I spent some time thinking about broader trends over the new year, and came up with some predictions for breakout technology in 2021. Writing always helps me clarify my thoughts, so thanks for reading and please let me know what you think!
A little enterprise-y probably but you get what you pay for. And a little surprise in the middle!
Obviously cryptocurrencies are mooning right now, which is going to throw more focus on not just Bitcoin and Ethereum but on blockchain technology in general. And it has come a long way since the last bull cycle.
Since the last parabolic rise in cryptocurrency in 2017, and the subsequent crash, blockchains sort of faded from the mainstream zeitgeist. But the use cases have evolved and the technology matured. And to this day, most people still know blockchain mostly as the thing that Bitcoin sits on top of, but blockchains now support an exploding shadow world of completely digital financial products.
Besides Bitcoin, which recently crossed half a trillion dollars in market cap, blockchains also power Ethereum, and some other blockchains such as Decred and Polkadot. Ethereum in particular has flourished as a hotbed of innovation for #DeFi (Decentralized Finance) which automates many of the functions of a traditional financial system but on a blockchain. People are using blockchains to create powerful incentive alignment systems. Blockchains make money programmable. And that is leading to a shadow reinvention of many of the structures that we’re used to, but with incentive-laden twists. You can now farm yields automatically, deposit money into smart contracts that provide liquidity in various asset classes, own a fractional share of a virtual hedge fund, and securitize just about anything into a tradable, liquid asset.
Going forward there’s a good chance that blockchains will revolutionize the way we think of ownership and require a new type of economy. You can already see it happening, as people are now comfortable with the idea of owning a fraction of a bitcoin and a fraction of DeFi entities which exist merely as smart contracts. Most central banks have already announced exploratory projects (at minimum) with digital currencies. And this will allow central banks to become involved in not just monetary but fiscal policy, surgically injecting stimulus into very specific parts of the economy. If everyone has a digital wallet, central banks will finally be able to deliver money directly to individuals. Bitcoin will likely become the best collateral in the world and Ethereum most likely the engine that the transaction layer runs on.
Artificial Intelligence (Guest post)
Artificial intelligence is still in its infancy, but the rate of development is stunning. As the Internet became a thing, it took decades for it to evolve into the ubiquitous technology that it is today. But as soon as it became possible to create machines that could learn from experience, progress exploded. AI now exists in almost every consumer product, and even the most common chatbots are good enough to make them useful.
There are a few different ways to measure AI’s progress. There’s progress in the technology itself, which has gotten much better at specific tasks. There’s progress in the number of things that AI can do, which has expanded rapidly. And there’s progress in the quality of AI, which is measured by how well AI does things that we used to think only humans could do.
As AI technology gets better, we’ll see it in more and more places. The more that AI is involved in our lives, the more we’ll be able to trust it to do things for us. The Internet of things will get smarter, and we’ll get better data from our devices. The data we get from our devices will help us make better decisions, and this will lead to more automated decision-making. The first areas to be automated will be simple, repetitive tasks, like customer service.
Ready for the surprise? The above paragraphs (everything under artificial intelligence up to this paragraph) were actually written by artificial intelligence. You can see a video of it being written below. (OpenAI’s GTP3 Da Vinci engine if you’re curious.) Unedited, straight from the mind of the machine. This technology is shockingly good now, and it will make a lot of jobs obsolete.
API’s have followed an adoption trajectory very much like Web sites. Initially they were incredibly expensive and only the biggest companies had them. After a while it became a requirement to be a respectable mid-sized company. Then smaller companies got on board, and now everyone has one.
API’s are very much the same way. The adoption curve of API’s provided by companies for consumption by the outside world is still nascent, but it enables everything else:
- If your company has an API it can be used to build apps and share data with partners, its main use case today. But also…
- If your company has an API it can support artificial intelligence “employees” for many if not most of the tasks that are staffed by cubicle farms of people today (zoom farms?)
- If your company has an API it can participate in the blockchain economy through integrations with purpose-built blockchains and oracles (trusted data providers for blockchains)
And most importantly, API’s support cross-organization connected workflows, which are a necessity in the digitized post-COVID world. If you can’t talk to the outside world you cannot participate in the e-commerce and online economy, which may be the only economy functioning for the near future.
I already see a rush within the insurance industry to stand up API’s because the market is demanding flexibility and connectivity. From talking to folks in other industries it appears that the same thing is happening elsewhere as well.
That’s it, my guess for the tech that is set to break out this year. We’ll see how I do!