What are the trends and who are the ones to watch in 2022? Here are six things to keep an eye on — and three people who are poised to make an impact
2022 could be a make-or-break year for the Irish Data Protection Commissioner. There are some very big multinational tech decisions coming in the early months, including the one that has garnered most global attention in recent years: the legitimacy of Facebook’s data transfers from the EU to the US. That one could spark yet another round of international tension between the US (which thinks Europe is weak on security and is unduly punishing America’s biggest industrial export in Big Tech) and the EU (which thinks the US is unacceptably surveilling everyone and doesn’t take EU sovereignty seriously).
There are also more fines coming. Will they be bigger than we saw in 2021? Last year saw some tension between the Irish office and a handful of European counterparts over the size and make-up of fines issued by the Irish office. But some European fines, which were bigger to begin with, were slapped down on appeal.
2022 should give a clearer guide as to where the law is settling with regard to fines and bans.
Going into 2022, the big questions around crypto are different from 2020 or 2021. Then, it was ‘will crypto survive or crash this year?’ Now, it’s a question of ‘where’, ‘how’ and ‘who’ will be involved in its next stage of development. The last six weeks has seen Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey quit his job at the top of the social network to focus more on his payments firm and a deepening commitment to crypto-based commercial models. NFTs, while still the subject of banter and ridicule, aren’t a joke to those who are trading and profiting from them (see people to watch, right). And it’s being taken as a given that any ‘metaverse’ that emerges will almost certainly have an eye on crypto as a main commercial conduit for ordinary people using the platform.
So if 2021 was the year when mainstream opinion started coming around to an acceptance of Bitcoin, Ether and other crypto-currencies being here to stay for the long term, 2022 could be the year when they’ll stop being just assets (like gold) and start shaping us as more flexible monetary instruments.
Despite its heavy reliance on blockchain and crypto, it’s worth pulling out ‘Web3’ in its own category. Not necessarily because we’ll see any huge breakthrough in mainstream services, but because it’s already a favourite to be the most hyped-up tech term of 2022. To be fair, that hype isn’t completely empty: venture capital is starting to pour into startups that say they can build Web3 applications or platforms. For example, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian has just announced a $200m fund aimed at “bridging Web3, blockchain and social media”. In Ireland, ‘Web3’ is already a category on some jobs sites. And there’s even a Launchpool Web3 Techstars accelerator programme set up for Dublin.
Some of you are reasonably asking: “What the hell is Web3?” It’s basically a more decentralised web that wrests control of data away from centrifugal controllers (like Amazon or Google or Facebook) and puts it back into your own hands as you go about your business. For data privacy types who think this sounds like heaven, it isn’t without its potential downsides: having complete sovereignty over, say, your online cash can also mean complete non-appeal to anyone else if you’re ripped off or lose it somehow.
“In Web3, you own something until a 17-year-old in St Petersburg borrows your 32-byte private key for 100ms and steals your entire life savings with no recourse,” tweeted Alex Stamos, one of Silicon Valley’s most senior and most astute security experts.
“A thousand years of common law underlying dispute resolution is just silly overhead that we can replace with our belief in the ability to write code that behaves perfectly predictably in the presence of an adversary is the principle behind much of Web3 and is so, so stupid.”
For those who can avoid this kind of catastrophic danger, there is still the irritation of former life-coaches and gurus pivoting for the Nth time to proclaim their insights on Web3 because it’s the latest thing to get them an audience on LinkedIn.
It’s starting to feel like we’re at a tipping point with electric cars. In cities, it’s no longer a novelty to see a neighbour with a Volkswagen ID3, Hyundai Kona or Nissan Leaf. There are even a handful of Teslas floating around, as middle-aged men swap Vorsprung Durch Technik for Elon Musk in their ‘I’ve-still-got-it’ superhero dreams. Prices are also starting to creep down, even though you’ll still have to fork out more than €10,000 more if you want a family-sized electric car that’s the same size as, say, a Skoda Octavia.
