Here's our second set — a baker's dozen — of trends and predictions for 2020, some of which are more upbeat.
- 5G and facial recognition will get lots of attention. 5G and AI have enormous potential as transformative technologies, and we will see lots of articles about how we’re losing the race against China. Among other things, 5G may improve the ability to protect against cyber threats — although, as the good guys improve their capabilities, so do the bad guys. And facial recognition is advancing and could be in more devices — but there's also a downside to it, including privacy and the fact that the technology has a problem recognizing some faces.
- Artificial Intelligence will be in everything. AI has reached a tipping point and will be built in to many things that weren’t possible just a few years ago. For example, AI can help with drug development because AI can simulate how molecules in drugs will interact with the body. And AI in the fridge can detect spoiled forgotten foods, and notify you to throw it out and order more. 5G + AI can identify patterns before a factory machine or an airplane will likely breakdown. That said, we expect increased demands for regulating AI.
- AI will affect in-store retail. In prior years, we’ve talked about the “Amazonification” or “retailpocalypse,” and we saw a lot of evidence of that in 2019. That certainly will continue in 2020. That said, we think that AI will change how stores stock shelves because they will have better customer intelligence about how customers shop and what they want. There are lots of people who like to shop in stores, and AI-optimized selection may give shoppers a reason to continue to be loyal to the in-store experience.
- Software is the once and future king. Hardware and gadgets are always going to be important but it’s the software that will add new features that improve the things we already have. Like smart elevators in office buildings that can decide how to more efficiently route passengers based on floor requests. Or cars that look the same but now feature all sorts of sensors to improve safety or can drive themselves. The ability to code will continue to be important, and AI will continue to be in high demand.
- Everything will be connected, and voice will be increasingly important way to get things done. This won’t happen all at once in 2020 but IoT-enabled appliances and devices will become more mainstream, and increasingly we will use voice, either indirectly through virtual assistants or directly to the device, to operate those devices, whether it’s our thermostats, lights, security system or what’s cooking in the toaster oven. Expect Amazon and Google to offer new capabilities with their own devices and to build those capabilities into devices built by other companies.
- Drones will experience significant growth in B2B applications. As a consumer gadget, they seem like fun the first time you use them but then what do you do with them? Instead, drones will be used as a B2B tool for deliveries, maintenance, etc. As the get smaller and quieter, drones will appear in sports and arts events to bring us up close to the action in a way we could not participate in before.
- Robots won’t take over in 2020 but will be more commonplace. While the market for consumer robots like vacuum cleaners will be strong, we feel that real growth in 2020 will be fueled by B2B applications that will drive pilot programs and purchases. We’re already seeing a slow-moving robot in a local supermarket (though we’re not entirely sure what it’s doing there.) We do expect to see growth especially in 2021 in robotics-related jobs such as data labelers (the people who label things so robots can identify them), AI scientists, even robot managers who make sure robots are working effectively.
- From customer service to mental health and beyond, chatbots will be there to help us. We expect to see more AI-enabled chatbots to help run things more effectively. In the near future, chatbots will not only answer questions more effectively (rather than posting some links for further information based on the topic you enter to get more assistance) but can help you navigate websites so that you can place an order for train tickets, and in one place provide the details, and have the chatbots identify the optimum itinerary for you. Also chatbots may be preferred to humans because no small talk required and sometimes it’s just easier to interact with a faceless, impersonal (nonjudgmental) chatbot.
- Robocalls won’t go away. The recently signed TRACED Act anti-robocall bill will increase fines and accelerate call-authentication technology but will likely only reduce — not eliminate — robocalls. The reason: robocalls work, especially with the elderly. And the people behind robocalls will continue to find ways to place robocalls until it becomes too expensive for them to do so.
- The problem of data collection. There may be two problems about which everyone can agree: 1) The torment of robocalls and 2) the problem of data collection that means everything we do — whether online or offline — is being monitored by someone, even if we don’t know by whom or what they are doing (or intend to do) with our data. Surveys have found that Americans don’t think the trade-off for convenience is always beneficial — especially since they feel a lack of control over their data. We think data collection and privacy are important issues but we’re not sure how much attention they’ll receive outside of data breaches, which, as an acute incident, will continue to generate media attention when (not if) they happen.
- More home exercise equipment will offer at-home streaming classes. This is part of a trend to offer screens on devices that didn’t have them before. We expect brands in addition to Peloton will offer streaming classes to get more out of exercycles, treadmills, rowing machines, etc.
- The age of plant-based “meats” has gone mainstream. Now that a number of fast food chains offer plant-based meats, it’s time to acknowledge this trend as mainstream. We expect additional growth of materials grown in the lab, replacing faux fur, leather, cotton using recycled plastics. That said, we don't expect a lot of coverage about this since newspapers have already done comparisons of the different brands of plant-based hamburgers.
- There will be a lot of media space allocated to covering outer space. Or the Space Race, Part II since we're living in an age of sequels. Technology is enabling startups to race to the moon to build a lunar economy, and we expect some of the technology to get coverage but the main story will be about the business models and investment opportunities. Meanwhile we also expect coverage about political and legal issues of space as well as articles about things that just a few years ago would have flown under the radar (we've really been trying not to make space puns) such as the growing awareness that too many satellites are causing a traffic jam in space. This space jam began to get recognition as a potential problem in space in 2019 but we think it will get more recognition in 2020. The risk of collisions among satellites is a problem.
In the meantime, please let us know if you agree or disagree with any of the above trends.