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Tech’s best 2021 predictions

Tech’s best 2021 predictions

Happy (slightly belated) New Year! Hope you had a fun and safe holiday. Mine involved a remarkable number of board games, a lot of champagne and a five-minute Screen Time limit on Twitter. Wins all the way around.

This morning, let's take a quick look at what's coming in 2021, including predictions from both our team at Protocol and a few smart people around the web. We'll have more on the year to come in tomorrow's newsletter, too, so please send us all your thoughts and predictions and we'll include them in there!

Oh, and we're also kicking off our text-messaging experiment tomorrow, so be sure and sign up to chat about the news with us! You can sign up here, or text us at (415) 475-1729.

As always, let me know what you think, and what you'd like to see more of in our weekend edition. I'm, or you can just reply to this email. Thanks! Onto the good stuff.

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Best of Protocol

The tech IPOs to watch in 2021

  • We know a few companies are definitely going public this year: Roblox, Affirm, Poshmark, Coinbase and others. But the who-else-might-do-it list is both long and fascinating, including companies from Instacart to Databricks. Biz and Shakeel ran through some of the most important moves yet to come, including Ant Group, which one way or another is going to be one of tech's most interesting companies over the next few months.

Tech legislation to watch in 2021

  • Tough luck, friends: We're in for another year of arguing about Section 230, antitrust regulation and privacy legislation. Most of what's out there is just noise, but Emily put together a rundown of the bills and arguments most likely to turn into something real. Personally, I think the gig economy stuff has the most potential to disrupt the industry this year.

How Big Tech is preparing for all that regulation

  • So far, the most prudent thing for companies to do about regulatory issues has been either nothing, or whatever Europe is doing. But Facebook, Google and lots of other companies are rethinking their compliance strategies, lobbying for standards, and trying to shape future policies to work best for them. If you're not already doing that, you should be.

2021 consumer electronics trends

  • It's CES next week, which means the gadget world is about to get weird again. And as Janko found, there's already plenty of craziness: from AR glasses to the suddenly hot home-speaker biz to approximately 50 trillion new bad ideas about VR, this might be the year a lot of "the future" things get a little more real. Also, there will be big TVs at CES this year. I know, crazy.



Virtualized service business models previously on the horizon waiting for consumer habits to catch up have accelerated at break-neck speed. And consumers are tapping their feet, waiting for more. Now, think about the dilemma that consumers are faced with going into this tax season. Because of the pandemic, many tax situations seem more complex and are sparking questions never before imagined.

Read more


Eight themes for the near future of tech — Scott Belsky

  • These aren't all 2021 predictions, but Belsky's is a good list of things to focus on this year. This one rang particularly true: "Until the age of AI, being more productive was the best way to stand out at work. But now, as bots and algorithms supplant mundane and repetitive labor in the workplace, the benefits of human labor will shift to the skills and capabilities that are uniquely human."

Endnotes on 2020: Crypto and beyond — Vitalik Buterin

  • This is a good meditation on the state of crypto, and a very different and more expansive one than you might expect from the Ethereum creator. "Big Government is as powerful as ever, but Big Business is also as powerful as ever. 'Big Protest Mob' is as powerful as ever too, as is Big Tech, and soon enough perhaps Big Cryptography," Buterin writes. "It's a densely populated jungle, with an uneasy peace between many complicated actors."

2020 letter — Dan Wang

  • Technically this one's a look back, but it's also a solid level-setter for what's to come in China and tech in 2021. "U.S. restrictions are setting back Chinese companies in the short term, but I think it's unlikely they can crush the broader effort to catch up," Wang writes. "No country has monopolized a key technology forever: instead, the history of technology has mostly been a history of diffusion. And Chinese firms are hardly starting from a base of zero."

What is going to happen in 2021 — Fred Wilson

  • This year, the annual AVC predictions try to sort through what happens when everyone can go back to offices and gyms and concerts, but many have learned they don't want to. Wilson frames 2021 as something like the boiling-over of years of change: "The restructuring of our economy and government and corporate balance sheets and income statements that have been blown wide open will take a decade or more to work out."