One key challenge for 2022 is the public charging network. To be blunt, it’s still awful. There are far too few public chargers around. Even when you find one, there’s a good chance that it’s stuck at a ridiculously low charging speed that will take hours to get you back to 70pc or 80pc. This, sadly, rules electric cars out for many people who feel they need a car to let them visit someone more than 150km or 200km away. The Government has announced funding for more public chargers, but most (264 out of 420) appear to be slow-charging models, which is like pulling up to a petrol pump capable of only the faintest dribble. The irony here is that despite all of these obstacles, demand is really strong. Not only are sales rising (in the last set of figures, electric cars represented more than 10pc of new cars bought in Ireland), but waiting lists for models such a Skoda’s Enyaq IV are up to a year long. Electric cars are most definitely the future. But Ireland needs to sort out its public charging network.
2022 will be make or break for the credibility of the National Broadband Plan. Delays to the roll-out — under half of the 115,000 connections promised by January have been delivered — have created unease and grumbling, even among erstwhile supporters. National Broadband Ireland, the company building the rural network, says that it has around 150,000 homes — representing around 400,000 people — now under construction. NBI says these homes should be done by the middle or back-end of next year. It really has to make sure this happens.
The build-out period is already creeping upwards beyond seven years to seven and a half years. And despite reports of ‘encroachment’ on the intervention area by Eir, the overall number of homes has actually grown to 555,000, because of new builds and some extra Eir homes being added due to sub-standard broadband.
NBI’s complaints, that Eir’s rural network (on which the company needs to build a huge chunk of its own infrastructure) is worse than was bargained, may also have to be addressed by the Department of Communications. If there’s substance to it, it’s a national problem and may require regulatory intervention. If there isn’t substance to it, the Department needs to make that clear, too. However, there is an upside. If 150,000 homes do get completed by the summer or autumn, that will be almost half-a-million people who gain access to long-term, high-speed broadband. After all is said and done, that’s a very big deal to a lot of people.
On the face of it, it’s hard to imagine that 2022 could be any worse than 2021 when it comes to cybersecurity in Ireland. It’s almost inconceivable that the same scale of devastation could be revisited on, say, the HSE as happened last May. Then again, we still have some real weak points that we bring into the next 12 months. Obsolete Windows 7 computers are still sitting in some of our most sensitive State facilities. There’s still (incredibly) no director of the National Cyber Security Centre.
Maybe most importantly, there doesn’t appear to have been any noticeable shift in sensibility, either among Irish politicians, or wider society, that IT security is anything for us to prioritise. If the Defence and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney once again said that his phone had been hacked, there is no sign that it would be taken any more seriously in 2022 than it was when he said it in 2021. It just disappeared without trace as some sort of occasionally reoccurring natural phenomenon, like a bad storm or the Northern Lights. Not our responsibility, this techie security stuff.
While Brian McManus may not be a name in venture or startup circles, he has quietly become one of Ireland’s more successful business figures in the Irish social media world. Having quit his job as an engineer in 2016, McManus founded a couple of wildly successful YouTube channels. The biggest of these is Real Engineering, with more than three million subscribers and videos that attract more than 10 million views. McManus then set up a media production firm, Junto Media, that now employs several people.
There is a diverse and colourful range of views about crypto-backed ‘non-fungible tokens’ (NFTs). But one big winner so far is the Irish digital artist and entrepreneur Kevin Abosch. In 2021, Abosch made millions from a series of collectable digital artworks sold through NFT platforms such as Opensea. Abosch, still best known in Ireland for his series of photo portraits of Irish people that hung in Dublin’s Terminal 2 airport for a year, has an unusually high work volume across a lot of different fields. 2022 may see him gain even greater profile as one of Europe’s noted NFT-powered artists.
investor and Intercom co-founder
Intercom co-founder Des Traynor is worth watching for two reasons. First, it’s a good bet that the ‘unicorn’ tech firm will IPO in 2022. The company’s CEO, Karen Peacock, has said as much in recent interviews. But aside from that, Traynor has also now seeded quite a large number of side-investments himself into Irish and international startups. These include Hopin (now valued at close to €7bn), Jeeves, Localyze, Vowel, &Open and others. While Traynor himself says that these are typically very small investments at early stages, some of them seem set to mature into significant ones.