Whether you embrace new tech with gusto or are more cautious about society’s dependency on tech, it is certain that technological innovation will always be with us and what really matters is what technology we choose to deploy, how it is deployed, and how we adapt (and encourage co-workers to adapt) to the exciting changes.
1.Back to the future – increasing use of robots
Warehouses and fulfilment centres are increasingly introducing robots to assist workers with manual tasks. Amazon has often led the way with its warehouse robots helping to make same-day delivery a widespread reality. In 2018 6 River Systems introduced the world to Chuck, a warehouse management robot powered by (you guessed it) cloud-based software. 2019 was quite the year for Chuck, with ecommerce giant Shopify acquiring 6 River Systems for USD 450m and the formation of a partnership between Chuck and Soft Robotics’ bin-picking and order-fulfilment system, Superpick. These are signs that more manufacturers and retailers will follow suit by fusing humans and robots into one cohesive, and more streamlined, workforce.
2. Mobile devices – when to hold and when to fold
Samsung’s foray into foldable phones didn’t go quite as smoothly as planned, after a forced redesign of the Galaxy Fold delayed its launch from April to September 2019. Undeterred, the tech giant is expected to launch other foldable devices this year, possibly including a tablet. Analysts predict that the flexible screens will transcend the realm of mobile phones and that we may even see speakers with wrap-around displays and watch straps with displays hitting the market soon. Meanwhile, TCL, the second-largest TV maker in China, has also promised the launch of its first foldable mobile device this year. You may not see much uptake just yet, but expect 2020 to be a year for early adopters and a platform for foldable devices being commonplace this decade. One might say, this takes “flexible working” to a whole new level.
3.Cashing in on alternative currencies and mobile payments
Cryptocurrency continues its upward trajectory despite having to navigate choppy political and regulatory waters. Facebook is seeking to cash in, with its proposed digital currency, Libra, expected to be refined and aligned with government regulations in 2020. With digital payment systems like Google Pay and Amazon Pay gaining transaction market share, you can almost certainly bank on traditional banking organisations facing a costly uphill battle.
On a similar theme, more providers (in gaming, sports, advertising and marketing and other sectors) are looking to offer virtual currencies, some of which can only be used in-platform but others that can be cashed in for real world money or third-party goods/services, which (of course) gives rise to some interesting e-money regulation and tax-related legal issues.
4. A new dawn for drones and logistics
Having your grocery delivered by drones, which was once one of those rather futuristic ideas, has now become a reality in some locations, with UPS obtaining FAA approval in the US, and Antworks receiving a similar authorisation China. A new dawn has truly arrived. Watch out for more regulation in the UK and elsewhere.
But it’s not just about developing the hardware and overcoming regulatory concerns. According to what3words, traditional address systems are not fit for purpose when it comes to drone-based deliveries or a world where more of us are using voice-activated services such as Siri or Alexa. To name some of the issues, building entrances are not accurately pinned on maps, addresses are not sufficiently unique (there are 34 instances of ‘Victoria Road’ in London) or can be misheard, and some places don’t even have addresses. GPS co-ordinates are not the answer, as they are not human-friendly and are prone to error. What3words therefore splits the word into 3m squares, which are assigned a unique identifier made from three words. If you’d like to meet Lewis Silkin, feel free to pop-down to notice.legal.pots (or 5 Chancery Lane, London in ‘old money’).
5. 5G networks pick up speed
You will have seen that 5G is now here in major cities in the UK. 5G networks bring about three key benefits, namely much faster speeds, shorter delays and increased connectivity. However, it remains to be seen how most network providers will price 5G contract offerings and whether, for example, pricing will be based on the speed that consumers choose, much like the way home broadband is priced. Not falling foul of consumer law and the CAP code will be a key part of 5G marketing – keep an eye on our AdLaw page for further insights.
6. Customisation – time to take it personally
7. Travel will soon be out of this world
NASA may have retired its space shuttle in 2011, but a new space race has been firing up in the background. If all goes to plan, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ ‘Blue Origin’, and Richard Branson’s ‘Virgin Galactic’ shuttles are hoping to deliver out-of-the-world experiences to tourists, all for $250,000. Think of the space miles you might earn.
