Tech trends in short

These are the key takeaways from Amy Webb’s Future Today Institute Tech Trends Report 2019. The report contains detailed analyses of 315 trends, based on quantitative and qualitative data.

The Big Nine

There are nine big tech companies – six American, and three Chinese – that are overwhelmingly responsible for the future of artificial intelligence. They are the G-MAFIA in the US: Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, IBM and Apple. In China it’s the BAT: Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. Just nine companies are primarily responsible for the overwhelming majority of research, funding, government involvement and consumer-grade applications. University researchers and labs rely on these companies for data, tools and funding. The Big Nine are also responsible for mergers and acquisitions, funding AI startups, and supporting the next generation of developers. Businesses in the West will soon have to choose AI frameworks and cloud providers – likely Google, Amazon or Microsoft – a decision that will be extremely difficult to reverse in the future.

Privacy is dead

One persistent theme in the 2019 report is surveillance. Whether it’s how hard we press on our mobile phone screens, our faces as we cross an intersection, our genetic matches with distant relatives, our conversations in the kitchen or even the company we keep, we are now being continually monitored. Just by virtue of being alive in 2019, you are generating data – both intentionally and unwittingly – that is mined, refined, productized and monetized. We no longer have an expectation of total privacy. At least not like we’ve known it before. Companies that rely on our data have new challenges ahead: how to store the vast quantities of data we’re generating, how to safeguard it, how to ensure new datasets aren’t encoded with bias and best practices for anonymizing it before sharing with third parties.

China continues to ascend

China is pushing ahead in many different fields. It has launched a space race with ambitions not just to return humans to the moon, but to build indoor farms and livable spaces on the lunar surface. It is making bold advancements in genomic editing, in humans as well as in livestock and produce. Through its various state initiatives, China is building infrastructure and next-generation internet networks across Southeast Asia and Latin America. It is setting the global pace for air quality, carbon emissions and waste reduction. China’s electric vehicle market dwarfs every other country in the world. All of that in addition to China’s significant investments and advancements in artificial intelligence. No other country’s government is racing towards the future with as much force and velocity as China. This means big shifts in the balance of geopolitical power in the years ahead.

Lawmakers around the world are not prepared to deal with new challenges that arise from emerging science and technology.

VSO is the new SEO

About half of the interactions you have with computers will be using your voice by the end of 2020. Whether you’re talking to a smart speaker, or your car’s dashboard, or your mobile digital assistant, you’ll soon talk more often than you type. As content creators venture into spoken interfaces, publishers and other companies will soon be focused more on voice search optimization (VSO). The emergence of VSO affects scores of industries: advertising, hospitality and tourism, finance and banking, retail, news and entertainment, education and more. This means opportunity: there’s an entire VSO ecosystem waiting to be born, and first movers are likely to reap huge windfalls. But it also signals disruption to those working.

Data records are coming

One probable near-term outcome of AI is the emergence of a “personal data record” or PDR. This is a single unifying ledger that includes all of the data we create as a result of our digital usage (think internet and mobile phones), but it would also include other sources of legal records (marriages, divorces, arrests); our financial records (home mortgages, credit scores, loans, taxes); travel (countries visited, visas); dating history (online apps); health (electronic health records, genetic screening results, exercise habits); and shopping history (online retailers, in-store coupon use).

AIs, created by the Big Nine, would both learn from your personal data record and use it to automatically make decisions and provide you with a host of services. Your PDR would be heritable – a comprehensive record passed down to and used by your children – and it could be temporarily managed, or permanently owned, by one of the Big Nine. Ideally, you would be the owner of your PDR, it would be fully interoperable between systems, and the Big Nine would simply act as custodians. PDRs don’t yet exist, but there are already signals that point to a future in which all the myriad sources of our personal data are unified u nder one record provided and maintained by the Big Nine. In fact, you’re already part of that system, and you’re using a proto-PDR now. It’s your email address.

Read the interview with Amy Webb: Public data is a hidden treasure