ORLANDO -- Gartner's vision for future tech is either very exciting or the stuff of nightmares.
The research firm foresees a time where algorithms -- problem-solving systems, basically -- will increasingly take control of many of the things humans now do, such as drive vehicles, dispense drugs and enforce the law.
Algorithms will also replace apps and lead to personal assistants -- think Apple's Siri or Amazon's Echo -- that interact the world. By 2020, users will eschew apps and turn to these agents instead, according to Gartner.
Welcome to what the firm calls post-app world.
Vast markets will emerge to offer specific-function algorithms, which companies will buy and sell as they move ever deeper into automation to engage customers and operate businesses.
Algorithms "will make decisions that can mean life and death," said Gartner's research director, Peter Sondergaard, said at the company's Symposium/ITxpo here. Cars, robots and drones will operate semi-independently based on programming that will determine what risks to take, whose privacy to respect and whom "to arrest," he said.
These systems will also learn and spawn new systems, "so yes, over time, agents will create agents, robots will create robots," said Sondergaard.
In explaining why this is a future to embrace, he earned the biggest laugh of the morning. "In a few decades, we will not believe we let 16-year-olds control a 4,000-pound object, hurdling down the road at 80 miles an hour," said Sondergaard.
Users at the conference, which runs through Thursday, didn't dispute the predictions, but wondered how many years they would take.
"Algorithms, actually, have always been at the heart of what IT does," said Rob Klopotek, a chief architect in the healthcare field and a Symposium/ITxpo attendee. Their history goes back to the earliest applications of computing, he noted.
But the idea of algorithms writing algorithms "is a forward-looking vision," said Klopotek. "It's not tomorrow."
The discussion of future tech was designed by Gartner officials to get the IT managers in attendance to focus on what they should be thinking about. The need for IT managers to take leadership roles is considered vital if they are to remain relevant.
Even as Gartner CEO Gene Hall was telling CIOs that "you are more important than ever," Gartner analysts were pointing out that IT is on the verge of being responsible for only half of a firm's technology spending.
Ten years ago, IT departments controlled 70% of spending; today, it's around 58%.
"Accept the reality that you control a smaller part," said Sondergaard. "Inside your organization, you have great influence but not total control."
Big problems for IT remain, with security perhaps the leading issue. By 2017, a typical organization will be spending up to 30% of its budget on risk, security and regulatory compliance. That's triple the level of what was spent in 2011, said Gartner analysts.
The competition for "great security people is getting very expensive," said Sondergaard, who noted that the salary levels for a global security chief will be exceeding $500,000.