Big Trends for 2019

For the last 2 years ARK Invest has put out an interesting look ahead for the year focused on what they see as the big technology trends. You can find the latest for 2019 here. Some points I found particularly interesting this year are:

  • This has been apparent for several years but barely talked about in the media, but the cost of lithium ion batteries is dropping rapidly, allowing a transformation in how we consume energy and our electrical grid systems. Due to this they forecast electric vehicles will be cheaper by early 2020s than any comparable internal combustion engine vehicle.

  • They might be cherry picking their data but they do make the case that bitcoin and crypto demand is accelerating in emerging markets with unstable currencies.

  • The rise of digital wallet apps in the US grabbing market share, just like they’ve long been dominant in China with WeChat. They specifically call out Venmo and Square as evolving into the center of a consumers financial life.

Interesting Markets in 2019

Serial entrepreneur and investor Elad Gil put out an interesting post a few weeks ago with sectors he thought would see noticeable growth in 2019. I like that it is not the standard list oft repeated by technology journals and is based off a bottoms up view of deals he is seeing. You can see the original post here.

Of the 7 markets he lays out the Devsumer (where consumers start doing developer lite tasks on their own) is the one that jumped out at me as extremely unique and interesting thesis. I’m not so sure that we will see the majority of the population doing basic coding tasks and automation to help them in their day to day job/lives but its certainly a cool thought.

AI and Cybersecurity

The AI Now Institute recently released their annual review looking at AI and security. Their annual report for 2018 can be seen here. The main theme this year is that governments need to start regulating AI yesterday, especially the use of facial recognition technologies. The institute believes that the biggest near term risk is the use of AI in surveillance technologies and automated decision making, especially by the state on their people.

The report is a fascinating read on an area of AI most people haven’t thought about so take a look.

Some Predictions for 2019

With the end of the year 2018 it’s time for some 2019 predictions.

  • Crypto Goes into Hibernation - Crypto and blockchain technology more widely will undergo a winter with most investors and the mainstream forgetting about the technology. Developers will continue working on it and with the hype gone we will finally start seeing some very useful applications emerge. Ethereum is my bet for the big winner long term here since it seems to have the biggest traction with developers who will be free to experiment outside the public eye.

  • Amazon’s march to world domination continues - I’m still betting on Amazon wherever they go. Even if there is a stock market crash Amazon will emerge stronger than ever and will climb its way back to $1T+ market cap in the coming years. The prescient move to open a 2nd/3rd HQ right outside DC is Bezos playing the long game and looking to neutralize the only real threat he had, government regulation and an Amazon break up.

  • Augmented Reality (AR) - I think this year is when Apple will begin revealing more of its vision and what is been working on around AR. A setup year but one that will herald interesting things to come with AR. My guess is Apple will actually be leading the way into AR and mainstream adoption, not startups unfortunately.

  • Softbank and the Vision Fund - I doubt the recent Saudi Arabia issues will even really slow the Vision Fund down and we will continue to see large investments at jaw dropping valuations.

  • Self Driving Vehicles Rolling out to Consumers - Finally, consumers will have access to on demand self-driving vehicles with Waymo and others beginning live roll outs in select locations. This is the most exciting thing happening in 2019!

  • Tesla - As I write this things seem to be going extremely well with the company having reported a profit in the most recent quarter. However, I don’t think it will be smooth sailing in 2019 for the company, with large financial issues they’ve temporarily swept under the rug hitting them. If the stock market crashes, the cheap capital that has kept Tesla going will vanish leaving them in hot water again.

  • Facebook - Scandal after scandal has hit the company. My bold prediction is we see a large senior leadership exodus, with potentially Sheryl Sandberg moving on to become CEO of another company (Disney?).

Onward to 2019!

Some Thoughts on Voice

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Lately, I've been thinking about the rapidly emerging voice technologies, a subset of artificial intelligence and machine learning.  Most of the big technology companies now offer a voice assistant through a mobile phone or smart speaker such as Amazon with Alexa, Apple with Siri, Microsoft with Cortana, etc.  Forecasts predict that 50% of all searches done online will be through voice by 2020 (driven by mobile), with an estimated 13% of US households owning a smart speaker today.

My take is that voice is another interface, not a platform in and of itself or a new paradigm in computing.  Voice is inherently a low bandwidth medium making it strong for certain types of activities, specifically giving commands and getting information to basic questions.  “Alexa play music” or “Google what is the weather going to be today?”.  This is borne out by the plethora of studies being released lately examining how consumers use voice technologies.  The most common uses of voice today by far are asking for directions, asking a quick question, calling someone, checking time, or playing music.  

I expect to see the voice interface dominate when it comes to certain use cases such as home automation but I suspect it’s overhyped for a lot of other common digital use cases.  A big one in this bucket would be online shopping.  Humans are inherently visual creatures and the ability to see a product and read about it will trump being able to purchase purely through a voice dialog.  The only exception to this would be repeat purchases of the same product or if it’s a really basic item that you are agnostic to its brand (“Alexa, order me a stapler”).  Obviously, Amazon disagrees with me having stated it has over 5,000 employees currently working on Alexa and Echo technologies but I remain bearish on voice for eCommerce.

In terms of search, due to its low bandwidth I doubt voice will be very useful for discovery in general or for new customer acquisition by brands and advertisers.  It’s just not a good interface for comparison or discovery.  That of course won’t stop Google and Amazon from offering a new type of ad unit in the very near future where you can pay these companies to be a featured product in a voice search.

Noted technology pundit Scott Galloway for the last year has been predicting the death of brands due to voice but I have to disagree with him here and think he is greatly exaggerating the impact this technology will have.  Voice will simply becoming one of several interfaces users have access to as it seeps into common usage, but it certainly won’t replace touch, keyboards, etc.