The year ahead: Glimpses into 2023
India, the world’s largest democracy and one of the world’s largest consumer markets, will likely begin working to pass new laws too, with lasting implications for companies such as Meta, Google and Twitter.
Glimpses into 2023. A look at the bits and bytes
Laying down the law
Bringing tech giants under the ambit of the law has been a complicated struggle for lawmakers around the world. The European Union set an important standard when it adopted the privacy-focussed General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018. Then, last year, it set new precedents under its Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act, which seek to regulate and define the obligations of intermediaries (including social-media platforms that host user-generated data) and ecommerce companies.
Even with the laws in place, it won’t be easy. Free speech rights will have to be navigated as courts seek to crack down on the growing volumes of dangerous, incendiary and fake-news content on social-media platforms. And factors such as convenience and ease of business will need to be navigated as they seek to prevent monopolies and define unfair trade practices in the ecommerce domain.
Now that a start has been made, however, more countries are expected to follow in the EU’s wake. The US, where most of the world’s tech giants are based, will likely take some steps; India, the world’s largest democracy and one of the world’s largest consumer markets, will likely begin working to pass new laws too, with lasting implications for companies such as Meta, Google and Twitter.
The future of cryptocurrency
At the start of 2021, a bitcoin was worth a little over ₹23 lakh. By the end of that year, it had shot up to about ₹34 lakh. As of this week, the price stands at just under ₹14 lakh.
If 2021 was the year crypto — the currencies, platforms and financial services — soared, 2022 was when they fell hard. Fly-by-night variants such as Terra and Luna evaporated overnight, investment firms such as Celsius Network declared bankruptcy, and exchange platforms such as FTX went under.
The bursting bubble also took down non-fungible tokens (or NFTs), the supposedly unique digital-only assets that included versions of artworks, songs, sounds and other bits of internet ephemera.
What began as an attempt to set up an alternative financial system, the crypto revolution, faced a harsh reckoning as once-celebrated names such as Do Kwon (founder of the now-bankrupt Terraform Labs) and Sam Bankman-Fried (founder of FTX) turned out to have built businesses that many now believe were simply a kind of Ponzi scheme.
Had more people, especially in poorer countries, bought into these, the devastation would have been felt much more widely. Still, cryptocurrency is unlikely to disappear. As governments, including India’s, begin to frame tougher laws to regulate them, this will be an interesting year to see where the idea of a new form of money goes next.
The future of AI art
Quite simply, expect to see a lot more of it. The temptation of being able to feed in a few words and have a free artwork generated will be hard to resist. There’s already some concern over what this will mean for graphic and other commercial artists.
Meanwhile, in the world of text-to-image AI-driven programs, the race is on to see who can sketch it best. OpenAI’s DALL.E 2 is perhaps the most talked-about of the programs, but there’s also the upcoming Microsoft Designer, Stability AI’s Stable Diffusion, NightCafe, and Google’s Imagen.
As this segment gets more crowded, it will need to be better regulated. Filters for violence and nudity are so far proving effective. But there is the tangle of copyright protection for content created by paying users, which is already posing problems. (Incidentally, all AI art programs today have some sort of paywall. DALL.E 2 offers new users free credits but eventually charges about $15 for more. NightCafe users get four free images before they need to start paying too.)
As with all new artificially intelligent programs, human biases are reflecting too. A search on DALL.E for “flight attendant” results in images of mainly women; a search for “manager” generates mainly men. Third gender representation is nonexistent. Some of these biases are likely to be reinforced unless they are actively altered, as the programs continue to learn from their users.
Sedans vs SUVs, part deux
In a country where consumers continue to prefer SUVs, technology is becoming a big part of how sedans fight back.
Last year, Skoda and Volkswagen launched the powerful Slavia and Virtus, respectively. Honda had the new City, which uses hybrid technology to assist a petrol engine. This year, Maruti and Hyundai will likely respond.
It is expected the latter will respond to the changing landscape first, with a generational update for the Verna. It needs to grow in size, in keeping with the evolution of sedans in that price band (about ₹10 lakh onwards). It could very well be the first sedan in India to offer the ADAS or advanced driver assistance systems, the suite that is powered by a series of cameras and radar; features include automatic braking in case of a threat of forward collision, detection of road markings to help drivers stay in their lane, and warnings if the car is being driven in an unsafe manner.
Buyers can also expect sedan interiors to get more plush, with larger touchscreen displays for infotainment, all-digital instrumentation, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and e-SIM-based connectivity that allows motorists to activate certain functions (engine, heating, cooling, etc) remotely, via a smartphone.