14 big trends to watch in 2013

From sensor journalism to lean government to preemptive health care, 2013 will be interesting.

2012 was a remarkable year for technology, government and society. In my 2012 year in review, I looked back at 10 trends that mattered. Below, I look ahead to the big ideas and technologies that will change the world, again.

Liquid data

In 2012, people still kept publishing data in PDFs or trapping it in paper. In 2013, as entrepreneurs and venture capitalists look to use government data as a platform, civic startups that digitize documents will help make data not just open but liquid, flowing across sectors previously stuck in silos. The trend will not be limited to government: as Ryan Block pointed out at the New York Times, personal data will also become more liquid in the years ahead as well.

Networked accountability

In 2012, mobile technology, social media and the Internet have given first responders and government officials new ways to improve situational awareness during natural disasters, like Hurricane Sandy. A growing number of free or low-cost online tools empowers people to do more than just donate money or blood: now, they can donate, time, expertise or, increasingly, act as sensors. In 2013, expect mobile sensors, “sensor journalism” and efforts like Safecast to add to that skein of networked accountability.

Data as infrastructure

When natural disasters loomed in 2012, public open government data feeds became critical infrastructure. In 2013, more of the public sector will see open data as a strategic national resource that merits stewardship and investment.

Social coding

The same peer networks that helped build the Internet are forming around building digital civic infrastructure, from collaboration between newsrooms to open government hackers working together around the country. 2012 was a breakout year for GitHub’s use in government and media. 2013 will be even bigger.

Data commons

Next year, more people will take a risk to tap into the rewards of a health data commons. Open science will be part of the reward equation. (Don’t expect revolutionary change here, just evolutionary change.)

Lean government

The idea of “lean government” gained some traction in 2012, as cities and agencies experimented with applying the lean startup approach to the public sector. With GOV.UK, the British government both redefined the online government platform and showed how citizen-centric design can be done right. In 2013, the worth of a lean government approach will be put to the test when the work of the White House Innovation Fellows is released.

Smart government

Gartner analyst Andrea DiMaio is now looking at the intersection of government and technology through the lens of “smart government.” In 2013, I expect to hear much more about that, from smartphones to smarter cities to smart disclosure.

Sharing economy

Whether it’s co-working, bike sharing, exchanging books and videos, or cohabiting hackerspaces and community garden spaces, there are green shoots throughout the economy that suggest the way we work, play and learn is changing due to the impact of connection technologies and the Great Recession. One of the most dynamic sectors of the sharing economy is the trend toward more collaborative consumption — and the entrepreneurs have followed, from Airbnb to Getable to Freecycle. The private sector and public sector are saving real money through collaborative consumption. Given support from across the ideological spectrum, expect more adoption in 2013.

Preemptive health care

Data science and new health IT offer an extraordinary opportunity to revolutionize health care, a combination that gave Dr. Atul Gawande hope for health care when we spoke in 2012. In 2013, watch for a shift toward “preemptive health care,” as behavioral science becomes part of how affordable care organizations try to keep patients healthy.

Predictive data analytics

Just as doctors hope to detect disease earlier, professionals across industry and the public sector will look to make sense of the data deluge using new tools next year. Predictive data analytics saved lives and taxpayer dollars in New York City in 2012. U.S. cities have now formed a working group to share predictive data analytics skills. Look for data science to be applied to regulatory data more in 2013.

Algorithmic censorship and algorithmic transparency

Expect speech online to continue be a flashpoint next year. As algorithmic censorship becomes a common approach to moderation on social networks and predictive analytics are applied in law enforcement, media, commerce and regulation, there will be even more interest in understanding bias in these systems and the civil rights implications of big data.

Personal data ownership

Should the Freedom of Information Act apply to private companies? In 2012, a report from the World Economic Forum and McKinsey Consulting described personal data as a new asset class. Much of the time, however, people are separated from their personal data. In 2013, expect to see more data disclosed to consumers and citizens and applied in new choice engines.

Open journalism

In 2012, Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger shared 10 principles for open journalism. While the process of gathering and sharing news in a hyper-networked environment will only grow more messy as more people gain access to tools to publish around the world, this trend isn’t going backward. Despite the trend toward the “broadcast-ification of social media,” there are many more of us listening and sharing now than ever before. Expect journalism to be a more participatory experience in 2013.

Automation, artificial intelligence and employment

The combination of big data, automation and artificial intelligence looked like something new in 2012, from self-driving cars to e-discovery software to “robojournalism” to financial advisers to medical diagnostics. Wherever it’s possible, “software is eating the world.” In 2013, the federal government will need an innovation agenda to win the race against the machines.

