Startup founders, Big Tech execs, VCs, and tech scholars offer their predictions on how Web3, the metaverse, and other emerging ideas will shape the next year.
“Big things have small beginnings.” That line from Lawrence of Arabia may be a good way of characterizing the coming year in tech. Tech that will be very important to the future will begin graduating from R&D labs and enter the marketplace. More self-driving automobiles will traverse the roadways. Augmented reality glasses may even start showing up in public. The U.S. government is likely to begin regulating Big Tech in such areas as antitrust and privacy. The industry will continue talking about, and in some cases even building for, the metaverse. And some of the foundational technologies underpinning Web3 may begin to take hold.
But those are just the broad strokes. Again this year my colleagues and I spun our Roledexes looking for the smartest and best-placed people we know to offer their predictions. We asked startup founders, Big Tech execs, VCs, scholars, and other experts to speculate on the coming year within their field of interest. Altogether, we collected more than 40 predictions about 2022. Together, they offer a smart composite look at the things we’re likely to be talking about by this time next year.
Alex Pasternack helped compile these responses, which have been lightly edited and pared down for length.
Prem Natarajan, VP of natural understanding, Amazon Alexa
Pre-trained language models will enable new applications and experiences composed with far less developer effort than before. We will see more people tweeting and blogging about low-code and no-code frameworks that reduce developer friction in creating complex AI-powered applications. The second trend is what I think of as the “age of self” in AI. Advances in AI self-awareness and autonomous self-learning, e.g. teachable AI, will enable end users to directly customize applications to their particular needs and preferences, to generate creative content, and perhaps even be pleasantly surprised by timely proactive suggestions and actions by AI assistants.
Rodney Zemmel, global leader, McKinsey Digital
Quantum computing is still in a relatively early stage in its development, but we are seeing real advancements in the technology, and we’ve reached a point where executives need to consider its business implications. In 2022, we’ll continue to see a fast-developing ecosystem, increasing investment, and accelerating research breakthroughs. In 2021 alone, announced investments in quantum computing start-ups have surpassed $1.7 billion, more than double the amount raised in 2020. We expect private funding to continue increasing significantly in 2022 and beyond as quantum-computing commercialization gains traction.
Guido Groet, chief strategy officer, Luxexcel
2022 will be the year that numerous [mixed-reality glasses] products will be announced. Many companies will use this year to prepare for the market introduction of their first consumer product. 2023 will result in a start of small series production followed by a volume production the following year. The most essential components of any AR device are a good hardware and software platform on which applications can be developed. However, one can argue, that the ability for the consumer to jump on the development is of no lesser importance. For this to happen, an attractive, comfortable, and fashionable product must be first introduced to drive the interest.
Jillian York, director, International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation
I think we should be thinking about ethical and human rights issues pertaining to the AR and VR space, and relatedly, transparency from tech platforms as it pertains to privacy and content moderation. To the former point: This space is truly shaping up to be a wild west, and we shouldn’t underestimate the very real issues that arise when people enter realistic virtual spaces. It’s vital that we as consumers pay attention to the very real threats posed by the increasingly realistic virtual world . . . and remember, as we enjoy its development, that not everyone will have the same access to it. As for the latter, we’ve seen the harms that come when companies fail to moderate content–as well as when they over-moderate, particularly in cultural contexts where they lack competence. Better transparency doesn’t solve all of these problems, but it would be a huge step forward for users, advocates, and journalists alike to be able to start to make sense of how big tech corporate practices really work.
Vijay Pande, general partner, Andreessen Horowitz
Industrialized biotech will be the next industrial revolution in human history. COVID-19 has shown the world the promise of engineering in healthcare. Just look at how we developed the mRNA vaccine—and how fast. But we are just at the beginning of a revolution where AI drives industrialization across biopharma and healthcare, turning what was formerly manual into something that is repeatable, predictable, and scalable. Expect to see the rise of full stack companies with complete, end-to-end products or services that take biotech into huge markets beyond pharma and health and into manufacturing, construction, and durable goods—and in ways that combat, rather than exacerbate, climate change.
