Tech Trends 2019 – an update on the big predictions for this year

Back in January, we held our annual Tech Trends event, bringing together a panel of the UK’s leading technology journalists to debate the big themes for the year.

Our panellists identified seven trends that they felt would come to the fore in 2019: health tech in the UK and Europe, the growth of quantifiable selves, AI innovation, challenges for self-driving cars, robotics finding a role, everything becoming voice activated and greater control over information manipulation.

As we start to plan for next year’s event, we thought it’d be interesting to take a look back at the predictions and see how those trends are developing. Did the end up defining the year, or did they sink without a trace?

What our panel said in January: UK and Europe lead the charge on health tech

What’s happened since: We’re still very much at the early stages of realising what technology can do in the healthcare sector, but with AI start-up, Babylon, recently valued at around $2 billion following its latest round of funding, the clear signs are there that the momentum continues.

At the same time, Google’s UK DeepMind has been doing some fascinating work with several NHS trusts on acute kidney injury (AKI) diagnosis and treatment. Using an NHS algorithm, it claims to have sped up diagnosis, reduced missed cases and even reduced the cost of treating a patient.

The investment and innovation is evident across Europe too; we liked Sifted’s summary of the key accelerators here.

What our panel said in January: A growing ‘quantifiable self’ movement

What’s happened since: Fitness tracking app Strava, of the best-known, continues its rapid growth, adding a million new users a month, and estimates there are 700 million potential customers of fitness tracking apps. Wearables was part of Apple’s fastest growing segment in its latest quarterly results, one of the key announcements in this month’s annual product launch was the Apple Watch 5 and industry analysts, IDC, predicts the worldwide market for the sector is set to grow by over 15 percent by IDC.

To capture the data you need to measure, or quantify, yourself, you need intuitive apps and the right devices – the news we’ve seen in the last eight months suggest both are on the up, all pointing to the continued growth of the ‘quantifiable self’ movement.

As with any trend that involves the sharing of personal data, there are concerns about the long-term ownership implications, yet that doesn’t appear to be denting our enthusiasm to track and measure our every step.

What our panel said in January: Continual AI innovation

What’s happened since: It’s hard to move without coming across another AI story and, with everyone wanting to talk AI, it’s hard to pick out just one or two from 2019. This prediction from Gartner tries to quantify the enterprise impact of AI – it suggests AI augmentation will create $2.9 trillion of business value by 2021.

From the headline-grabbing consumer applications to the financial impact, it’s undoubtedly exciting and, as our panellists pointed out in January, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible.

It also remains to be seen whether concerns about bias in AI programming will be addressed – incidents of bias, particularly around gender or race, continue to come up. While the offending companies can react with speed to fix the issues, the underlying question is what’s been done to stop these issues occurring in the first place. As AI initiatives become more prominent, it’s something all organisations need to consider.

What our panel said in January: A long road ahead for autonomous cars

What’s happened since: In January, the consensus was that, while the self-driving vehicle industry had come a long way very quickly, it would be a while before we were sharing the roads with autonomous cars. Since then, the news from the sector has been mixed – on the positive side, New York heralded the arrival of its first self-driving cabs (in a contained area), and earlier in the summer news broke that Congress was once again drafting a bill to new rules for self-driving cars, which could help speed adoption Stateside.

However, General Motors has admitted it would miss its target of rolling out driverless cars, highlighting the issues automotive manufacturers are facing. The company’s robocar partner, Cruise, said further testing was required, but didn’t provide a new timescale for rollout.

What our panel said in January: Robotics still seeking a role

What’s happened since: Apparently, we could be issued parking fines by robot judges in the not-too-distant future, if David Gauke MP is proved right. Earmarking £2 million for the development of AI in legal services, the former Secretary of State for Justice suggested that the sector might welcome “simple tools to provide straightforward justice”.

Does this fit with our panelists’ assertion that successful robotic implementation will come from getting robots to complete mundane tasks? It depends whether you’re a legal professional dealing with lots of the same cases, or a civilian that rarely receives or challenges parking fines.

Perhaps a better use would be the Sonopill, a tiny robotic capsule that is being developed to identify signs of colon cancer, and which could stop patients having to undertake endoscopic procedures.

What our panel said in January: Voice-activated everything

What’s happened since: From Alexa now providing health advice and Monopoly is bringing voice to in-game banking, we’ve been bombarded with voice related stories over the course of the year.

What we’ve also seen is an increased scrutiny into how voice operates, and what’s recorded when we interact with technology via voice. Apple has recently suspended grading of human voice recordings after it was revealed contractors could listen in to users’ Siri interactions and Google is facing similar issues in Germany.

It’ll be interesting to see how the companies adapt their practices in the wake of the outcry, and if it’ll have a knock-on effect on how other voice service providers train their own systems to react to spoken commands.

What our panel said in January: Greater control over information manipulation

What’s happened since: With recent EU elections, a potential General Election here in the UK and a US presidential election on the horizon, combatting the spread of fake news is high on the agenda. Up until recently there were a lot of calls for action, without anyone really knowing what the solution was, and no clear consensus.

That might be about to change. A team from Harvard University and the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab have created a tool to help combat the spread of misinformation, using artificial intelligence to identify the use of AI in text. A technological ‘use a thief to catch a thief’, if you will.

With so much misinformation spread through social media, it’s hoped that the tool could be used to identify bot-generated content and discredit it.

TL;DR – everything our panellists talked about was actually pretty much spot on. We can’t claim this is the case every year but we can claim that it’ll always be a stimulating, fascinating debate, so keep an eye out for imminent news of 2020’s Tech Trends coming up. In the meantime, if you’d like to hear how we can help you navigate these issues, or any others affecting your organisation today, get in touch.

Written by André Labadie, MD, Business and Technology

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