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  • Big Data & Technology
  • Andreas Sandre
  • FEB 01, 2019

The State of Tech in 2019

So far, the month of January has seen many write ups and analyses on technology and what to expect in 2019.

For instance, I was pleasantly surprised to see digital diplomacy as one of The Top 10 Tech Issues for 2019 mentioned by Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer at Microsoft, in a recent article. Indeed, digital diplomacy has been a key focus for the Seattle-based company — not as a way to communicate with audiences, but rather as a tech for good tool, at the intersection between foreign policy, technology, and cybersecurity.

“The tech sector continues to prioritize cybersecurity innovation and investments,” writes Smith in a LinkedIn article co-authored with Carol Ann Browne, Director of Communications at Microsoft. “The year’s biggest step came in November,” they say. “The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace, led by French President Emmanuel Macron, launched an important appeal to deter indiscriminate cyberattacks and protect electoral processes. It’s based on multi-stakeholder action, garnering more than 450 signatories from more than 50 governments and roughly 400 companies and civil society groups.”

The New Year brings a new opportunity to bring everyone together.

1. DIGITAL DIPLOMACY

This is why digital diplomacy will represent, I think, an important topic of discussion in tech in 2019.

Most think of digital diplomacy as one of the many ramifications of public diplomacy — social media being the most visible part of this equation. However, digital diplomacy has been evolving beyond social media. Some call it “techplomacy;” some others call it “cyberdiplomacy.”

I look at it in terms of actors. In the past few years, tech companies like Microsoft, Facebook, and Google have become important foreign policy players.

The 2017 launch of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) to tackle extremism and terrorism online and work together with governments and civil society groups was a key step forward — including Big tech presence at the United Nations and at the G7.

Another important step was last year’s Tech for Good Summit at the Élysée in Paris, where 60+ technology leaders and chief executive officers gathered together to talk about how technology can contribute to the common good and how it can be leveraged around three topics — education, labor, and diversity. Rwandan President Paul Kagame was among the guests, as were UNESCO Director Audrey Azoulay, Mitchell Baker, President of the MozillaFoundation, and Jimmy Wales, Founder of the Wikimedia Foundation. Also in attendance Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Alexandre Dayon of SalesforceStewart Butterfield of Slack, and John Collison, co-founder and CEO of Stripe.

On the government side, Denmark’s “techplomacy” platform has been another big step forward in how diplomacy and technology interact. Following the appointment in 2017 of Casper Klynge as the first-ever tech ambassador to Silicon Valley and the global tech industry, the Danish Government has now launched a new Foreign and Security Policy Strategy 2019–2020.

2. AI FOR GOOD AND ETHICS IN AI

Artificial intelligence and machine learning represent one of the most exciting trends in technology: virtual assistants, autonomous cars, self-learning algorithms. These are challenges many tech companies and startups at looking at to push innovation forward. But the number of AI critics is multiplying as these technologies have also a dark side.

2018 has been a key year for artificial intelligence as concerns about the repercussions of AI on society and human activity are mounting, even within Big Tech. Trust is also a big issue as some believe that the recent rush towards AI may suggest that we are turning over the keys of reason to machines.

However, companies like Google, Microsoft, and Amazon are now exploring ways to tap into AI for social good and humanitarian projects and aid.

Google was the latest to enter this space of what some refers to as AI for good. The company announced in November its AI Impact Challenge to grant about $25 million globally in 2019 to humanitarian and environmental projects seeking to use artificial intelligence to speed up and grow their efforts.

Reuters pointed out that “Focusing on humanitarian projects could aid Google in recruiting and soothe critics by demonstrating that its interests in machine learning extend beyond its core business and other lucrative areas, such as military work.”

Earlier this year, following a harsh and public employee backlash, Google announced that it would not renew a deal to analyze US military drone footage in a AI-based program.

Google AI Chief Operating Officer Irina Kofman told Reuters the new AI for good program was not a reaction to what happened earlier this year, but noted that thousands of employees are eager to work on “social good” projects despite the fact that those programs often do not directly generate revenue.

Microsoft, on the other hand, just silently announced that it would sell the US military and intelligence agencies whatever advanced technologies they needed “to build a strong defense,” including its machine learning and AI tools.

“We want the people of this country and especially the people who serve this country to know that we at Microsoft have their backs,” wrote Brad Smith, Microsoft President, in a blog post. “They will have access to the best technology that we create. At the same time, we appreciate that technology is creating new ethical and policy issues that the country needs to address in a thoughtful and wise manner. That’s why it’s important that we engage as a company in the public dialogue on these issues.”

The counter the mounting criticism, Microsoft has recently launched a series of new AI programs, totaling $115 million, including AI for Earth, its new project to put AI to work for the future of our planet, and AI for Humanitarian Action, a new $40 million, five-year program to harness the power of AI to focus on four priorities — helping the world recover from disasters, addressing the needs of children, protecting refugees and displaced people, and promoting respect for human rights.

3. BLOCKCHAIN

The Internet “has been spectacular in so many ways,” Joseph Lubin, founder of startup ConsenSys and co-founder of ethereum, said in his keynote address during the Ethereal Summit in Brooklyn in May. “It has transformed global society, but it’s broken.”