Frederike Kaltheuner, director of the European AI Fund, special advisor to the Vice President of the European Commission
Emergency-time tech will become infrastructure–for better or worse. The pandemic is dragging on, and so are the systems that have been put in place to quickly respond to what initially felt like a short-term state of exception. From more explicitly pandemic tech–contact tracing apps and digital vaccine certificates–to the fast paced digitization of the workplace, and the public sector all around the world, it looks like tech “scaffolding” will become part of a more permanent architecture in many contexts. That has been good and bad: good, because upgrades were long-overdue, and bad, because either the implementation was done sloppily or in ways that further shift power away from people and towards powerful companies or the government.
WEB3 AND THE BLOCKCHAIN
Shawn Carolan, partner, Menlo Ventures
2022 will officially end the debate over whether blockchain and Web3 is a meaningful pillar for the future of technology. We’ll see mainstream adoption and acceptance of blockchain for P2P payments, international remittances…and other common and useful applications that will start to cross the chasm from currency speculators to people who are just trying to live their lives better.
Kit Colbert, CTO, VMware
We’re going to see the value that enterprise blockchain provides become increasingly clear, and strong acceleration in production deployments in many industries, such as the financial services industry, in 2022. We’ll see even broader enterprise blockchain adoption in the financial services industry and in supply chain use cases, and we’ll see the first financial institutions go into production on blockchain technology. Also look for decentralized finance (DeFi) paradigms to make their way into mainstream enterprises: Enterprise tokens will emerge as the medium for payment in next-generation B2C networks, and central bank digital currencies will gain momentum.
Sri Viswanath, CTO, Atlassian
Over the next 5 years, Web 3.0 will upend the way we think about application development. Web 3.0 will rise as a result of the cracks in the current system, which puts user data in the hands of social media giants. Powered by blockchain technology, this new version of the web will usher in a decentralized internet and put data ownership back in the hands of the user. For the industry, it will completely change the way we approach application development and privacy.
THE NEXT LEAP IN CRYPTO
Joanna Lambert, president and GM, Yahoo
We see many businesses—particularly in the banking, payments, and technology space—making large investments in cryptocurrencies, while other companies create crypto opportunities for consumers with the marriage of credit and debit cards and expanded use cases of NFTs for both digital and physical items. Virtual real estate will become more commonplace in the NFT ecosystem next year as well given the sales happening in the metaverse as industries continue to intersect in 2022 and break new ground.
David Osojnik, CTO, Bitstamp
In 2021, developers have learned the possibilities around “play-to-earn” features. Allowing gamers to now earn bitcoin and other cryptos, as they play through a video game. Crypto also gives gamers the ability to utilize in-game currency from one game directly in another. 2022 will bring the development of a number of games created around the idea of play-to-earn and NFTs. Once well-known players start to earn crypto in-game, they’ll drive adoption from more and more everyday gamers looking to earn while playing.
Eric Sager, COO, Plaid
In 2022, we will see lenders, bureaus, and infrastructure providers collaborate more closely to incorporate a broader set of non-traditional data into credit decisions, moving more towards cashflow-based underwriting models which can paint a more accurate picture of consumers’ financial well being. This will include looking at things like BNPL, Crypto-assets and small dollar loans . . .
INTO THE METAVERSE
Dan Eckert, managing director, AI and emerging technology, PwC
An extended reality metaverse is still 3-5 years out: The metaverse—or should we say metaverses—has been around since the time of multiplayer computer games and even Second Life/AOL/Compuserve.
WHAT WE ARE REALLY SEEING IS THE REBRANDING AND EXPANDING OF THESE VIRTUAL WORLDS OF YESTERDAY INTO THE METAVERSES OF TOMORROW.”
DAN ECKERT, PWC LABS
Yes, plural–there will not be just one–there will be many, each designed for focused communities, capabilities, and experiences. The Metaverse, as being shouted by everyone, is not shipping (yet), but we are starting to see the building blocks released every day.
Sanjay Mehta, head of industry and ecommerce, Lucidworks
Brands are being put on notice: Prepare for the metaverse. This is a chance to reimagine virtual experiences and find better ways to do all the things we’ve been trying to do in the real world, including building community among customers, experiencing physical goods virtually, understanding shopper behavior, and creating more personal (AI-powered) concierge-style services. As always, the path includes a few wrong turns; accessibility and privacy need to be baked in from the ground up.
