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Tech 2020

It's that time of year again when we dust off the crystal ball and hazard a guess at what 2020 holds in store for the world of technological developments.

December 2019

Tech will get bigger and better (potentially in every sense) in 2020.

Tech will get more environmentally friendly

It's no secret – we've still got a way to go when it comes to overcoming the countless environmental challenges the planet is up against. As demand for products and services continues unabated there is no doubt that technology is going to play an increasingly central role in addressing environmental issues.

The fashion sector is coming under ever more pressure to reduce impact on the planet, from manufacturing process to distribution. This has moved beyond CSR to impact brands globally as fashion-forward consumers are increasingly looking for more sustainable options and, as a result, a number of businesses in the fashion eco-system are re-considering the traditional supply chain model.

London-based GROUNDTRUTH prides itself on "creating positive change for people and the planet" and has created its 100% recycled high performance travel goods (including its ultra-cool backpack). Meanwhile, Colorifix has found a more environmentally friendly way of making clothes through its unique textile dyeing method that involves using natural pigments.

Over in the mobility sector, we've seen the availability and uptake of dockless bike sharing schemes (like Uber's Jump and Lime bikes) get cars off the road, reduce pollution and enable users to travel more efficiently, cheaply and sustainably.

In 2020, we expect to see more transport sharing options and transport-related technologies and perhaps even progressive policy changes to open the doors for electric scooters in markets like the UK where they remain unlawful and unregulated. Clearly the fashion and mobility sectors are not going to be lone warriors in the battle, as we expect to see significant innovation across all verticals including the wider travel sector, entertainment (Coldplay recently announcing the band will not tour until it is possible to do so in a carbon neutral way), farming and food supply, and leisure to name a few.

Tech giants will become more gigantic

Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google (popularly known as FAAMG) are one step closer to consumer world domination as they take the plunge into new industries such as consumer healthcare, payments, video games, and personal banking. In some contexts, the acronym becomes FAANG to include Netflix rather than Microsoft – we won't make predictions on where that's headed.

Clearly these power players have all the tools to make a big splash in any new areas they choose to focus on. In the case of healthcare for example, the tech companies are, according to the FT, "trying to use their massive computing power and expertise in data analytics and sensors to disrupt the industry, cut costs and make new discoveries". Morgan Stanley predicts Apple's "healthcare market opportunity ranges from at least $15 billion to a whopping $313 billion in revenue by 2027". We're expecting progress in all aspects of this industry, including personal healthcare, pharma supply chain and even medical grade wearable developments (including rumours of hearing aid versions of AirPods and blood pressure functionality in the Apple Watch).

However, as is often the case with disruptive technologies, tech companies can't expect a challenge-free road, and even high profile highly invested launches are not always successful (we only need to think about Apple's attempts at entering the music streaming and mapping markets) . The giants are already in the throes of navigating legal, regulatory, political and social pressures which is reflected in their share prices – and we don't see that pressure coming off any time soon.

Robotics will make serious inroads in retail

On the subject of tech giants, this year Washington State welcomed Amazon's new delivery robot, Scout, which has been built to pound the pavements for us and deliver Prime packages. The expected benefits of cheaper and faster delivery will no doubt please the estimated four in ten Brits who have access to Amazon's Prime service if and when Scout finds its way over the ocean – and meanwhile, (in theory) Scout will reduce the business' operating costs and increase efficiency.

Other businesses have also stepped up investment in retail-related robotics. Ikea, for example, has invested €200m in various tech companies recently, including robotics furniture maker Ori Living, and SoftBank Robotics launched Whiz, a cleaning robot available on a monthly subscription.

In 2020, organisations will no doubt continue to use and invest in retail-focused robotics and technologies in the quest to be top of the pack in the massively disrupted and competitive sector.

5G will go global

5G, the fifth generation mobile network, has arrived and the likes of EE, Vodafone and Three are in the early stages of embracing it in the UK. Predictions indicate 2020 looks set to be the year of increased uptake and global dissemination of 5G.

5G promises greater reliability, less latency and lightning fast response times, all contributing to fulfilling the needs of our data-hungry world. In a personal sense, this should mean saying goodbye to the agony of buffering videos and greater agility (and success) with remote working. The business world is also expected to benefit, for example when it comes to real-time data applications and IoT devices with the likes of driverless cars and drones (speaking of drones, did you see that the UK government recently caught up with technology and made drone registration mandatory?).

