On predicting the future…

11 April 2016Inspiration
In general, none of us are really willing to accept it when someone predicts the future. Recently, I’ve had the weird and unsettling experience to feel as if the future was laid out in front of me. As you probably have noticed we recently have visited the SXSW conference and wrote some articles about this. A few weeks later I can say that one of the most sticky highlights I’ve had was the one hour peek into the future of tech. This was delivered by Mr Kevin Kelly, founder and editor for Wired and author of many tech books.
Some 20 years ago he described what he at that moment saw as the future of internet. And it can be said that he has been right about a lot of trends. He is soon releasing his new book “the inevitable”. The focus point? The next 20 years of tech evolution. At SXSW he got a 5.000 person crowd dead silent with his uncanny feeling for the direction of the next big trends. Without ever giving the feeling like it was either unrealistic or far fetched. I will try to give you a short breakdown of the 3 most interesting trends.

Artificial Intelligence

This is the #1 future trend that will be the big change on top of everything. Everybody has been talking about robots and the human style interactions in the last years. The word “bot” has been popularised for the automation of tasks as well. But I never got this clarity on what artificial intelligence and the more physical robot can become. And what tangible expectations we can have from this non-human intelligence. For the short term we can not expect real, wide and rich “humanized” intelligence, but rather something that is named “narrow A.I.” or artificial smartness. This is intelligence that can deal with single tasks. Imagine this as an extension of what Google is already doing with their cool “I’ll answer for you, smart reply” function in e-mail. This smartness will have a big impact on productivity based jobs that have a narrow focus that doesn’t demand a high level of creativity, innovation, science or other “inefficient” tasks.
ex machina robot

The next level of A.I. goes more towards the abstract idea in what this unlimited amount of intelligence can do with our society if it flows through networks and becomes available to everyone. Like electricity flowing towards us right now. You can also compare this towards the idea of the current storage of space in the cloud, but then with a steady stream of intelligence that you can “plug in to”.  Soon after this is launched it will become a commodity, and a layer that can be applied on top of any service or product. In combination with the broadening possibilities of physical robots this becomes way more fun. Imagine it as “IQ as a service” or “on demand IQ”. The Watson computer from IBM is an expensive example of this.

This artificial smartness will have a big impact on productivity based jobs that have a narrow focus that doesn’t demand a high level of creativity, innovation, science or other “inefficient” tasks.

Virtuality

Everybody has heard about Virtual Reality. And many of you probably know about these headsets that Oculus Rift (a Facebook company), Samsung and Sony playstation are releasing. These headsets will provide what is called an immersive virtual reality experience. These platforms and experience will evolve towards a more rich experience with the addition of tactile (feeling) feedback with suits, gloves and vests. The next step in this experience is re-directed walking. Imagine that you can actually run (and feel and think like you are running) through an endless forest although you are in your small 5 by 3 meter living room. Suddenly this immersive experience becomes a world where none of your senses are limited.

The other part of virtuality is called presence mixed reality. This is a world in which everything becomes a screen on top of and mixed with reality. I can’t really explain it better than the video above or the home page of the still very secret company Magic Leap (great name by the way). Although the Hololens project from Microsoft is a more concrete example. The interesting part of this trend is that it will eventually eliminate all the screens in our life. And create a continuous mixed experience. With the failed memory of Google Glass in our head I’m very curious to see if this trend will deliver upon its promise. Google has invested heavily in the before mentioned Magic Leap company and betting that it will pay off.

Tracking

The last trend is a little less sexy and definitely not as much a visionary dream. The impact of all this data, and all these experiences that people will go through is partly based on the use of data that is tracked from users. By using this data and tracking everything, all the experiences will become more relevant, personal and contextually correct. Tracking and storing this data diminishes the need of manual data input by the user and allow the continuous flow of a rich experience. The reality is, everything will be tracked.

“If it didn’t happen in real-time, it isn’t happening” – Kevin Kelly.
The next step in tracking is already well on its way. Tracking your life, your body is something that the current wave of wearables has started. Many people have watches, wristbands or other sensors that track movement. The next big thing here will be something like a pill or chip that will go into your body that measures many more vitals and signs. On top of this, it will already contain some of the key medicines that your body could need. It will therefore predict that you will get a migraine, and prevent it by administering you the right amount of medicine. This will mean yearly visits to the doctor to refill your medicine stash stored inside your body.
For personal privacy this has a huge impact! Mr. Kelly is suggesting something called “co-veillance”, which is a symmetry between the user and the company that is tracking. This idea feels a bit like, “I know what they know, and I know what benefits I get from them knowing”. It manoeuvres between the balance between privacy and transparency and the balance between a generic or a personalized experience. In this matter the expectation is that the majority of the users will choose transparency and a personalized experience. In the end Vanity trumps privacy.

 

“Vanity trumps privacy” – Kevin Kelly.
Did you find this an interesting article? Also read in our strategy series about “the mobile mind shift” or “which strategy and design conferences are worth going to?”