2024 in tech: The true winners next year will be the companies that do this

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We all want to win.

Failing that, we all want to back a winner. That way, we still believe we’re very clever, even if we didn’t actually do the winning ourselves.

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If we tell people we made the right bets, adulation will rain down upon us like frogs at the end of Magnolia.

But when it comes to tech in 2024, everything would seem to revolve around the promise — and fearful portents — of generative AI.

Let’s think, then, about who’ll be the true tech leaders in 2024.

The leading tech companies

What sorts of businesses will win next year? They’ll all use AI in some way, won’t they? They’ll all be based on AI, surely.

Perhaps, but please forgive me for slathering myself in venality.

Also: ZDNET looks back on tech in 2023, and looks ahead to 2024

I can’t help wondering whether many businesses – old and new — will claim to use AI to deliver wonderful things, but not actually make money out of that AI wizardry.

When a new, supremely powerful technological idea emerges into a fuller light, the temptation is to leap on the bandwagon and allow the sweet slipstream of success to carry you along.

Pause, though, for thought.

This inexorable surge might be similar to olden tech times — when so many startups claimed they were the Uber of, I don’t know, mani-pedis or monkey-grooming. So many went the way of Icarus when investors — and even employees — discovered these companies made no money and would never make any money. 

Also: Two breakthroughs made 2023 tech’s most innovative year in over a decade

(Could it be that Uber is finally make a little money? That didn’t take long.)

In 2024, the businesses that’ll succeed are those actively proving that AI is making a material difference to real people’s lives – and having a material effect on their CFOs’ grudging positive emotions. 

I’m not sure this will be as easy as some may make it sound.

The leading tech leaders

I’m not sure about you, but I’m fond of having leaders in whom I can believe. Just a little.

2023 saw the whole world being tossed up into the air by the gushing geyser of generative AI.

Also: These 5 major tech advances of 2023 were the biggest game-changers

We’re currently suspended up there, wondering whether AI will benefit us or wreck us, change us or eliminate us, love us, or toss us on the pyre.

We’re hoping that, once we return to earth, we’ll understand the world around us and still be able to profit from it — financially and spiritually.

It helps, though, if one can find tech executives who can guide us through it all. You know, the sort we can trust and even, on a giddy occasion, revere.

I’m not sure we’re quite there yet in the tech world.

Oh, you had such hope in OpenAI. But then former and current CEO Sam Altman didn’t quite manage to reassure that he was more about the ethics than, say, the lucre.

Then Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella — someone who’s done a marvelous job turning a twisted, venal brand into something that feels somewhat likable — swiftly cast Microsoft’s wide hugging arms around OpenAI. It all began to feel a little odd. Who’s driving this thing forward? Who’s got real people’s interests truly at heart, or even slightly at heart?

Also: The promise and peril of AI at work in 2024, according to Deloitte’s Tech Trends report

One can consider Google CEO Sundar Pichai — but somehow the company’s constant legal battles create doubts in minds.

There’s Apple CEO Tim Cook. Will his goggles show us the way, the truth and life?

Apple is supposed to be the brand of the people, isn’t it? (Please guffaw away, should you choose.)

In 2024, I hope that a singular tech leader emerges, one who can truly guide us toward the new AI world and offer us some ethically generated confidence.

The truly leading leaders

There’s one more category of leadership.

There’s one more category of winners I’d like to see in 2024.

It comprises the business leaders who have sufficient foresight to use AI in order to help their employees.

In recent times, employer/employee relations have surfed troubled waves. 

Also: AI in 2023: A year of breakthroughs that left no human thing unchanged

Many employers are dragging their charges back to the office, supposedly to recreate a greater sense of human harmony. While many employees fear the real reason they’re being dragged back is that the bosses want to surveil them more closely, while quietly justifying the vast expense of physical office space.

Instead of focusing on AI as a means to rid yourself of employees and get robots to do their jobs, how about using it to free your employees and allow them to be better at their jobs?

The chilling way some would describe this is making employees more productive. As if you want to productize their being.

Instead, how about using AI to allow your employees to think more and create more, thereby making more inventive contributions to your company’s future?

I’ll clutch hard to my naiveté for all I’m worth. I’ll even allow a little optimism to break through.

Also: Generative AI filled us with wonder in 2023 – but all magic comes with a price

The true winners next year will be the companies that prove AI’s true worth, while making a positive contribution to human wellbeing.

Please don’t stop me from dreaming. And please have a Happy New Year.

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