Technology predictions are always dangerous, and almost always wrong. I suspect the only way to “win” is to make a whole lot of predictions and hope at least one of them comes close to happening. Fortunately, people tend to remember the ones that were correct and forget the many that were wrong. I think that is why charlatans and prophets survive.
One of the classic predictions was by Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988), a very prolific science fiction author. In his 1949 “Future History” table he predicted that the first manned moon landing would be in 1978, not that far off from 20 July 1969. That prediction was made only two years after Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. In 1949 a U.S.-launched two-stage rocket using a German V2 as the first stage reached the unprecedented height of 244 miles, about 0.1% of the way to the moon. However, Heinlein predicted that it would not be a government sponsored but a private industry sponsored event. He was right in assuming that the U.S. government would virtually abandon manned space flight, he just thought it would happen before we got to the moon.
There are a few safe predictions. Black and white will become color, silent will become talking, big will become bigger or smaller will become smaller, depending on the circumstance, and distance will matter even less.
Here are eight predictions for the next 3-5 years, all leveraging Cloud Computing. I have numbered them so it is easier to pick on or laugh at individual ones. You have probably seen at least a hint of some of them.
1. Everything will connect to the Cloud.
- You will hardly recognize your house. It will be more like living within a semi-autonomous video game. More in a later blog.
- Your car will send diagnostic information to the dealer, and depending on the severity of the problem, the dealer will send a repair person with the correct parts or send you an email / text / tweet about when you should plan to come in.
- Information about all of your prescriptions will be centralized. Even if you use multiple pharmacies to get your medicines (e.g., mail order for the “normal” ones and the neighborhood pharmacy for the special short term ones), the dispensing organization will be able to check for possible drug interactions, and your primary care physician will be automatically notified.
2. The e-Ink vs. traditional monitor issue will be resolved.
If you have used both, there are many cases where the e-Ink monitor is far superior. Try to read a book on an iPad in the sun. Try to make it through a couple of books without recharging on an iPad. Both are easy on an e-Ink Kindle or Nook. If you try to read an e-Ink device in the dark you will need a light. In general, e-Ink looks like a “real” book to the eye. I personally like it better for reading than a traditional monitor that shines light at your eye.
- E-Ink devices will be available in color.
- E-Ink devices will all have ways to light the screen (some do today).
- Some devices will have both types of screens, possibly simply by looking at the other side of the device. Only one will be active at a time.
- We will start to see very much larger e-Ink devices, used for traffic signs, advertisements, building directories, airport arrival / departure boards, the “score” part of score boards, …. These will be used for things that are largely static (even if only measured in seconds), but need to change and change quickly. They will be largely paid for out of the power savings as e-Ink uses no power except when changing.
3. Voice Recognition.
Apple iPhone Siri-like voice recognition and response will actually become useful and then indispensable. Say goodbye to the keyboard for almost everything. Some obvious applications:
- Simultaneous oral translation. Pair up with another smart phone and carry on a conversation in different languages through your earpiece, whether you are two thousand miles or two feet apart.
- Phone calls can be recorded not as an audio recording but as a transcript, with the separate parties identified. Yep, the transcript could also be translated.
- The voice recognition will actually understand what you mean, by using inflection and pauses to correctly produce punctuation. OK, correct use of the semi-colon may be a later addition.
- There will be a version that understands American sign language by watching your hands with the camera, and signing its responses on the screen. It will also do signed “speech” to text and text to signed “speech.”
4. The only computer you keep with you will be smaller than an iPhone.
It will use a Siri-like interface when used by itself, and communicate with something like BlueTooth to monitors the size of today’s tablets, laptops, wide screen desktops, and your HD TV.
- When you are at a customer’s office and want to show a presentation, you will be able to do it on their TV in their conference room directly from your phone.
- The same can happen even if you are 2,000 miles away from the customer’s conference room.
- Next slide, previous slide and all other actions will be controlled by your hand motions.
- In addition to Siri-like communication, your phone will also support Wii-like movements as well as touch screen actions (single and multi-finger swiping, selecting, …). Which means everything else will also. If you are not careful, your motions to the TV might be misinterpreted by the dishwasher.
5. However, there will be nothing on your phone.
There will be no apps, no pictures, no contact information, … loaded on the phone; everything will be in the Cloud. Lose your phone, pick up another one in the nearest convenience mart. Once you have identified yourself, it will immediately connect to your phone carrier, any nearby WiFi networks, and have access to everything – your apps, pictures, contact information, …..
