2019: When Bladerunner collides with business

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2019 is the year of the original Bladerunner; the setting for the Ridley Scott movie in which Harrison Ford pursues renegade androids, drives flying cars and skypes Rachel, a synthetic secretary embarrassed by her artificial intelligence. Released in 1982 when Casio digital watches pioneered fashion-tech, 2019 seemed fittingly distant for a futuristic dystopia of aging infrastructure and malevolent technology. But now that 2019 has arrived, how much of Philip K Dick’s original text, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep written in 1968, has come true?

The strongest connection between Bladerunner’s 2019 and today is artificial intelligence, and our attitudes towards it. In the film, AI mimics biology to the extent that we cannot tell the difference. Today, superficially, that line is being blurred. In November China state-run Xinuha News agency launched an AI anchor, able to learn from live videos. Yet AI remains constrained within the boundaries of software, and (at the time of writing) ultimately dependent on other man-made structures.  

Next year, AI will increasingly inform digitisation and smarten business. At Xero we have already announced new machine learning features for small businesses including a more intuitive invoicing experience that uses machine learning to make it easier to invoice customers and speed up time to pay and Xero email-to-bills which will extract and automatically populate details from any email PDF bill into Xero. All these developments help business owners and their advisers to automate and increase profits as a result.

From fulfilling basic HR functions to informing investment decisions, expect 2019 to be the year when businesses start to consider AI as just another asset, much like they once did the fax machine.  But aside from AI, what else will 2019 have in store for business?

Digital transformation will spell the beginning of the end for paper processes

The adoption of HMRC’s initiative Making Tax Digital (MTD) by 1.1m small businesses from April 2019 will be a huge step towards fully digital management as the HMRC does away with the traditional tax submission process and digital record keeping begins. Highlighting this need for change, Xero’s own research has found that 1 in 5 accountants still use paper ledgers, and this shift is expected to spell the end of paper management across a huge number of businesses as the legislation encourages businesses to move to cloud-based financial management software.

The widespread adoption of 5G

Next year we’ll see the gradual roll-out of 5G, the next-level of super-fast connectivity and data storage. With 5G being tested throughout 2018 and with Samsung, LG, Sony HTC and other phone manufactures working with chip manufacturer Qualcomm to bring out 5G-ready devices in 2019, 5G’s infancy has begun. 5G networks are predicted to eventually connect tens of billions of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, enabling driverless cars and smart structures.  

Connected clouds

 As 5G and cloud adoption gathers pace, computer companies will be able to focus on a hybrid cloud approach in which public and private clouds are used together by one business. More businesses will choose to run different workloads in different clouds, yet the experience will remain secure and streamlined. We are already seeing the impact of standard cloud tech in accountancy, in which cloud-based platforms enable seamless connections between clients and customers. Hybrid Cloud will bring further versatility to a cloud platform, allowing greater data analysis, insights and collaboration as a result. 

IoT and edge computing

Edge computing occurs at the functional, business-end of a network or a device. Imagine a robotic arm having its own brain able to make decisions without having to wait from instructions from a remote server, or even a human operator. That’s why edge computing and the IoT are so closely aligned and why, informed by AI, they are so disruptive. Next year we’ll see neural networking (edge computing) play a greater role in data storage, with AI driven predictive used maintenance to head-off hardware crashes such as we saw with Visa in June when a server fault affected 1.7 million cardholders. Server outages can damage even established businesses, so I predict that 2019 will see businesses toughen up with smart, predictive data storage and AI driven cyber security.   

As this exciting technology develops, it is the world of work that is humanising the face of AI, and as technology helps to advance us as people, our role in its development will be ever more important. In the future, anything that can’t be digitised or automated will become far more valuable, including compassion, intuition and empathy. Core skills of industries will be disrupted and replaced with ‘human’ skills – critical thinking, creativity, complex problem-solving.

So while business and cutting-edge technology look set to become even more entwined in 2019, what’s for certain is that staying ‘human’ will remain at the heart of its development.  

Damon Anderson is director of partner and product at Xero