First in a two-part series by Vitalyst’s Paul Rigby, who joined thousands of IT leaders at the 2015 Gartner Symposium/ITexpo, held Oct. 4-8, 2015, in Orlando.

Speaking at the recent Gartner Symposium in Orlando, Gartner VP and Fellow Dave Aron described a recent stay at Japan’s Henn-na Hotel, where every interaction is handled by non-humans. Robots staff the reception desk, bring luggage to rooms, provide concierge services, and serve food and drinks at the cafe. Guests use facial recognition instead of room keys, and speak into a tulip-shaped robotic assistant to control climate, lighting and television, and to get details such as the current weather. (Aron made no mention of whether the Henn-na has programmed its room service robots to continue the irritating tradition of knocking on the door five times.)

While much of the world hasn’t reached that level of automation (yet), Aron and other speakers at the Gartner event made it clear that “smart” machines are coming, and very soon.

Japan's all-robot Henn-na Hotel

Gartner’s Dave Aron described his visit to Japan’s all-robot Henn-na Hotel, where guests check in with help from an English-speaking dinosaur. (Images: Henn-na Hotel, still from company video.)

In one of the most anticipated sessions of the event, Gartner VP and Fellow Daryl Plummer shared the firm’s top 10 strategic predictions for 2016, and how they fit into the near future, where humans and machines are co-workers:

  1. By 2018, 20% of business content will be authored by machines: This trend involves technologies that will be able to write content as if humans wrote it. Well, let’s see how good machines are at authoring this Vitalyst blog in 2018.
  2. By 2018, 6 billion connected things will be requesting support: Aha! The Internet of Things (IoT), buzzword two years ago but reality now. A predicted 1 million new devices will coming online every year and these devices will at some point call back saying they need some attention. At Vitalyst, we call this the Internet of Broken Things (IoBT).
  3. By 2020, autonomous software agents outside of human control will participate in 5% of all economic transactions: Our iTeam at Vitalyst has already considered the impact of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and the potential new business opportunity in detecting robothieves.
  4. By 2018, more than 3 million workers globally will be supervised by a “roboboss“: What’s that I hear you say? My boss is already a robot? Plummer says we will have to learn to live with robots supervising us on certain tasks. He noted that telepresence-based robots are already in use, but said their intelligence will grow.
  5. By the end of 2018, 20% of smart buildings will have suffered from digital vandalism:  Back to IoT—as more systems are interconnected, there will be more threats. Consumer “things” like air conditioner units and physical security systems will be more open to digital vandalism.
  6. By 2018, 45% of the fastest-growing companies will have fewer employees than instances of smart machines: This is a mind-bender of a trend, and IT leaders will need to establish governance and management of a hybrid ecosystem consisting of employees and smart machines.
  7. By the end of 2018, customer digital assistants will be able to hold conversations, and recognize individuals by face and voice across channels and partners: Digital admins have been used successfully in a number of professions, but the key here is getting digital assistants to use credentials across channels. This could be valuable in the service support industry. CIOs need to think about customer engagement and how the customer engages with them.
  8. By 2018, 2 million employees will be required to wear health and fitness tracking devices as a condition of employment: There’s a long way to go on this one, but wearing a health/GPS device could be a condition of employment in the future. Employees won’t have to opt in—it will be a contractual agreement.
  9. By 2020, smart agents will facilitate 40% of mobile interactions, and the post-app era will begin to dominate:In the future you will no longer have to download an app just to access a particular system or business. The system will automatically interact with you and an algorithm will figure out what you need. Smart agents will facilitate mobile interactions.
  10. Through 2020, 95% of cloud security failures will be the customer’s fault: Hold yourself accountable. In the future you will grow your own cloud protection. It will be your fault if you don’t take your security posture more seriously.

Perhaps sensing the potential paranoia these predictions can create, Plummer shot down the notion of a Skynet-style machine uprising: “Robots are beginning to rise. Don’t think Terminator robots, but smart robots that will have the ability to learn things better, faster,” he reassured the crowd.

Phew. I wasn’t ready for Arnold Schwarzenegger to be roaming the corridors of our Philadelphia headquarters just yet.

For a detailed description of Gartner’s 2016 predictions, read Plummer’s Oct. 8 blog post in Forbes.

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