As a futurist, it’s my job to look ahead and identify the most important future trends in business and technology. However, many of them won’t become relevant until decades from now. For more actionable advice and to help business leaders prioritize, I also provide a look into the more immediate future.
Every year, I look ahead and outline the key tech trends for the coming year – those that businesses must address today to remain competitive.
So, let’s take a look at my list of key tech trends that everyone should be ready for.
Ok, the AI hype has been around for a while, but if you’re not someone who is actively involved with working on technology, you may not appreciate how ubiquitous AI has become. We use smart algorithms every time we search the internet, shop online, navigate as we travel, choose how we entertain ourselves, manage our schedules, and carry out countless tasks – both creative and mundane.
The hype isn’t going to end any time soon. AI has been described by Google CEO Sundar Pichai as “more significant than fire or electricity” in terms of the impact it will have on human civilization. The maturing ecosystem of no-code AI solutions and as-a-service platforms will continue to make it more accessible. With technology infrastructure and (to some extent) budget no longer a hard barrier to entry, those with good ideas will be able to create new AI-enhanced products and services which simplify or enhance our lives.
One strong focus of AI activity in 2023 will be around the augmentation of workers. Although AI will inevitably lead to the disappearance of some types of human jobs, new ones will emerge to replace them. Responsible, forward-looking employers will increasingly think about navigating this change by enabling workforces to fully leverage the new tools that are available to them.
Another exciting field to watch is synthetic content. This involves harnessing the creative power of AI to produce entirely new images, sounds, or information that has never existed before. Just like a human does when they paint a picture or write a piece of music. Natural language algorithms enable computers to understand and recreate human language communications. This means I can have my avatar answer a question or deliver a talk in my own voice without ever having to have spoken the words. The same technology drives the infamous Tom Cruise deepfakes, and the Metaphysic act that has wowed audiences on America’s Got Talent this year. In 2023, we can expect to see growth in the use of this generative form of AI across entertainment and business.
The Future Internet (Metaverse)
At this stage, I think the best description that can be applied to the term metaverse is just “a more immersive digital world .”This might sound a bit woolly, but no one really knows what immersive online environments and next-level user experience will look like in five years’ time. Mark Zuckerberg thinks it will be about virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), while creators of web3 platforms like Decentraland or The Sandbox think it will also be about decentralization and blockchains. The ideas are not mutually exclusive, and there’s no reason that the internet of tomorrow won’t be both decentralized and built around immersion and 3D content. But with various competing ideas being thrown around when it comes to defining the term metaverse, it’s not surprising that in 2022 some people got confused.
Since Mark Zuckerberg kicked off the metaverse hype in late 2021, all manner of large organizations in industries from banking to fashion, entertainment, and video gaming have jumped on board. Most have done so by simply taking advantage of existing metaverse-leaning platforms like Decentraland, Roblox, or The Sandbox to establish their first metaverse “outposts .”They’re hoping to connect with the first wave of early adopter metaverse users (largely thought to be generation Z), as well as demonstrate their cool by being involved in the early stages of the “next big thing .”Clothing retailer Forever 21, for example, probably does not expect to make much money or much improve the customer experience of its average fan, with the presence it launched this year in Roblox. The aim is to understand the opportunities, test the available technology and demonstrate, to its shareholders and to the tech community – that it’s capable of swiftly moving on emerging trends.
In 2023, this outpost-building and piloting will become steadily more popular among smaller organizations, while for the global brands already involved, everything will start to come together to create cohesive products and services. These will be intended for mainstream consumption rather than simply to excite technophiles and early adopters.
We will also start to see that metaverse is both mobile and post-mobile. We will still interface with it from wherever we are in the world and on whatever devices we like. But the default won’t always be a smartphone. New ways we access, experience, and interact with content include headsets, smart glasses, and even full-body haptic feedback suits, and these (among others) will define the opportunities that are created. Businesses wanting to ensure they are not laggards when it comes to the next iteration of the internet now need to think hard about two things: How will they leverage these opportunities to build products and services that deliver more immersive and rewarding experiences? And how can they take advantage of the platforms and tools becoming available to make their internal processes more engaging and efficient? This could mean building capacity for collaborative remote working, training, onboarding, and project management.
A Digitally Editable World
Our ever-evolving ability to digitally recreate anything in the physical world is what makes the metaverse viable (or inevitable even) in the first place. But this idea goes further than simply creating immersive online experiences; today, we can edit things in the digital world in a way that influences the real world. Take Digital twins as an example; racing teams in Formula 1 create digital twins of the race car and use the digital world to test the car in virtual wind tunnels and via digital simulations. This allows them to change components of the car in the digital world until they are optimized before they 3D print these components for the real-world vehicle.
We see similar abilities to edit or program real-world materials in nanotechnology. By manipulating characteristics and compositions of material at a nano-scale, we can give materials new features, such as self-healing paints and water-repellent clothes, or we can develop completely new materials, such as graphene, the thinnest and strongest material known to exist.
And the pinnacle of the editable world is the manipulation of living organisms such as plants, animals, or humans by editing the genetic information responsible for the development and functioning of those organisms. Initiatives such as the Human Genome Project have enabled us to successfully create digital representations of entire DNA strands, and innovative approaches such as the CRISPR Cas9 gene editing method allow us to change the DNA and genetic structure of living organisms.
