Forbes predicts “AI, Disinformation, and Human Augmentation” in 2020 and I can’t say I disagree, but let’s take a deeper dive. I’m especially interested in the way that new technology, and new conversations, are building upon existing ones. 2019 gave us lots of discussion about AI, quantum computing, cryptocurrencies, and unethical political advertising via microtargeting. Yes, Forbes says, these discussions will continue. But here’s what I’m looking at. 

Big data does IoT: The most promising technological evolution to continue into the new year is the merging of data analytics with the Internet of Things (IoT). The heraldry of IoT a few years ago has not proven unwarranted. The promise of an integrated material and informational life, with more efficient and appropriate exchange and delivery of everything, is taking shape. The integration of more and better data analytics will take this even further. This is first on Marcel Deer’s list of important predictions for big data in 2020: “This time next year, we can expect to have 20 billion IoT devices collecting data for analysis . . . This means we will likely acknowledge more analytical solutions for IoT devices, helping to provide transparency and more relevant data.” The business implications of this trove of data will also be interesting to see develop as well. Those in the data appending industry like our client Accurate Append, an email, and phone contact data quality vendor – might see new ways to help businesses better connect with and understand their customers. 

Shortage of science data pros: Regarding IoT analytics and the AI sector in general, Deer also says “around 75 percent of companies might suffer while accomplishing matured benefits of IoT due to a lack of data science professionals.” There are a lot of late-in-the-year stories floating around about this now, such as Rainmakrr’s coverage of recruiter agency demand in the UK and Upside‘s prediction that demand will grow in 2020. The Trump administration’s extension of its immigration caps on H-1B visas won’t help matters, and that’s likely to be a political showdown as the administration tries to step up its anti-immigrant red meat efforts to solidify votes in the 2020 election, and Stewart Anderson at Forbes says that those increased restrictions will be a story next year. 

In-Memory Computing: I’m putting quantum computing aside in this post even though it was one of the biggest stories of 2019 and will probably continue to be discussed (but see this post saying it all might come to nothing). Something almost as mind-blowing is happening with in-memory computing, where you can store data in RAM among many computers and implement parallel processing that’s 5,000 times faster than processing in individual computers. Deer points out that the “decreasing cost of memory technology” will popularize in-memory computing, augmenting real-time sentiment analysis, machine learning, and a host of AI aspirations. Just to pique your interest further, one system achieved a billion financial transactions per second using 10 commodity servers, tech, and equipment that cost less than $25,000. 

Tech, mental health, and cybernetics: I also wonder about the ongoing discussion on technology and mental health. Two years ago, the Healthy Living Blog cited a Duke University study that aligned with the conventional wisdom of the time—that adolescent use of social media technology was associated with high ADHD symptoms. I’ve always been a little troubled by the ableism in these kinds of reports, but I found it hard to articulate my suspicions. Something about where you draw the line on the technological enhancement of communication; the fact that people treated telegraphs like we treat social media now, and some other sentiments. 

But that older Healthy Living Blog post also cited studies from the University of Michigan (decreased happiness), University of Gothenburg (depressive symptoms), and still more studies finding psychological withdrawal and “poor mental health” in general.  

Look for new voices to push ahead in the conversation in 2020, raising different concerns, including the ways in which social media can improve mental health. As a foreshadowing of this, in December, Jenna Tsui wrote of the mounds of narrative data rolling in, written by people with mental illness, lauding some platforms for making them “feel less alone by acting as a peer support mechanism.” The Dartmouth study analyzed 3000 comments and found clusters of content on feeling less alone and coping with the fear of mental illness. 

I don’t think we need to limit that discussion to those with explicit, self-identified or diagnosed mental illnesses either, although those are important. I think these platforms offer peer support, validation, and connectivity in general, and as with any medium, it’s important to weigh how they do and how they don’t. The Dartmouth research is qualitative and so it’s different than the more data-driven findings that raise concerns over adolescent tech use, but it opens up the door to a larger conversation about our cybernetic identity and evolution, and I hope and expect this to be a deeper topic of discussion in 2020—maybe even combined with talk about the need to democratize and increase the transparency of platforms that are currently implicated in spreading false news through microtargeting

Watching the watchers: Finally, 2020 should see continuing concern over surveillance technology like facial recognition technology and large-scale DNA database access. Facial recognition tech is still yielding confirmed results showing racial bias as of December of this year. Concern over police powers is not letting up. Even though the United State Supreme Court is becoming more conservative, two years ago in Carpenter v. United States the Court took the notable step of finding that there were fourth amendment issues in public surveillance, something it hadn’t acknowledged before, always buying the police’s argument that there’s no expectation of privacy in public. And lower courts have weighed in: Last summer the Ninth Circuit held that “the development of a face template using facial-recognition technology without consent (as alleged here) invades an individual’s private affairs and concrete interests.” So I’ll be interested to watch the dynamic between leaps in the technology due to big data, and the legal debates that emerge. 

It looks like 2020 will be a race between the good news and the bad news on the computing technology front. Happy New Year and may you live in non-interesting (or at least benevolent) times as much as possible!