This week: we look back at 2019 and forward to 2020, and reflect on how we connect tech and business trends with global megatrends. Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.
The stories this week
17:56 Our predictions for 2020
Other stories we bring up
Our theme music was composed and played by Linsey Pollak.
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This transcript is the product of an artificial intelligence - human collaboration. Any mistakes are the human's fault. (Just saying. Accurately yours, AI)
Disclaimer We'd like to advise that the following program may contain real news, occasional philosophy and ideas that may offend some listeners.
Intro This is The Future, This Week on Sydney Business Insights. I'm Sandra Peter, and I'm Kai Riemer. Every week we get together and look at the news of the week. We discuss technology, the future of business, the weird and the wonderful and things that change the world. Okay, let's start. Let's start!
Kai Today on The Future, This Week: we look back, we look forward, we reflect on the future and even make predictions.
Sandra I'm Sandra Peter. I'm the Director of Sydney Business Insights.
Kai I'm Kai Riemer, professor at the Business School, and leader of the Digital Disruption Research Group. Hello.
Sandra We're back.
Kai For Season seven.
Sandra Seven seasons. That's a lot. Happy New Year.
Kai Well, we haven't done the seventh yet, but yes. Happy Gregorian New Year, happy Lunar New Year.
Sandra Yep, all of them. Happy New Year.
Kai Happy New Decade?
Sandra Well, that remains to be decided.
Kai We're not going to do that.
Sandra End of last, or beginning of next one?
Kai Yeah, one of those. But you know, 2020 it is.
Kai Oh yeah. And as every year, Megan is back.
Sandra Welcome back, Megan.
Kai Megan, who makes us sound good...
Sandra And keeps us honest?
Megan Well, to a degree.
Sandra So since it's the beginning of the new year, we have to start with a episode on predictions.
Kai So we did this last year.
Sandra This year, maybe we should have a look at how well the predictions from last year played out.
Kai Reminding everyone these were not our predictions, but the ones that we found all over the Internet in magazines around every December, January.
Kai The who is who will come out and pronounce what the year ahead will bring.
Sandra Yeah, last year we had The Washington Post tech predictions, CNBC's predictions, Sydney Morning Herald, IBM, Deloitte, The New York Times. And they all pretty much revolved around similar predictions.
Kai So usually you take a piece of tech and then pronounce how and why this will be a big thing in the year ahead. So in 2019, the New York Times predicted that virtual assistants would become an even bigger thing. I know you have, is it Alexa, is it Google? One of those lives in your home? Has it gotten any better last year?
Sandra No, it has gotten slightly worse, I feel. Well we tried to introduce some added degree of privacy to it, and it ah, stopped being helpful.
Kai It forgot everything. Which was also a trend last year, IoT security. So I feel those two trends, security of IoT devices and virtual assistant merged, and didn't quite agree with each other. Because incidentally, IoT security was the second prediction in that New York Times article that talked about virtual assistants. And I think we mentioned at the time that, yes, that would be a thing in 2019, because it was already a thing in 2018 and it surely is a big thing in 2020 still. The fact that we have more and more devices that are connected, many of which come with standard passwords and virtually no security, providing all kinds of back doors into corporate networks.
Sandra And we've done a few stories where security and IoT came together, we've talked about Ring the doorbell company.
Kai Yeah, there was big stories around how that information is not entirely private and it's being used and sold to police departments, and has been in the news in 2019 a fair bit. So kudos to The New York Times on spotting this trend that was already in full swing. And then there was 5G. And 5G, as we all know new upgraded mobile technology with even more bandwidth, has been and probably will be in the predictions for the next coming years because it is arriving every year now. Also speaking to the fact that sometimes what is being called a trend, as in 5G, are infrastructure projects that can take five to 10 years to actually manifest and change anything in the world of business or in our daily lives. Because at the beginning it's just antennas and poles, and then we might have the features on a phone, but we don't actually quite know in the case of 5G what new business applications might be that could actually make use of this bandwidth. Other than VR and AR, which last year was finally going to arrive and be a big thing, and probably will be this year and next year because it's one of those technologies that is constantly arriving but never quite making it.
