Seattle Space Needle
Will 2017 be the year when technology companies take the Google mantra of “Don’t be evil” seriously? PHOTO: Travis Seera

Promises made at the beginning of a new year are usually forgotten by the end of the first quarter. 

Case in point: Businesses spend inordinate amounts of time developing yearly strategic plans with somewhat squishy outcomes. I think these are designed so executives can metaphorically stand on the carrier and declare victory while the war is still clearly raging. 

Predictions are even worse. When I was an analyst, I resisted making broad predications. They almost never came true, at least not in their entirety or as expected.

As is the case with the strategic plan, the trick with prediction is to make them sound good but to keep them vague. That way it was easy to have predicative capabilities in almost any circumstance. 

So instead I'll set out the trends, products and features that I want to see — irrespective of whether they have a chance of becoming reality. 

Agile Development Improves 

... so that it behaves as everyone wants it to. 

Agile has many difficulties. It rarely (if ever) acts as the driver of change and improved software that it promises. It needs to either evolve or be scrapped entirely. 

Agile's goals — a more adaptable process leading to better software in line with changing business needs — are laudable and should be supported by a framework that actually achieves these goals. Agile rarely achieves this outside of the rarefied world of startup software companies.

Chances of this happening: For the moment, low. Tech companies, consultants and CIOs have invested too much in Agile to suddenly abandon it. Things will have to get much worse before companies will finally admit there is a problem and solve it. 

Web Content Management That's Made for the Masses

The state of the art of web content management hasn’t changed in 10 years. As good as Drupal, Wordpress and the rest of the lot are, they still are too difficult and confusing to use for anyone who isn't technically inclined. 

This makes producing a quality website and mobile site too hard, especially if you are a small company. One of the reasons that services such as Medium do so well is because they are stupidly easy to use. While clearly not the best choice for a full-fledged site or even for a small organization, they are still way better than messing around with templates, PHP and add-on conflicts. 

We need to use some of that amazing AI to make updating websites as easy as taking notes in Evernote.

Chances of this happening: Actually, pretty good. Several services, such as Squarespace, now provide cheap professional websites for the masses and at relatively low costs.

AI, Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning, etc. Spawn a Broad-Use App 

At the moment, you can count the number of useful AI applications on two hands. Decision augmentation applications help oncologists treat patients. Social sentiment tools use natural language processing to parse out some level of meaning from social media. And we can now analyze emails to see if we sound like a mean jerk (which some people might want to apply to Twitter). 

Otherwise, so much AI is being poured into silly personal assistants such as Google Now, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft Cortana that behave more as novelty items than useful products. 

Here’s hoping that 2017 becomes the year of the killer AI app. I’m talking about an app so useful and ubiquitously adopted that we can’t imagine what life, or at least business, was like before it. I’m talking about an app like the spreadsheet, word processor, web browser, relational database, search engine or TV remote control. 

Chances of this happening: So-so. As the capabilities rise, ability to implement becomes easier and the cost of deploying AI decreases, some smart kid in a basement will develop something. That’s, unfortunately, an unpredictable event.

Technology Companies Take Ethics and Responsibility Seriously

More than anything, I want to see technology companies take the Google mantra of “Don’t be evil” seriously. That includes Google. 

More to the point, when asked to hand over information about their customers without due process, allow oppressive governments to spy on its citizens or sell enabling technology to tyrannical, repressive governments, I want them to reflexively refuse. Not examine the potential to say yes without risk to their brand, but to actually say “Nope. Some things aren’t worth the money.” 

That IBM’s employees feel compelled to circulate a petition asking their CEO not to assist the government in creating a registry for Muslims is a sad indictment of how corporate ethics are perceived in our industry. It’s time for the technology and media industries to lead and place ethics over profits. In the same vein, it’s time for investors to applaud and reward that behavior.

Chances of this happening: Very low. Ultimately, the pressure to produce more ridiculously outsized profits makes real ethical behavior hard to maintain. It’s also difficult for institutional investors to gain the agreement of their investors that trading profits for the public good is another return on their investment.

I know this sounds cynical but it’s not. The fact is, I am expecting for these to happen, if not in 2017, then within a few years. I can’t look at this list and say that any item has a zero percent chance of becoming reality. 

All of this is doable if we have the will and perseverance to make it happen.