Before we get going, just a quick note: This post is not ordered in any particular way. As I thought of technology or an innovation that I felt would be relevant, I wrote it down. Free writing at its best ☺ Enjoy!
Since I was riding in a car as I thought of this post, I’ll start with transportation. If we still have cars, they’ll drive themselves (Google, Audi, etc.). They will be electric (Tesla), and I imagine at some point powered either by solar, hydrogen or wireless induction technology (power via the road itself). Car ownership will be of questionable value. I think co-owning or renting in some capacity is vastly more likely (Uber, Lyft, ZipCar, etc.).
Phones, as a standalone device, won’t exist. Instead, we’ll have a portable processing device (similar form factor to a phone?) that runs all our mobile peripherals via Bluetooth or some yet to be invented connective technology. Alternately, we may simply have Internet connected mobile peripherals, with all processing and storage handled in the cloud (most likely scenario, as internet speeds increase and storage/processing prices drop).
Google Glass is a step in the right direction, but a very early alpha product. There is almost no question that we’ll each have a HUD of some sort, perhaps integrated with neural interface tech like the Emotiv Epoc. There will be a digital layer over life. I think this tech will either end up embedded on contact lenses, or function via a direct neural connection. Holographic projection of this layer is a 3rd but much less likely possibility. The possibilities with a smart HUD are nearly limitless, and would change the face of many multi-billion dollar industries.
Everything will be measured, tracked and analyzed. Big data is an integral part of our future, and decisions will be infinitely more data driven. The internet of things and personal tracking devices will play a huge role in this, if the ethical and privacy concerns can be surmounted (and I think they will be).
Advertising as we know it today, particularly interruption advertising, will cease to exist. The era of unchecked consumption is coming to a close. Instead, I imagine we’ll have a new form of data driven advertising that will understand precisely what we want or need, exactly when and where we want or need it. Perhaps it will even connect with our financial data to only show us things it knows we can afford to buy or rent. This will tie directly to our HUDs, and will help us to make smarter, more timely purchasing decisions.
I think there will be vastly less ownership of things, and far more sharing and co-owning in general (not just cars, but most things we traditionally needed to own but used relatively infrequently).
Most people will work remotely. As technology continues to improve, the need for offices will simply vanish. Teleconferencing technology will make this more and more palatable. VR and Holographic tech might also play a role, but hard to say at this point. The Oculus Rift has the greatest chance to make this a reality, and Facebook has the right motivation to make it work.
Robots will replace people in virtually all of the current menial jobs. Food services, warehouses, cleaning services, cashiers, etc. Tech like Rethink Robots’ Baxter, and iRobot tech (Roomba, Scooba) will drive this innovation. If it is repetitive, easily teachable, and requires no creativity, a robot will do it. It’s going to scare the shit out of some people, but it’s important to keep in mind that 70% of jobs in the US were tied directly to farming barely a century ago. These shifts happen, and aren’t a bad thing, because they open up entirely new types of jobs (just look at all the new jobs tied to the WWW, a relatively young platform in the grand scheme).
Education will increase in importance exponentially, but it will be a new type of education. Remote, customized, and highly variable based on each individual learner. It will take place largely or exclusively online, and will almost certainly be free or significantly cheaper, with global availability. An inability to code (to interface with and instruct machines) will be the new illiteracy. Because of this, the value of India’s ever increasing coder workforce will multiply exponentially.
All homes will be equipped with 3D printing technology, and we’ll almost certainly be buying digital files in place of physical goods, so that we can print our own. I can envision a future where all waste produced in a home is fed into a machine that breaks everything down to a molecular level, and then feeds the raw material to a 3D printer that can print at a molecular level. Zero waste consumption, true recycling.
Medical care will be completely different. From telemedicine and digital doctors (IBM’s Watson) to tracking tools, self-measurement, etc. The typical doctor’s office won’t exist anymore. Our checkups will be via home medical devices, that will then feed that info to a Watson-like computer for analysis and treatment as needed, including automatic prescriptions after a “visit” with the doc (printed at home?).
3D printing technology and stem cell research will permit the creation of genetically perfect organs, tissue, bones, teeth, you name it. If it breaks down, we’ll be able to replace it. No more donor lists, no more waiting. Nano-tech may play a role here, but is still in its infancy compared to 3D printing.
Genetics tech will reach a point where most diseases and ailments can be prevented or reversed through personalized gene therapy. Medicine will be tailored to your individual genetic needs, and real-time monitoring will allow constant testing and tweaking. Cancer will be cured, and the source solved. We’ll have medicine that can overcome any type of bacteria or virus, without causing extraneous harm. We will unravel the microbiome and the brain, as we are now starting to unravel genetics.
Almost everyone on the planet will have high speed, wireless internet access, everywhere they go (almost certainly thanks to Google, SpaceX, and Facebook). Gigabit will become dialup, and Terabit will take its place in time. That said, desktops and laptops will forever be a minority of connected devices. They were never the ideal interface anyway, just what we had to get through to get to the ideal.
Government will be totally transformed. Transparency into all decisions, real-time polling on issues, and other technology will change the way things are handled. The legal system will be transformed as well, as advances in tech change the face of surveillance and evidence collection and analysis. Because we will all be so digitally integrated, your tech will be your location-centric alibi.
Anonymity and privacy, at least in the digital realm, might not exist. Potentially huge market in helping people to keep their data private, but some advances will absolutely require some privacy trade-offs.
