The technology industry had a rough 2017. From the death knell of net neutrality that could seriously hamper American innovation leadership, to mega hacks and the mess of fake news and the failure of Artificial Intelligence to get anywhere near solving that problem. And Apple admitting to slowing down old iPhones and the ongoing woes of YouTube.
This has lead to what I see as the technology industry’s year of reckoning in 2018. The challenges the industry will face in 2018 are not technical in nature, rather they are societal and political. So far, for the most part, the tech giants have not fared well in stepping up to these challenges.
The primary challenges technology companies need to come to grips with and seek more human-centric, non-AI or blockchain or other tech driven solutions to are;
- Privacy: Consumers are going to demand greater control of their data. The GDPR law coming into effect in Europe is a wake up call. Technologies can be used, such as blockchain, to improve privacy controls, but the overarching approach to this problem is one of understanding human behaviours. This will become an even bigger issue as voice controlled devices see significant growth into 2018 (e.g. Google Home, Alexa and whenever Apple catches up.)
- New Social Norms: People are disconnecting from highly open social media tools like Twitter and Facebook and seeking more personalized, smaller channels where they can control their networks and content more tightly. So far, the only company to “get” this, I think, is Snap; but the jury is out on how effective it will be. This is anathema to Facebook and the original concepts of social media, but it is the new norm.
- Corporate Social Responsibility: Analog companies like mining, oil & gas, utilities, they’ve had to learn CSR and develop strategies to be more responsible. In 2018, tech giants will need to discover Corporate Social Responsibility.
- Regulations: Increasingly, citizens are pressuring their elected representatives in democratic nations to bring tech companies to heel on issues ranging from privacy to the right to fix their devices. Lobbying will only go so far to protect these companies. Especially where mid-terms approach in the U.S. and other countries edge towards election years.
- Ethics & Free Agency: As consumers/workers feel increasingly threatened by the rapid advances of technology and societal change, they will want to see greater ethics come into play and if they feel their right to free agency is threatened, they will speak with their wallets and votes.
- Consumer Power: In line with free agency, consumers found their voice in the early days of social media. They may well find it again and this time, it may hurt more. Analog businesses suffered then, digital ones may now.
- Seeking User Happiness: Pinterest has an incredibly loyal and happy membership, so does Pinterest. Facebook, Twitter? Not so much. Social networks might want to focus more on one word; happiness. For it’s users, not the shareholders.
Smartphones, tablets and laptops/desktops, have reached a plateau in terms of development, improvements now are incremental nudges in storage and processing power with marginal screen improvements. Enterprise software companies like Oracle, SAP and Salesforce have reached an innovation plateau as well. As AI, blockchain and Big Data or advanced analytics come into play, the changes to industry and society become more complex and more threatening. People love change as long as everything stays the same.
Whether the change is real or not, it is the perception that matters. Innovation is great as long as it’s quiet, subtle and seems easy. Something Steve Jobs understood quite well. Right now, tech companies are giddy with fast cash, as are their investors. This is good for innovation, but there is always backlash. Always. How that will play out is unknown, but I would lay a hefty wager.
What issues do you see?