The risk of predictions is always that they can quickly look outdated or wildly off the mark, though it’s safe to say that when we convened for our annual Tech Trends event in London last January, nobody quite foresaw a pandemic and its implications – one of which was that this year’s event of course happened remotely.
Despite everything, the tech sector came through 2020 in relatively positive shape, allowing room for real optimism as we asked our stellar panel of UK journalists what they were most looking forward to seeing in the coming 12 months.
André Labadie, MD, Business & Technology at Brands2Life was joined by:
In case you missed it, you can access the recording here or below:
From healthtech to cyber defence to European IPOs, read on for some key highlights from the discussion to keep an eye on in 2021.
Covid-19 will continue to cast its shadow over this year and beyond. An early issue to resolve surrounds the possibility of vaccine passports as a means of allowing things like international travel and indoor gatherings to resume.
Though immunity passports were a non-starter, vaccine passports, if they are introduced, could help to incentivise uptake of the vaccines. Longer-term repercussions for the use of people’s data and tracking of their movements remain problematic amid fears that applying a ‘needs must’ one-off licence in this case could in fact be equivalent to opening Pandora’s Box.
Other tech solutions and responses to the pandemic emerged from CES last week, and remote diagnosis looks set to be a key trend. Devices that continuously monitor health conditions and vital signs with near-hospital levels of precision are already emerging and will enable doctors to diagnose patients without them having to risk leaving the house or congregating in hospital wards or waiting rooms.
Given how much more conscious we all are of avoiding potentially contaminated surfaces, touchless tech is also likely to prove popular, from smart doorbells and door handles to hands-free toilets.
Are the days of envious glances across the Atlantic at the latest eye-watering valuation in Silicon Valley numbered? Perhaps not for the foreseeable future, but the months ahead are expected to see a raft of European tech companies go public.
London could become something of an IPO hub, with major tech players including Deliveroo predicted to choose the FTSE for their offerings this year.
Investment of this kind in the UK tech scene is a great endorsement of the innovation and advances the sector continues to offer and will rightly put some of our brightest companies in the spotlight.
While the irony of a Facebook subsidiary falling foul of misinformation, which has prompted millions of users to abandon the app in favour of alternatives like Signal and Telegram, draws little in the way of sympathy, it demonstrates how fragile the trust or acceptance of Big Tech’s users can be.
These companies have long enjoyed an enormous amount of power and near-ubiquity over our lives, and it is now almost impossible to live without them even for conscientious objectors. However, as increasing numbers of people question how comfortable they are with how Big Tech operates, this could be the year these companies come under unprecedented pressure to respond, or risk losing users.
It is not just the public that will be keeping Big Tech companies honest, but policy makers too.
In the UK, the proposed Online Harms Bill mirrors the EU’s Digital Services Act in placing the responsibility for removing harmful content on the tech platforms themselves. Section 230 of the US’s Communications Act, which absolves platforms of this liability, is also coming under renewed scrutiny.
These moves have been prompted by a wide range of issues, from ethics to free speech and the use of private data, but clearly signal a widely held belief that something needs to be done to improve the user experience online and place greater levels of accountability on Big Tech providers.
The Biden administration is likely to herald a new approach to cyber activity from the USA and its western allies, particularly on the back of the SolarWinds attack at the end of last year.
Under his predecessor, malicious activity from Russia was largely allowed to happen with minimal repercussions, but this will be viewed in a very different light moving forward, and the same goes for offensive nation state actions from the likes of China and North Korea.
Retaliation in kind, however, is unlikely to be viewed as the smartest approach, with far bigger question marks surrounding underling defence systems – expect these to be prioritised and invested in as all major countries seek to safeguard themselves against similar campaigns.
Following months of indoor life, the appeal of fresh air could coincide with tech engagement.
Alternative modes of transport, including but not limited to e-bikes and e-scooters, are likely to continue to grow in popularity as people seek to avoid traditional public transport for commuting. Expect new variations on these electric vehicles to begin to emerge.
This is also likely to be a significant year for AR, with the arrival of products like Apple’s LiDAR set to put the technology in the hands of a wider userbase, not just the tech obsessives. While AR may not go fully mainstream for a while, major groundwork is being laid right now that should give it a better chance of prevailing with a wide audience than VR.
The technology behind deepfake content has now become widely accessible and high quality and, while there remain huge problems about its illicit usage for harmful content, its positive potential is being increasingly explored.
We have already seen it deployed in mainstream entertainment, with a deepfake Queen delivering an alternative Christmas message last month and South Park’s creators launching a new series, Sassy Justice, entirely rendered by deepfake technology.
Now its use is expanding to personalised marketing, HR and gaming. It could also play a crucial role in getting people back into physical clothes shops, connecting to haptics and touchless displays to show customers how they will look in potential purchases and adding to the in-store experience.
While challenges remain for us all, we are very excited for what this year has in store in the tech sector.
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If you were unable to join this year’s Tech Trends and want to catch up, you can do so here.