Reflections on 2019: Convergence, Incursion and Contradictions

December 13, 2019

Looking back, 2019 has been a year of convergence, incursion and contradiction in the world of technology.

Convergence, because the mass availability of data, the computing power to process it, and the prevalence of connected devices on which to access it, has led to some truly exciting (but, in some cases, concerning) developments. These include Google’s announcement in October that ‘quantum supremacy’ has been achieved and the trend for seemingly every large organisation to be re-making itself through ‘Digital Transformation’.  

Incursion, because we have seen more high-profile uses of tech and data intrude into people’s everyday lives. The last of the Cambridge Analytical affair occurred in 2018 but its after-effects on politics and democracy continued to play out into this year, with the US Senate Intelligence Committee considering the impact of social media on democracy and the ICO’s investigation into the use of Experian data by political parties concluding in January. More recently we have seen the data regulator investigate trials of facial recognition technology to surveil the public by the Met and South Wales police forces.       

Contradiction, because, in spite of these scandals, 2019 was also a year that saw technology being held up as a panacea for seemingly intractable problems. Witness the proposals (though it is hard to call them that) for some of Brexit’s larger conundrums – “technological solutions” will solve the Irish border question, while UK and overseas port operators are betting on as yet non-existent digital processes to ensure continuity of the UK-EU supply chain. Never ones to miss an opportunity, enterprising tech providers even sprang up with AI-powered solutions they claim can solve companies’ GDPR compliance.  

While we don’t propose any specific predictions (and we wish the best of luck to those that do), we think that 2020 may see public awareness of the use and limitations of tech and data in society rise, and perhaps some form of intervention in the way they are regulated – whether by policymakers, regulators or the judges, or in the court of public opinion.

Anna Cook is a Partner at Bristows. She is also a former Trustee of the Society of Computers and Law, a member of its Editorial Advisory Board and a Trustee of Full Fact 

Vik Khurana is a Senior Associate at Bristows.

Predictions, Reflections and Resolutions
There is still time to send us your own contributions looking back on 2019 or forward to 2020. Send them to me and we will publish on the site over the Christmas and New Year and feature them in the February issue of Computers & Law