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2021: tech innovation boom!

By Mal Fletcher - posted Monday, 4 January 2021

"An optimist," wrote Bill Vaughan, "stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves."

Whichever of those camps you identify with, you'll probably agree that 2020 is leaving us with few things to cheer. Dig a little deeper, though, and you may find that this year of pestilence and turbulence has set us up for a burst of innovation going forward.

Consider the arena of technology. In the 1960s, it took four years of concentrated research and development to create a vaccine against the mumps, a serious viral infection.


Yet we have seen two entirely new anti-Covid vaccines engineered, tested at scale, manufactured and approved in less than a year. As I write, the Pfizer and Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccines are being distributed across the UK. They will potentially change the lives of millions of people worldwide.

Meanwhile, scores of therapies have been tested, which might alleviate the suffering of people who've contracted Covid-19.

Other vaccines will no doubt be approved soon. Earlier this year, more than two hundred vaccine projects were underway globally. All this provides compelling testimony to the power of collaborative innovation.

Medical technology has caught our attention more than any other in 2020, for good reason. It will continue to grab the headlines but 2021 promises to be a bumper year for ground-breaking innovation on other fronts, too.

Language Processing

The coming year will likely be a big one for text analysis tools. These are the techs that drive devices like our ubiquitous voice assistants, as well as chatbots and machine translation.


Already, machine-driven simultaneous translation has become a feature at many international conferences. Meanwhile, chatbots are almost old news now, but their power to emulate online human interactions continues to grow.

Chatbots will become an important tool in our battle against mental health disease. They will help people access more quickly the best mental health services for their needs. Meanwhile, artificial intelligence analytics will deliver constantly updated information on mental health issues.

In the US alone, the number of tech start-ups in the mental health space tripled their funding in just five years up to 2018. Sixty-five per cent of workers in a UK study (and 75 per cent of the youngest workers) said they felt positive about the role of technology in managing their mental health.

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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