Ali Mitchell, partner, EQT Ventures
A tremendous explosion in climate investing can be expected, as a flood of capital hits start-ups across the country. Europe has been the fastest region globally in climate investing, but the U.S. has aggressively turned the dial on this with no signs of slowing down. In the first half of 2021 alone, climate tech start-ups raised $16 billion across sectors including carbon, energy, food and water, industrial, and mobility—and these figures will only skyrocket in 2022. Climate is heating up, more traditional investors are participating, and there are more cross-sector opportunities than ever before—an area to keep a close eye on in the new year.
Michael Bates, global general manager of energy, Intel
The speed of deployment for renewable energy will outpace other energy sources in 2022 and beyond, driven by new investments, innovation, technology solutions, increased competition, and policy support in US and EU. This year, we saw more frequent severe weather events around the globe due to the impacts of climate change. To mitigate these impacts, we need an energy grid that can better support the rise in renewable energy. I also expect we’ll see increased government spending on sustainable infrastructure, smart grids, water management and electric vehicles. My hope is that 2022 is the year that the transition to renewable energy really starts to take off.
Lou Von Thaer, president and CEO, Battelle Memorial Institute
The horizon of 2022 presents a watershed moment in time. It is paramount to the future of this planet that we be collectively devoted in advancing scientific research and technological breakthroughs that promote climate resiliency. The pandemic has created deep challenges and created a new urgency for innovative, scientific solutions that protect against evolving health threats, specifically the critical need to grow and enhance our national and global biosecurity capabilities. Additionally, there will be a larger emphasis on technologies that preserve the basic resources needed for human survival and counteract environmental threats.
FIXING THE INTERNET
Robert Blumofe, CTO, Akamai
The most important technology trends in 2022 will center on the continued rise of ransomware. More and more, cyberattacks are not things that happen to random computers; they’re fully-fledged incidents that directly disrupt our daily lives, limiting our ability to buy gas, grocery shop, and even access healthcare. And with opportunities for criminals to make significant amounts of money, attacks are only going to get more frequent and devastating in 2022. Since remote work is not going anywhere, criminals will have even more opportunities to access valuable data through exposed security gaps.
Kara Sprague, EVP and GM of application delivery and enterprise product ops, F5
Ransomware attacks dominated 2021, particularly around critical U.S. infrastructure. It is essential that governments put cybersecurity regulations in place for public and private companies. It cannot wait, as we’ve seen with the major Log4j security flaw. Protections, such as staying up to date on technology infrastructure and having WAFs [web application firewalls] in place in front of all applications, need to be akin to restaurant workers being required to wash their hands. They’ve become absolutely necessary standards.
Vasu Jakkal, CVP of security, compliance and identity, Microsoft
Security is no longer something only enterprises and IT workers need to think about. We’ve seen an increase in both quantity and sophistication of threats reaching small businesses, critical infrastructure, and even individuals. We should expect this to continue as bad actors try to outsmart us. The trend I expect (and hope) to see in 2022 is tech and security companies coming together to make the world a safer place for all. The more we work together and share knowledge, the stronger and safer we will all be.
Timoni West, VP of AR, Unity
While I think this is the most important thing we need to talk about as a species, it will likely be in nascent or shallow stages in 2022: real understanding of how online communication changes perception and understanding. We live in an era where adults who have been fully vaccinated from measles, mumps, and polio from infancy who are refusing to get one specific vaccine now. We see people vastly misunderstanding new tech, like what an NFT actually is, or the limitations of augmented reality. We need better ways of communicating complex ideas.
Rebecca MacKinnon, VP of global advocacy, Wikimedia Foundation
In order for democracy to thrive in the internet age, we need to protect and strengthen the digital civic space. Wikipedia, the Internet Archive, and the Digital Public Library of America are a few examples; a growing Public Interest Technology movement, supporting work that helps communities solve concrete problems, is another. Such communities have a right to govern their own civic spaces. Section 230 is helpful here. It not only shields digital platforms from liability for content posted by their users. It also shields public interest-focused and community-run platforms from liability when they enforce rules for behavior or content that might be legal, but which runs contrary to the purpose of the platform.
