Like the world at large, data can seem intimidating and indecipherable. But it can be made easier to understand when you spot the connections.

Hence the new identity for our end-of-year trends report, Connecting the dots, which encapsulates how we approach research and forecasting at GlobalWebIndex. Finding order in complexity, identifying related trends, and above all, delivering clear, powerful insights to our readers.

We’re very excited to launch our latest report covering the main trends we think will shape 2020 and beyond. Click the link below to get the report. 

Learn more.

2020: the struggle between optimism and pessimism.

Over the last few decades, a lot of predictions have been made about the innovations and trends we’d see by 2020.

Some of these must have appeared a little outlandish at the time, but have nevertheless proved pretty accurate.

We are indeed seeing AI and automation threaten job security, for example. And yes, we’re witnessing industry tie-ins and funding rounds for flying cars.

Other predictions have remained further from the mark. Thankfully, we’re not having to compete with intelligent apes for manual labour (as envisioned in 1967). Nor do we all have our own personal helicopters (as anticipated in 1951).

Perhaps the biggest learning from the historical predictions about 2020 is that the underlying themes which will drive trends can be predicted with more certainty than their exact manifestations.

For 2020, then, what’s the biggest theme we should be keeping on our radar?

Like many other trends forecasters, we could say that we’ll find ourselves living in an increasingly complex and transformative world. We could point out that technology will continue to extend its influence into every aspect of our lives. But none of that would be terribly original.

We believe it’s the consumer’s struggle between optimism and pessimism that will take center stage in 2020.

Tech angst is growing

In a world of near-perpetual connectivity, the fact tech-induced anxiety is on the rise shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Clearly, though, there’s an expanding consumer segment who feel like they’re being left behind by industry innovation, and it’s the so-called digital natives who are most likely to feel this way. 

Technology is a double-edged sword. And it’s this struggle between positivity and negativity which recurs throughout our report – whether that’s in the economy, in healthcare, in the digital space, in privacy, or in anything else with a future focus. 

Here are three key trends from our soon to be released report.

Digital technologies and AI are changing healthcare.

Having an appointment with your doctor online will become as normal as making a payment on an app or booking a taxi through Uber. That’s the future of healthcare. 

With the advent of new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), telehealth, and robotics, not to mention non-traditional entrants like Apple and Google, healthcare — as we know it — is changing. 

But this change isn’t happening in a vacuum.

Tech in healthcare is solving a problem. According to the World Health Organization, global healthcare spending reached $7.5 trillion in 2016, representing 10% of global GDP.

There are several factors contributing to healthcare costs, such as growing and aging populations and the increase in chronic diseases, to name a few. As a result, hospitals and physicians alike are under immense strain. 

Technology can play a key role in addressing these challenges. It has the potential to redefine the healthcare system; offering greater preventative and precise care, an improved patient experience, and considerable efficiencies across the board.  

70% of U.S. and UK internet users believe technology will play a key role in managing their health and wellbeing in future

With this statistic in mind, let’s put the spotlight on AI in healthcare. 

Benefits and drawbacks of AI in healthcare

In healthcare, AI is positioned to reshape the landscape in areas like early diagnosis, automation of tasks, development of new medicines, and precision surgery.

One of the most prominent and exciting applications of AI is machine learning and deep learning, both of which can analyze enormous amounts of data, learn from it, and make entirely new predictions. 

To really understand the role of AI plays in healthcare, we analyzed consumers’ perceptions of AI in this space, and what they think the main benefits and challenges are. 

Around 60% of consumers agree AI and machine learning will reshape the healthcare environment within the next 10 years.

Tech giants and health providers alike are already utilizing the power of AI to their advantage. For example, the UK’s NHS announced plans to invest £250 million in a healthcare AI Lab, and Google is applying AI across all parts of the health industry. 

The perceived benefits of AI among consumers are mainly centered around its ability to offer greater preventative care and create efficiencies. But while AI has many potential benefits, implementing it also comes with its own set of challenges, and not just from a cost or infrastructural perspective.

For consumers, privacy and security issues are their biggest concern overall (51%). AI and machine learning requires huge amounts of data to learn and improve, so ensuring patient privacy is essential.

Additionally, close to half of consumers worry doctors might become too dependent on AI, and this could have a knock on effect if accuracy is at stake and patients are provided with incorrect information. 

To test this, we outlined a thought experiment that said the consumer was due to have a minor surgical procedure and they have two choices of surgeons, a human surgeon or an AI-driven robot. They’ve heard the AI could perform the surgery more precisely than the human could and we asked them which they would choose.

We found that 45% of consumers would still choose the human to perform the surgery, while 28% remained unsure. This demonstrates consumer confidence and understanding of AI in healthcare has a long way to go.  

