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It's ironic reading the opening letter by founder Amy Webb of the Future Today Institute’s 13th Annual 2020 Tech Trends Report which was released on 16th March 2020, a few days before the global economy started reeling from the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous lockdown of approximately 3.9 billion people or, in simpler terms, half the global population[1], to combat Covid19.

As provided in the report, the previous century, marking the start of the roaring 1920’s , conjuring up images of alcohol prohibitions, bootleggers, deviation from traditional standards of behavior, low income household’s somehow sustaining everyday living, share value losses, a stock market crash, a great depression and extremist behavior deemed excused on the basis of freedom of expression or political views, raises the question of how the 2020’s will be remembered?

The 2020 Tech Trends Report identifies 406 strategic trends in 31 industries, seeking to highlight what companies should prepare for to embrace a pragmatic approach to the future to strategically ensure continuity and profits during times of deep uncertainty and complexity.

Its not possible to precisely summarize the 366 page report into a concise article on future tech trends that all industries should be aware of, specifically the legal industry, who will in the next decade face increasing grey area’s associated with intellectual property, copy right, privacy and freedom of expression. All the while that uncertainty regarding the relevancy and need of traditional law firms and legal practitioners continue to whine in the background, with the corresponding chant of “The Robots are coming”.

Some of the key insights, trends, possibilities, opportunities and uncertainties we should consider are provided in this article, which doesn’t even begin to scratch the top of the very vast 2020 tech trends that will shape our global economy.

Once thing that is abundantly clear is that data is the coinage of the future and he who controls the data controls the future.

We continue to generate a significant amount of data through our everyday interactions, transactions and engagement, shedding what is referred to as PIIs, personally identifiable information, through the use of internet, computers, phones and smart devices. As smart devices, wearable and gadgets become increasingly more affordable it is believed that our PIIs will be unified into a single record, PDR’s or Personal data records. The PDR will be utilized by companies to personalize customer services and product offerings, not only providing custom-made news stories, sports, movies, and songs, but could also be inherited by our next of kin providing important information regarding family health, illnesses and diseases, assisting in the winding up of deceased estates and giving effect to bequeathal wishes. Ultimately the PDR, a unifying ledger of all our data, with additional information on our schooling, employment history, legal records, financial records, travel information and dating history, would provide a deeply personal insight into who we are as an individual, personifying our worldviews and beliefs and ultimately enabling others to more comprehensively understand who we are/were as a person, for the greater good or bad.

Despite the potential benefits and insights that the data can provide, questions regarding its proper regulation and ownership remain uncertain and ambiguous. Personal data is regulated differently in each country with no unifying international policy or legislation governing what is and what is not permissible when it comes to our personal data. Apart from concerns on the regulation of data collection, use and storage and the lack of international principles and policies on same, questions regarding ownership of data and our PDR remain widely debated. In an ideal world we would be the owners of our data and PDR’s, however given the gaping lacuna in respect of enforceable norms, standards and guidelines, in the local and international sphere, our data and PDR’s will in all likelihood be owned and held by one of the G-MAFIA companies – Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, IBM and Apple.

Our data is being collected, analyzed, refined and productized to “ sort, tag and catalogue us” so that the AI and smart systems on which we increasingly rely can make decisions for us, on our behalf or about us.

In order for value to be derived from our data and for automated systems, smart devices and wearables to provide the convenience they promise, a framework is required within which these smart gadgets can make decisions to ensure the personalization of product and services offerings. This framework is provided by a scoring system, hidden from view but applicable to all we do. Similar to China’s controversial social credit system,[2] assigning a social credit score to its citizens based on their behavior, ranking them as good or bad citizens and on which liberties such as boarding a train or airplane, having access to the best hotels, schools and job opportunities are determined, ultimately serves as a prototype of the framework within which algorithms will analyze our data to enable automatic decision making by our smart gadgets and so determine what products and services will appear on our news feed, what price we are willing to pay for it and predicting what we will most likely do next, will we default on payments and/or are we likely to break the law.

