In the short space of sixty years, computers have evolved from room-sized mainframes to mini-tablets you can slip into your pocket. But the next step will be even more dramatic: Our computers will become largely invisible, hidden from sight and running continuously in the background of our everyday lives.
Sales of PCs and tablets have already peaked. Tech writer Bob O'Donnell believes that sales of smartphones have also peaked, reaching their high in the fourth quarter of 2015. From this point on, the trajectory of the smartphone sales will begin declining, much as sales of PCs and tablets have been declining steadily.
"This doesn't mean smartphones are going away -- far from it. In many parts of the world, smartphones have become a more general purpose computing device for a larger segment of the population than PCs and tablets combined. But it's also becoming increasingly clear to me that smartphones -- with their millions of different platform-specific, function-specific mobile apps -- aren't the future of personal computing," writes O'Donnell in a recent Fast Company article.
From my perspective, this transformation signals a major shift that CIOs and technology executives cannot afford to ignore. Essentially, everything that's essential to information processing is moving into the cloud or onto a network. Devices like smartphones and PCs are becoming increasingly irrelevant in terms of the big picture.
We're rapidly entering an era of device-free computing in which the technologies that drive our economy are increasingly automatic and autonomous. In other words, they start themselves and they run themselves -- with minimal human intervention. It's a brave new world in which devices are subservient to platforms and systems.
"The future of computing seems to be about a set of platform and device-independent services. Specifically, voice-based interactions, driven by large installations of cloud-based servers running deep learning-based algorithms," writes O'Donnell.
Concurrent with the shift to device-free technology services is the rise of "ambient computing," in which we are surrounded by smart sensors that relay data continuously to advanced AI platforms. Some of those AI platforms will be operated by commercial industries and some will be operated by government agencies.
Clearly, we're entering a period of historic change and turbulence. Please buckle your seatbelts and prepare for a potentially bumpy ride.