As the curtains close on yet another COVID-disrupted year, Information Age looks at some of the technological trends industry says to keep an eye on in 2022.

1. The metaverse and web3

One of 2021’s biggest stories was the rise of NFTs. These unique cryptographic tokens act as pointers to digital assets and confer a sense of ownership to the token holder.

Depending on who you ask, NFTs are either ushering in a revolutionary new age of the internet – commonly called web3 – or they are a kind of mass mania ripe for scammers to advantage of unsuspecting investors.

But the popularity of NFTs, cryptocurrency, and the underlying blockchain technology this year has spurred great interest in what some are expecting to be the next big change in the internet: web3.

The distinction between web3 and the current internet – web 2.0 – is reliance on blockchain, and the decentralised data and governance that goes along with it, in an effort to tear down the walled gardens built by tech giants over the past two decades.

When you combine web3 and advances in augmented and virtual reality you supposedly get the metaverse: immersive, interoperable digital platforms in which users own and can move around assets, as in the science fiction stories of William Gibson or Ernest Cline.

Gartner recently described the move toward the metaverse as being “as significant as the one from analog to digital”.

In late October, Facebook changed its name to Meta and is pivoting its business toward shaping this new internet paradigm.

It’s something Daniel Bradby, Emerging Technology and Innovation Principal with business technology firm Mantel Group, said more organisations should be investigating in 2022.

“As consumer involvement in the metaverse starts to increase, businesses will need to determine what it means for them and where they sit in the digital universe,” he said.

“Cryptocurrencies are continuing to gain in popularity as they become safer and more regulated, and businesses need to understand their impact.

“And the rise of NFTs provides an opportunity for businesses to assign scarcity to digital items and create digital assets with value.”

2. Beware the nation-state cyber attack

Cyber security experts have long warned about highly resourced nation-state attackers wreaking havoc on government and private systems.

This year we saw the US sanction Russia over its involvement in the SolarWinds cyber attack.

And with Russia amassing over 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine, there have been fresh warnings that the first sortie in that conflict may very target digital infrastructure.

After all it’s happened before, back in 2015 when hackers started remotely shutting down Ukraine’s electricity grid just before Christmas.

But there is another aspect to nation-state cyber attacks that has security experts sweating over the next 12 months: partnership with cyber criminals who are adept at delivering ransomware and using it to extract crucial information about an organisation’s systems.

“In 2022, we can expect to see an increase in the blending of cybercrime and nation-state operations as a way to target organisations across various industry sectors,” Joel Camissar, regional director with security firm McAfee, said.

“We will see nation-states doubling down on their offensive operations by leveraging cybercriminals.

“For example, in the past, we have seen specific malware-families tied to nation-state groups, and the blurring between the two takes place when hackers are hired to develop code and conduct these operations.”

The growing relationship between cyber criminals and state hackers is something Graham Pearson, local GM of cloud security company Lacework, said will extend to stolen offensive tools like those ripped off from FireEye just over a year ago.

He warned that attacks against security researchers is something that will continue in 2022.

“Cybercriminals are recognising the value of the information, vulnerabilities, tools and threat intel coming from private sector security companies,” Pearson said.

“As a result, there will be increased value placed on offensive research products and they will become more of a target for attackers. “

The blurred line between cyber criminals and nation-state actor is only going to make attribution even harder – especially for hawkish news outlets that are quick to blame a country for the work of cyber criminals.

3. The tech skills shortage continues

This year Information Age looked at the skills shortage but it’s clear that finding and retaining skilled IT professionals continues to be hard work.

Even tech giants like Google and Amazon are feeling the squeeze as web3 and crypto startups are incentivising staff with quick access to liquidity and the promise of a new vision for the future.

Angeline Maronese, ANZ Managing Director of cloud provider Rackspace Technology, suspects 2022 will be an even more difficult for Australian organisations looking to find high quality IT workers unless there is a top-down shift in the way we develop these skills locally.

“With Australia being a smaller market compared to the rest of the world, and very advanced in terms of technology adoption, the perpetual hunt for tech talent will continue to challenge organisations,” she said.

“For the businesses of tomorrow, the focus will be less about selling products and services, but about selling outcomes and having the skills to be able to drive those outcomes for customers.

“And so, as a wider industry, we need to ask ourselves how we are getting talent into the industry and what are we doing to retain them?”

It’s that kind of soul-searching effort which Kristen Pimpini, regional VP at customer data platform Twilio, said will help organisations find and keep the right staff in what’s shaping to be a tough market next year.

“A comprehensive program to recruit, train, motivate and retain our professionals is an essential piece of ensuring our economic resilience and growth,” she said.

“Beyond monetary compensation, organisations need to create the right environment and culture to allow local talent to thrive and be their best selves.

“There’s a lot of ongoing work to be done and it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

4. AI and automation ramps up

As the government prepares its $124 million AI Action Plan, complete with shiny new National Artificial Intelligence Centre, business and IT teams will head into 2022 expecting the adoption of AI and automation tools to keep picking up pace.

It’s a big field of research with wide-ranging implications for workflow and the future of work – and can even help predict when staff might be thinking about leaving your company.

But there’s also a lot of potential for code-writing like OpenAI Codex which is capable of taking natural language and turning it into code.

Christian Reilly, VP of Technology Strategy at virtualisation firm Citrix, expects 2022 to be a big year for Codex and other AI built to write its own code.

“The system is already proficient in more than a dozen programming languages and can interpret simple commands in natural language and execute them on the user’s behalf, making it possible to build a natural language interface to existing applications,” he said.

“This could open a world of possibility for business or end users who do not require anything other than their ‘voice’ to build new experiences and interact with complex back-end systems.”

Of course, there are a range of different possibilities for artificial intelligence in the coming year, especially for organisations that have been gathering data but still haven’t put it to use.

Matthew Lowe, local VP with software company Ivanti, is expecting a big increase in AI adoption over the next 12 months, especially for organisations looking to get a leg up over their competitors through the ongoing COVID recovery.

“When fed with the right data, AI has predictive capabilities that can identify and resolve issues before they occur,” he said.

“With this intelligence, IT teams can automate tasks – allowing for the discovery, management and security of devices at pace and scale, regardless of where they are – thereby empowering them to work on bigger, more impactful and more creative projects that will provide a competitive edge in 2022."

What tech trends are you looking out for in 2022? Let us know in the comments below.