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A quote that is variously ascribed to Yogi Berra, Neils Bohr and even Mark Twain goes something like: “Never make predictions, especially about the future." Regular readers of Tech Whispers, however, have ignored these wise words and have been clamouring for my predictions on technology in 2022. Peering myopically at my personal crystal ball, here is what I see:

Artificial Intelligence (AI) everywhere: Pretty much like digital, or electricity (as Peter Ng said), AI will not be one more thing we do, but will be infused in most objects around us, from cars and phones to TV sets and soon everything else we use. This will usher in the Edge AI revolution, where AI is not in some central server somewhere, but embedded in objects ‘at the edge’. As AI becomes increasingly ubiquitous, questions about ethics in AI usage, responsible AI and explainability will become more strident. I expect one large incident, a Cambridge Analytica scandal of AI, to happen and bring AI ethics into the common imagination.

For better or for Metaverse: The Metaverse, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and Web3 hype will continue this year, fuelled by crypto ‘bros’ and even other bored apes. There is substance behind the hype—the rise of the creator economy and the proposed decentralization of the web—but there is a lot of fluff too, and that will likely crash and burn. Alongside, crypto will continue to mature, with it becoming more mainstream and some of its real potential getting realized. Here’s a specific prediction: the first $100 million NFT will be sold this year (unless already done by the time this article appears).

Elon Musk rules: 2021 was the year of the entrepreneur behind Tesla and SpaceX, and so will 2022. Musk will continue to reshape energy, cars, space, transportation and other industries; he might even pick a new one to reshape this year. As he does so, he will not only reign as the world’s Tech Overlord, but also give technology a new way of thinking and a new set of rules. He will show how it can be used to remake vast physical and infrastructure businesses. Thus, he will continue to be the richest man on earth, increasing his lead over Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Microsoft’s Bill Gates.

The pandemic ends: Here is where I am going to truly go out on a limb and say this will be the year that the covid virus would establish an equilibrium with the human race. The Omicron variant will convert the raging pandemic into an endemic, much like the flu, and we will learn to live with it with periodic vaccines. Author Laura Spinney said in her 2018 book Pale Rider that “pandemics end socially, not medically", and that is how this one will peter out too. However, this won’t be the last one, as the ravaging of our planet may prompt newer viruses to consider human hosts.

The rise of green AI/software: The cloud, AI, computers and electric cars are hugely polluting industries, despite the popular impression of their being clean and gentle. Manufacturing one PC needs 240kg of fossil fuels, training one model for natural-language processing emits the same amount of carbon dioxide as 125 New York -Beijing round trips, and the world’s data centres consume almost as much electricity as South Africa does. As this awareness grows, we will see the advent of green AI and software, with governments and corporations starting to mandate this, just as they now do for diversity and inclusion, and environment, social and governance goals. Expect an announcement on nuclear fusion, a technology that could possibly ‘solve’ the global energy crisis.

Crunch times: The two biggest crunches faced by the tech world in 2021 were semiconductors, as global producers struggled with covid-disrupted supply chains and an explosion in demand as the pandemic eased, and an acute shortage of tech workers, as people discovered new ways to work. While the semiconductor crunch will ease, the people crunch will not. Technology is booming, with Big Tech growing rapidly, startups mushrooming and traditional companies going digital. The supply of tech workers cannot keep up, and the astronomical salaries they command will not flag off.

The future of work is here: The pandemic-enforced work-from-home arrangements, continued rise of the gig economy and the emergence of the ‘passion economy’ has ensured that the future that we envisioned for work—work from anywhere, multiple employers, work-life integration and the redundancy of geography—has accelerated into the present. This has led to the Great Resignation and hybrid-work patterns, among other massive disturbances. Expect this to continue in 2022.

As I have written earlier, the covid outbreak has forced us to decentralize more or less everything, be it work, retailing (e-commerce), food (delivery), health (telemedicine) or education (study from home). This Great Decentralization has set a trend that I believe will be irreversible, and this is what is driving up the massive demand for technology and digital transformation, as traditional firms struggle to adapt.

It was another wise person who said, “Any believable prediction of the future will be wrong. Any correct prediction of the future will be unbelievable." Which one of the two these are, we will have to wait till year-end to find out. Let 2022 be a good one.

Jaspreet Bindra is the chief tech whisperer at Findability Sciences, and learning AI, Ethics and Society at Cambridge University.

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