Trends on Tuesday: 7 Tech Trends for Government in 2017

As 2016 finally comes to a close, it’s a time to reflect on the past and look forward to the future. This year we have another series of 7 predictions for trends to track in 2017 for government and tech communities.

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1 — Artificial intelligence and machine learning

One of the biggest trends that has a large potential impact on government agencies and how they operate and organize information and services is Artificial Intelligence. This year, Alphabet (also known as Google) has shifted much of its focus from many of it’s technological experiments into machine learning and artificial intelligence, which is the convergence of several of it’s early bets on algorithms, language understanding, translations, and it’s massive computing power. Government agencies have a lot of opportunities to benefit from combining the big data they collect and control with natural language processing and artificial intelligence to provide more valuable, efficient, and personalized services for the public.

2 — Automation and robotics

The White House recently released a report around this shift that is coming swiftly, and I believe much more swiftly than many people realize. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation predicts that autonomous vehicles will become so pervasive that his daughter, who will turn 16 in 2021, will not get a driver’s license because she will just use a car service. This year, we saw the first real-world experiments with autonomous vehicles hitting the road with Uber in launching in Pittsburgh and San Francisco. Tech giants, from Google to auto giants like Toyota, have been rapidly testing, exploring, and experimenting with autonomous vehicles.

But it’s not just cars that are getting automated — many service jobs are being going to be replaced with robots. From the helpful hardware store clerk — Lowes launched robot helpers in their stores — to the nationwide restaurant chains moving to become semi-autonomous.

Humans driving vehicles (taxis, truck drivers, delivery drivers) and humans making and serving food are two of the top employers for Americans, especially individuals with lower levels of education. Offshoring work moved a lot of jobs in America and was a big election topic this year, but robots and automation replacing those jobs that were offshored was barely discussed and is happening faster than many of us expected.

What does this mean to safety and security? What about the future of jobs? Will everyone need a universal basic income (UBI) because there won’t be jobs? Government agencies need to start thinking about how they will be affected and how to prepare for and support this massive economic, societal, service, and financial shift because it will be advancing very quickly in 2017.

3 — The Internet of Things finds a home

The Internet of Things (IOT) quietly delivered on the hype that wearables couldn’t over the past couple years. Google entered the arena with their new Home assistant, and Amazon’s Alexa line of devices have started selling out from high demand (hotels are even going to start installing them in the rooms). Connected devices are becoming mainstream and will surpass the number of mobile phone connections as they will continue to flourish with people becoming more comfortable and skilled in using the digital interface without a face.

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4 — Cyber security concerns continue

Cyber. Cyber. Cyber. You can’t listen to any government figure talk about technology without them bringing up the importance of “cyber” issues, short for cybersecurity. Hacks and breaches continued to be a problem in 2016, and while we saw a large growth (to a majority!) of government sites using HTTPS (a good first step), there’s still a lot of work to be done and when it comes to cyber security, the old maxim is very true: ‘The garden is never finished.”

5 — Virtual and Augmented Reality gets real-ish

These trendy technologies seem to boomerang around every 7–10 years (along with 3D), but have started to see smarter, more practical adoption this time around after playful examples like Pokemon Go mainstreamed the concept to the world. Virtual Reality still has a high price point, proprietary hardware constraint and very narrow use case to become fully mainstream, but experiments like Google Cardboard to lower the cost have helped.

You could lump “wearables,” like the Apple Watch, into this high-price point, proprietary hardware, and narrow use-case category, too. They’re all accessories on the body to help digitally augment your experiences. They all have really interesting use cases for very specific and narrow audiences.

So we should all be aware, follow, and consider them in the toolkit of storytelling and digital technology, but government agencies need to be very mindful of the resource costs for launching and maintaining these products when comparing the value generated — much like building native mobile apps for mobile phones. There are use cases, but not every agency needs a VR/AR/Mobile app/Apple watch app. Shameless plug: Follow along with these emerging technologies and learn about agency work with the DigitalGov VR-AR community listserv!

6 — Mobile Majority growth continues

The government audience is going to continue to shift to mobile majority, so making sure all your digital presences are fully accessible and usable on mobile devices should be a high priority (if they aren’t usable at all on mobile, this should be your only priority). Using tools like the Digital Analytics Program (DAP) to track your audience and their device form factors and the Draft U.S. Web Design Standards to optimize your site for web performance, accessibility, and mobile-friendliness can help you to better serve your audience.

7 — Drones become more than a hobby

Now that the FAA has regulations around domestic drones, more experiments with commercial and business applications will help expand them outside of the hobbyists and military uses that they’ve had for some time (which are on polar opposite sides of the usage spectrum). Different applications from local security uses to package delivery are closer to a reality than ever, and 2017 should see more mainstream and practical applications.

By Will Sullivan


All references to specific brands and/or companies are used only for illustrative purposes and do not imply endorsement by the U.S. federal government or any federal government agency.

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