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Venture in 2021: technological trends

Monday, March 15, 2021

The beginning of the year pushes us to try to look into the future and build a probabilistic forecast — and over time, see how far it will come true. Last year, we evaluated the prospects for the development of the venture market in 2020 — well, we will not change the tradition now.

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Political situation

In 2021, in the global venture capital arena, several political factors are likely to be significant, which will determine the future evolution of events in the world.

First, the new US administration that has come to power (led by President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris) can both ease the pressure on China and leave the status quo in the trade war with the Asian giant. In case of further worsening, the trade war online may well be continued in the form of a “hot phase” offline (although this is unlikely, since the United States returns as a strong player in the global political arena, but it is unlikely to “play with muscles”). If we are talking about easing the pressure, which is indirectly implied by the suspension of the fulfillment of Trump’s order “on the ban of TikTok” (although it is not only about this social network) in the United States, it may lead to a gradual normalization of relations between the two major world powers — China and the United States. For the venture market, the first scenario is certainly the worst one, as it will lead to a reduction in “cross-border” transactions, as for China and the United States, and the development of relations will be favorably reflected in the field of venture capital.

Then, let’s transfer over the Atlantic — and find ourselves in an equally interesting situation that arose in Europe after the UK left the European Union. Despite the temporary achievement of a trade agreement between the UK and the European Union, which has yet to be ratified by the European Parliament, just before the New Year, Brexit will continue to affect the innovative economy, which will lose the benefits of the single European market. This will complicate the work of companies in Britain, which will be forced to either completely move under the jurisdiction of the European Union, or at least open representative offices in the EU. For example, London (whose ecosystem we wrote about last year) in any case remains the center of innovation in Europe, because over the past few years it has accumulated enough capital and innovation to still maintain the acceleration set by the leading position in Europe in the venture market.

And the third aspect, which should be mentioned, is the “sovereignization” of the Internet”. Chinese users have long existed behind the “Great Chinese Firewall “(Project “Golden Shield”, unofficial name — “Great Chinese Firewall” — a system for filtering Internet content in the PRC, put into operation throughout the country in 2003. It includes security management systems, crime reporting, exit and entry control, information monitoring, and traffic management. — Startup Jedi). Now it is likely that the Internet will also break into Russian and American segments for political reasons, as the top political leadership of Russia has already made clear calls to “lower the Iron Curtain” in the virtual space. And Roskomnadzor, the main “punishing body” in Russia, obediently fulfills any wishes of the political leadership, without thinking about the technical consequences (you can recall the history of attempts to block Telegram or the latest example of “slowing down Twitter”, which led to a slowdown in all resources where there is a combination of letters t.co, including the mouthpiece of Russian propaganda RT.com). We assume that this may not completely happen in 2021, but it is likely that during the year the main players will take the next steps to break up the single Internet space.

Everything is not so clear with the content on the Web — several countries demand from platforms (Google, Facebook, Microsoft) both more strict regulation (in the case of the United States, some states call for legislating no responsibility for user content, while others, on the wave of “strengthening national unity” and limiting radical sentiments, on the contrary demand tougher responsibility for such content, and profit distribution (we are talking about the struggle of the Australian media against “tech giants”. The Australian parliament wants to require Google and Facebook to share part of their profits with media companies for content posted on their platform).

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Technologies

Technologies

Quantum computers

It is absolutely certain that one of the technological trends of 2021 may be quantum computers, which allow us to bring the speed of computing to a new, “quantum” level. Since they don’t operate with two states 1 and 0, which are used in “traditional” processor computers, but with states of quanta, which can be simultaneously in several states, using the principles of quantum physics (don’t worry if the above seems impossible to you, since quantum physics is the “physics of the impossible”, and “no one understands quantum mechanics” according to Richard Feynman). Their first industrial designs were launched back in 2020, and this year we can expect the first “personal” models. By the way, while this material was being prepared, there was news that China had already created a personal quantum computer SpinQ cheaper than Apple’s Mac Pro (the stated price for a two-qubit quantum computer is about $5 000) Itt is obvious that the race for supremacy in quantum computers is just beginning, and we should wait for moves from at least American and Canadian companies (IBM, Xanadu, ColdQuanta, Zapata Computing).

At the same time, it should be noted that in 2020, industrial quantum computers began to “take their first steps” — so in 2021, it is worth waiting for news in this direction.

HealthTech

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly stimulated interest in the field of health protection, giving a push to the development of the industry at different levels at once: for example, from software solutions that allow, for example, to monitor the transmission of the virus (you can recall the joint project of the Google (ExposureNotification) and Apple (ContactTracing) teams, as well as CAnotify, a local project in California, designed to facilitate the detection and tracking of contact persons), to hard solutions.

