What does the future hold for business applications?

Asked another way, what are the features of the best platform for the next generation of business apps?

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We are quickly approaching the end of 2017, an ideal time to think about the future. Following a year of immense growth and innovation, what does the future hold for business applications? What are the features of the best platform for the next generation of business apps?

To answer these questions, it helps to think like famous science-fiction writer William Gibson: “The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

The first crop of next-generation business apps have already been created. Currently, these apps are available to just a few innovators, but some of them will eventually cross the chasm to most users.

It may also be helpful to apply venture capitalist Marc Andreessen’s “nerds at night” test. To see the future, he asks himself: “What do nerds do on nights and weekends?” A lot of the stuff that technology enthusiasts are cobbling together during their free time will comprise the enterprise apps of tomorrow.

What’s keeping the nerds up at night?

Based on these observations, we can identify some of the trends that will impact the next generation of apps.

IoT

The internet of things is the natural evolution of universal connectivity and mobility. Due to economies of scale, it is now feasible to equip not only every human being, but also every little thing that they own with a miniature, powerful computer that is always on and always connected. This enables a vast number of innovative applications in healthcare, manufacturing, transportation and many other industries.

Artificial intelligence

The volume, velocity, and variety of data generated by humans and collected from IoT sensors now far exceeds what humans can process, which leads to the exploding interest in artificial intelligence (AI). AI can be very broadly described as the power of machines to predict the future based on volumes of historical data. This power has numerous applications in many areas of human activity.

Autonomous vehicles

The predictive power of AI relies on pattern matching. Machines can detect patterns in data and match them to actions that lead to desired outcomes. This is similar to what people do when driving a vehicle; we collect data from the environment and match it to actions: steer, brake, accelerate. Expert drivers can do this without thinking, and what people can do without thinking, machines can do even better. However, machines do need one more thing: computer vision.

Augmented and virtual reality

Computer vision is the process of recognizing physical objects in the surrounding environment and mapping them to digital entities in computer memory. This ability is important in autonomous driving, and is equally important in the emerging field of augmented reality.

Once a machine can sense the environment, it can manipulate it by rendering a new world consisting of a mixture of physical and virtual objects. The trick is in both sensing and rendering at 90 frames per second to make the experience feel natural to people. Virtual reality is a special case of augmented reality, rendering worlds that are entirely artificial.

Cryptocurrency

The enormous computing power that is required to render virtual worlds also comes in handy when mining for cryptotokens. In fact, before Bitcoin miners started designing their own chips, they used graphic processing units (GPUs) to build their mining rigs.

While Bitcoin is far from crossing the chasm, cryptocurrencies definitely pass the “nerds at night” test. The blockchain algorithm supporting Bitcoin was invented by Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym for unknown person whom many believe to be a lone hacker. Ethereum, an immensely popular open-source platform based on blockchain technology, was created by Vitalik Buterin, a college dropout.

What are our building blocks?

Now that I have identified the major application development trends, you can begin to understand what it means to provide the best platform for the next generation of business apps.

There are just a few components that they all rely on:

  • Cloud computing
  • Edge computing
  • User experience
  • Social networking
  • Big data processing
  • Machine learning
  • Blockchain

These are the elements of the new platform, and they are very well known. But at the same time, we still see very few apps using them in the real world. What makes development and adoption of such applications so challenging?

In my opinion, it is the rate of change, fragmentation and complexity.

Putting the pieces together

There is an enormous amount of innovation happening in each of the seven dimensions. There is no single company that can claim ownership of cloud computing, machine learning, or blockchain. This leads to a high degree of fragmentation and fluidity in tools, APIs, architectures, and methodologies.

As a result, there is no such thing as rapid application development in IoT, AR, or AI. Any developer who ventures into any of those areas will be wading deep into mathematical formulas and low-level hacking.

With this realization in mind, you can now attach more meaning to the “best platform” part of my question.

The mantle of the best platform will go to the company that can solve the fragmentation problem, hide the complexity, and provide the tools that democratize development of the next generation of business apps.

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