Kathryn de Wit, lead of the broadband access initiative, Pew Charitable Trusts
We’re going to be hearing a lot about states and broadband. With the infrastructure bill passed and unprecedented federal broadband funding flowing to states, delivering high-speed, affordable internet to all Americans has never been more achievable. But now the hard part begins. Success depends on using those public funds wisely and following data-driven research that shows us how to effectively increase the availability, reliability, and affordability of broadband.
Kevin Robinson, SVP of marketing, Wi-Fi Alliance
In 2022, the tech industry will introduce more Wi-Fi 6E products across device classes—including TVs, VR glasses, and smartphones—allowing consumers and enterprises to reap the benefits of the multi-year, Wi-Fi industry effort to make the 6 GHz band available for Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi 6E extends the benefits of Wi-Fi 6 into the 6 GHz band, delivering fast speeds, low latency, and high capacity. Wi-Fi 6E is ideally suited to deliver augmented and virtual reality applications, as well as paving the way for a thriving, immersive, XR ecosystem.
BUILDING ON THE CREATOR ECONOMY
Gina Bianchini, founder and CEO, Mighty Networks
I think we’ll see the emergence of a Web 2.5 that sits between the creator economy and Web3, grounded in community first and economic incentives second. While the energy will remain around the promise of Web3—ownership, autonomy, play-to-earn, and more—what will emerge are ways to do more of this even more simply, while the on-chain tools and experiences evolve to be more consumer-friendly.
Susanne Daniels, global head of original content, YouTube
One of the biggest trends we’ll continue to see expand over the next year is free and easily accessible content from streaming platforms. We’ve seen a monumental shift in how original programming is distributed over the past two years and how much easier it is for viewers to consume high quality content, whether it’s scripted series and documentaries or unscripted creator-led specials. I also expect authentic, cause-driven, and diverse storytelling to be a more of a focus for major digital streaming platforms in 2022 and beyond. Consumers expect their diverse perspectives to be reflected on screens of all sizes and content will continue to evolve to reflect the world we all live in.
THE NEW HEALTHCARE
Dr. Elina Berglund, co-founder and co-CEO, Natural Cycles
With all the excitement around femtech [tech focused on women’s health] in 2021, I don’t see any way for there not to be a ton of transactions in 2022. This includes increased funding, as well as even more mergers and acquisitions than we saw in 2021. Up until this point, there’s been a lot of companies with one core product, so it’s natural and makes sense to see consolidation. The market is hot but some products are going to start getting burned by regulators if they don’t have the proper quality systems and certifications in place.
Bob Kocher and Bryan Roberts, partners, Venrock
[We expect] falling private company valuations. The public markets have been cruel to many digital health companies heading into 2022 with stocks falling by 30% to 50% across next generation care providers and payers. We think that this will ripple through to private companies and lead to multiple compression (reduced valuation-to-earnings ratio), greater scrutiny about unit economics and business metrics, and lower valuations.
Jami Doucette, president, Premise Health
Virtual primary care and remote monitoring are the two categories I’m watching most closely, and they go hand in hand. At first, people were accessing virtual care for ad hoc needs, such as minor illnesses and accidents. But now, there is a trend toward people looking to establish long-term, primary care relationships with virtual providers. We also are seeing an increase in the use of remote monitoring devices, since certain tools, such as smart scales and blood pressure cuffs, are needed to facilitate quality virtual care. We expect these trends will only accelerate. As they do, stepping into the doctor’s office for an annual checkup may become a thing of the past.
Greg Yap, partner, Menlo Ventures
Web 3.0 meets healthcare: Decentralized models will continue to emerge in digital health and biotech. Not via the blockchain (yet), but with similar outcomes and implications. We control our own healthcare data. We connect to real-world health data everywhere. AI and virtual infrastructure are pervasive.
