A decade is a very long time in technology. Ten years ago, the iPhone 3 was the number one must-have gadget, Google and Microsoft had just entered the field of cloud computing, the growth of big data was still in its infancy, and the social media revolution was just getting underway.
In 2010 Moore’s Law, the unrelenting exponential biennial increase in computing power was ploughing relentlessly onwards. Back then we were packing 500 million transistors into top-end processor chips, today in 2020, the “Apple A14” processor chip has 15 billion transistors.
While big business thrived on these advances, it was also the decade of innovative start-ups and SMEs which often led the way, and not always from Silicon Valley. As we celebrate our 10th anniversary this year at Snapwire, we are proud to reflect on how we are playing our part in evolving technology by bringing innovative solutions to real-world problems.
Here we look back over the last decade and how technology has shaped the business environment. In part two of this series, we will turn out attention to the future and speculate on what will happen over the next ten years.
At the start of 2010, the iPhone 3 was the de rigueur device for early adopters who queued overnight to get their hands on one, but the smartphone was yet to make its real impact. A few months into the decade, the iPhone 4 was launched. It offered a high-resolution display, sleeker design, and importantly a front-facing camera. During that year, 300 million smartphones were shipped. By 2017 that had risen to 1.4 billion a year, with shipments tailing off slightly by the end of the decade. Currently, around 5 billion smartphones are in use.
The impact on business has been immense. The mobile app market alone is worth over $365 million a year, creating an almost insatiable demand for developers. Smartphones have changed how we consume media, catalysed the expansion of social media, disrupted the transportation industry, and are doing likewise for accommodation, banking, and purchasing. Today more people access the internet on smartphones than on any other device or computer. At Snapwire, we have worked with many businesses on apps to enhance their online offerings.
In 2010 the world was still reeling from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and, in the UK, we were enduring the worst recession since the Second World War. People lost their jobs; families lost their homes, and unsurprisingly, people lost their faith in banks. There was an appetite for alternative financial products which no longer relied on the conventional financial institutions. It was a perfect time for the birth of fintech.
The growth of technology had reduced the previously almost insurmountable barrier to entry. Innovators and entrepreneurs began to launch their own businesses. Unlike the banks, these embraced new technologies and the internet to provide faster and cheaper services that would disrupt the financial sector, and venture capitalists were happy to provide the necessary funding.
The technologies underpinning the growth of fintech include the use of smartphones for mobile banking, big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and robotic process automation, another field dear to the heart of Snapwire. Over the decade, many new applications were developed. For instance:
- Mobile banking – While all High Street banks offer mobile banking, new banks no longer needed physical branches and were able to provide a full range of services including current accounts, savings, loans and investments.
- Blockchain and cryptocurrency – Many Fintech companies offered blockchain services, including peer-to-peer lending, business loans, and many other forms of smart contracts.
- Payments – Fintech made making payments fast and safe. Almost anyone can now send money securely to individuals and organisations practically anywhere in the world.
- Credit risk assessment – this no longer relies on the major credit reference agencies. Machine learning and AI can assess the credit risk of individuals and businesses from their previous behaviour.
By 2020, 64% of consumers in the US use at least two fintech services and globally the industry is worth over $25 billion; it is forecast to grow at 25 to 30% CAGR until 2025.
Machine learning and AI
By the start of the decade, IBMs Deep Blue computer had already beaten chess world champion, Garry Kasparov, at chess. The technology used was brute force rather than what we consider to be AI; however the impact was huge.
In 2015 an even more stunning victory for a machine occurred when Deep Mind’s AlphaGo machine learning system beat the European Go champion Fan Hui at Go. Go is considerably more challenging than Chess. AlphaGo went on to beat the Go world champion Lee Sedol and in the process made some highly creative moves that astounded the experts. Google now owns Deep Mind, previously a UK start-up founded in 2010 by three young entrepreneurs and sold to Google four years later for $500 million.
Where AlphaGo had been trained to play Go using data from previous games, its successor AlphaGo Zero was given only the rules of the game. It taught itself to play by playing itself 49 million times. Within three days, it easily beat AlphaGo.
