The State of Technology

Data Privacy

Technology in 2018 will be defined by one message: "We have updated our privacy policy". After GDPR's enactment in May, every single organization in the world that collects any sort of data was impacted. Simultaneously, we are seeing sustained growth in Cloud Computing, Urban Mobility, VR/AR, AI/ML, and IoT, while the more established fields of smartphones and blockchain are seeing a cooldown.

Opt-in

Users must explicitly allow companies to collect data, which must be encrypted, up-to-date, and accurate.

Right to be Forgotten

Users must be able to access all of their data and be able to delete all of it.

Severe Penalties

The penalties for compliance failure are high and proportional to revenue. Organizations are devoting large amounts of resources towards GDPR compliance.

Sectors

Cloud Computing

The fundamental benefit of cloud computing is specialization. With AWS dominating in market share and Azure and Google Cloud constructing ecosystems that are growing at rates above 100% YoY (Oracle and IBM are also major players), the technological development in the field is at an ever-accelerating pace, with Kubernetes and Spark being fantastic examples. This means stronger security protocols and optimization in every way. Google may lead in ease-of-use, while AWS leads in the number of offerings, and Microsoft leads in integration with legacy products.

Urban Mobility

Self-driving ride-sharing, dockless bike-sharing, dockless scooter-sharing. Technology is driving new forms of transit, driven by electric vehicles and sharing.  Uber, Lyft, and Via are, of course, growing rapidly and partnering with transit organizations to provide last-mile connectivity, along with exploring self-driving taxis, such as Waymo’s experiment in Phoenix, even after the accident. Dockless bikes and scooters from companies like Lime and Bird are causing headaches for regulators who aren’t sure whether these will just be a fad or not. Cities and streets are being redesigned behind these paradigms and only time will tell which technologies are fads and which are built-to-last.

Smartphones/Laptops

The field of smartphones, dominated by Apple in the US and Android worldwide, with Samsung, Huawei, and Xiami being the primary Android manufacturers, has seen a plateauing of global demand in recent years, with a YoY drop of 2%. The low-margin market has been hampered by a lack of innovation and intense competition from Chinese manufacturers.  Along the same lines, there is not a whole lot happening in the laptop/personal computer market, although Apple has been slow to update its computers, while Microsoft has been busy building a solid ecosystem with its Surface line.

Wearables

Wearables are seeing a great amount of growth, potentially jumping to a $100 billion market in 2021. Smartwatches account for 15-20% of that market, dominated by the Apple Watch. But the primary use-case comes from sports/fitness, such as Fitbit. Another potential market is AR enabled eyewear. Although Google Glass failed in the consumer market due to privacy concerns, it is making a comeback along with the Microsoft HoloLens in the B2B markets, primarily for manufacturing and education. About 50% of factories in the US are already utilizing some sort of AR/VR headset technology.

VR/AR

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will likely be the next big disruptor in several industries including medicine, retail, and manufacturing. VR is already huge for gaming with organizations such as Facebook (Oculus), HTC, and Sony investing heavily in these applications. VR is also heavily useful for training purposes and in medicine.

Augmented and Mixed Reality will likely have a larger impact, with Google, Microsoft, and Apple making big strides. Google and Microsoft have existing wearables that have seen heavy experimentation, and Apple has been speedily developing AR platforms with ARKit and is reportedly even working on an AR enabled wearable.

AI/ML

AI and ML techniques have become increasingly easier to use for even untrained developers. Packages like Keras and TensorFlow and cloud services primarily from Azure and Google Cloud Platform have allowed developers to create and use neural networks and statistical models for large data analytics. This has led to an explosion in the use and training of effective machine learning models as even small, bootstrapped companies can access these techniques without large overhead costs.

IoT/5G

Carriers are expected to launch 5G networks by the end of the year and 5G enabled phones are expected to launch simultaneously. 5G networks will bring theoretical speeds of up to 2 Gbps, miles ahead of the current 4G LTE standard. This will lead to the enablement of true Internet of Things technologies, with large networks of products everywhere. Embedded sensors will gather and deliver data about every mundane aspect of our lives. This brings up privacy concerns, especially as, in their current form, IoT devices are not powerful enough to run data calculations on their own so they have to offload their data. IoT has an adoption problem in its current form as it still is expensive and only for the more tech-savvy consumers.

Blockchain

Since its zenith in December 2017, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have crashed and the market has been either plateauing or falling, depending on what regulators have been feeling. This also goes for the hype around the blockchain technology. Few, if any, practical applications of blockchain have taken off, although many companies have experimented with it. Blockchain is extremely expensive to run, not just because of the electricity and computing power required, but also because of gas costs for every transaction, especially on larger blockchains. This makes prototyping prohibitively expensive and actual deployment and customer acquisition expensive as well, let alone retainment. The other issue is that, while decentralization has significant benefits for security, many of those benefits can be achieved in alternative ways and may be just as effective.

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity remains what should be the most major important concern that any company that collects any data should have, other than privacy. After a series of major breaches in 2017, including the infamous Equifax breach and the Intel security flaws, companies are hiking investments in data protection and hardware protection. There are huge risks and breaches just waiting to happen. AI/ML based techniques will allow experts to identify trends in past attacks and notify experts should such trends repeat, but hackers can also use the same techniques to identify holes, reducing the amount of manual labor involved in hacking. Ransomware attacks may expand to IoT devices, holding entire ecosystems hostage. And, worse, state-sponsored attacks may ramp up in this tough political climate.

Technology Blog Posts

HARVARD UNDERGRADUATE CONSULTING ON BUSINESS AND THE ENVIRONMENT © 2019