More and more, IT is becoming buzzword after buzzword and (no pun intended, my apologies to Google's parent company) the alphabet soup of acronyms. While it's unreasonable for any of us in the industry to expect that those not in the industry to use them as freely as we do, and because we're in a technical field, it makes it even that much harder for non-technical people to latch on to these terms. Which makes communicating technical topics that much more difficult.
All that being said, some of the latest acronyms and buzzwords may also be some of the most important to at least be aware of. Not just because it'll make some of the conversations easier, but really because of the impact these concepts are going to have on the world at large, let alone on your business.
Now, I'm not talking about some of the basics like SEO (search engine optimization), SQL (structured query language), SME (subject matter expert) or even VoIP (voice of IP), or CPU (central processing unit), but rather some of the more cutting edge terms that are actually all around us now more than ever. Concepts like IOT, Big Data, AI, and Data Warehousing is becoming more and more prevalent. So, which are the important topics to be aware of and what do they mean?
Let's review a few that should help you sound more informed at your next cocktail party (holding back on whether or not anyone still has cocktail parties?):
1. net neutrality
One term that shows up and then disappears (depending on the news cycle) seems to be Net Neutrality. The underlying concept of this is that governments and Internet Providers should treat all data on the internet the same way, no matter where it comes from, where it is going, or what it contains. This concept is vital when it comes to ensuring equal access to whatever's on the internet because it prevents companies or governments from paying to prioritize their traffic.
Picture this: without Net Neutrality, an Internet Provider could pay to prioritize the traffic of their video streaming service over Netflix’s. This could mean that Netflix’s service would be terrible in that area, forcing users to sign up to the Internet Provider’s service instead.
The conversation around Net Neutrality should be a no brainer, but with so much money on the line this seemingly inert concept is losing traction to the big platers. If you live in the US, I urge you to inform yourself and join the discussion - even contact your government representatives and put the pressure on - to keep the net neutral!
2. BIG DATA
A lot of the buzzwords we hear these days have to do with data, but one of the most common is Big Data. This buzzword is used to describe very large amounts of data collected by companies or institutions. Big Data typically refers to a set of data so big that traditional analysis software struggles to analyze it. This could be data about what users click on a particular website or user’s watching habits on Netflix. This type of data can be useful for companies, but only if they know how to glean information from them.
Here's a really great resource that describes in more detail Big Data as well as the three V's (volume, velocity, and variety) around it.
3. DATA MINING (or data warehousing)
Data mining is the process of discovering patterns in large data sets involving methods at the intersection of machine learning, statistics, and database systems. Data mining is an interdisciplinary subfield of computer science and statistics with an overall goal to extract information (with intelligent methods) from a data set and transform the information into a comprehensible structure for further use.
The term "data mining" is a misnomer, because the goal is the extraction of patterns and knowledge from large amounts of data, not the extraction (mining) of data itself. It's a favorite buzzword these days as big data continues to grow unabated.
4. artificial intelligence (ai)
When talking about data and gaining insights from it, the term Artificial Intelligence will often be thrown around. AI is a broad term which refers to the display of intelligence by machines. It is a field of study which focuses on a machine’s ability to capture data about its environment and learn or adapt from it to achieve some goal.
Through AI advances, machines have bested the best players at chess and Jeopardy, and they are making strides against top Go players.
This is one of the most leading edge concepts out there these days. They say the one that wins the race to getting AI truly sound and functional will win the race to controlling the future. Scary stuff indeed!
One of the more interesting books on this subject is "AI Super-Powers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order" by Kai-Fu Lee.
5. machine learning
Machine Learning is a type of Artificial Intelligence which gives computer programs the ability to learn from new data without being explicitly programmed to do so. Machines dig through data to find patterns and then modify the way they work accordingly.
For example, Facebook uses Machine Learning algorithms to personalize the content of your news feed, based on the type of links you click on most.
Personalization is the concept of customizing the information presented to a user of a product. This is often the reason why big companies collect and analyse the large amounts of data that they do: so that they can personalize your experience with their product, in order to keep you coming back for more.
Personalization is often applied by large companies in the form of targeted ads or recommendation tools, such as Google Ads, Amazon’s product recommendations, or Facebook’s friend recommendations.
7. Augmented reality (ar)
Augmented Reality is the concept of adding computer generated elements, such as sounds, videos or GPS data, to the real world. These are typically done through some piece of technology like a smartphone or AR glasses.
Pokemon Go is a great example of an Augmented Reality game, as it uses interaction which varies depending on where you are in the world and how you interact with it.
8. virtual reality (vr)
Virtual Reality is similar to AR but it usually encompasses more of the user’s senses. A user will typically wear goggles and headphones which block out the outside world and completely immerses them into the virtual reality created by the program. Examples include the Oculus Rift, the Google Daydream, or the PlayStation VR.
Virtual Reality has become one of the most promising trends in the gaming industry. At the same time, it's also being leveraged in real and meaningful ways to help train people - like situations for those who operate complex procedures, such as flying a plane or performing surgery. VR is an upcoming field where we'll see more and more traction in business applications as the technology continues to improve.
9. INTERNET OF THINGS (IOT)
The Internet of Things is a term that encompasses everything involved in having everyday devices connected to the Internet, in order to collect data from them, exchange data between devices or control them from a distance. These devices can be cars, home automation systems or your everyday toaster.
Now, the difficulty or unintended consequences of the rapid deployment of IOT devices is the impact they're having on cybersecurity. Adding these devices to your home network and/or your company's network immediately reduces your cybersecurity protection and adds an additional level of complexity to the security equation.
Think about this: when you added your Nest thermostat, Ring doorbell, or internet ready security camera to your home network, did you change the default Administrator password? Most people don't think about this let alone actually make the change. If you haven't (and I would argue that most haven't), your network now has an opening that can be both easily found and easily exploited. This is a real threat to your cybersecurity and every network you connect to.
Consider this when it comes time to secure your business network. Because of the internet, everyone and everything that has access to your network (even through a VPN) has now become that much weaker because of every IOT device connected to it.
Chatbots are computer programs which conduct “human like” conversations with users, typically via text. They are typically used in Instant Messaging applications, such as Slack, or on websites to help users with frequently asked questions. While the end-user human thinks they're texting with another human, the reality is they're chatting with a "bot" (ie: software robot).
Machine Learning and Language Analysis are used to help make chatbots seem more human like and improve the way they communicate with their users.
Blockchain is a new type of database, which is distributed (which means it's not just in one place, it's stored across multiple machines) and encrypted by default. Traditional databases overwrite a record when a change occurs on it, but with BlockChain, every change creates a new record, that is timestamped and contains a link to the previous version of the record. This means that one can see all the transactions that ever occurred on a particular record since it was created, which facilitates verification and validation.
The popular crypto-currency BitCoin is based on the BlockChain technology.
Needless to say, technology is becoming more and more complex as well as the discussions around it and the ramifications of being in the uniformed category is only going to get worse the more you don't keep up. This doesn't mean you need to be an expert. It does mean that you should at least have a familiarity with all these terms - if not at least some basic understanding of them.
Are you doing everything you can to understand the current technology landscape? Are you and/or is your business aligned with a trusted advisor who can help you navigate this landscape? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section below or shoot me an email if you'd like to discuss any of these concepts in more detail.