Technological Cycle 2019
Unease about Big Tech monopolies continues to grow and the tech world is having a hard time due to adversities such as deteriorating trust and market saturation. But, overall, thisdoesn’t seem to have hurt the tech giants that much, and in the last quarter of 2019, several tech stocks hit all-time highs and reported better-than-expected revenues in their earnings report. However, deep and fundamental developments in the technological domain are afoot, such as the building of complementary ecosystems, the increasing use of AI and data for the common good, and the rise of ubiquitous computing.
1. Updating the foundational layers of the stack
When closely examining the trajectories within each layer of the stack, it is apparent that the foundational layers are in need of an update before we can enter the age of the sensor-based economy and ubiquitous computing. When it comes to our communication network, we find ourselves in the midst of the migration to 5g technology. However, this migration is facing some adversities, as exemplified by the health concerns surrounding 5g.
In addition to demands for more bandwidth, lower latency and ubiquity, digital technology also faces some structural governance issues. Many issues we encounter today such as vendor lock-in, hacks or platform feudalism are related to its mainly centralized structure. Potential solutions can be found in decentralizing parts of the internet, which could help breakmonopolistic data silos and enable decentralized digital identities, governance and smart contracts and trustless payments. Combined with new forms of data pricing we could see the emergence of a trusted data exchange layer for the internet, where services, users, governments and industries can securely trade data, while respecting data ownership, privacy and economic interests. Consequently, we could see the rise of sustainable digital mega-ecosystems and truly powerful AI.
As this trend will have considerable consequences for the strategic position of Big Tech, we can already see that some are already preparing themselves for a decentralized future by incorporating or being able to interface with decentralized technologies. Even Facebook is showing signs that they are taking these developments seriously. However, in addition to self-regulation we also need policies that help combat deceptive design features in digital services.
2. The real world issues of AI
While the added value and efficiencies of AI applications will make implementation inevitable, there is a growing uncertainty to what extent the benefits outweigh the risks. It turns out that bias is not limited to humans and has resurfaced in AI, while facial recognition evokes serious concerns over surveillance and possible misidentification. Increasingly, companies and industries developing intelligence upon this data are scrutinized on theirethical implications. AI could also further magnify our current social instability, resulting in an increasingly vulnerable world. In response, companies such as Elon Musk’s Neuralink are building brain-computer interfaces and algorithms to be sure people are not left behind and humans will co-evolve with AI. Apart from all the potential risks that accompany AI, reality is also holding back the development of autonomous systems as exemplified by self-driving cars. Looking ahead, accountable, responsible and comprehensible cooperation between humans and machines seems fundamental for the further rollout of AI applications, especially in domains such as healthcare and mobility.
3. The stack is eating the world
As a result of ubiquitous computing and our sensor embedded environment, the digital and psychical world have become even more intertwined. As a result, we see the advent of the design paradigm of the disappearing computer, raising new challenges for marketing and even ethics. However, this has also led to novel virtual practices, as virtual worlds areexpanding quickly and non-gaming events such as live concerts have taken place in virtual worlds. It also works the other way around, as cities transform into potential AR gaming arenas and visual search applications can operate every physical object as a potential point of sales and gateway for a digital customer journey.
From a media perspective, last year saw the start of the streaming war between traditional media companies such as Disney and new entrants such as Netflix and Amazon. As of yet, traditional (high-quality) content is the weapon of choice, but in the (near) future we are likely to see the more innovative forms of interactive elements, (e.g. Netflix’ Bandersnatch) and reviving dead actors like James Dean. In gaming, the post-console era is nigh as big tech is about to enter the industry with their own device-agnostic streaming platforms for games. These may be the first steps towards metaverses, digital spaces in which we will be spending most of our spare time in the future. Yet, the question remains how these (and games for now) can be rendered profitable without the questionable business models of many of today’s free-to-play games. A shake out is the likely result of this battle for our media and entertainment space, if only because too much fragmentation of content across multiple platforms would push viewers to return to illegal downloading.
Digital technology also shows its impact in the world of sports. Amateur athletes increasingly used self-tracking devices to upgrade their own training practices and feel more like their proidols. However, the introduction the VAR system in football has shown mixed results, as it demonstrates, once more, how more data (or footage) does not necessarily lead to better decision making. Similarly, the tragic case of Caster Semenya who was banned from women’s sports unless she medically suppresses her testosterone production, also shows that more data and new technology will bring unexpected, and arguably undesirable, practices. In that light, some high-profile cases of fraud in esports seem rather silly in comparison. These examples show that digital technology and physical reality are co-evolving, blurring the boundaries between the physical and digital and creating virtual conditions for humans to come up with new ideas and realizing our dreams into digital dwelling places.