in the future, without you needing to say anything. “It will become almost Star Trek-like, as machines learn and eventually become able to order things for you,” Burke said.

Apps like If This Then That (ITTT) have pretty much taken the concept of automating a sequence of tasks and honed it into something truly useful, but app users still need to tell it what actions need to happen, as well as when. In the post-app future, those same actions will happen automatically, without your intervention, because machines will have learned the way you operate and will be smart enough to anticipate your needs.

It might sound like a really frightening future reality, as something is bound to go wrong at some point (as sci-fi horror movies are wont to tell us), but it is definitely exciting to be at the start of the journey.

People sometimes say that humans alive today were born too late to explore the earth, and too soon to explore space. But at least they’re around to see the start of the rise of intelligent machines – let’s hope those responsible for their creation take note of warnings from the world’s foremost thinkers.

[Image – CC by 2.0/MTSOfan]
Charlie started his professional life as a motoring journalist for a community newspaper in Mpumalanga, Charlie explored different journalistic angles since his entry into the fast-paced world of publishing in 2006. While fostering a passion for the arts, Charlie developed a love for technology – both which allowed him to serve as Entertainment and Technology Editor for an online publication. Charlie has since been heavily involved in consumer technology for various websites and publications. He thoroughly enjoys World War II films and cerebral documentaries; aviation; photography and indie music. Oh yes, and he also has a rather strange obsession with collecting coffee mugs from his travels.