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Happy Chinese New Year to Innovators: Tech Trends

Part 2: Tech trends that were guided by the Taoist art of feng shui.

Moses Ma
Feng Shui of Innovation
Source: Moses Ma

Whether or not you believe in stuff like acupuncture and feng shui, such approaches are useful for generating counter-intuitive thinking and stimulating innovative thought.

After I present these trends, I'll explain how they'll change our lives, using the example of a psychologist around 2040.

The following tech trends will likely cut through existing paradigms to herald a new era of not only exponential growth but discontinuous change.

Arena: Blockchains

We can map with a number of seismic shifts in the plate tectonics of decentralization.

Trend #1: Get Ready for Blockchain Developers to Say the Thrill Is Gone

I predict that as mainstream adoption emerges to bring blockchains to practical use, the technology slowly becomes less and less exciting until it is downright dull. Yes, we will begin to see scalability, revenue generation, and regulatory compliance. And yes, we will begin to see the emergence of practical applications in the form of blockchain-based supply chain solutions, food-safety networks, reward cards, insurance claims processing, cross-border payments. But no more, “Omigosh, I turned $1000 into $5M!”

Trend #2: China Makes Its Crypto Chess Move

In January of 2020, new regulations will come into effect that represents a sharp reversal by the Chinese government from “crypto is a crime” to “let a thousand blockchain flowers bloom.” Legalization of mining, state news channels praising Bitcoin, and Chinese President Xi Jinping announcing governmental support for blockchain technology in October, it’s clear that China is making a move to seize the strategic high ground. The tipping point will be when China’s central bank pilots its digital fiat currency, aka it’s Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). These pilots are already scheduled in the cities of Shenzhen and Suzhou, backed by four state-owned commercial banks. When this happens, countries like the U.S., that have been squeamish about cryptocurrency, or like the UK, consumed by other matters like Brexit, will suddenly be forced to play catch-up.

Trend #3: Ethereum 2.0 Will Equal Going from Dial-up to Broadband

Ethereum is the most popular blockchain technology but has been hampered by a miserably low transaction processing rate. However, the march towards Ethereum 2.0, now called Serenity, is proceeding at a rapid clip. We are now on the path to successful deployment in 2021 of the Ethereum 2.0 roadmap that will outperform the Visa platform in terms of transactions per minute. And sometime around 2024, Ethereum 3.0 will be released, integrating a "super quadratic sharding" solution that could facilitate one billion transactions per day.

Also, Bitcoin’s market capitalization is around $175 billion and Ethereum’s is somewhere shy of $20 billion. These are nowhere near the current market capitalization of gold at $8 trillion. This eye-popping figure indicates the potential ceiling market opportunity should digital currencies replace older forms of value. And it should be considered that Bitcoin is only digital cash 1.0, which could be supplanted by smarter forms of “computational currency,” such as Ethereum and others. Technologies like smart contracts could digitize the global economy and unlock value in the very broad spectrum of assets and processes. Bitcoin could be thought of as equivalent to the invention of paper money, whereas Ethereum 2.0 could be considered similar to be something like a framework for a futures exchange.

Trend #3: Libra Continues to Be Hobbled

Facebook’s Libra may seem as innocuous as Farmville with crypto, regulatory agencies will continue to hobble it as they quietly promote its competitors, like WeChat and Alipay. China is not about to let Facebook become the next global digital reserve currency. Trust in Facebook will continue to slog, primarily due to rogue factions leveraging it to influence US elections. Look for Amazon, Google, and Microsoft to figure ways around that regulatory gauntlet, to end-run Facebook. Whoever wins will likely join Apple as the second trillion-dollar company.

Trend #4: Decentralized Identity to the Rescue

The sad truth is that identity on the Internet is broken. Not a little broken, but seriously broken. Because identity is fundamentally built wrong, crimes like phishing can be committed with impunity, and end up costing nearly $4 million a year for the average Fortune 1000 company. Ransomware, the fastest growing form of cybercrime, has grown 1500% in only two years causing almost $5 billion in damages globally last year alone. And it’s expected to quadruple next year.

Decentralized identity is coming to the rescue. It can be implemented using something Internet standards developers call a DID, short for “decentralized identifier.” Just like Bitcoin, which uses the blockchain at its core to provide trust in a trustless environment, the DID uses the blockchain to ensure valid identity in an environment that is less than trustworthy. This new way of looking at identity requires a mind-shift, to evolve beyond the idea that your identity should be controlled by a government or a sovereign power. This new way of deconstructing and reformulating identity enables each of us to govern our own identity. Just as Bitcoin allows you to “be your own bank,” DIDs and their associated functionalities like verifiable claims and encrypted data vaults will empower you to become your own government, to be your own sovereign.

The DID is the Molotov cocktail of the decentralized identity revolution. Technologically speaking, it’s the tip of a spear, that unleashes a new layer of functionality, like a public key infrastructure (PKI) for the Internet. These technologies could have as much impact on global cybersecurity, digital privacy, and reputational optimization as the development of the SSL/TLS protocol has had on the Internet of today.