8. Smarter collaboration
With inboxes becoming ever more cluttered and projects involving complex chains of stakeholders, more businesses are recognising ways of working beyond e-mail. Cloud-based platforms like HighQ and Slack offer instant, and more seamless networking and coordination between colleagues and external partners, file sharing and a smooth transition from desktop to mobile. Video conferences have been a staple in most offices for some time, but many are starting to do away with the telephone and are using video as the default for delivering presentations and connecting colleagues who work remotely or are separated by time zones.
However, organisations would be wise to implement rules about the way in which employees can use each piece of tech. Particular consideration needs to be given to which mode/channel is right for which type of communication, and the trade-off between well-considered responses and instant communications. Care also needs to be taken to ensure that the providers of any business-critical software as a service are held to satisfactory service levels and deliver solutions that work.
9. Chatbots become chattier than ever
Voice search will become prevalent, with people buying more goods and services through voice-activated services such as Alexa. NLP (Natural Language Processing) will help to break down the semantics of natural language into individual components and decipher the intent of the message using various combinations of the words. The more interaction a chatbot encounters, the smarter it becomes (it’s just AI), and so it seems chatbots will become more integral in allowing businesses to help address customer queries in a cost-efficient manner. If the ‘lag’ in response time from your average bot gets better (and isn’t attributed to poor broadband latency), the chatbot might just become a better friend for many.
10. Tech turns psychic
Our thoughts alone may soon operate technology, with “brain-sensing” devices arriving on the scene, such as NextMind’s wearable device that allows other devices to be controlled by the power of thought. The device picks up signals as they cross the wearer’s visual cortex and translates them, in real-time, into digital commands. Machine-learning algorithms allow the device to decode the signals that it picks up, and it is expected that development kits will be available to the market soon. The potential practical uses of this technology are vast, ranging from restoring mobility to people with disabilities or injuries to allowing us (finally) to experience some of the futuristic powers so far only harnessed by Marvel superheroes.
11. The Retail Sector has got tech in the bag
With the likes of Gap’s DressingRoom App and The North Face’s AI solution (which helps customers to select outfits based on predicted weather and travel plans from the comfort of their living room), customers no longer need to leave their home to indulge in some serious retail therapy. AI has recently been deployed by retailers to enhance in-store experiences, for instance Charlotte Tilbury’s “Magic Mirror”, which allows customers to trial, virtually, different make-up looks. AI also rears its head through the use of visual recognition, a fashion algorithm which uses personalised recommendations to enhance the quality of search results for consumers. It’s unsurprising that the World Health Organisation is soon expected to declare “online shopping” as a recognised addiction. You can read more about the risks and rewards of intertwining retail and AI here.
12. A (block)chain reaction
Despite its almost ubiquitous status, the term “blockchain” is still met with confused looks by some. 2019 saw some argue that the tech was overhyped, but some high profile investment by the likes of FedEx, IBM and Mastercard throughout 2019 means that we may soon see real-world results. If the industry giants are able to prove its case, smaller players will continue to follow suit. We see lots of growth companies with blockchain littered across their fundraising decks, but make sure you know your stuff, and that you position the use of tech carefully, as the venture capital and PE funds have skilled up and will probe hard.
13. AI sets new goals in the world of sports
AI is set to be a game changer for sports and athletes. Enhanced technology can allow coaches to better track and analyse players’ movements and, coupled with wearable tech, AI will also enable athletes to improve their mental and physical skills. It’s not just coaches and players who may benefit, as AI has the potential to lend a helping hand to referees and umpires, making some tough calls that the human eye may miss (though we’re not quite there yet, as recent VAR controversies demonstrate). For a deeper dive into the world of sports and AI, read on here.
14. Predictive diagnosis and personalised medicine
It’s not just the world of sport that is undergoing a tech-transformation – healthcare is reaping the rewards too. Just a few days into 2020, Google Health revealed artificial intelligence that can interpret mammograms better than radiologists. Alongside virtual GP appointments offered by Babylon, Vitality and others, our ability to capture and analyse data from wearables is increasingly helping doctors and other health and wellness experts to predict and treat health issues, sometimes before the individual even experiences symptoms. A data-driven understanding of how effective medicines are likely to be for certain patients will allow doctors to more precisely and accurately prescribe medicines and treatments. Where solutions involve the processing of ‘special’ personal data (per the GDPR), organisations should carefully consider their ability to establish a lawful ground and, where necessary, obtain clear, informed, explicit and granular consent from individuals.
