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05 January 2022
How to think about tech in 2022
Data protection & privacyTech-driven innovationVirtual & augmented reality
Tech can no longer be thought of as a standalone industry, writes the venture capitalist Benedict Evans in his review of the many “trillion-dollar questions” that will occupy the year ahead; here’s what you need to know.
Why it matters
For different patches of recent tech history, the next big thing has been singular: Google as a verb, the iPhone. But in 2022 there are several areas that really could upend everything about the internet and commerce.
What’s more, tech is now really huge, Evans writes. “Where winning once meant a $100m or $1bn company, now it means $100bn or $1tr.”
Evans’ view is that a blockchain-based internet is at a similar point to the early web when core protocols like TCP/TP were under discussion.
However, not only is usefulness to a normal person a long way off, but radical decentralisation remains only part of the web. Centralisers like Google or social media, Evans points out, are the layer that help us navigate a decentralised web.
How many year ahead lists have these two been on? They are veterans of the future. Year after year, imaginations and concept videos run far ahead of what augmented or virtual realities can deliver.
Will the future of computing lie in making objects that can pass between virtual and real worlds, accessed through augmented or virtual reality sets?
In tech the idea of regulation tends to reduce to “a cost of doing business that lowers margins but also raises barriers to entry,” writes Evans. But the real trouble is that often touted measures like breaking up Facebook won’t necessarily help to undo the natural monopolies that make up the entire point of using Instagram.
There’s a paradox here, and it comes from the fact that us users want to have our cake and eat it: “We don’t want to be ‘tracked’ but we quite like ‘relevance’ and ‘personalisation.’”
Given that brands don’t actually need detailed personal information, being in the business of showing dog food ads to people with dogs, enhanced privacy pushes advertisers toward closed loop systems like Amazon. This damages competition.
Once complex collections of moving parts with little software, the modern electric car is simple in terms of parts – even if those parts are extremely difficult to manufacture – and heavy on software, Evans notes. But is it a disruption, given they do the same job as regular cars?
Will the software become the competitive differentiator? Will Apple break into cars the way it broke into phones? More likely, brands should be thinking about how they could learn lessons from the iPhone maker about creating an experience equally recognisable to users as well as non-users.