2021 Predictions: Leaders in tech, life sciences, investing and government look

From top left, clockwise: Magdalena Balazinska, director of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering; Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for AI; Leslie Alexandre, President and CEO of Life Science Washington; Leen Kawas, CEO of Athira Pharma; Peter Lee, CVP of Research and Incubations at Microsoft; Caroline Lewis, partner at Rogue Venture Partners; and Saad Bashir, CTO for City of Seattle.

The events of 2020 showed that making accurate annual predictions can be nearly impossible. But because the last year left us with a flurry of unanswered questions about our collective futures, it’s worth hearing from leaders across the innovation landscape about what they see on the horizon in tech, science, education, and other critical areas.

GeekWire asked CEOs, tech execs, investors, professors, AI experts, and others from a range of industries and organizations in the Seattle region and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest to give us their take on the next year.

How will the events of the past year impact the tech industry in 2021? When (and how) will U.S. workers return to the office? Which innovations will define the coming year? Which technologies will be overhyped? And how can startups position themselves to succeed in 2021?

Continue reading for their responses to our survey. Also listen above to the latest episode of the GeekWire Podcast for insights from one of our respondents, Peter Lee, corporate vice president of research and incubations at Microsoft, and see his answers below.

Peter Lee, CVP of Research and Incubations at Microsoft

Peter Lee. (GeekWire Photo / Clare McGrane)

How will this year’s events — the pandemic, social justice movements, economic recession — affect the technology industry in 2021? I think the smartest companies will have a much bigger emphasis on themes around unity and equity. Ideas such as “conscious capitalism,” which seek to align social responsibility with business growth, will get more attention.

The reason: In a world that seems to be getting more polarized and balkanized, it will become really important to ensure that technologies are available to all and serve to bridge divides. It’s not just feel-good, but likely essential for achieving growth and scale. And let’s face it, there are parts of the tech industry that need to do more to earn trust from people (e.g., for privacy concerns) and institutions (e.g., for antitrust reasons). In 2021 that trust will be tied directly to growth and scale.

A second theme that I think will emerge is the idea of “resilience,” by which I mean providing tech infrastructure that smooths out “shocks” to a person’s life or organization’s operations when major crises hit. As the economy starts to show signs of recovering, there may be a mandate in organizations and institutions everywhere to invest in…

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