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  • poeddroiduser

    What would be more informative is to see how 2012 or 2011 or 2010’s predictions turned out 1-3 years later.

    • digiphile

      I didn’t make much in the way of predictions in 2010 or 2011, aside from the quite conservative bet that more people would turn to the Internet for news and information about politics and government this year. I think it’s safe to say that happened.

  • Jakub W.

    Sounds to me like 2013 will be the Year of the Buzzword.

    • Nathan Alden

      Hah! My thoughts exactly. :)

      More likely? 2013 will see increasing federal government control over our lives (not just in the US, but most Western countries), loss of freedoms once deemed untouchable, collapsing currencies due to massive debt loads and out-of-control government spending and possibly riots and mayhem like we saw in Greece. Tech will not be a savior, I’m sorry to say. I wish it had that kind of power.

      • D. Mac


        It’s people like you with your “doomsday” attitude that actually create self fulfilling prophecies. You band together with the rest of your “We are doomed” buddies and cause widespread panic instead of doing something constructive…like staying positive and working towards a solution. DO YOU PART and YES…you can make a difference.

      • Loss of freedoms? Explain? Sources?
        The only loss of freedom I see is the loss to not have a semi-auto gun with a 100 rounds.

        I’m pretty sure the liberal movement from the younger generation currently won’t be a loss of freedoms, but a door to new ones. Gay marriage, weed, and other such things which now the majority of Americans support according to Gallup will not close your freedoms unless you find not being able to do something a freedom.

      • Testing 12345

      • Nathan, As I read this column and comments, I have a “tweet” in the hopper that reads: “It’s 2013, “control” will become an outdated word. #Internet #transparency #so-me”. While I understand your concern from the hype of both ens of the political spectrum, it’s founded in fear. We have to rise above that and believe we can coexist under a democratic order that benefits society as a whole. Order in a nation as diverse as ours (USA) is challenging and is and will be an ongoing balancing act that should never benefit one ideology over another.

        • digiphile

          Glad to find you here and commenting. I’d disagree, with respect to “control” — I think we’ll see many methods of control used in the year ahead, both new and old, ranging from electronic surveillance and access to strategic resources in the government sector to changing Terms of Service, limited data access, copyright, patents, access to funding, and intentionally limited functionality in the business world.

          That last will be particularly interesting to watch between the technology giants that are becoming more vertically integrated (Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft) across mobile devices, appliances and applications.

          My better self hopes that we can rise above the politics of fear. My hard-earned pragmatism, however, suggests that we’ll have to work within the world we have in 2013, including the dynamics that have animated (and hindered) institutions from governing optimally over the past decades.

    • digiphile

      Hah! I think I’ve been fairly dinged, Jakub. I’ve written a fair bit about buzzwords over the years — maybe 2013 will be the year I remove all jargon from my writing, once and for all.

  • It’s not a race against the machines. It’s a race against societal collapse.

    • digiphile

      Thank you for the comment, Nick. Hagel went on at some length about McAfee & Brynnjolfsen’s book here as well. I found their thesis that the combination of automation and AI will affect employment in previously unaffected professions convincing. I think that’s a race against machines, metaphorically.

      I’m not sure large scale “societal collapse” is on the table. Thankfully, we seem to have passed the end of the Mayan calendar unscathed.

  • Great post, Alex. I read and reread your paragraph about “Algorithmic censorship and algorithmic transparency” and will definitely be diving into that subject. But nothing on augmented reality and new ways of seeing and interacting with all that data and government and other outputs on our phones or Google glasses or whatever? Do you think augmented reality is hype, or a 2014 play?

    • digiphile

      Thank you, Walter. There was a lot of hype about augmented reality a few years ago. It doesn’t appear warranted. On the one hand, to some extent we’re already experiencing aspects of AR, in terms of browsing social data generated from checkins and reviews around geographic areas, but I don’t see anyone holding up their phone to line up overlays these days. That could change but I don’t expect the shift next year. Developers will get Google Glass in 2013 but I doubt many mainstream consumers will be wearing them before 2014. Of course, I could be wrong. :)

  • Great list, Alex. Liquid Data definitely makes sense being at the top of the list, as this seems to have some real unintended consequences, good and bad. I’m hoping to see Open Access Journals making a big push this year. Wouldn’t it be great if most scientific journals made the switch? Its hard to see a reason why this wouldn’t change in a big way soon.

    • digiphile

      Thanks! It will be interesting to see if there’s a shift on open access. I know it’s an area that Tim is watching closely.

  • G Megaw

    Great list Alex. Hope you are well.

    • digiphile

      Thank you!. Thankfully, I am.