What to look for in 2021: Ten trends in ICTs

From bringing semi-urban and rural areas into the ambit of mobile broadband and mainstreaming of AI and ML-based automation, to using tech in healthcare and working from home becoming the new normal, the next decade will see increased use of ICTs.

Most tech predictions for 2021 are optimistic about digital impact, but there are also cautionary and even warning signs about the risks of cyber-attacks and loss of data privacy and sovereignty. Governments and regulators will play an increasingly important role in such an uncertain future.

5G and IoT will bring in more connectivity opportunities, and work from home (WFH) will accelerate. COVID-19 has shone the spotlight on healthtech, and spurred even more gig workers. On the innovation front, we will see more unicorns in India as well.

As we move on to the next decade and hope for a better year, here is the list of 10 items in the area of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) that we can look forward. They apply to India and the world over in the year 2021.

1. Ubiquitous connectivity

According to the GSM Association, about half of the world’s population (nearly 3.8 billion) uses mobile internet, and 3G and 4G have covered about 50 percent of the world’s population. Hence the challenge is to bring the rest of the 50 percent in semi-urban and rural areas into the ambit of mobile broadband.

It is this objective that should occupy the Government of India in 2021 when it is preparing to auction radio spectrum in the first quarter.

2. Automation to assist

We will see more and more mainstreaming of Artificial Intelligence/Machine Leaning based automation in all walks of life. Though there are bleak predictions about automation wiping out certain jobs in the labour market, the work of Professor David Autor at MIT should provide some solace. As he argues, though automation replaces jobs in certain areas, it has strong complementary effects with labour, thereby increasing productivity, raising earnings, and augmenting demand for labor.

3. The Big Tech and antitrust

The antitrust cases against the four Big Techs - Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google - are likely to continue, not only in the US and Europe, but other countries as well.

While the regulators allowed the tech companies to innovate and bloom, their near monopoly in areas such as ecommerce, device ecosystem, social media, and search have prompted the regulators such as Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the European Union (EU) regulators to investigate their abuse of monopoly power. With Facebook and Google acquiring stake in Reliance Jio, it may be only a matter of time before antitrust issues arrive at the table of the Competition Commission of India.

4. Healthcare goes tech

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the deployment and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in healthcare. In a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, it is illustrated as to how technologies such as telemedicine enable forward triaging that allows patients to be efficiently screened without face-to-face contact as the first step, and reduces in-person visits to hospitals.

Though we have not seen successful deployment of COVID mobile apps for contact tracing, barring a few countries, ICT will play a major role in distributing COVID vaccine efficiently and effectively in the year 2021.

5. Data nationalism on the rise

As Dr Christopher Kuner, the noted privacy expert pointed out, Data Nationalism is not just a short-term political phenomenon subject to the ebbs and flows of protectionist sentiments, but the expression of a profound unease with the last few decades of increasing globalisation aggravated by the Snowden and Facebook-Cambridge Analytica episodes.

In the coming year, we are likely to see more and more cross border data flow restrictions and increasing tendency of governments to deploy data localization rules, to gain data sovereignty.

6. More gig than before

Gig” work or “on-demand” work, enabled through digital platforms, is likely to grow and continue to challenge the traditional forms of employment. As pointed out in the Fairwork India 2020 report, wages, working conditions, and management of the same by digital platforms will continue to be under scrutiny.

The regulators are likely to deploy draft codes on social security 2019 and laws on platform work and workers to promote the positive aspects of Gig work, at the same time minimising possible ill-effects.

7. Privacy rules the roost

We sincerely hope that the Personal Data Protection Bill 2018 will be enacted and become a law to protect the privacy of Indians. At the same time, we are likely to see initial steps in implementing data sharing framework for Non Personal Data (NPD) as indicated in the Experts Committee Report, to leverage the advantages of data economy for the benefit of society at large.

8. WFH to be the new normal

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to extend Work From Home (WFH) practices for the majority of the IT workforce.

We expect to see large scale adoption of video communication services, remote workforce and project management tools, digital assistants, and home office security products to promote secure and flexible WFH models.

9. More unicorns

Startups are likely to play more important roles in the digital economy, continuing to innovate and challenge traditional incumbents. Pine Labs, Unacademy, Postman, Nykaa, DailyHunt, Cars24, Zenoti, Razorpay, Zerodha, and Glance have joined the Unicorn club in 2020, spanning sectors like fintech, edtech, transportation, media, gaming, ecommerce, and collaborative work. This numbers will continue trend upwards in 2021 with more soonicorns promoted to unicorns.

10. Cyber-attacks are here to stay

Thanks to digitisation, cyber-attacks will continue to escalate. It is estimated that there will be a cyber-attack every 11 seconds in 2021, with cost to the global economy pegged at $6 trillion (more than the Indian economy)! Netizens need to be alert and security-aware to protect their information assets.

Unfortunately, firms will continue to pay scant respect to data protection and security as noted Information Security Economist Prof Ross Anderson noted, with breaches happening across industries. Hence we need to protect not only our health but also data in the coming year!

Wish you all a better 2021!

Edited by Megha Reddy

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)