7 tech trends to watch in 2016

More than once you’ve probably looked at some new digital or technological development and asked yourself, “How did we miss that?” Here are some tech trends to note for 2016.

— Algorithmic personality detection. Did you know that some life insurance underwriters are attempting to assess your personality — via your magazine and website subscriptions, the photos you post to social media and more — in order to determine how risky an investment you are? Algorithms will harness personal data in order to assess an employee’s predicted success at work: for example, how likely she is to bounce around jobs.

— Bots. Software applications that run automated tasks are called “bots.” 2016 will bring a host of creative bots that will supercharge our productivity, keep us company and help us track what others are doing. What’s new: You’ll have the opportunity to use and program them yourself.

— Glitches. Expect to hear more about “glitches” in 2016. While there have always been software bugs, what we’re seeing now is so much new technology coming online so quickly — without the usual testing — that we don’t know what the interactions will be in advance.

— Backdoors. Backdoors are lines of code developers install in firmware so that manufacturers can safely upgrade our devices and operating systems. They can also be used surreptitiously to harness everything from our webcams to our personal data. In 2016, any company that stores customer data could be asked to create a backdoor. Opponents argue that the simple act of creating a backdoor would leave ordinary people vulnerable to everyday attacks by even unskilled hackers.

— Blockchain. The blockchain is a sort of distributed consensus system, where no one person controls all the data. The blockchain enables people to participate in “trustless” transactions, eliminating the need for an intermediary between buyers and sellers. And it potentially eliminates the need for all intermediaries in most transactions, even those outside finance.

— Drone lanes. Everyone will be talking in 2016 about whether or not the airspace should be regulated for hobbyists and commercial drone pilots, which will prompt difficult conversations between technologists, researchers, drone manufacturers, businesses and the aviation industry. I anticipate the sky being divided soon: Hobbyist pilots will have access to operate unmanned vehicles in the 200 feet and below space, while businesses and commercial pilots will gain exclusive access to 200–400 feet zone overhead.

— Quantum computing. In short, quantum computers can solve problems that are computationally too difficult for a classical computer, which can only process information in 1s and 0s. In the quantum universe, those 1 and 0 bytes can exist in two states (qubits) at once, allowing computations to be performed in parallel. The National Security Agency is already predicting that the cryptography in use will be rendered completely obsolete once quantum computers go into widespread use.

(Amy Webb is the founder and chief executive of Webbmedia Group.)

© 2015 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Company