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2018 In Review + 2019 Preview: All About Tech(FTI)

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First, a look back. Lots of decisions were made in 2018 –– some which were entirely or partially within our control and others that were made on our behalf, or in secret, or areas of the world unknown to us. We won't know the outcomes immediately, but we do know that every decision made influences the future. It's important to track these decisions and ask: what impact could this decision have on delivering our preferred futures? Which stakeholders will benefit/ lose? What are the risks and opportunities that could unfold?

Privacy and Personal Tech

-Facebook made decisions which led to Cambridge Analytica using consumer data without their knowledge. And then Facebook didn't consider it a breach of privacy and trust until the public –– and eventually Congress –– found out.

-Twitter made decisions about its algorithms and what constitutes hate speech and intimidation, effectively preserving the status quo.

-Kids and parents made decisions about Fortnight –– the world’s most popular game.

-Consumers made a decision to buy peripherals rather than investing in newer phones that haven't added features or functionality. The sale of smartphones plateaued worldwide. Apple's new iPhone XS didn't wow consumers as expected. Samsung sort-of revealed a phone with a foldable screen, but didn't mention when or whether it would go on sale.

-Consumers also made decisions about their digital privacy. Overwhelmingly, we decided that the benefits of using our devices far outweighed the drawbacks of third parties scraping and using our data.

Court Decisions, Policy and Regulation (tech and science)

-The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) took effect, and decisions leading up to that point and even after meant that the internet began to splinter. Depending on where in the world you live, you are now seeing different versions of news websites and stories. You may not have access to some content.

-In the US, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai made a decision to roll back laws intended to protect consumers and the open internet.

-Cities decided to allow transportation-as-a-service companies to set up shop including electric scooters and bikes, along with ride sharing apps.

-SCOTUS ruled that law enforcement must get a warrant to access your past location data from wireless carriers and others. It also ruled that states can now force retailers to collect sales taxes during online transactions.

-Lawmakers in the US decided not to develop a national strategy (or even point of view) on biology, artificial intelligence and automation.


-Chinese scientists made decisions to use somatic cell nuclear transfer, genomic editing, and other techniques to modify animal, plant and human life.

-Chinese lawmakers approved a constitutional change removing term limits for its leaders, effectively making Xi Jinping China’s President for as long as he lives.

-China made sweeping decisions about climate science, diplomacy throughout Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, and how to manage its population.

Corporate Decisions

-Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce and IBM all made decisions about how to provide products and services to the US government and military.

-Executives at many big tech companies made decisions to post tweets and Facebook screeds, which had varied market consequences.

-They decided to testify in Congress or to send their deputies instead. But they didn't often share actionable insights.

-Microsoft decided to buy Github for $7.5 billion.

-Wireless carriers around the world began deploying 5G next-gen technology –– while lawmakers waited to weigh in on ecosystem standards.

-Michael Dell made a decision to take Dell Technologies public again.

-Companies everywhere made decisions about what to include in their employee behavior policies. Or they made decisions not to develop or even revise them. Some companies chose to deal with sexual misconduct scandals by doling out lucrative severance packages rather than disciplinary actions.

-Intel made decisions about how to alert the public, and how to clean up after the Spectre and Meltdown processor vulnerabilities.

-Some of the world’s largest companies, universities and government agencies made decisions that resulted in massive security breaches: Marriott, Under Armour, Macy’s, Panera Bread, Whole Foods, Gamestop, the Department of Homeland Security, Rail Europe, FedEx…there are too many to list.

-Companies large and small made investments in startups and incubators.

-R&D departments made staggering developments, product teams came up with exciting new ideas and projects, and innovation continued to bubble up across different industry sectors.

Other Decisions

-Universities made decisions about their curricula, which impacts the future of our workforce.

-Car manufacturers made decisions about how rapidly to scale electric vehicles and autonomy.

-Large agricultural companies made decisions about investing in new autonomous technologies and genetically modified crops.

-Boards of directors made decisions about board composition, which impacts who's making critical decisions in the coming years.

-The Big Nine Tech Giants –– Amazon, Google, IBM, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft in the US, and Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent in China –– made choices about data, algorithms and autonomous decision making. These choices affect each and every one of us.

Now, a look forward...

Our 12th annual Emerging Tech Trends Report launches in March 2019. We are currently tracking 300 trends across 25 different industry sectors. Here's an inventory of some of our initial key findings for 2019:

For better or worse, regulation is coming in 2019. Even if proposals for regulation stall or ultimately fail to pass, going through the process will prove a serious distraction and cause pain for big tech companies.

China will assert prolific dominance in 2019 across multiple areas: economics, technology, infrastructure, data collection and mining, artificial intelligence, bioengineering and diplomacy. We should anticipate data breaches originating from China rather than treating each case as new and novel.

Russia will similarly continue efforts to influence citizens in Western democracies using a variety of techniques.

Smartphone sales will start to decline; smart peripherals will see a bump. We expect to see many new kinds of wearables: connected performance clothing, headbands, shoes.

We will start to see city-scale projects that harness electric devices (think IoT, but much larger in scope), traditional infrastructure and citizen data.

We'll see the convergence of several game changing technologies, such as AI and genomics, and quantum computing and encryption.

We'll see further consolidation across media and tech.

Interfaces won't just be screens that we look at. In 2019 we'll begin to see new kinds of interfaces: biophysical, sound wave, light, gesture and of course, voice.

We'll begin to ask questions about the implications of anthropomorphizing AI agents. For example: How do our experiences change when an AI agent is taller or shorter than us? What if it has a distinct gender? What if it has a deeper or higher voice, relative to our own?

We'll start to reframe conversations around privacy rights in the wake of new connected devices and spatial computing environments. Examples: Who owns the rights to my face? What if my face gets hacked? Do the walls of an office –– the physical walls –– have the right to privacy? Who should be the gatekeepers of our geolocation data? If the answer is everyday people like you and me, what would be required to make sure we're not setting ourselves up for continual problems, considering that a lot of people don't actively update passwords and firmware?

What is the fate of nationalistic movements worldwide? What about shifts in geopolitical alliances? How will they impact other areas of everyday life?

To read more articles on The Future Today Institute.

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