Unfortunately, it won’t matter if users don’t like the evolving nature of the services. The tech industry makes incredibly convenient, useful, nearly inescapable products. Bankers are mostly okay with being hated. Will tech executives feel the same way? The tech industry can’t have it all, but what it can and will have is money.
Prediction 2: Reality will continue melting in new and terrifying ways.
If anything became clear during and after the 2016 election, it was that the informational terrain of the internet had become very, very strange. Macedonian teenagers running scam sites, random media companies producing tribalist clickbait, Russian agents, hoaxes, hyper-partisan media, and algorithmic opacity had all combined to create a world where it was hard to know where one’s Facebook feed aligned with reality, and where it diverged. Now, new artificial-intelligence techniques portend an even wilder reality, where media is even less trustworthy. Neural networks, a particular form of machine learning, can generate new audio from archival audio, making it possible to put words in the mouths of public figures. They can also generate video scenes. This is our future. People who want to really know what’s going on will have to rely on gatekeepers, whether that’s the mainstream media, analysts at research firms, or other information services.
Prediction 3: A profusion of battery-powered vehicles are coming to a bike lane near you.
A combination of factors is coming together to create a breakout year for electric vehicles that aren’t cars or scooters. It’s like a Cambrian explosion of weird vehicles. They come in all sizes and shapes: Electric-assist bicycles, single-wheels, Segway-like scooters, powered skateboards. All of these share a few common traits. One, they’re battery-powered, so they are silent and clean, benefitting from the tremendous scale of the smartphone industry’s battery needs. Two, they’re convenient and relatively inexpensive. At anywhere from $300 to a couple thousand dollars, they allow people to get around a city at a much lower cost per mile than cars or motorcycles. Three, put them in a separated bike lane and suddenly, they feel safe. Four, these vehicles are basically smartphones with wheels, so you will soon see ever more intelligence baked into them, from the ability to rent them out like a bike share to greater ease in handling. Over time, I think less and less space on urban streets will be dedicated to multi-passenger, fast-moving cars and trucks, and more to single-passenger, medium-speed vehicles. 2018 will be the year this becomes commonly accepted.
Prediction 4: You will hear and possibly even use the word monopsony.
So, we know what a monopoly is, or at least we think we do. It’s where a company dominates a market so thoroughly that there is only one seller of a type of goods. But how about a monopsony. That’s where there is only one buyer of goods. That’s the kind of power exercised by Amazon, which can tell its suppliers what it will pay, and they by and large have to deal with it. Our current—or maybe old—antitrust framework has focused on harm to consumers, not merely market concentration. If prices are lower for consumers, that’s all that matters. The actual structure of the market—how many buyers and sellers there are—isn’t part of the antitrust decision-making process. But there is a new paradigm, pushed by the Open Markets Institute, for example, that says harm to consumers is not the only way to judge the harm done by a company’s behavior. And it may especially matter in labor markets, where having a few dominant companies in an industry makes it harder for workers to get a fair share of the money pie. A legal regime that regards scale itself as a problem would be a very serious strategic problem for the current big tech players.