A new year is on the horizon and with it, our traditional kick-off event, Tech Trends, where we invite some of the UK’s best tech commentators to outline the biggest stories and trends they expect to dominate news and policy agendas over the months ahead.
Our panellists are smart, but none has a crystal ball. And in what was a topsy-turvy year for tech, none of the 2022 panel – which comprised Lucy Hedges, Technology Editor of Metro; Rory Cellan-Jones, former BBC Technology Correspondent; Parmy Olsen, Technology Columnist for Bloomberg; and Geoff White, author and investigative journalist for the likes of Forbes and Channel 4 News – could have predicted Twitter to be bought by Elon Musk, for example.
The crypto rollercoaster
As 2022 began, cryptocurrencies seemed to be on the verge of mainstream acceptance, with the financial establishment increasingly endorsing their usage alongside traditional fiat currency.
While cryptocurrencies are inherently volatile, our panel’s expectation of their continued success fared reasonably until the dramatic collapse of the FTX exchange amid serious fraud claims levelled at its founder, Sam Bankman-Fried. Expect this still to be a talking point in January and the industry tries to get back on its feet.
The rise of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), however, was greeted with derision by our panel. Though they have not disappeared, they certainly feel less noisy than during their emergence on the tech scene as consumers question the long-term value of what increasingly looks like a fad.
The importance of communication was also clear as the panel raised frustrations over the lazy misuse of terms like AI, and the growing need for tech companies to differentiate properly or risk losing valuation was emphasised.
This proved true in 2022, as our panel anticipated, warning that attracting investment and standing out from the crowd would require clear and credible comms in a competitive if unsettled market. Investment across the tech sector fell dramatically following high growth during the pandemic, with sectors such as AI seeing a particularly harsh reduction – 36% vs a 24% decrease in funding across all start-ups and scale-ups in 2022.
Rise of regulation
The year began with the promise of stringent regulation of the tech sector in the UK and across the EU, with the expectation of governments cracking down on the influence of Big Tech.
This has certainly gathered momentum, with the passing of the Digital Services Act across Europe and its enforcement by February 2023 a big step towards a more democratic, transparent and fair online space.
However, the appointment of a tech regulator in the UK, which it was hoped would enable the Competition and Markets Authority to scrutinise the monopolisation of the sector, has still not progressed, though the establishment of the Digital Markets Unit remains on the government’s agenda.
Further setbacks, largely due to political upheaval, have hit the UK’s Online Safety Bill, which has just returned to parliament following a five-month delay. Our panel had anticipated its passing this year; now it’s against the clock – if it’s not passed by April 2023, it will be dropped entirely and need to be started from scratch.
Living in a virtual world
The metaverse has not quite taken off this year in the way our panel expected – they anticipated the use of these virtual spaces to evolve and become more widespread.
This tied in with the advancement of VR and AR tech to offer a wider array of experiences and take an improved role in business settings, particularly in virtual or hybrid meetings.
As 2022 draws to a close, it is probably fair to say that the uptake of the metaverse, and, with it, VR and AR technology, has been slower than forecast. In part, this could be put down to Apple – its rumoured headset product is yet to materialise and, if and when it does, will be a significant boost to mass adoption. And the jury’s well any truly out on when or whether Meta’s estimated $100bn metaverse investment will bear fruit.
There remain real concerns too about behaviour in these virtual spaces, particularly towards women, and the difficulty in curbing and regulating this remains a clear deterrent to the many who quite reasonably expect a safe experience from their technology.
The optimism post-COP26 of renewed and sustained focus on the role technology might play in achieving green goals for consumers, corporations and nations alike has faded as soaring global energy prices became more of a priority.
That said, record-breaking heatwaves over the summer reminded everyone of the need for wholesale action, as is the winter’s energy crisis. These are two parts of the same picture and any progress and solutions will only be found through smarter use of technology and better cooperation – another topic the panel may well return to in January.
If you would like to join us at the 2023 Tech Trends, taking place on 12th January 12 at the Picturehouse Central, you can sign up here. Our panel will be:
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