15. 3D bio-printing gets to the heart of the problem with organ donation
Continuing with the health theme, bio-engineers have overcome a big hurdle on the path to producing replacement organs through 3D printing, allowing scientists to accurately produce entangled vascular networks which mimic the body’s natural passageways. In fact, a team from Swansea University has developed a bio-printing process which can create an artificial bone matrix using durable, regenerative biomaterial. Though still in its early stages, this technology has the potential to revolutionise many lives.
16. Technology for the masses
An overarching trend for the coming years will be the so-called “democratisation of technology”. Though the more tech-savvy among you have long seen and/or enjoyed the benefits of advanced tech, the 2020s will see much greater and seamless access to data and tools being made available to a wider base in all sorts of daily jobs and lives. We are set to see a generation of “low-code” and even “no-code” tech solutions emerge, and the inevitable ‘upgrade’ of IoT to IoE (‘Internet of Everywhere’).
17. AI gives the commercial real estate industry a new lease of life
Other industries may have been quicker to embrace technology, data and analytics, but the real estate industry is fast catching up. AI is being deployed to automate the lease-granting process, including the related tasks of administration, accounting and analysis. AI can also improve the invoicing process, by detecting and eradicating duplication or fraud. Increased efficiencies mean fewer costs for landlords and an improved overall tenant experience. If you need a quick licensing or simple leasing solution, you may wish to get in touch as we have developed our own solution called Instaspace.
18. Extended Reality
Extended Reality (XR) covers several new and emerging technologies that create immersive digital experiences. Specifically, it refers to virtual, augmented and mixed reality. Virtual reality (VR) provides a digitally immersive experience where you enter a computer-generated world using headsets that block out the real world and augmented reality (AR) overlays digital objects onto the real world via smartphone screens or displays (think Snapchat filters). Mixed reality (MR) is an extension of AR, which lets users interact with digital objects placed in the real world (think playing a holographic piano that you have placed in your room via an AR headset).
These technologies have been around for a few years but have largely been confined to the world of entertainment (like Oculus Rift and Pokemon Go). Expect that to change, as businesses look at the possibilities of transforming the workplace using XR. VR and AR will become established in design processes and for training and simulation, and marketing teams will embrace them as new ways of interacting and engaging with customers.
19. Coming face to face with customers and staff
Many retailers operate online and offline, but the introduction of facial recognition technology allows retailers to fuse the two. Security systems such as Facewatch are helping retailers to battle shoplifting and other retail crime, and facial recognition can also be used by retailers (and others) to monitor staff attendance and police restricted areas of a premises.
The technology also has the potential to transform retail in other ways. Facebook is said to hold the largest facial dataset to date and, having initially shied away from the EU market due to privacy concerns, in 2018 it began asking EU users to let it use its facial recognition software, DeepFace. The technology clearly has the potential to bring a personalised online shopping experience to bricks-and-mortar stores, although it remains to be seen how privacy hurdles will be overcome.
Beyond social media, facial recognition is already being used to record and analyse behaviours and reactions as we make our way through shopping centres and view advertising billboards, and it may soon be used by stores to identify returning customers, allowing in-store staff to respond better to customers’ needs and provide a great in-store experience. While not as intrusive as merging social media profiles with the real world, there’s no getting away from it – data privacy issues still need to be addressed.
20. Meeting expectations
Rather like parents’ expectations of children, customers expect near perfection from the goods and services they buy. They often not only expect same or next-day delivery but are becoming less tolerant of poor digital service and, with the spread of 5G and the swathes of digital services and applications that complement it, we can expect to see customer impatience reach new heights. Coined the “Era of the Digital Reflex”, the 2020s will see the use by consumers (especially younger consumers) of digital services, and applications evolve to become an unconscious extension of their human self, which (in a nutshell) means that we all expect and need tech to work better.
It is clear to us that investment and innovation are key to meeting the essential digital needs of all our clients and that key technology choices (including the ‘what, how, where and when’), and associated privacy issues, should be high up the boardroom agenda for 2020 and beyond.
By James Gill, partner and head of the Commercial and Technology Group, at law firm Lewis Silkin