By Mark Webber, Partner and Hannah Blake, trainee solicitor (Internet and Technology) – Silicon Valley
On 24th May the Fieldfisher Silicon Valley team attended the Churchill Club's Top Tech Trends event in Santa Clara, CA where 5 leading VC's made their predictions for the next 5 years.
The question posed was "What new tech trends will emerge with the potential for explosive growth in 5 years?", and is one posed annually to 5 leading Silicon Valley venture capitalists at the Churchill Club's Top Tech Trends debate. On pitching their trends for the future the 500 strong audience were then given the chance to vote and express their view. So, what is the future going to look like and did we just witness the introduction of a tech trend which everyone will know about within 5 years?
In choosing the trends the panellists are asked to deliver trends with two specific criteria:
1. That the trend is 'non-obvious' today; and
2. That the trend will see "explosive growth" within the next five years.
The panellists voted and critically appraised each other's predictions and then the vote was handed over to the audience. So what are the predictions and did the audience agree?
TREND 1 – Redefining education from the how to the what (Mike Abbott)
The ability to consume large amounts of information from a variety of channels will change how our children will learn, shifting the classroom experience to the use of VR for intellectual learning with specific physical programs focusing solely on emotional intelligence and interaction. Virtual reality gives the opportunity for students to see anywhere in the world and this will enhance the ease of learning which will mean a change in the curriculum taught in a physical classroom setting.
TREND 2 – The revival of voice (Steve Jurvetson)
The use of voice will change the way we live our lives and there will be less reliance on the physical actions we do today. There will be a shift towards the use of voice to find the answer to a question rather than manually typing that question into a search engine. It will be a technology that everyone can use without the need to understand how to operate a physical smart device or the need to even hold it in your hand.
TREND 3 – Preventing the Plague (Rebecca Lynn)
We will see a rise in microbiome engineering which will create therapies to fight antibiotic resistance. A prediction of a greater involvement between technology and health and how it can be used to create tailored medicines.
TREND 4 – A start up with IPO prospects will start as an ICO (Sarah Tavel)
In the next 5 years we will see the first start up entirely funded by ICO reach the prospect of IPO. The idea that the investment of initial coin offerings (ICOs) as virtual currency will increase and that they will become the next Kickstarter.
TREND 5 – Food production will be revolutionised globally (Hans Tung)
Indoor farming and plant based foods will be scaled globally. LEDs lead the way to a new form of mass food production.
TREND 6 – Rise of DNA applications due to low cost sequence (Mike Abbott)
Superior diagnostic tools will trigger a dramatic shift from reactive to proactive medical treatments. Technology has helped to make the production of a person's DNA sequence easier and cheaper and this will see the development of improved diagnostic tools.
TREND 7 – The embedding of inference engines / neural nests / tiny brains in everything (Steve Jurvetson)
Putting brains into devices and home appliances will transform how they operate and create intelligent devices making the internet of things become the sensory cortex of the world. The ability to monitor and create smart outputs which will help the individual and enhance their user experience.
TREND 8 – Breaking up is hard to do (Rebecca Lynn)
Antitrust suits will be brought against Amazon which will lead to a weakening of online megastores.
TREND 9 – A billion dollar outcome will be built on understanding our microbiome (Sarah Tavel)
A start-up will emerge that will help us understand our own ecosystems and how to optimize it. The company that does this will have a billion dollar outcome.
TREND 10 – Retail stores will become showrooms and VR experiences (Hans Tung)
Offline retail will continue to decline with shopping malls being transformed into community service centres. The concept that retail outlets will become showrooms using technology such as virtual and augmented reality.
What the audience thought
The audience were the most impressed by both of Steve Jurvetson's predictions, with the revival of voice and the concept of tiny brains taking the two top spots when voted for by the audience. The audience were least convinced by the potential weakening of online megastores and the trend of a start-up starting as an ICO to have IPO prospects.
Our take on the proceedings
It is clear there is real interest and potential for technological development in the life sciences sphere. A focus on healthcare and consumer wellbeing was a key feature in the discussions with a particular focus on the use of technology in conjunction with understanding the microbiome. The ability to use technology to build diagnostic tools to deliver proactive rather than reactive medical treatments is undoubtedly an important trend but there is question over whether such development could happen in the next 5 years. With FDA approval and other hurdles it is definitely a future trend but one to keep an eye on past the 5 year point.
For all of us who have already welcomed Alexa into our homes it will come as no surprise that as well as being mentioned at this event, Mary Meeker former US internet analyst now at VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield also identified the development of voice technology in her 2017 annual trends report. In her report she stated that "in 2016 20% of mobile queries were made by voice" with voice recognition accuracy reaching 95%. It is a growing trend but, whilst the technology will develop further, it is clearly already here today, so with the criteria in mind, this was more of a now trend than a 5 year one.
The introduction of tiny brains into everything is a step further than our current smart home devices. This embedding of inference engines connected by neural nests is technology that could create intelligent devices which can monitor and analyse. Such a concept could prove an invaluable tool in such a connected world with the potential ability for a home tailored to the individual, a personal experience where trackers, appliances and devices are linked and can provide intelligent analytics.
A main focus in these trends was on technology being used to enhance consumers' way of life. Whether it was the ability to analyse our health and create better diagnostic tools, making our homes more intelligent and connected to create a better and more personal experience, learning (and shopping!) virtually or gaining knowledge through simply asking a question out loud, a 'connected life' is surely inevitable. Whilst no one has a crystal ball, the 5 VC's provided us with 10 predictions for the future and who knows, with technology developing at such a fast pace, we may even see something that hasn't yet been thought of. I guess we'll have to wait until 2022 to see if any of these predictions really do become reality.
Mark Webber & Hannah Blake