Predicting the future is a dangerous thing. On the one hand, you don’t want to be viewed as a tech-prude; a contrarian about the possibilities of innovation. On the other hand, you don’t want to be an idealist, since we all know that the real world doesn’t conform to our ideals.
I guess there is also some safety in predicting the future. If you predict far enough down the road, you’ll never have to be accountable to your predictions. Future generations might laugh at you or hail you as the great tech prophet, but if you play things right, you’ll be long gone before your expectations are held up against the cold hard face of reality.
But who cares right? Predicting the future is fun. So I’m going to do it. Now.
My predictions are going to attempt to mix reality with childhood dreams. Remember all those “Mom, are we there yet?” questions on the way to grandma’s? Well, I used to always wonder why no one had invented a teletransporter yet. You know, where you could just walk in one side and pop out the other? Well, there are no teletransporters in this article. But the basic desire will inform my predictions. After all, the future of tech will almost by necessity conform to human needs and desires.
Because of that, I predict that almost all major technological advances will take shape around three basic human needs: Transportation, Communication and The Defense of Freedom.
In the near future, we will see the emergence of electric cars with gas backup. Forget hybrid. Electric cars can allow 100 miles per charge, enough for the average daily driver, especially in cities. Even if the average family keeps around 1 long-trip combustible engine type car, the electric car will soon become pervasive. That means we’ll have lots of ugly real estate sitting around (old gas stations). As it becomes increasingly clear that Middle East fanaticism is around for at least two more generations, market pressures will force car companies to start offering alternatives. I predict that Toyota and Honda will be the first to offer wide-market electric cars.
Right now, the only clear real-world pressure that I see that can drive quick technological change is the energy issue. But there are a few more things that I expect to see within 20 years: hands free parking, crash prevention sensors, volume increasing technologies such as forced speed and distance monitoring. It is conceivable that we’ll also get a first glimpse at flying vehicles, as the US government is currently working on virtual systems to regulate the flow of 3 dimensional air traffic.
If you look at the major 20th century innovations in tech, chances are that most of them will be related to communication. Human beings are social animals. But not only are we social, we’re also informational animals. We crave information. We are informavores. The internet is testament to this fact.
Within 10 years, expect pervasive wireless internet service to be available almost worldwide, starting with Korea, Japan, the US and Europe. People want their email and their instant messaging. But soon enough, they’ll also want their “Video on Demand” from the camp site. Or maybe their video conferencing from the beach.
I expect for the major technological innovations over the next 20 years to be centered around video. Now that we have text and sound mastered, image and video are the next logical step. Video search will be huge. Video delivery just as huge. Video conferencing, video blogging, etc.
The Defense of Freedom
We cannot forget the context in which technological innovation occurs: freedom to pursue our dreams. But this freedom is not free. It must be fought for and defended or else it will be taken away. As the real world pressures from radical Islamic fanaticism grow ever more serious, expect to see the next major breakthroughs in military and intelligence technologies. New defense mechanisms that create a force-field like zone of protection. Nano-bots that can infiltrate, track and destroy the world of terror. In fact, Lockheed Martin is working to develop this technology just now. Data-mining and processing technologies that pick out subtle but informative patterns from an entire world of data.
But the defense of freedom isn’t just military based. It can also involve domestic policy. I expect to see radical changes in the United States energy policy. Home-grown energy will be key. Finding renewable energy in our heartland’s crops is just the start. We need to figure out ways to enable individual home owners to power their own homes. We need to create vehicles that can draw from domestic energy sources. We need a powergrid that is stable, redundant, modular, robust and dynamic. We can’t stand for any more of this nonsense where the elderly have to survive 100 degree muggy weather without electricity.
Technology moves in leaps and bounds, and it almost always tracks real-world human needs. Because of this, I expect to see the biggest innovations in those places where we feel the need most urgently.