What is the future of tech? A discussion with Ina Fried of Axios

2017 was the year that the world stopped being polite to the tech industry and got real.


What does that mean for 2018?

2017: a year of #MeToo, fake news and worries about jobs

For many, 2017 will be the year when the social implications of technology overshadowed the technology itself.  It was a year of #MeToo and the manipulation of social media, as well as a year of debates over the ethics of autonomous vehicles and privacy concerns with voice-activated assistants.

I think it’s certainly been a challenging year for the tech industry,” said Ina Fried, Chief Technology Correspondent at Axios, speaking with Andrew Keen at a recent Futurecast event at the AT&T Foundry in Palo Alto. “I think a lot of the biggest developments weren’t the tech being developed here but the social implications of it, whether we’re talking about challenges around sexual harassment or the implications of manipulation of social media.”

After a long discussion of sexual harassment in Silicon Valley (and beyond) as well as the political impacts of social media, government regulation, using algorithms to make key decisions and the impact of automation on jobs, Keen asked if we would see a new generation of AI startups focused on social justice and discrimination.

“For sure,” Fried said. “We’ll see lot of issues-oriented stuff coming from people who have been doing the work a long time, like the ACLU and GLAD.  This is the issue of the time.”

Going beyond buzzwords to solving problems

Another theme to the evening was moving beyond buzzwords and specific technologies to solving both societal and business problems.

Faraz Hoodbhoy, Director, Ecosystem & Outreach at AT&T, put it succinctly:

“There is a recognition that the selection of problem that you go out and solve is more important than how you solve it.

That’s been the hallmark of the most successful startups.  They go and find the business problem worth solving and use technology to solve that problem, rather than focus on AI or edge cloud,   On some level, we don’t care.  We care about solving real problems.”

Fulfilling the promise of 1999

The discussion also turned to the technology itself, with Fried pointing specifically to augmented reality and conversational technology as highlights.  But she also highlighted the vast digital transformation finally coming into our everyday lives.

“Almost all the promises of dotcom 1.0 are coming true and that’s fascinating,” she said. “Pet food, furniture, groceries.  The world wasn’t ready for it then, and the business models were not right.  But all that is now deliverable over the internet … If we can dream it, it’s probably going to happen.  It just takes longer [than we expected].”

5G supply and 5G demand

Albert Kim, the head of Ericsson Ventures, talked about both 5G supply and 5G demand.

“The supply angle would be technologies that would help our solution get better – hardcore radio technologies, NFV/SDN,” he said. “That is a quantitative scientific problem, and we’re well on our way to delivering multi-gigabits per second to a handset.  The demand question is a harder question.  What are the use cases that will use 5GB per second to every handset?  I would say history is in our favor.  Whenever there was some quantum leap in wireline connectivity or storage availability, people have always found ways to use it or exceed it.”

Talking about AI and IoT, Fried said that AI came into its own in 2017 but it was a “tweener” year for the IoT.

The IoT has become very real for things we don’t see – industrial things,” she said. “There is a ton of value there.  It’s transforming the ways companies do business.  What hasn’t happened is a ton of gadgets in the home connected to the internet.  But there will come a time when it makes sense.”

Watch: Reflecting on the Future of Tech

Please watch the entire conversation below:

Looking to the future with AT&T Foundry and RocketSpace


Link to report here

If you’re interested in more forward-looking insight, please check out the latest Futurist report from AT&T Foundry, Ericsson and RocketSpace.  It’s called The Future of Immersive Branding and Retail and features insights based on interviews with more than 25 startups in this space.

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