Professor Marek Kowalkiewicz, 19 February, 2019
What business, technology, and social trends will shape 2019? Here are nine that you need to pay attention to in 2019, whether you are a businessperson, public servant, or an academic.
These trends will continue to shape our world, and keep changing the way we live, work, and think.
1. Algorithms go shopping
We allow algorithms to make business decisions on our behalf. We have fridges that buy milk, dishwashers that stock up on detergent, and algorithms that invest our money. These new economic agents are forcing us to rethink commerce.
Entrepreneurs will need to learn to work with algorithmic customers. How do you sell to a computer program? Governments might soon need to interact with ‘robo-citizens’. Can my car contest the speeding ticket I received?
Academics will have to understand this new world too. Can you reverse-engineer the behaviour of an algorithm?
2. Aspiration, Responsibility and Trust (the ART of Digital) is becoming the focus of attention for digital organisations
Remember how practically every digital giant was scrutinised in 2018 on their mismanagement of user data and other misbehaviours? In 2019, everyone will be under scrutiny.
Businesses will need to increase their focus on the ART of digital and on gaining and maintaining the social license to operate. The public sector and NGOs need to help citizens navigate the digital world safely. Academics can help by telling us how to build and measure the ART of digital business.
3. “Walled gardens” will open up
Did you follow the anti-trust case against Google in 2018? Now Amazon and Facebook are under scrutiny too. At their core, the investigations have the same goal: to allow other organisations to compete with the digital giants. Remember how Microsoft was forced to allow web browsers other than Internet Explorer in MS Windows? It’s the same, but for commerce.
Before these platforms do open up, businesses should prepare. Do you know which platforms are relevant to your business? How will you proceed? Governments need to keep watch: smaller platforms might exhibit similar monopoly-like behaviours.
4. Conversational commerce takes off
Voice synthesis and recognition have been around for a while, but 2018 has seen breakthroughs in applications. Google’s Duplex can now receive phone calls and screen callers. It can even book a restaurant table by chatting with an unsuspecting person. It is both mindblowing and natural.
Businesses should expect that in 2019 they will receive the first robocalls from customers. How many of them are ready? Should legislators force robo-callers to identify themselves? Who is liable if a robo-caller books out all restaurant tables in the neighbourhood, causing them to lose income that day?
5. Humans and machines will increase collaboration
Automation of work is not exactly a new topic. Still, expect even more to be happening in this space, but don’t expect artificial intelligence to be autonomous. It will be a co-work world: humans partnering with technology.
Businesses should continue exploring what and how to automate, but focus on human-machine partnerships.
Governments have a tough task ahead of them: to keep exploring what skills matter for the future of citizens. Researchers will hopefully keep coming up with ways to automate tasks that have not been automated yet!
6. More employees will self-automate
Remember the developer who automated his work and didn’t work for years? Thanks to the variety of tools available, we can expect even more people to automate themselves.
The ‘automators’ are a great asset at every business. Do not fire them, learn from them! A challenge for governments will be to watch who benefits from such self-automation. What if those who automate themselves don’t see the benefits of it, or end up worse off? If we can automate everything (in some jobs, at least), scholars will need to reconsider what it means to ‘work’.
7. The focus will shift from cybersecurity to digital security
Cybersecurity is essential in the digital age, but after years of focus on cybersecurity, we see that the most significant challenges are human and management aspects.
Businesses and governments will increase their focus on all aspects of security — not just cyber. Trust is one of them.
As digital security (as opposed to cybersecurity) is still a vague concept, academics and business professionals will need to work on harnessing it.
8. Our digital scepticism will grow
After years of being exposed to promises that do not materialise, we are becoming increasingly sceptical. ‘Powered by AI’ is becoming the equivalent of ‘organic’ food labels. A sales trick?
Businesses need to tune their lie-detectors. Hire people who can assess the viability of technology claims. Governments might need to start issuing certificates validating claims about AI, ML and other technologies. Schools and universities will need to teach about opportunities and limitations in technology.
9. We will fight for robot rights
We start to ask fundamental questions about the rights of robots. Who owns data created by robots? Who is responsible if something goes wrong?
Many businesses currently monetise data that is created by the devices they sell. Do you know who, legally, ‘owns’ the data that your devices produce? Lawmakers might need to step in to clarify many such questions. Academics should explore the nature of algorithms. Are they just tools (in a computer science sense), or more than that?
It will be an exciting year. There is no doubt about it!
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