What will the tech world look like in 2021?

SINGAPORE - Tech editor Irene Tham looks at some of the biggest tech issues the world will have to deal with in the new year, as well as some bright spots.

Tech in 2021: WFH to continue to impact innovation, data security, role of physical office

Google’s office at Mapletree Business City in Singapore. Google and Facebook are among the big technology companies that continue to take pride and invest in having the world’s most enviable workplaces. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The world's largest work-from-home (WFH) experiment is set to continue in 2021 as business leaders strive to find the sweet spot in letting employees work from the office and from their homes.

Some questions are crying out to be answered.


Tech in 2021: Debate on AI ethics to zero in on human oversight and accountability

There are benefits to artificial intelligence technologies like this one which can predict the severity of pneumonia in a patient based on an X-ray image. But AI can also run amok with unintended outcomes. PHOTO: CHANGI GENERAL HOSPITAL

The deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies will continue unabated. From automating driverless cars and factory operations to detecting cyber threats and fraud to predicting diseases and customer profitability, nations are looking to such technologies to lift economies ravaged by Covid-19.

AI seeks to simulate human abilities such as problem solving, learning, planning and predicting. The technology processes a vast amount of information to predict outcomes, and can do so faster and more accurately than humans.

But it can also run amok.


Tech in 2021: Drawn-out process to determine extent of damage of SolarWinds hack

Texas-based SolarWinds, which provides technology monitoring services to top US government agencies and many Fortune 500 companies, was targeted by hackers as early as 2019 as a springboard for later attacks. PHOTO: REUTERS

When hackers inserted a malicious program into Texas-based SolarWinds' popular Orion IT management tool as early as 2019 as a bridgehead for later attacks, they set off a chain reaction.

It is little wonder that the hack, suspected to be linked to Russia, is billed as the most menacing cyber attack in recent times.

Experts have warned that it could take the whole of this year or longer for organisations to determine if back-door programs have been planted in their systems or if any data has been stolen.


Tech in 2021: Blockchain tools to aid in tracking origins of food and medical products

With Covid-19 vaccines being distributed to all corners of the world, digital tools that engender trust in the provenance of the vaccines and other products will be a key area of focus this year. PHOTO: REUTERS

Digital tools that engender trust in food, medical products and vaccine provenance will be one of the key areas of focus this year as Covid-19 vaccines are being distributed to all corners of the world.

Blockchain technology is an example of such a solution and is said to be powering the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It involves the use of decentralised digital databases containing information about transactions or contracts that is unalterable and visible to all in the chain.

Although it was initially created to enable cryptocurrency, the technology is increasingly being used by businesses and governments to ensure authenticity and transparency in keeping track of the provenance of food and medical products.


Tech in 2021: Aggregation of more personal financial data to benefit consumers

The newly launched data aggregation platform SGFinDex is part of a global move to promote open banking to narrow the information asymmetry between financial providers and customers. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Data sharing on an unprecendented scale took place last month with the launch of data aggregation platform Singapore Financial Data Exchange, or SGFinDex.

It is part of a global move to promote open banking to narrow the information asymmetry between financial providers and customers - to help customers compare deals, better manage budgets and spot fraud faster.

Britain is a forerunner in this space, having appointed a start-up to aggregate personal banking data on behalf of banks. Singapore has taken a different approach, with the Government operating SGFinDex.