Sandra Speaking of arriving, self-driving cars were also on the list, and this has been something that has made the list for the past couple of years. And there are the same observations that we have this year. They're still not here.
Kai Interestingly, many people now come to agree that fully self-driving cars so-called 'Level 5', might not actually be a thing, either ever or in the near future. Except Elon Musk, who has promised to have fully self-driving capabilities by mid-2020. So we're going to hold our breath.
Sandra Well I'm probably not, because I think there is a difference between having the capability and being able to deploy it on the roads. And I think that's the point that also Hugh Durrant-Whyte made in one of the interviews that we had, and we'll include that in the shownotes, the fact that this is not a technology question. The fact that we can actually develop the technology, but implementing it on roads that have got pedestrians, that have got cars that are not autonomous vehicles, given the limitations in connectivity, quality of roads, signage and so on, it's a much more complicated question. So we think self-driving cars in downtown CBD are still quite far away. That is not to say that autonomous vehicles are not here. They're quite widespread in Australia and used in mines and ports and other industrial sites, but not in downtown Sydney.
Kai So it turns out then that some of the predictions we looked at last year were already things that are in full swing. And some of the predictions of things that hadn't come to pass turned out to be wrong, like self-driving cars. What then is wrong with the way in which we make those tech-specific predictions?
Sandra Well, as you were observing, when we do tech predictions looking forward, it's always about the technology and the problem that it is solving, what we can automate with it, what we can make more efficient, and never about the things that surround that technology. And interestingly, if we look every end of the year at the analysis of what has happened that year, most of the times it's not the actual failure of the technology, but failure of how the technology has played out in the world. All the big scandals that we've seen around social media haven't been around failures of the technology, but rather about failures of the business model or failures of regulating it or the way in which it has been used by various groups, various individuals, various corporations.
Kai And so what we're saying is that those tech predictions they're sometimes quite useful to look at the tech itself and it tells us something about what this technology could potentially do, what it's good for. But they're not predictions in the sense that they can actually tell a good story about why this thing would solve a problem in the world, because those predictions would have to be about the social context that we're looking at, not about the tech. And that is often missing.
Sandra And indeed, if you look at the 2020 predictions and there's a whole number of them we could list. They are again the same sorts of things. So, for instance, Forrester for 2020 predicts artificial intelligence, automation, cyber security, data and privacy and so on. So we again see the same types of things we've seen, 5G, Internet of Things on lists.
Kai I found one in ZDNet which makes concrete tech predictions. It has things like Intel, the chip manufacturer will have more competition, which again is something that is already happening. Apple is building its own ARM chips and Nvidia is big in AI chips, AMD is making a big comeback, so that's something that is well in train. We get 5G again, we get VR again. AI will be everywhere. Sure, it will be everywhere and nowhere. It also comes in here that, you know, nowadays any algorithm that makes some kind of prediction is going to be called a AI, so we have a bit of a naming issue here. And it also predicts that, AI will cause problems. But we've been discussing this for two years now, the various problems that AI have. So again, not quite new. Security of IoT devices again. And then cloud computing is a thing that keeps evolving. So these are all things that we need to keep an eye on in 2020, but they're not necessarily things that are completely new because they're just extrapolations of things that are already well underway.
Sandra So the two of us sat down earlier and we realised we would basically be doing the same first podcast every year. So we thought, how else do people think about the future? And we realised that there is a whole slew of other articles that only look at the really big trends. And in that category, we had climate, climate change, climate emergency at the forefront of all conversations, certainly here in Australia, but around the world.
Kai The second one would be the fallout from big tech and the discussion of the new economic logics that underpin the digital economy.
Sandra And then there was the uncertainty and instability surrounding trade tensions around the world as the centre of economic power slowly shifts from the West to the East.
