Tech Trends: How has Covid-19 transformed the tech landscape?
Every January, we run our annual Tech Trends event, where an expert panel of tech journalists share their predictions with a packed-out theatre on what they think will be the biggest trends shaping our lives over the next 12 months. But given the seismic events of the last four months, where the global pandemic has caused huge disruption to our working and home lives, we were keen to get an update from journalists at the centre of the tech industry to see what they think is hot.
Our MD of Business and Technology, André Labadie, was joined by a panel of tech experts to discuss the evolving tech landscape. We were delighted to host:
- Natasha Bernal, Business Editor, Wired UK
- Alex Hern, UK Technology Editor, the Guardian
- Sid Venkataramakrishnan, European Technology Reporter, Financial Times
- Parmy Olson, Tech Reporter, Wall Street Journal
Only serving to emphasise the fast-changing impact of tech, two major stories relating to data privacy and a security breach had broken overnight meaning some of our panellists were also midway through their reporting! We covered a huge amount in the hour; and below have summarised the main points of discussion.
Working practices will completely change
Who would have thought we’d be able to peer inside the homes of so many people we work with, or that critiquing what’s on the bookshelves of TV interviewees would become a thing? As the lockdown eases and the return to the office starts, the panel explored the unprecedented wave of surveillance technology, and how biometrics, facial recognition and thermal tech could soon become a permanent fixture in our workplaces, monitoring everything from our body temperatures to our productivity levels.
One example discussed was the use of AI in vision recognition to maintain social distancing in offices and track how far apart people are sitting. Talk soon turned to long term applications of this technology – with the panellists questioning whether companies who have invested in this solution during the pandemic would use it to track staff productivity in the future. With a widespread permanent shift to remote working on the cards, many employers are trying to find ways to ensure their staff are doing the work they’re being paid to do. Yet serious concerns remain over the impact of surveillance technology on employee rights and worker privacy.
Wearables will drive behaviour change with predictive healthcare
The journalists also touched on AI ethics in a discussion on how the pandemic has accelerated a move towards Big Data-powered insight into wearable users’ health. On an individual level, data from your smart watch that shows a spike in your resting heart rate could trigger a response that enables medical teams to intervene more quickly. Aggregating that data at a public policy level could help detect super spreaders of the virus and ensure healthcare workers in the area had access to enough PPE and ventilators to tackle a local spike in cases and reduce the burden on their services. While there is a clear appeal for healthcare providers to act sooner and move from ‘disease care’ to keeping people healthy, it does also raise some big questions over accuracy and bias, data quality and privacy, and the ethics of preventative action.
AI hype set to continue
While AI and ML are no strangers to hype, the panel talked about how many companies pivoted their R&D teams during April and May to use AI to detect and diagnose Covid-19. Yet engineers and data scientists remain sceptical about the potential of AI to tackle the current crisis, with many experts pointing towards the years of research it has taken in other areas to make substantial gains such as in breast cancer detection.
Next gen consoles pave the way for smart home entertainment
Also on the agenda was the forthcoming switchover in console generations, with the imminent launch of PS5 and Xbox Series X. With threats of a second or even third wave of coronavirus, winter could spell a period of more localised lockdowns in which people will have more time to stay indoors and play video games. Both consoles promise more processing power, yet while Microsoft’s Xbox Series X has positioned itself firmly as a device for the hardcore gamers, we could see an interesting play from Sony into the world of smart TV and home entertainment with the release of its PS5 towards the end of the year. Watch this space!
5G takes a back step
At the beginning of 2020, 5G was all over the media, but, bar the recent decision to pull all Huawei kit out of the infrastructure by 2020, it’s gone quiet. Why? Well, it’s also to do with the pandemic. One of our panel argued that because people are staying at home using Wi-Fi, there is little need for such high speeds and availability of data on the move. They agreed that that 5G investment is not a priority for businesses who are in survival mode right now, while one panellist dismissed 5G as a boring capacity upgrade that the average consumer doesn’t think they need!
Could the techlash be over for good?
From Zoom to TikTok, there’s no doubt that technology has played a huge role in helping maintain some sort of normality throughout lockdown, and the panellists argued that keeping people healthy and propping up the economy has been a more important focus than the backlash against technology. However, they also agreed that it could come back in earnest, particularly given the prevalence of surveillance around the recent BLM protests. The use of biometrics and facial recognition will be where the tension remains.
And that’s a good note to end on, because, amidst the debate – and some healthy disagreement(!) – one thing was very clear: despite the challenges, the tech industry remains relatively resilient, extremely vibrant and endlessly fascinating, and will continue to play an integral role in the recovery from this pandemic and in shaping our world well beyond.
If you are interested in hearing more from Brands2Life on the tech trends transforming our world, and how we can tell your story with bigger impact than ever before, please do get in touch.