Seven tech trends to watch out for in 2020

Quantum computing, cloud gaming and ethical AI will all come to the fore in the next 12 months

Google is giving away $25m to projects that propose ways to use AI in building a more humane society. Courtesy Lenovo
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Global spending on technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality is forecast to rise almost 78.5 per cent year-on-year to $18.8 billion (Dh69bn) this year, according to the Massachusetts-based International Data Corporation.

The wave of investment being ploughed into the technology is something that has sparked a moral debate within the tech industry. However, it is not the only area of development attracting both scrutiny and funding. Here, The National looks at seven top technology trends set to make waves in the year ahead.

Quantum computing in the spotlight

Although the possibility of a quantum computer was proposed as far back as in 1982, it was only in 2012 the first venture was undertaken to explore commercial uses. Google claimed its Bristlecone computer had reached quantum supremacy — a milestone in quantum computing — in October, but its claim was disputed by IBM and others.

Google's eventual aim is to develop a quantum computer model that will be 100 million times faster than any conventional computer in its labs.

Capable of performing complex calculations in less than fractions of a second, quantum computing could be one of the biggest science revolutions yet.

“Quantum computers could solve problems that would take traditional computers a billion years. The most affected sectors will include technology, financials, healthcare, infrastructure and energy,” a Bank of America Merrill Lynch report released in October said.

Moving to “intellectual digital assistants”

Users are no longer satisfied with just telling assistants — such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri — what to do. They also want them to automatically execute certain tasks.

2020 will be the year when digital assistants — using artificial intelligence and machine learning — start to understand the context of what users are doing, recommend “potential next steps, identify mistakes and start to engage with users in dynamic conversations”, said Jonathan Wood, Middle East and Africa general manager for New York-headquartered software firm Infor.

Last month, tech giants Google, Amazon and Apple agreed to collaborate to make digital assistants developed by different brands compatible with each other.

The 5G supercycle

"2020 will be the year of the 5G super cycle … and Apple will be the clear winner", Daniel Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, wrote in a note this week.

Investment in 5G technology is set to rise by 90 per cent this year, according to US research firm Gartner. Total revenue from the deployment of 5G infrastructure will reach $4.2bn in 2020, up from $2.2bn last year.

Many smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung, Huawei, LG and OnePlus already sell 5G-enabled phones and Apple is expected to launch 5G iPhones in September.

Consumers to demand more privacy controls

With nearly everything being connected, consumers are facing both security and privacy risks. Industry analysts predict that 2020 will see a growing number of consumers take a stand on their personal data by responding positively to brands that protect their right to privacy.

“Technology companies will continue to be, rightfully, pressured by consumers to properly equip their software and devices to ensure their information is private and protected,” said Chinese technology company Lenovo in one of its recent notes.

Last year, the UAE passed a law that safeguards the health data of patients and placed an onus on companies involved in healthcare, insurance, technologies to make sure information is properly stored and handled.

Mobile cryptocurrency

With more marketplaces supporting cryptocurrency payments, many consumers will make the switch to cryptocurrency accounts accessible by mobile. By 2025, 50 per cent of people with a smartphone but without a bank account will use a mobile-accessible cryptocurrency account, says Gartner.

Ethical AI to reach masses

While AI is here to stay, it does carry “unintended and undesirable biases given it’s created by humans”, Lenovo said in a 2020 tech predictions note last month.

“Due to this, in 2020 and beyond, we will see an increased focus on governance with organisations establishing departments that will be tasked with deploying AI responsibly so that society does indeed benefit from it,” it added.

Many tech companies have already taken steps to address ethical issues in AI application. For instance, Alphabet-owned Google is giving away $25 million to projects that propose ways to use AI in building a more humane society. Microsoft has also committed $115m to an "AI for Good" initiative.

Gaming in the cloud

Consumer appetite for cloud gaming will explode with the creation of new platforms such as Apple's Arcade and Google's Stadia, offering users the option to play games on-demand from virtually anywhere. Consumers would prefer not only to play on their smartphones and tablets but also on their ultra-portable laptops, especially when away from their home console or high-end personal computer geared for gaming.

Last year, Etisalat — the biggest telecoms operator in the UAE — launched the first-ever cloud gaming service to promote e-gaming in the region and encourage non-gamers to join the ecosystem.