Things change: You don’t need some fancy-pants philosopher to tell you that. However, some change is bigger than others. With that in mind, here are some truly massive—we’re talking epic—changes that could alter the tech industry in 2019.
New Privacy Laws
One more massive breach—another 150 million Americans losing their personal data to hackers, thanks to some bad code—and the political pressure on Congress to do something about data and privacy might build past any sort of stopping point.
What would the resulting legislation look like? Last year, Ro Khanna, a U.S. Representative in California (D-CA 17th district), consulted with prominent members of the tech industry (including Tim Berners-Lee and Nicole Wong) and came up with a “Bill of Rights for the internet,” as Kara Swisher called it in a New York Times op-ed. That “Bill of Rights” included opt-in consent for the collection of personal data, and the right for users to easily port their data from one service to the next. In crafting the document, Khanna clearly borrowed a lot from GDPR, a set of laws in the European Union that regulate data usage.
While it seems somewhat unlikely that a GDPR-style suite of laws would slam down on the U.S. tech industry within the next 12 months, more breaches would compel lawmakers to do something about user data, eventually resulting in tightened laws. If the history of the GDPR in the EU is any indication, stringent privacy and user-protection laws would force companies to totally revamp how they handle and monetize data.
That would be very good for contractors who specialize in data storage, privacy, and associated areas (a crisis is always good for contractors). But you might also see companies voluntarily close up shop rather than change their business model to align with the new regulations.
H-1B System Changes
Like it or not, a lot of tech firms (and staffing companies that service tech firms) rely on H-1B and other visas to bring in offshore workers. Critics have argued for years that these visa-holders are taking jobs that should go to Americans; advocates of H-1Bs, meanwhile, argue that the visas draw in talent that’s otherwise unavailable.
When President Trump took office, he hinted at changing H-1Bs in some way. Some thought that meant he would rip out the whole visa system by the root. But over the past two years, his administration has introduced mostly gradual changes, including additional paperwork and restrictions on allowing the spouses of H-1B visa holders to work.
In 2019, those smaller changes—if combined with proposed changes to the H-1B lottery system—could nonetheless have a massive impact on how tech companies draw in talent. In turn, that could ripple into hiring (and firing) practices for many years to come.
In case you haven’t noticed, the stock market dove at the end of 2018. Unless you’re on the verge of retirement, or you panicked and sold all of your stock at the dip, that huge tumble is unlikely to affect you in the short term (especially as the markets seem to have retaken some of those losses in the past few days).
But the stock market isn’t the only sign that the economy might be a little wobbly. Debt is rising, the United States is locked in a trade war with China, and many economists fear that we could enter a recession sometime before 2020. Other indicators have also sagged, including small business confidence.
If the economy does go sideways in 2019, that won’t be good for tech. Smaller firms will have trouble raising new capital. Larger companies might engage in layoffs, if only to boost their quarterly margins. Expensive projects might end up terminated. If you’ve been in tech through a couple of economic cycles, you know what happens—and it won’t be pretty.
A.I. Could Turn a Corner
Skynet might become self-aware and launch a nuclear attack on humanity. It’ll be hard to run your startup from the radioactive rubble, unless you “pivot” and start selling cockroaches (this new world’s most popular food source!) instead of mobile apps.
We’re kidding! A.I. isn’t nearly sophisticated enough to launch a full-scale war against humanity. We hope. In the meantime, machine learning and artificial intelligence (A.I.) are evolving rapidly, and 2019 could mark some big developments in how we integrate those tools into products and workflows. Security, e-commerce, and even gaming could all be rapidly affected; and as A.I. goes mainstream, more tech pros will need to learn how to utilize it.
“Bit of a cliché but [machine learning] will no longer be something that you just buy,” Sophos CISO Ross McKercher wrote in a statement to Dice about the tech industry’s likely security changes in 2019. “Tools and techniques that were previously the domain of data science experts are getting easier to use. Won’t be long before larger SOC teams are using the tools directly rather than via models that are embedded in products.”
So maybe A.I. won’t destroy the world in 2019… but maybe it’ll make us a little bit safer.