Research suggests that by 2025 "5G could add £15.7 billion per year to the UK economy". This consists of use cases we've already experienced – but we're more excited to see those the world hasn't dreamed up yet.

Cities will get smart(er)

With experts suggesting 60% of the population are expected to live in cities by 2025, city planners, governments, and private organisations will need to continue to work together and embrace technology to make those cities more sustainable and streamlined in the form of "smart cities".

There's no universally accepted definition of a smart city, but, generally speaking, it is an urban environment which uses the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and other technologies to "optimize city functions and drive economic growth while improving quality of life for its citizens using smart technology and data analysis" (as suggested by IBM). A classic example of a smart city use case is parking sensors to help drivers find spaces in crowded cities.

Waterfront Toronto partnered with Sidewalk Labs (owned by Alphabet, Google's parent company) to create an ultra-smart district in Toronto's Eastern Waterfront. In September, Sidewalk released a preliminary report on the Smart city re-development for consideration by a number of public boards and agencies. Given the plan claims to develop the waterfront using "open digital infrastructure", the report unsurprisingly touches on key issues relating to privacy, security and data protection. After all, to be smart, smart cities need data. To be smarter – smart city planners need to analyse that data.

We look forward to seeing more partnerships engaging on projects to build smart(er) cities in 2020, both in a macro and micro sense. However, we're equally realistic that there's a way to go when it comes to navigating the treatment of the enormous amounts of data involved in such endeavours.

Cryptocurrencies will face continuing scrutiny and increased regulation

2020 could be an inflexion point for cryptocurrencies as regulators and governments worldwide start to get to grips with how to treat and regulate them. The UK Jurisdiction Taskforce published a legal statement in November concluding that cryptocurrencies are personal property under English law and should be treated as such. They are definable and certain, exclusive and capable of being controlled, capable of being owned and transferred and have some degree of permanence and stability.

While this is good news in the UK, it does not mean that cryptocurrencies have entered the mainstream. Only a few weeks ago, the Chinese government announced concerns about cryptoassets and bitcoin nosedived to a six-month low. We expect regulator scrutiny and then intervention to gather pace in 2020 and this could be a problem for some currencies – we have already seen the payment giants abandon Facebook's planned Libra currency due to regulatory concerns.

AI will be unstoppable

Forrester predicts that in 2020, 25% of the Fortune 500 will add AI building blocks into their process automation but that four out of five conversational interactions will continue to fail the Turing Test, meaning that by the end of 2020, AI will power fewer than one in five successful customer interactions. In other words, chatbots will still not be chatty enough.

IDC suggests that businesses will be divided into the AI 'haves and have nots' in 2020. But despite the huge optimism around the potential of AI and the scale of investment, issues remain around privacy, clean data and a lack of trust in AI as deepfakes, facial recognition technology and the like become increasingly sophisticated. While we don't see this as a serious threat to the rise of AI, governments and regulators will continue their race to come up with ethical principles for AI as the law struggles to keep up with the pace of development. 2019 saw a report from the EC's expert group on AI, the OECD agreeing ethical principles and recommendations adopted by 42 countries, and scrutiny from data protection regulators, to name a few, and the sector is likely to face increasing regulation.

Another often-cited concern around AI is that it will destroy jobs, but Gartner and PWC are among those predicting that AI will create more jobs than it destroys, not just in 2020, but going forward. Could AI start-up clusters in places like Montreal come to rival or even outpace Silicon Valley?

Brexit

With apologies, even our crystal ball which has proved so reliable in past years, turns a nasty cloudy colour when we ask it what might happen around Brexit, We're not discouraged though and have had a go at Brexit (see our article). One thing we can predict is that whatever happens, it won't be dull. While it will certainly create challenges for many, it will no doubt also open up opportunities for the technology sector – we all know that change drives innovation.

Check out our other predictions for 2020 in games, IP and media, online regulation, life sciences, data privacy and legal design. Happy holidays and best wishes for 2020!

If you have any questions on this article please contact us.

tech 2020
Graham Hann


 

Graham and Kate predict what's going to be big in tech next year.

"While Brexit will certainly create challenges for many, it will no doubt also open up opportunities for the technology sector – as we all know, change drives innovation."