AlphaZero is a more generalised version of AlphaGo Zero. Using similar self-learning methods, within 24 hours it could play to superhuman levels the games of Go, Chess, and Shogi. Learning super-human chess took just four hours. Subsequently, it learned to play StarCraft II, a mostly intuitive game, to grandmaster level.
The impact on business of these advances in AI cannot be overestimated. Computers are now better than humans at interacting with customers, providing faster and more reliable answers and recommendations; Ai is better at diagnosing certain medical conditions than doctors; Ai is making an impact on securities trading and optimising targeted advertising. AI is also disrupting recruitment and hiring processes, replacing the ineffective CV and Interview recruiting model with far more productive systems based on machine learning. At Snapwire, we develop AI solutions for a wide variety of businesses.
The rise of the robots
Robotics goes hand in hand with AI, and over the last decade, robots have advanced to the state that they can take over many tasks once performed by humans. Today over 2.25 million robots are deployed in the workplace and their numbers are rising rapidly. The result is improved productivity and faster economic growth. Robots can work 24/7, rarely make mistakes and don’t need tea breaks. While many manual jobs are being replaced by robots, more jobs are being created. For each job lost, 1.8 new jobs are gained. Naturally, there is a skills mismatch. Generally, low skilled jobs will be taken over by robots, and higher-skilled jobs will be created.
The latest generation of robots is known as co-bots or collaborative robots. These work alongside humans and can be readily trained by teaching them tasks much as you would teach a fellow human. Compared to previous generation robots, they are inexpensive, costing as little as $25,000 each and within the budget of many small businesses. The hourly cost of a robot is less than an eight of that cost of a human worker in Europe and a third cheaper than a worker in China. And it’s not just in menial jobs. Co-bots are also being deployed increasing in the med-tech and healthcare sectors.
Social media takes off
At the start of the decade, we were all familiar with social media. Already we had LinkedIn (2003), Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005) and WhatsApp (2009), but it was in 2010 that social media really gained ground. Instagram was launched in 2010 and Snapchat in 2011. In 2010 there were fewer than one billion social media users, today there are over 3.2 billion.
Social media impacts business massively, particularly in terms of marketing allowing businesses to reach millions of customers worldwide readily. Some of the areas where businesses can leverage social media include:
- Marketing, including low cost targeted advertising and real-time performance analysis.
- Brand building and enhanced customer loyalty
- Sourcing inbound traffic
- Better search engine optimisation
- Improved customer satisfaction
The rise of the tech giants
The five largest companies in the world are tech companies. They are
At the start of the decade, none of these was in the top five. The highest placed was Microsoft at number seven. Today their combined market capitalisation is $2.2 trillion.
Their rise to the top in just a decade is astonishing. Their absolute dominance is breath-taking. Amazon will soon reach 50% of all sales in the US; Google is on course to achieve over 45% of digital advertising revenues; 20% of all mobile internet traffic is for Facebook. When faced with competition, the general trend is to acquire it. While such tactics can make some entrepreneurs such as the founders of Deep Mind already mentioned extremely rich, there are many concerns, including those of the IMF, that these giants stifle innovation and even threaten the economy making it extremely difficult for central banks to deal with a recession.
A significant aspect of the power wielded by these organisations is the vast amount of user data they possess. Despite their critics, the growth of these behemoths continues, undiminished by attempts to control and regulate them.
Over the last decade, Snapwire has been fortunate to work with a wide variety of businesses from different industries many of them mentioned here, including med-tech, fin-tech, workflow (RPA), recruitment, manufacturing, mobile technologies, and more. We have been amazed by how technology has transformed the world of business.
Naturally, as technologic advances always have done, there are reasons for concerns as well as celebrations. What is the future of the big tech giants? How will society adapt to the changing workplace? What will be the next big thing to disrupt the world as we know it?
In our next article, we will stare into the crystal ball and attempt to speculate on how technology might change business over the next decade. It will be an exciting time.