Our Vision: Key Technology Impacts for 2020 and Beyond

By Jessica Groopman, Jeremiah Owyang, and Jaimy Szymanski

As one decade ends, another rolls in, and with it an astonishing array of technology-driven trends. Predictions abound on the technology developments and advancements expected in 2020. However, tech is no longer a vertical, as data and automation are disrupting every industry and reshaping daily life. 

Based on Kaleido Insights’ research methodology, analyzing technology’s impacts on people, organizations, and ecosystems, we identify the following trends to watch in 2020, and predict their implications beyond. What follows is a list of trends in technology impacts organized into  three macro categories

TECH + HUMANS: Digital drives “tools for good” into the hands and hearts of the collective 

1. “Next Gen” consumerism: digital natives harness tech towards for more conscious capitalism. Millennial and Gen Z’s demands for greater accountability in corporations, government, and leadership is already shifting markets. Emerging eco-friendly markets, climate action, employment and investment preferences are all examples. But this trend has yet to be digitized, and the ingredients are coalescing for disruption. As gaming and IoT intersect, for example, it’s not hard to imagine how gamification could incentivize real world actions, promote sustainable purchases, healthy decisions, or collective commitments. Imagine further, compensating those actions with digital coins that are interchangeable across an ecosystem of partners. After all, microtransactions and accumulation of virtual wealth based on in-game achievements and economies are already ubiquitous in gaming.

2. Employees are at the front lines of “tech ethics” debates and designs. 2019 brought countless examples of employees pushing back on various ways corporations were failing to demonstrate values. Petitions against military contracts, abuse of facial recognition, leadership revelations, censorship, or otherwise ethically questionable business practices — examples were both technological and cultural. Couple this with next-gen talent shortages and an increasing knowledge gap in tech expertise. Employees will be a growing source of influence to guide designs, shape policy, and demand corporate accountability both within and beyond the organization.

Just six of dozens of biometrics coming online. Source: NEC.com

3. As screens go away, humans become digital interface and “privacy” is transformed again. As we shift from tap and touch to voice, wearable, hearable, and ambient sensing, screens fade to the background. Eyes-up and “augmented audio” transform content design, but there is a greater disruption: devices will read us. Computer vision and AI will read our biometrics (voice, face, fingerprint, HRV, and all manner of inferencing) This introduces a new paradigm for the “privacy-convenience” trade off, as well as deeper ethical and legal imperatives around digital identity and the fundamental question of data ownership

TECH + BUSINESS: The decade when organizations represent more than products and profits 

4. Brands pursue “purpose”-driven marketing and PR, as scrutiny on tech’s societal impacts expands. From political donations to job displacement, from privacy to climate, technology’s impacts on society have never been under greater scrutiny. As a result, brands are prioritizing socially-focused initiatives and metrics. But “purpose-washing” will fail if initiatives are not core to the company’s DNA. PR promotes a hollow message when actual measurements and commitment to people fall short. 

5. As brands aspire toward “wellness,” Big Tech aims to usurp traditional healthcare. The $4.3 Trillion wellness industry is permeating every vertical, from hospitality to consumer packaged goods, from automotive to media, and laying out the roadmap for the next decade of personalization. This current “Wellness” boom is also the preface for next gen tech-enabled healthcare services. The commercial collection of biometric data is rapidly blurring the historically bright line between separating healthcare [tech, regulation, market players] and direct-to-consumer products. Just about every large tech company, and thousands of start-ups are vying to serve consumers directly, via wearables, virtual assistants, smartphone apps, in-home point-of-care solutions, and biometric-reading smart home devices. This is not to mention big tech’s access to billions of users, big data, big compute and AI talent. Lastly, if and when the market turns, and families lose healthcare coverage they may turn to devices, apps and social networks for lower-cost solutions. 

The Five Stages of Digital Transformation Maturity

6. Digital Transformation grows up. While the last decade will be remembered in business by companies’ awakening to the imperative of digital transformation, the next decade will focus more on maturity. Reports of some 70-90% fail rates, lower than anticipated ROI, an ever-expanding array of new bright, shiny technologies, and the concurrent “techlash” have left corporations struggling with digital transformation. Even the most advanced data-wielding companies in the world are taking deeper inventory (and introspection) across broader swaths of the organization, and most importantly, what implications data and automation have on its place in society. 

TECH + ECOSYSTEM: Technological and existential imperatives grind against old structures 

7. Climate is a universal (not unilateral) threat that will inform the next technology innovation. Around the world (and at elite events like Davos 2020), governments are failing to act, while young people are protesting for change and corporate action. This gap leaves a vacuum for eco-innovation, what many see as the next trillion dollar opportunity. Indeed, there are numerous opportunities here, from renewables to battery storage, from smart buildings to supply chain optimization, from microgrids to AI for climate risk mitigation (not to mention geoengineering). Rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and the dramatic social, economic, and security implications therein signal an imperative that will characterize technology investment and drive a fundamental “sea change” in how tech drives R&D in the coming decade. 

8. Emerging regulations pave the way for market openings. Just as the EU’s 2018 implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) required operators to design and adhere to new data processing architectures and standards, the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) will in 2020. While neither of these legislations come close to resolving data privacy concerns and abuse, they are bellwethers for technology regulation to come. First, they move the window of what is legal (and the price of penalty). Second, they offer other regions a framework on which to build, adopt, and learn. Third, they pave the way for new market competitors and business models. And just as data privacy itself turns out to be part of a broader iceberg of technology risks, expect the same for its neighbors: facial recognition, surveillance capitalism, humane designs, inclusivity, misinformation, and beyond. 

Source: Andreessen Horowitz

9. Centralized vs. distributed tensions are inherent to the next decade of technological innovations. Much has been forecast of the shift from centralized to distributed computing, but the real disruption is in the radical demands distributed models place on traditional ways businesses operate and innovate. Distributed technologies require unprecedented collaboration; they require an ecosystem to realize maximum value: 

  • 5G
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) and Edge computing
  • Blockchain / DLT
  • Artificial Intelligence (standards) 
  • Smart Cities
  • Augmented Reality 
  • Precision Medicine

They require organizations to open up and share in uncomfortable ways, often before economic models are clear. They require multiple entities to participate and integrate across technical, legal, and organizational boundaries, and they push data processing further toward the end user or node (as opposed to a single centralized institution). 

They also share needs for standards– technical, political, and ethical– all vying to emerge in an era trending towards nationalism and growing digital divides. This uni vs. multilateral tension will dictate the pace, design, and power structures of technology innovation coming in the next decade. 

Conclusion

These nine trends are just an overview of where Kaleido Insights identifies emerging technological impacts on our immediate future, and implications for individuals, companies, and government bodies. In our research advisory services, we use this same methodology to explain how technology will impact your company’s: 1) customers and employees 2) organizational processes and models 3) broader ecosystems of partners, developers, government stakeholders, and beyond. We all see the world is rapidly changing from technology, and the impacts are kaleidoscopic.

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