2021 predictions and person of the year — Scott Galloway

  • Galloway is sometimes wrong and always confident, and the same holds here. He's high on Bitcoin and Airbnb, low on Marriott and Planet Fitness, and already calling MacKenzie Scott for person of the year.

Notes on technology in the 2020s — Eli Dourado

  • This one's a bit of an opus, touching on everything from climate change to business jets to Mars travel to vertical farming to the future of Siri. But it does a nice job of not just looking at specific industries and markets in the next year (and decade), but trying to figure out what the world might look like. Things are gonna get weird.


Mo Elshenawy is a meditation-app person now

To mark the end of 2020 (and now the beginning of 2021), we asked the same questions of some of the most interesting people in tech to find out what they've learned this year, how their work has changed and what's going to stick going forward. Last up, Cruise SVP of Engineering Mo Elshenawy.

What was the biggest change to your personal work habits in 2020, outside all the obvious stuff like "more video calls?"

Before the pandemic I could have never imagined myself as someone who would download a meditation app, but working from home has required me to put some physical boundaries around my work and home life. Personally, I believe in work-life harmony, not work-life balance, because the reality is that our personal and professional lives blend together and we need to find a productive, healthy way for these aspects to coexist. Being intentional about how I start my morning with meditation, exercise and reading — sometimes even all three if I'm feeling ambitious — has helped me keep this harmony in line.

Is there anything you wish you or your team had done sooner (in 2020 or even before), knowing what we know now about how the world works?

The safety of our future passengers is at the center of everything we do, and as a leader, it's important to me that we keep the people building this tech in focus as well. In the swirl of those early weeks of the pandemic I was focused on making the transition to working remotely as seamless as possible for the team, but as we got settled into our new normals I was reminded that that means more than just mastering the unmute button on Zoom and remote desktop connections. In hindsight, the social moments and times we are able to come together as a community — not just as teammates — ended up being just as important, if not more so, during this transition.

What's one thing that was new to you or your team in 2020 that you're definitely going to carry over in 2021?

We started hosting completely open forums with no agenda to give folks an opportunity to reconnect, ask questions, and discuss top-of-mind concerns with teammates and leadership. Everyone's circumstances are different and these forums provided valuable insight into how our teammates are doing, what they need help with and where we can offer more support — beyond what's on their to-do list. We also recently started a mentorship program with leaders designed to connect engineers from across the organization.

Through these programs we've been able to carve out dedicated time and space for our teams to reconnect with each other on a more personal level, like we would if we were back in the office sharing desk space and snacks from micro-kitchens, and they have provided folks with a human connection without needing to raise your hand and ask for help. It's early days, but I can already see the effects this is having in building more allyship and support for our employees as we all continue to navigate uncertainty.

What company, other than your own, have you been most impressed to watch this year?

General AI is an extraordinary technical challenge and I've really been impressed by the progress made by the partnership between Microsoft and OpenAI to develop supercomputing technologies in Azure. Combined with the example OpenAI set in establishing its charter for how it will advance its mission, I see OpenAI as a defining player in the future of technology as it opens up new potential for what is possible.

What 2020 tech story or trend are you most interested in following next year?

We are in the middle of the largest social experiment in history as millions of people are living and working from home. What I think is really interesting is that many people are also starting new jobs and getting hired into entirely new roles, which means that soon we could have organizations of people that have never met in person. I'm curious to see how this will play out from a socioeconomic perspective and how we move forward.

I think a hybrid approach to working remotely will give us the best of both worlds by offering people a flexible environment that can adjust to individual circumstances, and the opportunity to continue to foster these important interpersonal connections to company culture and our colleagues. With this I think we can really set people up to do the best work of their lives.



Virtualized service business models previously on the horizon waiting for consumer habits to catch up have accelerated at break-neck speed. And consumers are tapping their feet, waiting for more. Now, think about the dilemma that consumers are faced with going into this tax season. Because of the pandemic, many tax situations seem more complex and are sparking questions never before imagined.

Read more.

Today's Source Code was written by David Pierce. Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to, or our tips line, Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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