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Megatrends for this decade – XLIV

The eBook collecting all posts of this series is now available from the DRI website.

This has been a long series of posts, the longest I wrote. The aim in presenting these Megatrends was to stimulate discussion and quite a bit occurred, I received several comments out of some 30,000 views. Wow!

That’s why I decided to revise all posts and create an ebook (you can download it from here) for those wishing to have it handy, and possibly use it for teaching or for discussion within a company or institution. If you are interested in having a slide deck for presentation let me know.

The future has not been written yet, it will happen day by day. Hence, all these Megatrends are to be taken with a grain of salt. Some of these may prove to be too ambitious or quite simply the cultural and economical landscape will no longer be conducive to their realisation.  The economic resources that will be needed to recover the pandemic losses may limit the resources needed for innovation in certain areas but may increase innovation effort in others. Hence some Megatrends may actually be implemented well before the end of this decade, the current pandemic has created a disruption that shifted focus, needs and funds in ways that were unexpected in 2019. On the other hand it may turn out that the pandemic effects will be transient and life, and roadmaps, will be restored as if nothing happened (I don’t think so).

In the Digital Reality Initiative we are going to address a number of the topics mentioned in this ebook, particularly the ones related, or influenced by, artificial intelligence. Others are being addressed in the many IEEE Societies that every single day bring together thousands of engineers from academia and industry that are building the future, for all of us, a future that each one of us has the responsibility of shaping. 

The first step is imagine what it could be, and in doing this exercise it might be worth looking back at the last decade and consider what happened:

  • the first iPad was released on April 3rd, 2010. I still remember Steve Jobs’ presentation promising that “it would feel like holding the Internet in your hand and a change in the way we will look at the web from there on”. It turned out he was right;
  • last decade was the one that saw the shift from 3G to 4G. It took ten years to complete (it is not yet fully complete but we can say that 4G is now the “norm”). That increased by 10 times the download speed, from 1.5Mbps to 15Mbps (what took 5 hours to download could now be done in less than one minute). Who benefitted from this shift? Clearly all of us, as users, as well as industries in the areas of content delivery, eCommerce, social media and smartphone manufacturers. Strange enough, Telecom Operators did not benefit from the increased performances they provided, actually all of them saw their revenues shrinking, courtesy of the digital transformation;
  • smartphones took over the plain vanilla cellphones. In 2010 296 million smartphones were sold worldwide, their number increased to 1.5 billion sold in the year 2015. In the last 6 years the number of units sold has remained basically constant, between 1.5 and 1.6 billion units. Interestingly the top of the line smartphone cost has kept increasing, doubling in the last 5 years, but at the same time basic smartphones price has gone down, under 100$ (the cheapest smartphone in India in 2021 goes for 60$), making them affordable for third world countries and leading to a replacement of cellphones with smartphones. By the end of 2020 63.6% of people in the world (that includes everybody, newborn as well) have a mobile phone and 48.5% are using a smartphone (in other words almost 78% of all mobile phones are smartphones);
  • smartphones, tablets and 4G have increased the time we spend on a mobile device from an average 32 minutes in 2011 to 132 minutes -daily-  in 2019 (worldwide average). In 2019 people in the US have spent more time using a mobile device than watching TV, for the first time ever;
  • point and shoot digital cameras peaked in market volume at the beginning of the last decade and have now basically disappeared, killed by the digital cameras in the smartphones. They disappeared in just a few years, between 2013 and 2016;
  • smart home assistant were basically not existing at the beginning of the last decade. Alexa was released on November 6th, 2014. Voice controlled devices were born in the the last decade, nowhere to be seen in the previous one. Today we control our television, appliances, car entertainment system via voice;
  • In 2016 Google released GNMT, Google Neural Machine Translator, that today provides translation among 109 languages. This has changed the world, although not many people have realised it. In this decade most people will experience this change, enabling real time communications by killing language barriers;
  • in October 2009, an article on Fortune discussed the possibility to use a smartphone as GPS navigator, pointing out that it seemed like a crazy idea. Today, it is normal to use your smartphone as a GPS navigator, it has actually become better than the one we have in our car (because it is updated in real time, it has extra features, like search by place, rather than by address, you can see where your friends are …). In this ten years adds on optional provided by car rentals for navigation services have disappeared (at least no one is buying them anymore…);
  • television has shifted from analogue to digital in the last decade and it is now digital almost everywhere. 4K arrived in 2015 and it is now becoming a “standard” with 8k moving its first step. Netflix started its international expansion on Sept 22nd, 2010, (Canada) and now it has become one of the largest worldwide player with over 182 million subscribers;
  • social media have brought our lives on-line and are affecting each of us as individual and as part of a society. Their influence in politics and in business can non longer be ignored, as it cannot be ignored the power of those controlling the main social media platforms (the recent ban of President Trump from Twitter and Facebook is both a testimony of the power that can be exerted through social media and the power these platforms have to decide what is right and what is wrong….);
  • CRISPR-Cas9 was “discovered” in 2012 and opened the door to genomics and precision medicine. stimulating both research and application. From zero papers published on this technology in 2012 we now have over 3500 papers being published every year (3000 in 2018), the Covid-19 Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have been using this technology;
  • The growth of electric cars in the last decade and the corresponding decrease of the price (expressed in $ per kwh) from 1120 to 120. Image credit: Global X Research

    in 2011 there were basically zero electric car on the road. At the end of 2020 there are some 8 million electric cars worldwide, just a tiny fraction of cars, but we are start noticing them. 2.1 million electric cars were sold in 2019, versus a total of 70 million. As said it is just a beginning, but it is going to reshape the industry in this decade. Interestingly, in the last ten years the price of the battery pack fell by one order of magnitude, at a CAGR of -22% (from 1,120 $ per kwh to 120$ per kwh);

  • big data have become bigger, moving from 2ZB produced in 2010 to 41 ZB in 2019 (a doubling every 2 years): Interestingly whilst only 9% of data produced in 2010 were structured (i.e. usable by AI) 13% of those produced in 2019 were structured (that is 180 EB in 2010 vs 5,300 EB in 2019, a 30times factor growth). This increase has gone hand in hand with the increased performance of AI and its increased widespread use.
  • GAN, Generative Adversarial Networks were “invented” in the 2010-2014 timeframe and are now starting to change the landscape of AI, making it possible to develop AI from a much smaller set of data, meaning that AI has no longer to be associated with the big guns of data (G-MAFIA and BAT).
  • Data storage has definitely started to move to the Cloud. It was just 10% in 2010, by 2019 it grew to 70%. In the last decade the word “fog” to identify clouds at the edges started to be used and more and more interest is focussing on federated clouds and related aspects like edge computing, Software as a Service, Platform as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service.

Wow! quite a bit happened in the last decade. If just a fraction of the Megatrends I presented will become true, much more will happen in this decade….

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.