With a the dawn of a new decade, R/GA's Laurent Thevenet highlights three key tech trends that will be defining Asia's landscape in the year to come, and makes a call for a more human future.

In the last year alone, we’ve seen the rise of many game-changing technologies that are pushing the frontiers of customer experience and transforming our day-to-day activities. It’s getting easier to shop, watch, stream, connect and create, but we’ve only just scratched the surface. The changes are global and Asia will not be immune to these evolutions.

Here are the three most imminent technology trends that we should look out for this year.

Zero latency through 5G

5G might not sound that exciting at first. It’s about as exciting as 4G was. 4G and LTE laid the groundwork for a whole wave of innovation, and a similar thing is about to happen with 5G. 5G is rolling out now in what will soon be a massive upgrade in the internet substrate that powers everything we do.

With close to zero latency and incredible speed, we will be able to remote control pretty much anything, to the point that we may not be required to continuously travel around for work or entertainment anymore as the sense of feeling elsewhere may be strong enough.

5G is going to drive the creation of lightweight touchpoints (also called “thin clients”) coming in a variety of shapes, and that will depend on the cloud for heavy computing. The results would be sent back at incredible speed – potentially through streaming.

Real-time object detection systems such as YOLO, real-time raytracing as provided by Unity and Unreal engine and real-time application of complex machine learning models will be able to be provided at similar speed no matter the end user device.

Marketers will be able to create real-time media experiences that are based on more complex interactions and higher-quality outputs, while worrying less about the quality of the devices the users are accessing these experiences with.

All industries will be able to benefit from 5G, but that also means companies will need to have more modern technology partnerships in place: infrastructure, software and hardware partnerships that do not restrain them from creating these new experiences by the time 5G rolls out.

However, 5G will also create a divide between geographical zones that enjoy the luxury of high Internet connectivity and areas that still rely on 3G (or a similar Internet access speed).

While Asian companies have been leading the battle for 5G deployment across the world, that divide is especially true for Asian countries like India and Indonesia. More than ever, it will be important to provide degradable experiences that can cater to all types of connections.

In Singapore, Huawei recently opened the 5G-powered AI lab in order for companies, schools and government agencies to test 5G applications ahead of the 2020 rollout. Applications in retail, robotics and mixed-reality are already being tested in that space.

Spatial Computing (AR & VR)

AR and VR were predicted to be the next big thing every year for the last few years. The reality is that both are already available to the masses.

VR has already reached a milestone in 2019 with the introduction of the Oculus Quest – the first device for households that delivers high-quality visuals and position tracking without requiring any cables. But quality VR does not target everyone. Avid gamers are already using it and industrial companies have made VR immersion part of their workflow either to test immersive experiences or to train employees.

This is especially true in Asian countries like China and Singapore. This year, we will see better immersive headsets being made available but commercial targets will remain more or less the same.

AR has been a bit of a gold rush for marketers and companies in 2019, but the reality is that the devices to experience AR are still slightly clumsy to use for pure immersivity. Handheld devices are not ideal even if providing a good visual experience, and headworn devices, while more practical, are still lacking in terms of output quality and field of view. It will take a new device like AR glasses for it to finally take off.

The lack of a perfect AR device, however, should not be a deterrence to experiment within that space. Modern iOS and Android devices can both run these types of experiences with great precision. And with the rise of 5G and delegated computation to the cloud for all types of devices, it will be possible to create extremely rich immersive experiences. To ready themselves for an immersive future that is fast approaching, companies should invest in testing AR experiences right now.

Though there’s still room for improvement, applications relying on AR or real-time computer vision are proliferating. Examples we see and use are all around us, such as the LEGO Digital Studios, Microsoft Minecraft AR, Google map-based experiences or Google Translate – these apps are already being used by millions of people daily across Asia and the rest of the world.

Creative AI

Artificial Intelligence continues to play an increasingly significant role in our daily lives and will make an even bigger impact in 2020. Amidst the noise of uncertainty around unemployment, the dividends of the AI wars are more accessible tools for everyone to rely on in creative workflows.

In 2020, we can expect more marketers and creators to harness the power of AI to unlock creative possibilities. AI is not a threat – it is a tool that will be used as a partner that inspires and assists in the creative process.

We are seeing the emergence of creative AI solutions such as RunwayML and Generated. Photos that are clearly showing signs of change and disruption for a variety of creative industries. These tools are commoditizing creative AI techniques such as generating photorealistic images of faces and landscapes, summarizing of the content of images and videos, writing coherent paragraphs of text or colorizing and restoring old images.

Smart teams are already integrating these tools in their processes in order to constantly redefine the edge of what is possible, accelerating the time it takes to go to market. 2020 will be the transitional year toward the AI-assisted creative team. Creative agencies who have not yet moved on from the traditional copywriter-art director duo are in danger of being left behind. More than ever, multi-disciplinary teams will be required to deliver on these new possibilities.

This is clearly an area in which Asia has been lagging behind in the last few months of 2019, but we can expect that to change in 2020. We will start seeing the emergence of such creative AI solutions from countries like Japan and China.

A trend we should set ourselves

In summary, if there is one more trend that I think we should start setting ourselves, it is to use these technologies to create a more human future. And that means creating content and experiences that make the world a better place for everyone.

The usage of technology that is driven by empathy and understanding is vital as we begin a new year – even a decade. What we need to do now is start paying attention to what’s happening in the world outside of our bubbles and make the future more human through technology.