6. We will see an order of magnitude increase in battery life.
This will come from a number of sources:
- Improved battery technology, including using technology like the Citizen watch eco-drive, which is powered exclusively by ambient light.
- Less things actually on the phone or device will reduce the need for fast processors and thus reduce the power requirements.
- Smarter chips which automatically speed up and slow down based on instant need. These have been available for years in the server market, but will quickly be common in the small device market.
- Little things will also improve battery life, like even with GPS on, the phone will only check location when it is moving.
7. Your car’s “information center.”
- When you are in your car, your car’s information center will have access to everything you and your passengers need to communicate, access your and their documents, music, and videos, provide traffic and weather conditions and re-routing suggestions, all interfaced with voice recognition and spoken information.
- The information center will also be interfaced with the sensors in the car related to immediate road condition, nearby vehicles, pedestrians and immovable objects.
- Your car will be “fly by wire” – no physical connection between the controls and the controlled device. Pressing the brake pedal tells the computer to apply the brakes, with a force consistent with the pressure you put on the brake. The same with the steering wheel, which will also take into account your current speed. When moving slowly, such as when parallel parking, you will not have to spin the steering wheel three times in each direction, just maybe half a turn. Or just let the car do it all. At high speed, a lane change will take a quarter turn, with the smaller movements used to keep the car in the lane (when the car is not handling that itself). “Fly by wire” also allows alternative control mechanisms much easier than the current physical connection technology. For example, it would be fairly easy to outfit a car to support a wide range of physical disabilities, or implement something I’ve wanted for decades: a joy stick between the two front seats that allows either person in the front seat to drive. Push forward to go faster, pull back to slow down, move the joy stick left or right to steer.
8. Autonomous Wheeled Vehicles.
You can expect to see some AWV (autonomous wheeled vehicles) that will take you to a location by simply speaking the location to the AWV’s information center. It will use Google Maps to find the best route, then using the vehicle’s own sensors safely take you there. Such things exist within factory or lab settings today, such as autonomous forklifts in a warehouse. I’m not sure you will be able to buy one in five years, but maybe. This has a lot of potential side effects:
- “Call a cab” will take on a whole new perspective. The “cabbie” will also understand you; no matter what language you speak.
- Inside urban areas, expect that soon only autonomous vehicles will be allowed. Cities will provide “ride-share” versions to reduce parking congestion.
- Around 1950, Walt Disney had a short “the future of cars” cartoon. Most of the predictions never quite happened, but one actually could. If ten cars were all heading from about the same place to about the same destination hundreds of mils away, then the cars will “find” each other and join up as a car train – a single unit magnetically joined moving down the highway with zero space between the vehicles.
- Even without actually touching, AWV’s that are in communication with each other could safely drive 100 mph with 6 inches between them. This would substantially increase the band pass of highways. This would lead to autonomous vehicle lanes replacing the express-lanes on highways.
The last word:
Perhaps more disturbing, here are five things that we have the technology to do today, but I predict will not happen in the next 3-5 years:
- Really taking advantage of the Cloud to significantly improve and, in fact, totally change the paradigm of public education.
- Electronic Medical Records (EMR) for everybody in the U.S. The requirements to have EMR for everybody in the U.S. are part of ObamaCare, with time frames well within my prediction range. However, just because government has said something will happen, does not mean it will. Even the threat or promise of punishment if a provider or payer does not make those goals will make it happen. The problem is very complicated and there are even today no standards on what data will be included, or how it will be encoded. Different insurance companies, for example, have completely different lists of treatments and diseases, and do not even agree on the names of content of the lists.
- A National ID in the U.S. As much as the very concept seems just wrong, it is absolutely necessary to address EMR, voter validation, and immigration control.
- A single mechanism that will charge all your portable devices. We have two iPods, an iPad, two laptops, a Kindle, two smart phones (by the same vendor and service provider) and a cell phone. It takes six different power adapters to charge them.
- Make cell phones a reliable communications media during a disaster. There are limits to the number of simultaneous calls that each cell tower can support, and when cell towers get busy they automatically reduce the physical area over which they can communicate. While they reserve a certain percentage of their connections for emergency calls (e.g., 911), in every significant event in the U.S. over the past decade, cell phone coverage essentially failed.
Oh, and you still will not have your personal flying car or rocket pack.
Keep your sense of humor.