Science fiction today will soon be routine

For the London Free Press - January 11, 2010 Read this on Canoe

The velocity of change will continue to increase over the next 10 years, expert predicts

Bill Gates once said we overestimate the change that will occur in two years, and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. 

As digital technology continues to evolve and the proportion of digital natives (those who grew up with it) vs. digital immigrants (those who have adapted to digital technology) increases, we will see dramatic changes. 

To start this new decade, I asked futurist Jim Carroll where we might be 10 years from now. 

Since he's sometimes a bit ahead of his time, Jim referred to an article he wrote a few years ago (www.jimcarroll.com/weblog/archives/000798.html) as a place to start: 

Laptop computers: "What laptop? Your desk will be monitored by a 3-D virtual sensor that traces the action of your fingers. You won't be typing onto a keyboard anymore, since there isn't one. Instead, a holographic keyboard will be projected onto your desktop." 

That's not as farfetched as it sounds. Within the next year, we will be able to buy Microsoft's Natal gesture-recognition system for the Xbox. And the sixth-sense wearable computer has been demonstrated that uses no keyboard, and no screen. 

The landline telephone: "It's likely to be 'so yesterday.' An office with virtual 3-D long-distance video chat will be normal. The entire industry will have defragmented and disappeared, as technological change drives many of the current business models into absolute obsolescence." 

The telephone is already becoming a personal device, rather than a household device. Many digital natives don't even bother with a landline. And the cost for computer-to-computer video phone calls, using tools like Skype, is basically zero. 

Eyedrops: "The trend towards hyperconnectivity will impact medical products in a big way. The packaging in which the eyedrops are purchased will 'connect' to the global data grid that surrounds us, automatically pulling up a short interactive video on whatever screen that happens to be handy, with instructions on use and precautions. In effect, the role of product packaging will have been transformed from being that of a 'container of product' to an intelligent tool that will help us with use of the product." 

Hyperconnectivity will change things in ways we can't now imagine. Advances in sensors and circuitry will make it cheap and easy to connect everything to the Internet. It will only take some creative thinkers to figure out how we can use that for useful, practical purposes. 

Window shades: "Think 'smart-glass.' Our need for window shades will soon be eclipsed by intelligent glass that will automatically adjust its opacity and transparency for various conditions. Whether it's bright sunlight, a need to better manage heating and cooling costs, or to provide for greater privacy, it's likely that we'll see rapid changes with this basic component of the home and office." 

All these predictions are realistic given recent and expected advances. The velocity of change will continue to increase. 

One truly safe prediction is that 10 years from now, we will routinely do things that seem like science fiction today, or perhaps that science fiction has not yet imagined.