Travel will be changed by advances in technology, alternative energy, and things like the HyperLoop (not saying this will be the tech to do it, but it’s a step in the right direction). I don’t expect teleportation, but ultra-high-speed, cost-effective travel will be ubiquitous. Of course, if VR takes off, telepresence may become a truly viable alternative to travel in many circumstances.
Solar Energy will be the norm, highly viable, and well above 50% efficiency. Oil and coal need to die, and wind/geo-thermal don’t have a chance. Nuclear, while by far the best path to unlimited energy, is going to depend vastly on innovations to eliminate or re-use nuclear waste (Intellectual Ventures is doing brilliant things here).
Soylent, or more likely some variation (Soylent has a LONG way to go) will transform the way we think of nutrition. I can envision a reality where a combo of tech like Soylent, 23andMe, uBiome and WellnessFX, along with various sensors (Amiigo, Kinect?), monitor and tailor our dietary needs constantly, and where our food is delivered ready to consume and tailored specifically to our individual needs. In fact, the food may not even be delivered, but could be assembled from components automatically within our homes.
Tech like the Kinect sensor, Leap controller, Ring and the Emotiv Epoc will change how we interface with devices. Physical interface devices will shrink and eventually vanish, as we become more cyborg-like.
Clothing — I can picture a type of clothing that captures energy in 5 ways (solar, kinetic, thermal, errant and static) that powers all our peripherals constantly. Battery technology built into the clothes, most likely using tech like graphene and carbon nanotubes, will allow the storage of all excess energy. Our clothing will more or less be a capacitor. Of course, if wireless power is solved and takes off, this tech may be unnecessary.
Landfills will be a thing of the past. Either we’ll use our refuse as fuel, like Scandanavia, or we’ll break it down into molecules that we can re-use in other ways. Huge room for innovation here.
Things like movies and music will shift entirely to a pay-per-use model (yes, yes, already heavily going that direction). Everything will be digital, stream-able, and we’ll either pay recurring fees for everything, or simply pay-per-use up to a maximum “you own it” amount. Netflix, Spotify, and things of this sort are here to stay, and if current content producers don’t like it, tough shit. If content creators force a vacuum, others will fill it, just like Netflix is doing by producing their own content.
Digital “ownership”, like ownership in many cases, makes little sense. Ownership makes sense when you use something with great frequency, but the less something is used, the less ownership makes sense.
If we use something infrequently, that thing will become rentable. I can see most lawn-care equipment in this category, along with prom dresses, wedding dresses, and numerous other one-time or limited use products. Ownership, for many things, will be a badge of stupidity, not pride. Excess capacity = wasted value.
Bringing formerly upscale services to the masses will increase in popularity. Things like Uber, Postmates, Exec and things of this nature will grow in popularity. (Along these lines, I’d love to see a service called Alfred, a concierge you could reach via an app on your phone, where a British man who responds to the name Alfred functions as your personal concierge, on a pay-per-use basis much like Uber. Batman fantasies FTW!)
I’ve never understood why the value of various things isn’t in sync with the amount of time it is used (your bed, for example, gets 1/3 of your life…why does it cost so much less than a car, that gets maybe 1/10th of your life, if that?) I think this could change, as we borrow more things like cars, we could then afford to spend more on things like beds, toilets, etc.
That said, as we move down this path…keep these movies in mind ☺
· The Matrix
· Minority Report
All technology brings with it both pros and cons, risks and rewards, and far smarter folks than I are going to have to sort our the nuances. Things are changing faster than ever before, and so growing pains are going to be more prevalent and more frustrating than ever before. Just because it’s painful though doesn’t mean you should stop! Some of the most amazing growth comes on the other side of pain.
So, with all of this in mind, I've been putting together my list of specific spaces and companies to watch closely over the next 5-10+ years, and here it is:
- Mobile Peripherals (Google Glass, MYO, Ring, Leap Motion, Kinect (yes, not super mobile…yet), etc.)
- Alternative Energy & Supporting Fields (Nuclear (Intellectual Ventures and their TerraPower tech is promising), Solar (cost, efficiency, durability, heat exchangers), Battery Technology (capacity, charge cycles, durability, safety)) — Graphene, Carbon Nanotubes and various metamaterials are going to play a big role here, particularly with battery tech.
- Maker Movement (3D Printers, Maker Spaces, Alternative uses for average things — highly connected to internet of things) SSYS, DDD, Autodesk, etc.
Out There but Cool:
Space Mining (moon, asteroids, etc.) — Enormous revenue potential here, but huge upfront cost & risk, lots of innovations needed to make it even possible. Moon Ex, SpaceX, and others will almost certainly make this possible.
Interstellar Travel — http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/23/science/faster-than-the-speed-of-light.html
People are the weak link in most jobs (painful to hear, but true all the same). Anything that replaces people cost effectively and without loss of quality will be highly valuable. Again, people won’t like this because it triggers a fear response, but these changes always bring new opportunities and new jobs. Change is the only constant.
So there you have it, my vision of the future based on what I see happening and some of the technological intersections I see coming. I’d say we’re 5-25 years out on most of these, though it’s hard to say accurately based on the current pace of change and when certain dependencies will be unlocked.
If any VC firms or think tanks are looking for a resident futurist to help find awesome companies to invest in or spaces to move into, that would be my dream job ☺ Hit me up!