Docker, machine learning are top tech trends for 2017

ThoughtWorks' semiannual Technology Radar also says augmented reality, microservices, and more autonomous team structures will surge in the coming year

With 2017 fast approaching, technology trends that will keep gathering steam in the new year range from augmented and virtual reality to machine intelligence, Docker, and microservices, according to technology consulting firm ThoughtWorks.

In its semiannual Technology Radar report published Monday, ThoughtWorks calls out four IT themes growing in prominence:

  • Virtual reality (VR) and its cousin, augmented reality (AR)
  • Docker as process, PaaS as machine, microservices architecture as programming model
  • Intelligent empowerment
  • The holistic effect of team structure

The data is based on reports ThoughtWorks' consultants are seeing out in the field.

ThoughtWorks sees natural language processing tools like Nuance Mix and hardware providing for natural interactions having a "huge" impact on AR and VR adoption. AR differs from VR in that users still can see the world around them rather than being completely immersed in a virtual space; of the two, AR is likely to be most interesting to businesses.

"One excellent application is remote expert systems," said Mike Mason, technology activist at ThoughtWorks. "Those are the ones where, for example, a semiskilled, nonexpert worker can be wearing the headset and performing a particular task," such as a nurse or factory worker getting instructions via the device from a remote expert, Mason said. Though he sees no single leader in AR, Mason calls out Microsoft's HoloLens as a technology of note. Currently, there is a shortage of high-fidelity VR and AR skills outside of the gaming industry, so the average enterprise will need to acquire or rent them, Mason said.

For Docker, PaaS, and microservices, developers see containers as a self-contained process and the PaaS as the common deployment target, using microservices as the common style, according to ThoughtWorks. "What we're seeing today is the level of abstraction is being raised up," Mason said. In the previous paradigm, a process ran only on a machine. "Now, we think about a Docker image as that basic unit of work and computation," and APIs and microservices serve as a communications fabric.

Intelligent empowerment, meanwhile, has companies frequently open-sourcing sophisticated libraries and tools that would have been "stratospherically expensive" and restricted a decade ago, ThoughtWorks said. New tooling has been made possible by commodity computing and targeting of specific hardware like GPUs and clouds.

Mason noted that "machines and humans [work] together to produce greater outcomes than either one working alone. This was not the dystopian future where everybody's out of a job because the machines replace us." For example, computers could digest large quantities of data to suggest potential cancer treatment plans. "The important thing here is it was not replacing what the doctors were going to do."

For software development team structures, tech companies are popularizing the "you build it, you run it" style of team autonomy, ThoughtWorks said. When restructuring a team produces better results, it shows that software development remains mostly a communication problem.

"There's lots of IT departments that are stuck in the old days of silos," Mason said. "Businesses are frustrated that they can't move at the speed of Silicon Valley startups." But Silicon Valley executives are now joining traditional enterprises and rebuilding their IT departments in the image of Silicon Valley, he said.

While devops is a factor, this movement is about self-service infrastructures and having teams that are small enough to achieve this and that include business stakeholders to get software into production and provide the right business benefits.

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