As the data scoring system offers significant opportunities to all business’ in better understanding their customers and ensuring personalization of products and services based on each individual client's data, 2020 will mark the start of a complex, minefield of risk and compliance issues, demanding a well drafted data governance strategy and ethics policy and the employment of a compliance specialist that understands the complexities and implications of using data scoring systems.

Such a scoring system is not something that has suddenly appeared over night, in fact it has been used and accepted as a means to determine whether we should be permitted to take an additional home loan or whether we can hold a cell phone contract or purchase a new motor vehicle for a number of years. However, unlike the data scoring system, financial credit records can be obtained, checked for inaccuracies and permit the correction of errors. However, due to the lack of rules, regulations and enforcement policies on data use and processing, it’s not possible to know what our data score is, how it is determined, whether they contain inaccuracies or how to correct possible errors.

Apart from the inequality that the data scoring system may result in, the algorithms used for purposes of analyzing our data and ranking it according to some invisible hierarchical system, is encoded with imperceptible bias, stemming from the programmers, coders and builders of the algorithms who themselves are subject to unconsciousness bias, which may result in further disparities and inequality. Further more and most worrisome is the fact that there are no uniform set of standards, norms or guidelines that regulate the scoring system itself or the scoring agencies, which are on the increase given the significant price companies are prepared to pay to offer personalized products and services, opening the possibility for defamation by algorithm, sharing of fees and unethical, corrupt scoring, impacting individual rights and freedoms.

With AI systems, smart devices and wearables constantly monitoring us, collecting our data and scoring us, recognition is the death of anonymity and privacy. Irrespective of what we do, Big-Brother is always watching. Although touted as being for our benefit in ensuring personalized, relevant news feeds, products and services, it ultimately serves as an invasion of our privacy with no aspect of life not being watched and analyzed, indirectly controlling and influencing us as our personal world views, beliefs and opinions are influenced by what we see and hear on our news feed and social media.

Apart from the importance of data and its associated legal issues and implications, augmented reality, virtual reality and holograms are offering new experiences, providing an adventurous intersection of reality and virtual worlds. Although these digital interfaces combining the real world with virtual places and objects hold great potential and benefit for training and education, it raises a number of complex issues and concerns regarding intellectual property rights and copy right laws.

With advances in machine and deep learning, AI is increasingly being used to create content without human intervention, created with such sophistication that it is not always possible to distinguish between human or bot (algorithmic) generated news stories or content. The problem lies in the fact that bot (algorithmic) generated stories can manipulate individuals by the spread of fake news or by artificially inflating a person’s or product's popularity as well as promote fraud, cyber-bullying, trolling and the suppression of freedom of speech.

The skill of finding the right balance between freedom of speech and avoiding discrimination, hate speech and mass hysteria through the spread of fake news, calls into question whether freedom of speech and liability can be assigned to code or algorithm or whether same should be imposed on the coders and programmers of same.

It is clear that 2020 will be remembered as the start of a century of unprecedented times, not only in regard to global reactions in combating world altering biological threats and comparable to the prohibitions, low income, share losses and possible depression of the 1920’s, it also holds the promise of new opportunities and challenges for the legal industry.

From the Tech Trends Report it is clear that legal firms and practitioners should start thinking, analyzing and solving the implications and possible infringements that will arise from the significant inherent value offered by their own as well as their client’s personal data, including the ownership and control of same. Clients should additionally be informed of and assisted in regulating the minefield of lawful limitations or extension of rights to freedom of expression, privacy and social security based on our increased dependency on social media, smart devices and wearables, ensuring proper advice and legal assistance in regard to liability for personal or business use of data, algorithms and/or code, whether as users or creators of same.

Now is the time to prepare for the future of tomorrow, learn to surf the flux ahead of the curve. For more information on how to prepare for the future see our Defintive Online Futures Law Short Course -


[1]; [2]

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