Kai So we have the Trump trade wars and Brexit and we have all kinds of geopolitical economic issues that are unfolding. The interesting thing here is that we said that many of the small scale tech trends are too isolated, too reductionist, only looking at tech, these bigger themes, they are so big that they are actually interconnected and very hard to isolate. So we looked at the World Economic Forum in Davos just recently, and we realised that matters of global social inequality, economic inequality, climate change and also new logics of communication and big tech, around disinformation and fake news, these are big problems that are all interconnected. Even the inequality now plays out in the digital space where some people can afford privacy and others not. So we have these bigger topics that are certainly pernicious and really relevant, but they're almost one big problem that really require some thinking and untangling. So these problems tend to converge. What we need here is a bit more of a structure to deal with problems at this scale. And I think, Sandra, you just got off camera recording new videos around what we at the Business School call 'megatrends'.
Sandra Yes, indeed. So at the Business School we look at six megatrends that drive the future globally. And for many of our listeners, these are quite familiar things like impactful technology or demographic change, economic power shift, climate and resource security, what we call the 'amplified individual' and rapid urbanisation around the globe. And whilst these trends are big and they play out over 25 years or more and they've been in play for quite a long time, and we have a fairly good understanding of the dynamics in them, they are very far removed from the Internet of Things and virtual assistants conversations that also play out in the media. So I think what we realised today is that if you think about the future, most of the stories that we've done over the years have not been in either of these two camps. Most of the way we thought about the future and most of the interesting insights we have gained somewhere in between.
Kai So what we try on the podcast is to expose the kind of connective tissue that brings together the developments in technology and in business and those larger trends that drive the world economy and societal change.
Sandra So rather than looking at singular trends, things like the Internet of Things or superannuation, and rather than just analysing big sweeping movements such as demographic change or an ageing population or rapid urbanisation, what we've tried to do is make sense of the future. But by analysing how these trends play out in day to day life, what we try to do is make sense of how they interact with societies around them, with economic, political and cultural settings.
Kai So, for example, many of our listeners will remember Old Town Road, which is now our most successful episode ever. I was also a hundreds where Lil Nas X, a boy from Atlanta, Georgia, was able to catapult his country trap song to the top of the Billboard Country charts by way of using the Chinese platform TikTok. So what we have here is a story that brings to life the phenomenon of TikTok, which, you know, we find in many of the predictions and tech news as it has taken the West by storm. It's now being widely used in Europe, the US and in Australia, in the context of big megatrends such as economic powershift, corporations from the East breaking into Western markets. The amplified individual, new opportunities for individuals to actually do, you know, cool shit in the world, and the impactful technology such as digital platforms that let us do things at scale that weren't previously possible. So we have these big trends, we have TikTok. What does that actually mean? So we used Old Town Road as a story to bring this to life, and then derive quite a few learnings from this that can be applied in other contexts.
Sandra And this has really allowed us to disclose two things. And on the one hand, it was this inability to predict areas of impact or what will be really interesting about the trend. It was very easy to say that TikTok will be big, but it was very difficult to say in what ways that would matter. The second thing it allowed us to do was, in the context of Old Town Road, understand the mechanism that was at play. And we want to remind our listeners that the way the story was first portrayed in most Western media was as a story of either singular success or as a story of potential racism, as that song was removed from the country charts and then made it back in when a white musician contributed to the track. But what these stories failed to recognise at that point was that this was a story of disruption, of the way a Chinese tech platform plays within a traditional industry, such as the country music industry.
Kai Or take as a second example, one in the context of the Internet of Things, IoT, connected devices.
Sandra So this was a story we've done last year as well about the doorbell camera firm Ring. And Ring sells a camera-enabled doorbell which comes on when you ring the bell, or can through an embedded motion sensor, wake up when someone walks up to the house and record the movement.
Kai And so the pictures that are being recorded can then be transmitted to your mobile device even if you're not at home, and can also be uploaded to an online platform. So this is a classic example of the Internet of Things, which let's remember every prediction has on the top of its list. And we can set this in the context of megatrends such as impactful technology, the amplified individual that can use technology to do new things, in this case gain a sense of security in the context of the urbanisation megatrend where we have new neighbourhoods of people who might not know each other as more and more people move to cities and that need a sense of security to feel safe at home. Now what we use this story for us to understand the unexpected consequences that sometimes arise from the application of these technologies.