This technology opens up a range of possibilities that are almost unlimited, as it means that any characteristic of a living organism that is inherited can theoretically be changed. Children could be made immune to illnesses that their parents are susceptible to, crops can be developed that are resistant to pests and disease, and medicines could be tailored to individuals according to their own genetic make-up.
Re-architecting Trust With Blockchain
Traditionally, processes involving establishing trust between two parties online have been via a middle-man. Banks and companies like Paypal verify our identities and act as guarantors when we send money to friends or family. Anti-fraud and payment verification services help us to trust that it’s safe to allow businesses to store and process our financial information. The fact that these are all centralized systems means that we can still potentially run into problems if the companies providing them fail to manage them effectively or fail to act with our best interests in mind.
The questions asked about trust in 2023 will revolve around the principle of decentralization. This means removing ultimate control of an organization, company, or process from any one central point of ownership, using decentralized networking built around consensus and encryption. These are the building blocks of blockchain, which is really just a way of storing data or running programs that are spread across multiple computers and can’t be interfered with by anyone who isn’t supposed to.
Energy giant Shell, for example, has revealed a trust-driven initiative that uses blockchain to ensure the provenance of sustainable energy entering its grid. And drinks manufacturer William Grant and Son attached decentralized digital tokens (NFTs) to ultra-expensive bottles of its Glenfiddich whisky it sold to collectors, which will enable them to be authenticated when they are re-sold.
Decentralization will lead to new ways of transacting, communicating, and doing business – and not just for humans. Machines, too, will benefit from the ability to carry out secure transactions between themselves, allowing us to further automate elements of business and industry that involve different interfacing systems.
Businesses are betting big that blockchain technology will drive an evolution of our relationship with the concept of digital ownership – and fuel a consumer boom in the process. They are already being used by brands, including Prada and Balenciaga, to allow users to “prove” that they own genuine digital versions of luxury products that can be shown off in the virtual world. If the metaverse means that more of us will spend an increasing amount of time (and money) online, it’s certain that there will be people who will want things that are exclusive or unique to them and to be able to prove ownership and provenance.
Ultimately this leads us to the concept of the decentralized autonomous organization (DAO). This is an entity – which could be a company, charity, service provider, or community group – managed and administered via software and rules enshrined on a blockchain. All decisions are made by consensus, usually meaning stakeholder vote. The results of the vote are automatically executed by smart contracts (blockchain programs) that can do anything from making payments to changing the management structure, implementing new rules and regulations, or changing the name of the organization.
The Hyper-Connected, Intelligent World
This trend quite literally ties all of the others together. It’s the network of connected sensors, devices, and infrastructure that gathers the data we need to build the metaverse, create digital twins, train intelligent machines, and design new ways of enabling digital trust. This is what is known as the Internet of Things (IoT), and its impact on our lives will continue to be felt strongly in 2023.
The focus will continue to grow on enabling more useful and complex machine-to-machine interactions. Today, we are used to filling our homes with smart gadgets and appliances and our workspaces with smart tools and applications. But we often run into problems when machines have difficulty communicating due to different platforms and operating systems. In 2023, we will see further work on the development of global standards and protocols that devices can use to talk to each other. This means they will work more effectively and be capable of assisting us with a broader range of tasks.
Another area of focus will be IoT security. While connected devices can improve our lives in many ways, they also create security risks. Any device on a network is potentially an access point that an attacker might use to gain access to a system or compromise the data stored on it. Improving security capabilities to thwart these attacks will be a priority for companies that are investing in IoT and will involve tools capable of AI-assisted prediction.
5G and, in the future, 6G services won’t just mean that devices will communicate more quickly than ever before. They also mean more devices can be connected, and communication between them can be “sliced” – placed into discrete channels where it exists in isolation and won’t be disturbed by whatever else is happening on the network. This will lead to more reliable connected devices for use in critical procedures such as robotic surgery.
Speaking of healthcare, 2023 is also likely to be a boom year for products and services aimed at helping us to manage our health and well-being. With covid-19 still a concern around the world and the ongoing threat of more pandemics, along with the relaxing of lockdown laws, more of us are turning to technology to ensure we stay fit and healthy and smart devices to help us monitor our progress. The newer generations of Apple Watch include sophisticated sensors capable of measuring blood oxygen levels and temperature, as well as carrying out processes like conducting electrocardiograms (ECG). Previously, hardware capable of conducting these scans cost tens of thousands of dollars. This year, we are expecting to see the fruits of Google’s acquisition of Fitbit, which will include smartwatches and fitness trackers with even more sophisticated features.
Bonus Trend: Sustainable Tech
On top of the five trends outlined above, there is one other ‘non-negotiable’ tech trend that will move even more into the spotlight in 2023: we need to make sure our technology is environmentally sustainable. With some of these data-driven and compute-hungry technologies, the environmental costs can sometimes be hidden away in cloud data centers that companies that are using the tech will never see or touch. Customers and investors are increasingly looking for green credentials, and we will see more of this in 2023. Data centers and blockchain technology need to become greener, and companies need to ensure they don’t waste valuable resources storing data they don’t need and running algorithms that don’t add value.
To stay on top of the latest on the latest business and tech trends, make sure to subscribe to my newsletter, follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, and check out my books ‘Tech Trends in Practice’ and ‘Business Trends in Practice, which just won the 2022 Business Book of the Year award.