With the appropriate applications across healthcare, AI might have the power to free up doctors’ time when it comes to administrative tasks.

AI has the potential to perform surgeries with greater precision, but it will always require at least some form of human input.

In an ideal world, AI and humans will work together and complement each other, and that’s where we’ll really see the capabilities of AI shine.

The human experience as a premium. 

In 2013, a quarter of global internet users agreed with the statement “technology makes life more complicated.” By 2019, this had jumped to one-third. 

These worries have increased in response to technology’s rapid spread into nearly every aspect of our lives.

With the average global internet user reporting they spend 6 hours and 49 minutes online every day (compared with 5 hours and 36 minutes in 2012), connectivity has become an unavoidable way of life. The rise of mobile has fueled this, allowing us to keep the internet in our pockets everywhere we go. 

And so nearly all of our basic human experiences have become mediated – to some extent – by technology: communication, transit, entertainment, work, hobbies, to name a few.

Increasingly, things like education and healthcare – domains where human attention and care have typically been fundamental – are also giving way to screens and AI. 

In this tech-mediated world, how easy is it to opt out?

Can we readily choose to have human-first rather than technology-first experiences – to switch off our email for the day, to limit our children’s screen time at school, and even – in the near future – ask to see a human doctor first?

Asking these questions now is essential, as we’ve reached a point of inflection in consumer attitudes; torn between a desire for technology’s conveniences and a concern about its influence in our lives, we’re yearning for something more familiar: the human touch. 

Opting out of technology is a privilege of high earners

Interrogating these concerns by income levels starts to build a more nuanced picture about this relationship.

In terms of their view toward technology’s influence in our lives, it’s those at the top of the scale that show the most concern.

This pattern underpins the emerging trends of premiumization – that an air of “luxury” has emerged around human-driven, in contrast to technology-driven, experiences.

Spending money on artisanal, small-batch food products, sending your children to “back-to-basics” tech-free schools (as, ironically, the tech executives are doing), and the growing popularity of camping (and glamping) are all symptoms of this trend. 

In developed markets, we’re seeing this concept of a “premiumization” of the human touch come through most readily, as evidenced by how long people of various income levels spend on their screens.

Across the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, and Japan, a pattern has emerged: higher income is associated with less time spent on mobile, desktop, and TV in the majority of cases.

The picture is not so clear for developing regions, however, where internet and technology culture are less mature due to bigger factors, like infrastructure and relative income levels. 

This pattern is evident in self-reported behaviors around “disconnecting” as well.

Our research in the U.S. indicates that those in the highest income bracket are much more likely to have done things like remove social media apps from their phones, remove email from their phones, and reduce the amount of TV they watch. 

Economic confidence is the highest it’s been in a decade.

You don’t need to work in an investment bank to notice the mounting pile of predictions and thinkpieces foreboding a global economic recession in the coming year.

Warning signs from economic shocks of the past appear to be flashing, whether it’s in analysis of the “inverted yield curve” or a projection about the outcome of Brexit, the U.S.-China trade war, or the German economy’s weak performance in recent quarters. 

For many, these warnings may be a cause for alarm. But for all the media noise surrounding them, they’re likely to remain fairly detached from the average consumer, who in many cases may have no clue what is meant by an “inverted yield curve”, or any other market signal out there.

Consumers sentiment towards the economy

Consumer confidence among 16-64 year-olds in the global economy has been steadily growing since mid-2013 following a low-point of pessimism in 2011.

This confidence is now at an all time high since 2009.

Tellingly, only when these matters impact personal hopes and fears in the future do consumers tend to pay attention. 

Optimism in internet users’ own country’s economy remains low in key markets that have regularly appeared in global news stories of late, most notably in the UK and Hong Kong (54% in the UK and 62% in Hong Kong are pessimistic about their own economy’s short term prospects). 

But concerns about the national economy aren’t always echoed in people’s perceptions of their own financial outlook. In fact, internet users in most of our tracked markets are more confident in their own personal economic situation compared to their country’s.

Among certain industries, this positive outlook is also echoed by consumers who work in the business sector.

Three-quarters of tech/telco workers expect their company’s revenue to grow in the next year, for example. Compare that to just 9% expecting their revenue to decline, and you might be forgiven for questioning whether trade tensions are weighing on their minds as we’d expect. 

This time around, we’d love to hear your input.

Tweet us your thoughts and predictions about 2020 using the hashtag #2020trends. And don’t forget to pre-order your copy here if you haven’t already.

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Written by

Jason is Chief Research Officer at GlobalWebIndex. He oversees the global research and insight teams, directs the world-leading research study and specializes in analyzing consumer trends. He writes for titles like the Huffington Post and MediaPost and is a frequent contributor to stories on media outlets such as BBC News, CNN, the Guardian, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.

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