Sandra Small trend in the context of these bigger settings as this footage was being uploaded to the company, but also shared with people in the neighbourhood. It made people aware of more and more incidents...
Kai Many of which were quite innocuous, but also it made people more aware of crime than there was actually happening, in the process leading to the opposite outcome as intended, which was, you know, to get a better sense of security, and many people getting more worried by having all this information available.
Sandra This story also allowed us to highlight the paradox of data, the fact that implicit in most tech predictions is that more data, whether we get it through IoT, whether we feed it to algorithms, will in all cases lead to better decisions and better outcomes.
Kai Yet this case showed that this is not necessarily the case, and we were able to illustrate just how these mechanisms work, thereby placing the predictions around the use of data and Internet of Things in a bigger context. So our promise for the year is that we will continue to not only look at the trends that are unfolding, but to find the kind of stories that can bring those to life and help understand how the worlds of technology, business and trends interact. So in Season 7, we will once again look for those stories...
Sandra That help us understand something interesting, something novel about the future. We can all make predictions about the next technology to take the world by storm or the next business practice or the next IPO, but understanding what will matter in the future of business requires...
Kai Listening to Season seven of The Future, This Week. But before we go...
Sandra We always get asked to make predictions about the year ahead, we always explain to people that...
Kai And we're really not in the business of doing predictions.
Sandra And if you're trying to understand the future of business, predictions are not the way to go.
Kai So we decided to, after all, come up with some predictions of our own.
Sandra And this is what we've come up with: there will be heated debates on social media about whether 2020 is the last year of the previous decade or the first year of the new decade.
Kai Well, we predict that by December we will variously greet each other either with, 'wow, it's been a long year' or 'I can't believe the year has gone already'.
Sandra As every year, VR will have its breakthrough year again.
Kai 5G will keep arriving and make its way into the tech predictions for at least the next five years.
Sandra A new service will be launched reminiscent of Chatroulette, this time connecting hacked web and security cams. The service will be so popular DIY videos for how to hack your own cam will trend on TikTok.
Kai Self-driving cars will arrive on the streets of Sydney, but after a week of testing, they will be too scared to share the roads with humans, especially Sydney cyclists.
Sandra In 2020, Earth will once again experience summer and winter simultaneously.
Kai An Australian academic..
Sandra Is that you?
Kai It might well be. So an Australian academic will launch a class action suit against a number of large US based corporations for using seasoned language in its product announcements, accusing companies of being openly hemispheric just by using phrases like 'the new phone will be released this fall', or 'this spring'.
Sandra There will be more fake news on Facebook, and President Trump will keep tweeting.
Kai With the rise in automation, more humans will engage in uniquely human tasks, such as feeding data to algorithms or cleaning up the mess from algorithmic malfunction.
Sandra And Sydney Business Insights will launch its eighth season of The Future, This Week in the second half of this year.
Kai And we might be right on at least one of those.
Sandra And that's all we have time for today.
Kai See you soon...
Sandra On The Future...
Kai Next week.
Sandra This week?
Kai Yes, but next week.
Sandra On The Future, This Week. Next week. Thanks for listening.
Kai Thanks for listening.
Outro This was The Future, This Week, made possible by the Sydney Business Insights team and members of the Digital Disruption Research Group. And every week right here with us, our Sound editor Megan Wedge, who makes us sound good and keeps us honest. Our theme music was composed and played live on a set of garden hoses by Linsey Pollak. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud or wherever you get your podcasts. You can follow us online on Flipboard, Twitter or sbi.sydney.edu.au. If you have any news that you want us to discuss, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sandra Go back to last year. "So we did this last year".
Kai Don't tell me what to do. I can do this. I've done this before. Six seasons down. I'm a veteran.
Sandra Then you know this works. Say the words....