Tech innovation needs to find a balance in 2019

2018 put the spotlight on technological innovation, much of it venturing into uncharted territory where regulations will be needed before long. Amidst all the newcomers and startups, one old friend stands out as becoming more and more integral to our way of life, and that is the Internet.

Its reach into every industry is unstoppable, and as we move on from an app-centred era, there is going to be more engagement between policymakers and the technology innovators.

Steve Case, in his excellent thought piece at Medium, sums up the scenario:

“Investors will need to understand policy as well. In the Internet’s First Wave, the focus was on technology risk — can they build it. In the Second Wave, the key risk factor became market risk — there was little doubt it could be built, but considerable concern over which of the many app competitors would break through. In the Third Wave, policy risk will be front and center — can the entrepreneurs navigate the complex regulatory waters to successfully bring their product or service to market.”

Indeed, investors, entrepreneurs and governments will all be trying to find the right balance between regulation and innovation, as Case points out. This is necessary for the protection of society whilst also being open-minded about the potential of technology to improve life.

But what happened in the tech world during 2018 that has brought the issue of regulation versus innovation into focus? First there were the revelations about Facebook’s use of user data, which brought down on it the wrath of governments, as well as users. This is likely to mean the emergence of regulations to rein Facebook in.

There were also some serious data breaches affecting consumers. Privacy and security are no longer a given, which means consumers are no longer as confident when using online service providers.

Self-driving cars were a great story until a pedestrian got killed. They are still on the agenda for development, but now “innovators and policymakers need to work together to establish practices for safety and security (including cybersecurity),” Case suggests.

Space exploration got more interesting as it suddenly broke out of being controlled by NASA and other government-related agencies. This sector went commercial with SpaceX, and it is an exciting opportunity for innovation, but again we will need regulations for commercial ventures that protect the sector without stifling innovation.

2019 will be a year of finding the balance in these and other tech sectors.

Doughnut Economics — the best alternative for a sustainable future

Oxford based, Kate Raworth, a member of the University’s Environmental Change Institute, has blazed a trail with her book, “Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist” and reminded us that “economic growth was not, at first, intended to signify wellbeing.” Yet, that is what governments tell us.

Guardian journalist George Monbiot, a writer who is never afraid of taking on The Establishment, whether a government or a business like Monsanto, in his review of Raworth’s approach to economics pointed out that as billionaires capture governments, political leaders have become voiceless. The most they can offer citizens is the allure of economic growth, “the fairy dust supposed to make all the bad stuff disappear,” as he says. And we are supposed to turn a blind eye to the fact that this promised growth causes environmental destruction and does nothing to alleviate unemployment or inequality. He quotes a leaked memo from the UK’s Foreign Office: “Trade and growth are now priorities for all posts … work like climate change and illegal wildlife trade will be scaled down.” Nobody seems to mind what we destroy, as long as we have wealth.

Raworth is a much-needed voice in this scenario. She has voiced the ‘inconvenient truth’ that the economic philosophy of the last century, has “lost the desire to articulate its goals,” and has promoted a version of humanity that is deeply flawed. As she says, the dominant model of the “rational economic man” is one that is based on self-interest, isolation and calculation, which you might say paints a picture of the manipulative narcissist. She also says that what we have ended up with is a Holy Grail of endless growth.

The doughnut economy

Instead, Raworth says, economic activity should be aimed towards “meeting the needs of all within the means of the planet.” Her vision of a strong economy is one that “makes us thrive” whether or not the economy grows. And that means changing the picture of what an economy is and how it functions. Which is where the doughnut comes in.

She has restructured the concept of an economy by firmly placing it within the Earth’s systems and in society. Her diagram shows the flow of materials and energy, and also reminds each one of us that we are more than “workers, consumers and owners of capital.”

The doughnut has two rings: The inner ring of the doughnut represents a sufficiency of the resources we need to lead a good life: food, clean water, housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare and democracy. Anyone living in the hole in the middle of the doughnut, lives in a state of deprivation. The outer ring of the doughnut consists of the Earth’s environmental limits, and when we go beyond this we inflict dangerous levels of climate change, other forms of environmental pollution, loss of species and a variety of other assaults on the living world.

How can we create a doughnut economy?

An economic model that follows Raworth’s vision will primarily seek to reduce inequalities in wealth and income. Furthermore, the wealth we get from the natural world should be widely shared; this includes everything from agriculture to mining. The financial industry should be structured to conserve and regenerate resources, instead of squandering them, and state-owned banks should be investing in projects that radically change our relationship with the environment, such as zero-carbon public transport and community energy schemes. She also suggests that we must measure prosperity in a new way.