In his keynote presentation, Lubin pointed out how the technology behind the Internet and the World Wide Web “is getting stretched to its limits” and security is one of the main issues.

“Its [the Internet] foundations were formed decades ago, in naive times,” Lubin highlighted in one of his slides. “Security evolved as a patchwork later.”

Blockchain is going to be a revolution in IT security because every transaction against your infrastructure is a strongly and cryptographically authenticated and granularly authorized.

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“You have a force for universal disintermediation” enabling content creators, resource providers, service providers to directly access consumers with little to none intermediary extracting value, without adding any commensurate value.

ConsenSys has been exploring these approaches already with platforms like Ujo for music, Civil: Self-Sustaining Journalism for news, and Cellarius for collaborative, fan-crowdsourced, and fan-curated stories on many formats. But also in the area of services and resources, linking them directly to consumers, with projects like Golem ProjectSONMKauri TeamSwarmStorj LabsPangea, and many others. And recently even the cloud has been part of the evolution of blockchain, from the partnership between Kaleido and Amazon Web Services (AWS) to the launch of W3BCLOUD, a blockchain-based cloud computing infrastructure, developed in partnership with semiconductor producer AMD.

This constitute Web 3.0 for ConsenSys and its mesh of projects, with trusted transactions, automated agreements, and smart software objects on Ethereum, a single world computer, a single execution space; as well as other protocols like decentralized storage, decentralized bandwidth, and heavy compute.

All of this is going to enable us as people and corporation to interoperate much more fluidly.

In a way, Web 3.0 brings the Internet back to its beginning as a decentralized architecture.

“But efficiencies and drive for wealth led to siloed, walled gardens,” Lubin highlighted in a slide. “This was due to a lack of mechanism for shared ownership of open platforms.”

Web 3.0 is what we’re just of the cusp of. And Web 4.0 is going to be very interesting.

Lubin mentioned how Web 4.0 is “what we’re just starting to think about.” It is a system where artificial intelligent agents are empowered by value through blockchain and tokens. “The Internet of the machines economy is going to be very interesting and definitely coming to a blockchain near you,” he said.

Essentially, in 1–2–3 years I think it’s going to feel like blockchain is everywhere. It’s still not true right now.

4. MICRO MOBILITY AND ELECTRIC SCOOTERS

Even Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and now Chairman & CEO of Revolution Team, mentioned the electric scooters in his write up of 2018 here n Medium, which he titled What We Can Learn from the Biggest Tech Policy Mistakes of 2018.

“Scooters were all the rage this year, popping up in cities and on sidewalks all across the country,” he wrote about 2018. “Without coordination or notification to city officials, some felt blindsided and reacted by impounding scooters. Issues around transportation and smart cities will continue to be important as public and private entities look for ways to create innovative solutions for challenges like traffic, pollution, walkability, etc.”

It seems it’s a very polarizing business… Either you love the scooters, or you hate them.

“We have this deeply ingrained car culture in the US that we have to challenge in multiple ways to really get at the heart of it,” said Lyft bike, scooter, and pedestrian policy Caroline Samponaro to Fast Company.

Lyft is one of the many companies exploring the electric scooter business, including Uber; Lime, formerly LimeBike; Bird; Spin, recently bought by Ford Motor Company; Skip; and many others outside of the US, like dott in the Netherlands, co-founded by Maxim ROMAIN, Ofo’s former head of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; Mexico City-based Grin; Berlin-based Tier; and São Paulo-based Yellow.

All are investing in the future of micro mobility — or, as dott’s VC partner Lars Jörnow of EQT Ventures calls it: Short-haul-urban-transportation-as-a-Service(ShutaaS).

And this is another area in which companies in the space can become important tech-for-good players. Startups and cities, for example, should work with think tanks in the areas of urban planning and greening our cities. Organizations like C40 CitiesClimate Mayors, and The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy are all more than willing to work with cities and companies to mobilize and to support ambitious, measurable, planned climate and energy action. A better and greener mobility strategy is a good think for us all!

5. SELF-DRIVING CARS AND AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES

In a recent blog post on Medium, Justin Ho, CEO and co-founder of rideOS, mentioned five trends to watch in 2019, including fully self-driving ride hailing services, and consolidation of self-driving companies.

Ho also predicts “hundreds, then thousands of live, fully autonomous vehicles all over China, while the rest of the world continues to grapple with regulatory hurdles.”

“Self-driving tech in the US will be slower to scale because of unfavorable policies and higher technological barriers due to outdated infrastructure,” he explains. “In order to minimize losses, other governments all over the world need to move faster to adopt policies like China’s around the development of regulations and infrastructure for self-driving vehicles.”

6. ELECTIONS, FAKE NEWS, AND TECHNOLOGY

After much of the attention on the role of technology and social media on the US presidential election in 2016 and the US midterms in 2018, this year the focus is on key elections in Europe, in India, and in Canada.

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It is a debate that not only includes transparency and data privacy, but also how social media companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter will counter misinformation — or fake news as most refer to the issue.

Lots will happen in 2019 at the intersection between elections, technology, and fake news. No need to say more…

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