It feels almost silly to start off by saying what a crazy year 2020 has been. I know we’ve heard that from everyone and of course we all experienced it, so there’s no need to really spend any time talking about it. Instead, for this quick dive into what we can expect from a technology perspective in 2021, I thought it would be interesting to talk for a second about how the crazy events of 2020 shaped and possibly changed the course of technology going forward.
The first and most obvious is the insanely rapid proliferation of remote work. That encompasses a lot of technology however. Everything from simple remote access to video conferencing to collaboration tools have had to adapt to meet a demand that exploded overnight. This has been a path we have been marching down for years, but the overnight change in our world got us to a point that I think was probably still 5 – 10 years away. Just look at the growth in tools like Microsoft Teams, or Zoom or even Google. All reported more than 100% growth in daily active users in just the first half of 2020. It’s here to stay, and this is an example of how I think 2020 is going to change the path of innovation for years to come.
I want to talk about a few of the trends I see emerging and why they are important, or how they will shape our world and our businesses. I think it’s important to look closely at trends that start to emerge and pattern our behavior and decisions off what we see emerging. Often, we can get completely blind-sided by changes in the world, as we saw clearly this past year, but if you plan and prepare, more often than not, you’ll be ready to meet the challenges that come your way. Moving forward into 2021, I think we’ll start to see some really interesting technology trends emerge. Everything from AI and Automation to next generation communications to major advancements in information security will become mainstream and front-of-mind moving forward. Let’s dive a little deeper into some of those.
AI and Machine Learning are changing the world at a pace previously unimaginable. Did you catch the announcement from Alphabet (Google) about the breakthroughs with AlphaFold? This is just one example but basically they were able to train a machine learning model to map the design of proteins in your body just from looking at the string of amino acids. This research will revolutionize our understanding of human biology and completely change the way we combat and cure disease for example. Sure, that’s a pretty lofty accomplishment which doesn’t necessarily translate well into your typical small business, but in reality, AI is everywhere. From enabling new self-driving cars and trucks to optimizing shipping and inventory management based on weather data and sales trends, AI is going to be baked into every single business operation. You might not need to understand the math and science behind it, but it’s important to understand the implications, and to know enough to ask the right questions when evaluating solutions.
Remote work is here to stay and we’re finally starting to build the communication infrastructure to make it possible. We’ve heard a lot about 5G over the last few years, but carriers are finally building out their networks to make it a reality. While the ultimate goal of 5G is much loftier than just remote work, it will be a key reason for early adoption. Eventually things like self-driving cars (there they are again), smart cities, and the entire Internet of Things will be much more robust with high-speed connectivity to every corner of the globe. For now, however, as we continue to build that up, it’s going to be imperative to allow high-speed connectivity from any location as remote work just continues to grow. 5G delivers on that.
I’m a big fan of automation and robotics. My take is that anything a machine can do faster, cheaper and better than a person, we should let them do it. Now in a crazy year like this, it seems harsh to automate away jobs when people are already struggling, and it is, but I have a slightly different perspective. First off, businesses of all shapes and sizes are suffering. We are going to see a true survival of the fittest going forward, and finding faster, cheaper ways to accomplish business processes and tasks is going to allow many small businesses to survive. Second, I look at this as an opportunity. There is still a tremendous skills and talent gap in many of these technology fields. If we can properly re-train and educate unemployed workers on next-generation skills and technologies, we can solve the problem from both sides. I think this is critical for sustained economic growth over the next decade.
The last trend I want to talk about going into 2021 is security. Yes, this has been (or should have been) top of mind for everyone for the last 10+ years, but it’s now more important than ever. With everything being done electronically and remotely over disparate clouds and untrusted networks, it’s critical to secure every system and every service. A term you will start to hear a lot more is Zero Trust Networking. Traditionally, we relaxed security protocols based on where a “user” was located. In other words, if you’re in the office on the local network, you must be a trusted actor so just give me a password and I’ll let you do whatever you want. This just doesn’t fly anymore. We need to enforce maximum security at all times against all people, known and unknown. This traditional approach is exactly how vulnerabilities like the one just disclosed by SolarWinds can do so much damage. It’s also critical that we make the most secure solution the easiest, or users will continue to do the equivalent of taping their password to the bottom of their keyboard. We are in a battle every day, and the only way we win it is by ramping up our efforts, and you’ll see that start to really happen in earnest.
It’s been an interesting time to say the least. There is so much exciting happening in the field of technology and yet we are constantly forced to adapt and change on the fly to meet the latest emerging condition. I know it keeps me on my toes and I wouldn’t have it any other way! Let’s hope 2021 is at least a little more predictable! We’ll be back next December to check in on emerging trends and see how we did!
-David Tan, Chief Technology Officer at CHIPS