Suneet Dua, chief revenue and growth officer of products and technology, PwC
As we come to terms with our new reality, 2022 will be the year of unprecedented growth and continued expansion for healthcare technology. Although COVID has accelerated the need for tech solutions to provide contactless engagement with patients—and technology-led solutions that safeguard, process and update information—the healthcare industry has just begun to scratch the surface.
HOW WE WORK—AND COMMUTE
Scott Wharton, VP and GM of the video collaboration group, Logitech
In 2022, we’ll continue to see both employers and employees bucking the traditional office model. Home, not the office, will be the new default for existing and prospective workers. For those companies that insist on their workforce returning to the office, look for mass defections to companies that offer more flexibility. And in those companies, the challenges that come from hybrid work and hot-desking will be mission-critical problems to solve. The video collaboration industry is stepping up to meet those challenges, to the point that AI-driven innovations could make the video experience even better than being in the room.
Ankur Gopal, CEO, Interapt
The emerging trend that will pick up steam in 2022 is innovative sponsored tuition and training programs to provide real, marketable skills not only for existing employees, but also to intentionally increase diversity in the workplace. Old school is becoming the new school, with universities and businesses partnering to create more modern apprenticeship-style programs that provide both in-depth knowledge and real-world training that help prepare non-traditional job-seekers for lifelong learning and a real career, not just a job.
Jack Berkowitz, chief data officer, ADP
The two big trends we will see evolve in 2022 are centered around people and data. With the pandemic changing how work gets done, and labor market shifts leading workers to reprioritize their needs, people data has never been more important. For companies to make decisions with confidence, around critical business imperatives like advancing diversity, equity and inclusion; re-opening workplaces; and recruiting and engaging talent, they need timely insights into their people. Finding that intersection between actionable data and our workers’ needs will be huge in 2022.
Matt Trotter, head of frontier technology and energy and resource innovation, Silicon Valley Bank
Looking to 2021 and beyond, the way we move people and goods around the world will be disrupted. For example, we only use a small percentage of airports across the country, and we pack a lot of people into planes because of the cost of fuel and pilots. Small flight private jets are only for a small portion of the population. I think that will start to change and flip. In the not too distant future, we’ll be able to leverage lots of airports across the world and use airplanes in shorter haul situations. Flying will become more of a viable choice from a cost and convenience perspective versus driving.
Kiva Allgood, CEO, Sarcos Technology and Robotics Corporation
Labor shortages are expected to continue as we head into 2022, leaving many companies scrambling to find skilled workers and resources. Robots will provide a solution for many organizations that are looking to fill labor gaps, reduce on-the-job injuries, and directly impact their bottom line.
Armin G. Schmidt, CEO and co-founder, German Bionic
I am confident that people will once again become the focus of technological innovation and that we as a society will move away from the notion that automation is a cure-all. Instead of replacing people, we should enhance their abilities and compensate for their weaknesses. So, in the future, we won’t be seeing armies of Teslabots, but rather the rise of the augmented human. And to achieve this we will naturally rely on the application of advanced technologies such as robotics and AI, all geared towards sustainability. Robots beware!
A BETTER TECH INDUSTRY
Jane Manchun Wong, independent security researcher
The app development process will become more democratized and publicly transparent. As the digital world is increasingly becoming the center of our daily lives, I think the public deserves to know what is being worked on in the apps that we use everyday. When companies share the concepts they are thinking of, people will be able to give feedback, shaping the feature to what people want.
Paul Barrett, deputy director, NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights
Congress will host a demolition derby of conflicting proposals for regulating powerful social media companies. But sadly, while reasonable ideas are in the mix—such as mandating more transparency about content moderation and enhancing the Federal Trade Commission’s oversight authority—Republicans probably will obstruct progress because they expect to win the midterm elections, take control on Capitol Hill, and be able to do things their way. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube will come under increasing conservative pressure to reinstate Donald Trump, as the de facto head of the Republican Party seeks to influence midterm races around the country. Whatever they decide to do about Trump in particular, the platforms need to articulate more thoughtful and rigorous policies about when a leading political figure—American or otherwise—should be barred in the name of avoiding civil unrest and protecting democracy.
Rob Reich, political science professor, Stanford University (Reich is also associate director of the Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence and co-author of System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot.)