We have heard some of these ideas before, but what Raworth has done, is integrate them into a coherent programme, the results of which can be measured when implemented. Governments need to urgently turn Raworth’s ideas into policy.

If there is one resolution you make for 2019, I’d suggest it is this: read her book and discover that we could have human prosperity and a thriving living world. We owe it to our children and all future generations to change or economic model now.

The New Necessities

As technology progresses we have created a list of new necessities that we see as absolutely fundamental to living in a way that we see as fitting. In past decades, such as the 50s and 60s, these ‘things’ were fewer in number and many of them were focused around the domestic scene, such as vacuum cleaners, washing machines and dishwashers. Some of these were only available to wealthier people, whereas today, a refrigerator is present in almost every home in the developed world.

Today, we have moved on to the latest gadgets and services. The need for Wi-Fi, not just in the home, but everywhere we go, is just one of the new necessities. The mobile phone is another one, and younger generations can’t believe that people managed to survive without one. The smartphone has raised the game in mobile telecoms and now, if you don’t have an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, you are seen as being out of step with society.

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What people want

I was looking at a recent survey of the luxuries that people couldn’t do without and was quite surprised to read what people considered vital and what could easily be discarded. Pets, a clothes dryer and a good mattress were classed as ‘must haves’ alongside Wi-Fi and a smartphone. It is a rather eclectic list. Buying lunch and eating out was also prioritised over going to the gym in the health and wellness category, which is also slightly odd, and such is the hold of coffee on today’s population that it was chosen as the ‘must have’ beverage.

Interestingly, grocery delivery isn’t as popular as the Amazon Prime service, and a music streaming service like Spotify is less popular than Netflix. Beauty products are almost a ‘must have’ but not quite, and in fact the whole Health and Beauty sector scored very poorly in terms of necessities, which strikes me as curious given the amount of marketing that goes into this sector.

A personal trainer is at the bottom of the health list, followed by massages and manicures, the latter scoring about the same as a grocery delivery service. Salon haircuts and attending a gym are on a level with Amazon Prime and organic produce, while the beauty products are on a par with having a dishwasher. But, nothing in Health and Beauty makes it onto the ‘must have it’ list.

Huge potential for the mobile industry

What we can conclude from this piece of research is that communication tools are the things we value most. Of course things like Amazon Prime don’t work without Internet, so many of the services that are further down the list are dependent on those two items at the top – Wi-Fi and a smartphone. Both these give us access to a world, at a new speed. And this is why the mobile telecoms industry is such an exciting one, because it is an important part of people’s new necessities.

Mobile Technology Trends of 2017

The development of mobile technology continues to move at speed and this year we have seen some critical new applications, so much so, that I believe 2017 will be seen as the benchmark year for mobile technology, especially in its use by small businesses.

There have been some outstanding apps developed by consumer brands like Subway and Starbucks, and this opens the way for less well-known businesses to do the same. In fact, I read that 50% of small businesses are creating a mobile app this year and that is a great indication of the importance they place on mobile for growing a company.

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Location, location

Another trend that has grown impressively this year is that of location-based apps. These allow a business to offer a service based on the customer’s location and it is not difficult to foresee that the ability to offer real-time services in a specific location will have an impact on a variety of small businesses, and the larger ones.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality apps are another trend that is gaining traction. Some people thought these were just a gimmick, but when you combine the AR technology with a utility app, in other words one that is practical and useful, you have an app that is very engaging. They particularly appeal to the millennial generation and businesses that work on using augmented reality will have better engagement with customers in this group.

Instant apps are a winner

I also see that instant apps are becoming more important, for obvious reasons. There is no need to find the app and download it, install it and all the rest. The apps that run instantly when needed and are the secret of a faster, simpler mobile experience. Google’s new technology is leading this sector.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is also making inroads in mobile apps. A number of developers are embedding it in their apps, which is a significant step forward for educational apps. For example, apps that teach children based on how that child learns are emerging. All children have different learning styles and these apps will help them to achieve even better exam results. It can also be applied to consumer shopping with the creation of apps that help you to shop based on what you like, so that the consumer would essentially have a personal shopper on their mobile device.

Remote control

We are also seeing more gadgets and household equipment being linked to the Internet and this requires apps to control them remotely. This is another trend that will boost the growth in mobile technology. And, security is another factor that developers are working on this year, as our mobile devices become increasingly storage devices for money and its equivalent.

It has been predicted that around 268 million mobile apps will be downloaded by the end of 2107 and this translates into $77 billion in business revenue. This sum doesn’t just come from purchasing apps; it is revenue that is also based on increased sales through improved customer engagement and loyalty. This is the secret of growth and why businesses should be adopting mobile technology as soon as possible.