What should tech providers expect in 2018? According to 10 predictions in a new Microsoft report, everything from cybersecurity to immigration and beyond.
Many of the issues are as political as they are technical. Indeed, the report’s authors, Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne, write: “The top issues for technology increasingly rank among the top issues for the world.”
So here are Microsoft’s predictions for the new year’s 10 top tech issues:
Last year’s attacks, including WannaCry and Not-Petya, revealed just how vulnerable our systems can be. This year, collaboration will be the key to fighting back, say the Microsoft authors.
The first step, they believe, needs to come from the tech community itself. A cybersecurity tech accord could transform tech vendors into first responders on behalf of their customers. And governments will need work together to fill current gaps in international law.
Also, elections need better protection against hacking, social-media attacks, vote-fixing and more, the Microsoft authors say. The alternative, they warn: a future in which “democracy is more fragile.”
Why is immigration a tech issue? Because the U.S. tech industry hires a lot of immigrants.
That doesn’t sit well with the Trump administration. It’s effecting travel bans. Calling for limits on, or even the complete elimination of, DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. And reducing the number of chances in the H-1B visa lottery.
Mark your calendar for March 5. That’s the deadline set by President Trump for DACA. If things go wrong for the approximately 800,000 people living and working in the U.S. under the program, they could face deportation.
3. Rural tech
Those in big cities or metro areas take internet access for granted. Not so those in the countryside. Some 23.4 million Americans in rural counties lack broadband access, according to Microsoft. And similar gaps exist elsewhere around the world.
Some initiatives have been planned to help fill this gap. Microsoft’s own Airband initiative aims to bring broadband to 2 million Americans in the next 5 years. Apple, Google and Facebook have related programs underway, too. But more will be needed — including a coordinated effort from the White House infrastructure team.
Black lives matter. LGBTQ. #MeToo. These and other related social movements will continue to gather force and momentum this year, the Microsoft authors expect.
Like virtually every other industry, tech companies have for decades been led almost exclusively by white men. That’s changing — slowly, to be sure, but still. Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, Meg Whitman at HPE (though not for much longer), and Satya Nadella at Microsoft are just a few examples of tech’s growing diversity at or near the top.
Expect more — perhaps much more — in the coming year.
5. Privacy and surveillance
To what extent are our devices watching us? And to what extent will that be allowed to continue, even increase?
This coming May, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes effect, and it’s huge. For one, it applies to any company anywhere in the world that holds data on EU citizens. For another, it gives consumers the right to demand that their data be deleted from those companies’ databases.
Government surveillance will be on the agenda this year, too. At least two big lawsuits are coming, one of them involving Microsoft, to the U.S. Supreme Court.
6. AI and society
Artificial intelligence is cool, but can’t it also take away all our jobs? That’s a big new concern, and one that’s unlikely to go away anytime soon, the Microsoft authors say.
The implications could be huge. Affected institutions will likely include schools and universities, which may need to teach new, AI-relevant skills. Labor unions, which will scramble to protect their members’ jobs and benefits. Companies, which will continue to use “gig economy” contractors and freelancers. And governments, which will be called on to help those whose jobs are eliminated by AI.
Even though the U.S. government has pulled out of the Paris Accord, the issue of the environment isn’t going away.
In fact, many companies have announced initiatives to help protect and improve the environment with “sustainability” — a catchphrase for a wide range of eco-friendly activities.
Microsoft is among them. The company last month announced a $50 million expansion of its “AI for Earth” program, which aims to help improve energy, water, biodiversity and agriculture.
As the Microsoft authors point out, society is looking to tech to help solve climate change, pollution and other serious environmental issues.
8. Net neutrality
Sure, the FCC repealed U.S. net neutrality rules just before the holidays. But as the Microsoft authors write, “no debate that has lasted this long will end with a single vote.” In other words, the battle may be over, but not the war.
Short-term, ISPs will bear much of the burden. Everyone will be watching to see whether they discriminate against certain Internet users. How they adjust their pricing. And whether the FCC was right in saying regulation is no longer needed.
9. Coding in schools
To what extent should U.S. schools teach coding and computer science? For now and the foreseeable future, that’s going to be a major issue.
This past September, the White House authorized a $1 billion, 5-year order to ensure that federal funding helps advance computer science in the nation’s public schools. The plan will be implemented by the country’s Dept. of Education. Tech companies Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Salesforce signed on, too, each committing $50 million to a new partnership.
The Microsoft authors liken this program to the push, back in the 1950s and ‘60s, to increase math and physics education as part of the Cold War space race. One result was a man on the moon. What should we expect now?
The U.S. is used to leading the tech sector, but that’s changing fast. Samsung, based in South Korea, is now the world’s leading smartphone supplier. Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce business, has become the world’s largest and most valuable retailer. Wipro, an IT services provider based in India, competes for top clients against Accenture, Deloitte and other big-name American firms.
Tech startups is another area where the U.S. is losing its lead, say the Microsoft authors. As evidence, they point to a recent web summit, held in Lisbon, that was attended by more than 60,000 members of the European startup community.
"It no longer seems radical to predict that we may see a declining number of startups in Silicon Valley itself,” the Microsoft authors add, “because more talented individuals in the rest of the world will found IT companies at home rather than trek to America’s West Coast.”
Learn more: Download the full Microsoft report, Today in Technology: The Top 10 Tech Issues for 2018 (PDF, 21 pp.).