A policy window in the United States for regulating tech is opening. There will be no single omnibus bill to rein in Big Tech. I expect to see significant headlines made on anti-trust action, following the lead of Lina Khan at the FTC. I predict that Congress will pass a bill–perhaps the bipartisan bill proposed by Senators Portman, Coons, and Klobuchar–that requires large social media companies to provide greater transparency to independent researchers and the public to platform data. I predict there will be a growing push toward a federal data privacy bill. I predict continuing calls after the recent Summit for Democracy to forge greater coordination on tech regulation across democratic societies.
Alan Jones, tech, media, and telecom deals leader, PwC
Tech dealmaking will face significant headwinds due to regulatory pressure. The government is watching. From the FTC to the DOJ, the US government has escalated its scrutiny of some companies’ size and dominance, particularly within the tech sector. The SEC is also focused on the SPAC market. As such, we anticipate significant delays or derailing of potential acquisitions for tech buyers as well as a potential for increased divestitures as companies may have to “shrink to grow.” We also expect a continued chill in SPAC formation and de-SPACs, as a result of continued SEC scrutiny coupled with challenging market conditions driven by the redemptions and the PIPE market.
Lillian Li, former VC and author of the newsletter Chinese Characteristics
Chinese tech giants [will] rediscover their social responsibility roots by turning into agriculture tech and low-carbon zealots. [Expect] grand displays of tech workers doing hard lifting in rural regions under slogans such as “Not just To Consumer or To Business but also To Society.”
Eric Rescorla, CTO, Firefox
2022 is going to be the start of us having real tools to work with people’s data while preserving their privacy. A lot of the data collection that powers the internet, and particularly advertising, might be done in much less invasive ways. Cryptographers have been working on technologies like multiparty computation, zero-knowledge proofs, and homomorphic encryption for years, but they’ve finally gotten good enough that they’re practical for real world problems. We saw a little bit of this in 2021 but between the W3C Private Advertising Technology Community Group and the work on Privacy Preserving Measurement in the IETF, this is going to be a real area to watch in 2022.
Yael Eisenstat, policy adviser and future of democracy fellow, Berggruen Institute (Eisenstat has worked at the White House, the CIA, and Facebook; after leaving the company in 2018, she became a vocal critic.) In 2022, we will hear more people from all walks of life use their voices, skills, money, and influence to demand more accountability from the tech industry. Many people have taken risks over the past several years to sound the alarms on some of the most harmful business practices in certain tech companies, and now it is time for us to do something about it. One area where I think we will see movement is from tech workers themselves, who can and hopefully will demand more ethical, transparent, and inclusive decision-making from their leaders.
Jack Abraham, CEO & managing partner, Atomic
2021 was just the first wave of tech migration; in the coming year, we’re going to see thousands more tech workers leave major tech hubs to find a higher quality of life and more opportunity, which is increasingly being decoupled from location. This will be especially true for entrepreneurs and investors, and the rate of company building and venture investment will continue to increase in ecosystems outside of the Bay Area. Miami will be a major beneficiary of this shift. I predict we will see at least a couple of the major tech companies announce that they are opening new headquarters or offices in Miami in the coming year. Miami is going to be recognized as the major center for tech innovation and a powerful economic force in the U.S and internationally both for Web2 and increasingly for Web3 driven innovation.
Tim Hwang, author of Subprime Attention Crisis (Hwang is also editor of The California Review of Images and Mark Zuckerberg.)As the world becomes ever more uncertain in 2022, technology will increasingly become the locus of fantasy, escapism, and fin de siècle excess. That means two trends are set to expand in the coming year. First, technology as cult infrastructure: We’ll see things like the tungsten cube [collector NFTs], religiously skinned tokenization [such as GAWDS.xyz’s deity NFTs], and divinatory platformization [such as the C0-Star personalized astrology app] make a major leap in popularity and complexity. Second, technology fundamentalism. After a period of apology and attempted cooperation with policymakers and civil society, I anticipate that tech leaders will harden in their visions for society and their diagnoses of its problems, becoming unwilling to compromise on increasingly radical plans to remake life after COVID.