It reads like a science fiction novel – even better: like the creative overflow from a late night get-together with Jobs, Einstein, Heisenberg, Hawking, Musk, Berners Lee and other entrepreneurial pioneers. I refer to the Tech Trends Report 2020 pushed by the Future Today Institute (Free download: here). This report provides on 366 pages a dense overview of key technology trends in areas as diverse as agriculture, marketing, AI development and space tourism. It’s highly recommended.

The report counts 400 trends – trends not in the sense of “trendy” (and temporary); but in the sense of developments that will shape our future. The vast majority of described trends are not entirely new, unsurprisingly, the world does not change overnight: “AI in the Cloud”, “AI on the edge”, “Robot Process Automation”. Sometimes, however, the report provides details that shed a new light on these familiar buzzwords. Take “Advanced A.I. Chipsets”, for example (also: Neuromorphic Hardware): “Cerebras has built an A.I. chip with 1.2 trillion transistors, 400,000 processor cores, 18 gigabytes of SRAM and interconnects (tiny connection nodes) that can move 100 quadrillion bits per second”. That is quite mind-boggling. Another aha effect comes from the “degree of maturity” on the way to commercialisation for a couple of technologies.

Of course, there are also various trends that you haven’t heard of yet (at least I had not); trends like “Robots as a Service (RaaS)”, “Surveillance Scoring-as-aService (SSaaS)” or “Space-Based Quantum Internet”. A few topics may lack any relevance for everyday lifestyle (but this may turn out to be a miscalculation): “Space Tourism”, “Space Scrap” and even the “Space Economy”.

Since this is a (presumably somewhat neutral) inventory of what is happening, it is not surprising that less desirable developments are also described: “A.I. Still Has a Bias Problem”, “A.I. Systems Intentionally Hiding Data”, “The Rise of Undocumented A.I. Accidents”, “Extreme Weather Events”, “Trolls” or “Offensive Government Hacking”.

Tech Trends Report 2020: Key Takeaways

Since some (busy, time-constrained) readers probably find it difficult to draw a quintessence from 366 pages of the Trend Report, the Future Today Institute – in short: FTI, founder: Amy Webb – has taken the trouble to work out nine “Key Takeaways”. You may also call it an “Executive Summary”.

The trend Synthetic Decade comprises various developments: These include not only high-protein products in the food industry as a substitute for beef, but also completely artificially created characters in entertainment media and the gaming industry, which are created and animated with AI. Also deep fakes are of course covered – and all the problems that come with it.

The trend Augmented Hearing and Sight revolves around the re-launch of “Google Glass” – but Google is not the only player; companies such as Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook also have similar products on their roadmap. With Augmented Hearing the audio perception is enriched with spoken content, the obvious case being information about cities, much like a guided tour. “Smart perception” could be a way of summarizing this trend. It reminds me one of my esteemed books from the Robert Ludlum book series, namely the novel “The Utopia Experiment” (reading tip).

The trends “A.I.-as-a-Service and Data-as-a-Service” (in short: AWS for Everyone) as well as “Smart Home” and “Consumer IoT” do not require any explanation. The “Future Today Institute” notices a growing market for these offering in the Digital Economy.

The Executive Summary points also to a dangerous trend: “Everyone alive today is being scored.” Again, no explanation is needed. the Trend Report, however, maps out the worrying extent of digital measurement. In such a manner scoring profiles are generated on which more and more automatic decisions are being made: From granting loans to admission to the football stadium. The forerunner with regard to such Surveillance Economy is, unsurprisingly, China. In the corona crisis Chinese data collection rage found a welcome justification and gained a new dynamic. China’s lead in data collection in conjunction with its growing economic clout lead the FTI to the following conclusion: China has created a new world order.

Last but not least, here’s another worrying trend: “We’ve traded FOMO for abject fear”, “FOMO” stands for “Fear of Missing Out”. According to FTI observations, fears are increasingly being stirred up on social networks. But why? Fear is good for business – according to FTI. Does this ring a bell with you? Check Noam Chomsky, watch “Rule through fear”.

And finally a business idea …

When I stumbled upon the trend Augmented Hearing, this reminded me of a business idea I had come up with 4 years ago. I even had a proof-of-concept developed. Due to another entrepreneurial project, however, I couldn’t make a follow-up on this. However, I think this idea is still relevant. The Pitch Deck can be downloaded at the end of this blogpost …

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Sebastian Zang
Author

The author is a manager in the software industry with international expertise: Authorized officer at one of the large consulting firms - Responsible for setting up an IT development center at the Bangalore offshore location - Director M&A at a software company in Berlin.