Arena: Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The last two years have seen significant growth in apps, platforms, and tools for machine learning and artificial intelligence. These technologies are being used in fields, including healthcare, financial services, agribusiness, manufacturing, and more. As a result, AI is now becoming part of everyday life, driven by the emergence of services like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. You can expect many new innovative applications using emerging technologies, such as:

Trend #5: Computers Learn to Speak More Like Humans

Three technologies will converge to bring natural language processing to the next level. Speech recognition, computational linguistics, and natural language creation will combine to allow computers to converse nuanced concepts with great accuracy. This will be used in a variety of applications, from automated assistants to data analysis to fraud detection to automotive user experience. Through machine learning, computers will be able to grasp and communicate realistic sentence structures that capture meaning and purpose. If you’d like to see an example of where we’re heading, check out: youtube.

Trend #6: Computer Learn to See More Like Humans

Robotics, in manufacturing and self-driving cars, is powered by computer vision. AI-based vision inspection solutions are now being deployed for medical devices, pharmaceuticals, automotive industries to provide vision systems for quality control. The next big leap will be in emotion recognition, enabling computers to replicate the innately human ability to recognize emotion and distinguish between faces. Also, deep learning will jump to the cloud, using Convolutional Neural Network classifiers to improve image classification, object detection, etc. Finally, the concept of explainability (being able to explain the forces behind AI-based decisions) is slowly being developed and will improve the trustability of AI solutions.

Trend #7: AI Hardware Will Proliferate

A lot of venture capital is now being placed in the AI hardware arena. The first wave of AI chips will be in the form of AI accelerators that offer massively parallel IPUs, Intelligent Processing Units, that can fit an entire machine learning model inside the processor. Also, a number of chip startups are focused on novel sensor technologies inspired by biological eyes, to acquire and process visual information in more efficient ways. Finally, one company is looking at developing an “emotion chip” to power robots and virtual assistants to detect emotion and display emotionally supportive facial gestures. All of this will shift the industry into a higher gear.

Arena: Quantum Computing

With Google’s announcement of achieving quantum supremacy last October, the quantum computing era has officially begun. Quantum computing has the potential to be a major driver of future breakthrough advances in all areas of human endeavor. However, the full adoption timeframe leans more toward the 60-year cycle than the 12-year cycle. Nevertheless, the technology is at an inflection point: The U.S. and China are the two heavyweights battling for leadership in this nascent arena. While the U.S. has first-mover advantage and maintains a healthy lead, China has been making gargantuan investments and has trotted out a series of breakthroughs. Over time, quantum computing will target the biggest problems that face humanity, in life sciences, drug discovery, computational chemistry, climate change. All the big dogs—IBM, Google, Intel, Microsoft, and Alibaba—have moved aggressively into quantum computing.

Trend #8: Reaching for Low Hanging Fruit in Quantum Computing

At the moment, conventional computers still outperform quantum computers, but aspects of quantum computing could help current businesses. We are incubating technology called “quantum bridge analytics”, which relates to hybrid quantum computing that bridge classical and quantum computing to gain the benefits of their alliance in the present and streamlines enhanced practical application of quantum computing in the future. It’s applicable to more efficient optimization strategies, acceleration of machine learning, etc. These techniques could take advantage of “quantum-inspired” hardware that is now under development, like the Fujitsu Digital Annealer and the IBM Neuromorphic computer.

As more energy and effort goes into developing quantum capabilities, advances in technology will drive the timeline forward, which means we will see commercially available quantum computers sooner rather than later. This will, in turn, drive progress in developing quantum-resistant cryptography methods and quantum encryption methods. The actions that are now being taken in the U.S. and China, from government to academia to the capital markets, are significant and will help bring quantum computing bear fruit sooner than most experts predict.

How the Digital Revolution could Change Psychotherapy

These new technologies will drastically change our lives. Let's consider the example of a psychologist living and working circa 2040, which is only 20 years away. And let's focus on three technological advances: decentralized identity, computer vision, and quantum computing.

The first is decentralized identity. To see why it matters, we need to first imagine a world where identity works. Imagine the end of ransomware. The end of spam and phishing. The end of fake news. And the beginning of new era built on a web of trust and truth. But closer to home is the simple idea of insuring that an online review about service was by someone who was actually your patient. Decentralized identity could use something called a zero-knowledge proof to allow someone to prove they were actually a psychotherapist's patient, and without revealing their identity, provide a rating for that psychologist.

Or consider the power of a chip that enables AI's to more accurately recognize human emotions. Now, I don't believe a computer could be better than a human psychotherapist any time in the foreseeable future, but it may be possible to develop computer assisted psychotherapy tools. For example, imagine if a therapist not only recorded therapy sessions, but allowed a secure AI to analyze facial expressions during a session. If we used a million of these recordings in a deep learning system, that AI might be able to detect signs that even the most gifted psychotherapist might miss. Finally, the concept of AI explainability can be described as an AI telling you why it thought that your patient was indicating the possibility of self-harm.

And the impact of quantum computing is now easier to explain. Usually, it takes a lot of data and even more computing power for machine learning to get useful results. Now, imagine if we could accelerate machine learning a million fold. That's the power of quantum computing.

These emerging technologies – if they are used wisely – will deeply enrich the way we live, learn, love, connect, work, govern and do business. But if they are misused, they will create problems that could dwarf anything we can imagine today. But what’s most compelling is that these new technologies have the potential to bring meaning to our lives in ways we’ve never seen before. And this is just the beginning of this new era dawning!

Go to Part 1 of this series.

Isn't this a fascinating thought experiment, to envision the future of psychotherapy? If you have thoughts or comments or visions about this subject, please share in the comments below!