Selected trends from the 'Tech Trends Report 2020'

Each year the Tech trends report is published by the Future Today Institute and it's an essential read for anyone interested in the future of tech.

Welcome to the FWIW newsletter about tech, media & audio written by David Tvrdon. 🌐 Read it online and 👉 be sure to subscribe, if you were forwarded this newsletter.

In this edition

🤖 2020 Tech Trends Report was published

📺 TV might have a problem (🦠 Covid-19)

💬 Other news: IGTV vs. YouTube, Tesla vs. Waymo, Impossible Foods is a $4 bln. company

2020 Tech Trends Report

📷 by Franki Chamaki on Unsplash

Now is the thirteenth year, the Future Today Institute’s 2020 Tech Trends Report was published by its director Amy Webb, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

Key takeaways

  1. This will be the synthetic decade - A.I.-generated characters, humanlike virtual assistants, food made from synthetic techniques (whiskey made in a lab)

  2. Augmented hearing and sight are coming (i.e. smart glasses) - Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook all have connected systems on their product roadmaps

  3. A.I.-as-a-Service and Data-as-a-Service - both will reshape businesses

  4. 1️⃣ China, 2️⃣ USA - In the past two decades, China overtook the U.S. as the world’s dominant exporter on every continent except for North America, it will continue to assert prolific dominance in 2020 across multiple areas

  5. Automation is becoming mainstream - Alexa, robots (robotic vacuum cleaners..), self-driving cars, home cameras with automatic triggers

  6. Everyone alive today is being scored - Automated systems use our scores to make decisions for or about us, whether it’s what price to show us on e-commerce sites or if we might pose a security risk at a football game

  7. Scaremongering spreads thanks to social media - President Donald Trump has used Twitter to stoke fear, the Anti-Defamation League discovered a 226% increase in acts of vandalism and hate crimes in the counties hosting Trump rallies

  8. Once online, never forgotten - it’s now clear that our recent histories will persist far into the future. It isn’t possible to truly delete or erase our pasts

  9. Trust in the new world system (A.I.) will be a challenge - in the wake of deepfake videos and other manipulated content, a new ecosystem devoted to trust is in the process of being formed

It’s almost impossible to summarize the whole report, it has 366 slides divided into several chapters dealing with everything from all the possible A.I. use cases (business, healthcare, surveillance, warfare…) to eSports, robotics and future agricultural technologies.

I am going to select a describe a few I find interesting, but I strongly encourage you to check out the ones you find interesting, and Webb says you should start with trends outside your field.

🤔 These are the topics I will dive in:

  • Natural Language Understanding

  • A.I. & Content & Creativity

  • National A.I. Strategies (+ China’s A.I. Rules)

  • eSports

  • Better Batteries & Wireless Charging Everywhere

  • Big Tech & Healthcare

Natural language understanding

Every company is working on better natural speech recognition by their virtual assistants. Despite what you might think, this is a hard task. In a conversation we use various pronouns describing the same thing, we do not refer to our hometown or region, we build on previous thoughts - all of which pose a great challenge even for large A.I. systems like Alexa.

Natural language understanding is getting better and better, Amazon managed to updates its Transcribe Medical system, huge step forward:

With this new service, you can complete clinical documentation faster, more accurately, securely, and with less effort, whether in a clinician’s office, research lab, or on the phone with an insurance claim agent.

The report states that in the General Language Understanding Evaluation competition (seen as a high-water mark in how well an A.I. system understands human language) China’s Baidu unseated Google and Microsoft in the most recent competition and became the first to develop techniques for understanding not only English but Chinese as well.

A.I. & Content & Creativity

A.I. systems are being used in different kinds of research all over, for example, researchers are partnering with artists to generate entirely new forms of expression. Last year, Nvidia launched GauGAN (named after post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin), a generative adversarial A.I. system that lets users create lifelike landscape images that never existed.

Last year OpenAI developed an A.I. system that could write text hardly recognizable by a person that it was created by a machine. That sparked a lot of debate and fear. Researchers at the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab and at Harvard University developed the Giant Language Model Test Room (GLTR), which looks for words that are likely to appear in a particular order. Which means they could spot machine-written text, good news.

National A.I. Strategies (+ China’s A.I. Rules)

A.I. is transforming the security environment for nation-states, firms and citizens alike. Unfortunately, countries are behind the technological development and so there are few or no rules when it comes to A.I.

The European Union developed an AI Alliance and plan of cooperation between member countries, UN has many ongoing initiatives, Brazil, Canada, Estonia, France, Germany and others are either still developing strategies or developing a legal framework. And there are countries which are ahead, like Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates have existing policies, UAE even has its minister of state for artificial intelligence.

China has become a global leader in artificial intelligence and does not plan to slow down. President Xi Jinping set a clear goal - become the world's primary A.I. innovation center by 2030. In 2019, China began requiring all citizens to submit to facial recognition to apply for new internet or mobile services, which are being checked by A.I. Also, Chinese social media platforms require users to sign up with their “real-name identities”, then there is the social credit system, surveillance cameras outfitted with computer vision systems. Why is this important in this debate? The report has an answer:

The country’s massive population—nearing 1.4 billion people—offers researchers and startups there command of what may be the most valuable natural resource in the future—human data—without the privacy and security restrictions common in much of the rest of the world. If data is the new oil, then China is the new OPEC.

eSports Olympics are closer than you might think

I have written about this in my previous newsletter (see in the end What is the most important media business of the future?). The eSports industry is growing fast and expanding, yesterday the hit game was Fortnite, today it’s League of Legends or Roblox, tomorrow it might be something else.

