When it comes to emerging technologies, Gartner, a global IT research firm, has a keen vantage point. They see potentially disruptive tech years before it hits the market and becomes competitively advantageous.

For instance, their annual "Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies" charts innovations decades into the future, as well as those around the corner. Brian Burke, Research Vice President at Gartner explains, "some technologies on the Hype Cycle will mature in the near term and technology innovation leaders must understand the opportunities for these technologies, particularly those with transformational or high impact."

SMBs who plan ahead for 2021's tech invasion would do well to heed Burke's advice. Be on the lookout for these five transformative technologies over the next year.


Edge computing

This information processing evolution lies at the center of tech's most buzz-worthy concepts, including IoT and 5G, all the way up to AI (artificial intelligence) and self-driving cars.

The brilliance behind edge computing solutions is its ability to process and store data locally.

It started as an effort to reduce bandwidth costs, which is good news for businesses who have found themselves more heavily reliant on the cloud this year. The brilliance behind edge computing solutions is its ability to process and store data locally, allowing more devices to connect and transmit information simultaneously without experiencing latency issues.

As IoT devices, real-time applications and faster networking technologies continue to expand, infrastructure that processes at the edge will become increasingly essential.


Formative AI

Developers and designers are already using emerging artificial intelligence technologies to create adaptable applications and websites. These are solutions dynamic enough to change and respond to situations as they arise. They learn over time and can be used to specifically address issues that require complex, novel AI models.

If your organisation is hoping to do some AI exploration in 2021, Gartner recommends you consider, "AI-assisted design, AI augmented development, ontologies and graphs, small data, composite AI, adaptive ML, self-supervised learning, generative AI and generative adversarial networks."


Algorithmic trust

Across the spectrum, privacy and data security risks rank high on continuing concerns for 2021. But new algorithmic trust models are hoping to change that.

Generally speaking, the perception is that algorithms are more failsafe than humans when it comes to data operations. Their code allegiance makes them more difficult to derail, while their penchant for continuous improvement prevents would-be attackers from scaling their security walls.


Digital identities

Forget blue cartoon-like characters. The avatars of the not-so-distant future are more likely to reflect what you see in your mirror than what you see in the movies.

Virtual AI replicas will continue to rise as the socially distant world adapts to an increasingly online existence.

Also known as digital identities, these virtual AI replicas will continue to rise as the socially distant world adapts to an increasingly online existence.

Once reserved more for the gaming community, avatars might soon be present in meetings or active on social media profiles, acting as your personal brand ambassador 24/7. Entertainers and spiritual leaders like Deepak Chopra and Travis Scott are already using digital twins to host concerts, complete book tours and more.

Why are digital identities such a big deal this year specifically? As Erik P.M. Vermeulen explains in his Medium thinkpiece "Managing Appearances: Why Everyone Needs an Avatar in a Socially Distant' World":

"The reason is that in a socially-distant society, the real world and virtual world will not be separated. The boundaries will be fluid and the two worlds will interact. This will happen faster than you think."


IPA (Intelligent Process Automation)

Robots may excel at repetition, but on their own they lack the capacity to learn and improve over time in the way IPA applications do.

In the words of one Master Robotic Process Automation agency, Nice, "IPA brings together robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to take automation of business processes to the next level."

With a boost from cognitive intelligence, the flexibility and accuracy of these applications enables them to navigate nuance and build on what RPA already does well.

The truth is you don't have to look decades ahead to see the potentially disruptive technologies coming our way. Focusing on next year's big five will help you identify emerging opportunities and execute a tech-driven business strategy to match.


This article was written by Erica Sweeney from Business Insider and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.