2022’s tech trends in the rearview mirror and what’s ahead in 2023
2022 brought seismic shifts to the tech world — between explosive hype around AI technology and a deep freeze in the crypto markets — but how have those trends held up in 2023 so far?
I caught up with our West Coast CTO, Dave Hecker, to reflect on large-scale changes in IT and why he thinks 2023 is shaping up to be a very different kind of year than 2022.
Let’s start by looking back. How does 2023 compare so far to last year?
The tech industry has seen 17 years of crazy growth, but I think 2022 showed us that growth is at a tipping point. In 2023, the daily story in tech is layoffs. Overall, the signal is one of less adventuring, less fooling around. Sentiment towards Big Tech is quite low right now, and I think 2023 is gearing up to be a war of attrition among the industry’s major players as they become more conservative and focus more on their core businesses. In short, Big Tech firms are starting to look and act more like any other big company in any other industry.
But that’s not the case for the tech landscape as a whole. Certain niches are still proliferating, even thriving, like fintech, which continues to garner interest and, more crucially, funding. And of course there’s AI. You can’t talk about these two years without AI.
AI was 2022’s late-breaking tech star. What’s AI looked like in 2023 so far, and what do you think is in store for the future?
I didn’t expect AI to take off and evolve so quickly in 2022, especially in visual art and writing. Those applications are exciting and fun enough, but I expect we’ll continue to see new and novel business applications for AI-generated output.
It’s worth comparing the hype around AI to the now-chilled hype around crypto. When it came to some of the promises of crypto and Web3 technologies — NFT artwork, for example, or metaverse shopping experiences — it was sometimes difficult to see the practical business applications. Contrast that with AI, which has very quickly found its way into both popular culture and use cases across industries. We’re already seeing AI programs writing descriptions for real estate ads and other rudimentary writing applications.
One last thing that’s happening with AI that will be very interesting to watch play out in 2023 is its role in search functionality. AI is very good at search, and Google, for instance, still makes its primary revenue through its search function. Meanwhile, Microsoft has been not-so-quietly pouring money into AI with the intent of bringing Bing into the forefront as an AI-fueled search engine. I expect Google to strongly push its own AI functionality in 2023 to protect its central revenue source. More interestingly, though, I see the entire paradigm of how we search and gather information online — something that’s been ubiquitous for decades — poised to shift drastically.
We have to talk about crypto. Where do you see the industry heading after such a deep freeze last year?
The FTX collapse was painful for many but may also have a positive effect on the industry in general: Up until the end of 2022, people thought “crypto” meant coins and apes — and that it was indistinguishable from blockchain. We’ve since stopped talking about blockchain as money and shifted the conversation towards understanding blockchain as a way to build trustless applications. That’s the great promise and, ultimately, the business case for blockchain: its ability to operate in an environment of zero trust. This is especially important for organizations like government agencies, insurance companies, and healthcare institutions where scalability and transparency are essential.
One very interesting use case is Mastodon. I’m not sure Mastodon will ever mature into a replacement for Twitter, but its recent boom in popularity was mostly driven by the fact that it’s a decentralized app. With Musk at the helm, Twitter became a prime example of how over-centralized systems (in this case, controlled largely by one person) are undesirable to many users. The migration to Mastodon shows us that decentralized systems are slowly but surely finding their place in the world. As an app, Mastodon is a federated network: a user can start their own server, be their own source of truth, hold their own node, and communicate with other nodes. Details aside, Mastodon is a great example of distributed tech finding a home.
But as for what we think of as crypto today, I expect a lot of those companies will go under, like my colleague Andrew Haines suggested in his 2023 predictions about fintech. The sector is, like the tech industry at large, hunkered down and looking for more conservative use cases. Blockchain can be instrumental in creating visibility and data control. It can’t replace all the programs and databases we are used to, but it still has vast potential. We just need to keep working to find its applications.
Many of our business development managers are looking at industries like agriculture, climate tech, energy, healthtech, and femtech for growth. What’s your outlook on these sectors?
Agriculture always demands new technology; I don’t see it as an area of rapid-fire growth but as an area of steady, consistent development. Climate tech, energy, robotics, and femtech all need to undergo significant growth. Even so, progress in these areas is slow compared to the explosive development of fintech.
In 2023, existing platforms will develop to adapt to modern realities. Take adtech: I think we'll be moving away from the current model of targeting ads based on content and user profiles. New tech will emerge to service the growing digital native audience, who favors influencers over brands and video over all other media. Overall, we'll see fewer startups creating small, incremental improvements to existing models and more disruptive innovation in adtech.
How do you see sustainability trends affecting companies in the next year?
People are thinking about sustainability more than ever, but active reform in the industry is still small right now. If we look at ESG, a company's exposure to long-term environmental, social, and governance risk, there is still a lack of clear protocols.
Consumers want to know that they are interacting with environmentally-sound companies. A couple of years ago, fewer people were worried about this. Now, sustainability initiatives are on the rise to align with consumers’ values, and I'm happy that companies have begun to pay more attention to this. Looking forward, I don’t see that changing, and I think the consumer sentiment will remain the engine powering sustainability initiatives across the industry.
Lastly, how are you approaching 2023 as a CTO?
The realities facing our clients and prospects are, as always, top-of-mind for me. Many innovative projects have been put on hold because it’s just a more conservative environment. Companies are hunkered down, trying to keep overhead low and focus on their core businesses and customers.
As CTO, I usually observe the objectives of the CEO — or sometimes the CEO and board when working with clients — and then I help strategize on how to execute these visions. But these visions will be more fundamental, value-driven, and conservative in 2023. It will be more about making core business work better, streamlining operations, and getting more out of existing resources and workforces.
I don't think this challenging period will last forever: Investors are still funding projects and things don't feel very different. I think this might be more of a market correction, but only time will tell.