Leading up to this year’s 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Intel will host its Intel World Open eSports tournament featuring Street Fighter V and Rocket League witha total prize pool of $500,000. The 2024 Olympics, held in Paris, will include demonstration eSports events.

eSports is also viewed as one of the first truly global entertainment mediums in its reach and influence, so guess where all the VC money will be going next after this pandemic.

Better Batteries & Wireless Charging Everywhere

There is a lot of research going on regarding building a better battery. Some researchers are trying to push the lithium-ion batteries to last longer, others are experimenting with other forms.

Malta, a Google X project, aims to capture more clean energy produced by using salt and to store it on a large scale.

Malta is building a grid-scale energy storage technology that stores electricity from renewable energy sources as heat inside large tanks of high temperature molten salt and as cold in large tanks of chilled liquid. The system can discharge electricity back to the grid when energy demand is high - effectively “time shifting” energy from when it’s produced to when it’s most needed.

The report also predicts, that this year we should see the rollout of universal wireless chargers capable of powering our devices.

Big Tech & Healthcare

Healthcare is a $3 trillion market, and with its inflated pricing and outdated systems, it is particularly ripe for disruption. Google, Amazon, Apple, IBM, Microsoft and also China’s Tencent are looking to disrupt health and medicine. All of them have been investing in the sector.

Amazon’s vision is one we could already see being tested on its employees. Amazon Care is a hybrid in-person healthcare system and virtual clinic where its employees get live, in-app visits from doctors and nurses.

About 7% of the searches performed on Google are health and medicine related = Google knows it’s huge. Google’s Project Nightingale has been mining and analyzing personal health data across 21 states in the US. Verily, also part of the Alphabet family is working on other healthcare-related initiatives. And with the Fitbit acquisition last year Google could seriously compete with Apple.

That’s not all

Seriously, go and download the whole report, skim through, mark the chapters you are most interested in and read them. It’s well written (though I would appreciate if the report linked to the things it is reporting on) and reads quite nicely chapter after chapter.

In other news

📺 Why TV might have a problem. As TV viewership spikes due to coronavirus and quarantine, analysts are warning of a recession as global economies slow, a significant number of viewers may decide in the coming months to break away from cable or cut back on streaming subscriptions - to reduce monthly bills. And with sports out of the picture due to many postponed or canceled major sports events and team sports leagues on hold, the cancellations of the expensive TV bundles just might come even earlier (Note: live sports coverage generates billions of advertising dollars). [NY Times]

🤑 Instagram to roll out IGTV advertising in a challenge to Youtube. Instagram is recruiting its top video creators to partner on ad tests. They are supposed to receive a 55% share of all advertising on IGTV, which is apparently the same rate as YouTube. Let’s call it the last effort to keep IGTV alive. So far there was almost no incentive for anyone to take the platform seriously. [Bloomberg]

🚗 A new report says Tesla is not a leader in automated driving technology. Navigant Research published its annual leaderboard for the development of automated driving technology. It ranks car companies developing autonomous vehicle hardware and software based on a variety of factors, including production strategy, marketing, capability, staying power, and reliability. Waymo (Google) ranks highest in both strategy and execution, Ford's AV efforts came in second, just ahead of GM's Cruise, and China's Baidu. Tesla ranked at the bottom of the chart and Navigant gives this explanation:

Tesla continues to make high-profile promises, including having one million robotaxi-capable vehicles on the road by the end of 2020. However, the performance of its systems remains inconsistent and its products do not match its proposed mobility business model.

🍔 Impossible Foods approaches a $4 billion valuation. Why is it important? The plant-based meat company raised about $500 million in its latest series F funding round. Plant-based meat and lab-grown meat companies have been gaining traction with many consumers becoming more aware of the environmental impact of industrial animal husbandry. [Reuters]

🦠 How Chinese companies have responded to coronavirus. As the outbreak continues to slow down the world, China appears to be in the early stages of an economic rebound. HBR has extracted 12 early lessons for leaders elsewhere to take note of some of what the Chinese companies have done to survive. To pick one example:

In China, some of the fastest-recovering companies proactively looked ahead and anticipated the shifts. For example, in the early stages of the outbreak, Master Kong, a leading instant noodle and beverage producer, reviewed dynamics on a daily basis and reprioritized efforts regularly. It anticipated hoarding and stock-outs, and it tilted its focus away from offline, large retail channels to O2O (online-to-offline), e-commerce, and smaller stores.

HBR also notes:

Some shifts will likely persist beyond the crisis, and many sectors will reemerge to new market realities in China and elsewhere. Indeed, the SARS crisis (in 2003) is often credited with accelerating the adoption of e-commerce in China.

[Harvard Business Review]

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