Among the trends of Health Tech, we can highlight the direction of organizing sports activities in the home space, ranging from the simplest yoga (Zinga raised the round just the other day) to fully-fledged compact gyms in virtual reality.

BioTech and PharmTech, which have recently attracted particular public attention due to the pandemic, are on the rise. And it’s not just about RNA vaccines, which began to be developed long before the whole world closed on lockdown (you can read Bill Gates, who writes about the efforts of their family charitable foundation to develop them).

What comes on the agenda is still rare and timid, and at the same time increasingly in the public space-RLE (Radical Life Extension-the concept of increasing human life expectancy, either mildly due to improvements in medicine, or sharply due to increasing the maximum life expectancy beyond the generally accepted limit of 125 years — Startup Jedi). Probably, the solution of this problem will not become the number one issue on the agenda yet, but at the same time, more and more attention, including political one (especially in the Scandinavian countries and Japan, where on the one hand social trends are strong, and on the other hand, the issue of population aging is acute), will turn to solving this issue.

3D printing

On the one hand,3D printing technologies have long ceased to be extraordinary, but they have not become as widespread as they were predicted a few years ago. At the same time, the focus of this technology has shifted from final users, among whom the vast majority of geeks remain, to businesses in various niches — from construction to the food industry (and in these areas, the use of 3D printing technology can have a much greater positive impact than in the consumer segment). Special attention should be paid to the use of 3D printing in medicine, which can open up wider opportunities for both transplantology and for testing new drugs and / or treatment protocols.

ML/AI

Machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies became a part of our daily technological life a few years ago. At the same time, we can both consciously use them, for example, in an application on our smartphone (hello, Reface!), and not suspect that we are facing them (machine learning has been the basis for credit scoring for several years (a system for assessing a person’s creditworthiness based on numerical statistical methods, usually used in consumer express lending for small amounts — Startup Jedi). That is why you should not be angry with the credit inspector — most likely, he / she is only voicing a decision that was made by a “soulless machine”.

This year is likely to be marked by the next development of Open AI. This is a non-profit American company whose goal is to develop open and friendly artificial intelligence. By the way, one of the founders of this company is Elon Musk. Their well-known projects are: GPT-3-a natural language processing algorithm, OpenAI GYM-a platform for developers where they can research, test and compare “reinforcement learning” algorithms. OpenAI Five is a computer program that beat professional Dota 2 players in one-on-one mode in 2017. Given these projects, as well as the fact that AI is already quite good at generating images based on their description, you can bet on the development of algorithms for generating videos based on the description.

And, of course, we are waiting for the next round of development of DeepFake (an image synthesis technique based on artificial intelligence — it is used to connect and overlay existing images and videos on the original images or videos — Startup Jedi) and fight them. Most likely, all the propaganda of the future will be built by algorithms. And, indeed, why use protein organisms that can make mistakes or protest when everything can be reduced to algorithms.

Finally, I invite you to take a look at Janelle Shane’s AI Weirdness blog, where she documents various machine learning algorithms and writes about artificial intelligence and the various ways in which algorithms go wrong. You can also play the “It doesn’t Exist” game with AI by choosing to view one of the realistic fake versions of almost any object, creature, or phenomenon created using a generative-adversarial network (GAN is a machine learning algorithm without a teacher, built on a combination of two neural networks, one of which generates samples, and the other tries to distinguish the right samples from the wrong ones — Startup Jedi).

QR codes

The interest in QR codes appeared to be spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic (and their recognition directly by smartphone cameras without the use of third-party applications), when their use made it possible to track people’s movements, make contactless menus, and make payments. In 2021, the trends will continue and strengthen, as the potential of the technology is still far from being fully realized.

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Space

Space

I would like to finish today’s article with the topic of space and its exploration in 2021. There are several areas on the agenda — flights to other planets (this is the preparation for the first mission to the Moon, and the preparation of a Martian mission), and the continued deployment of orbiting satellites on Earth (it is worth remembering that astronomers are already complain that the deployment of Starlink satellites interferes with research from Earth), but what can become a really “hot topic” is the disposal of space debris. The first projects are already appearing that suggest using various approaches in order to clear the orbital space of the debris that has accumulated over 60 years of its development by mankind.

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Instead of conclusions

It is hard to cover in one article all the diversity of the development of technologies and their impact on our lives, both every day for those technologies that are already firmly established in our lives — and the distant future for those technologies that are only at the start of their development. I invite you to discuss in the comments what you should pay special attention to in 2021, so as not to miss anything interesting.

 

15 Mar 2021

 

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