Imagine a future where you don’t own a car. You really don’t own much at all. A driverless vehicle picks you up and takes you anywhere you need to go. On average, you wait less than 30 seconds for a ride. Since your movements are being tracked, your car service knows exactly when you’ll be ready to leave and ensures a car is there waiting for you as you step outside. Cloud services provide you with all your movies, books, music and games. Instead of hanging art on your walls, an online service casts pictures onto them that change periodically. You subscribe to a food service that delivers all your meals.
You also have a clothes subscription service, which allows you to wear something different every day of the year, without the hassle of doing laundry. You wear a device that tracks how many steps you take, where you go, how well you’re sleeping, and how you spend your day. You will never have to argue over what was said in a meeting or a discussion since you can pull up every conversation you ever had with someone and replay it. A robot took your old job, but you got a new one. Since most jobs of the future haven’t been invented yet, it’s hard to say what that job might be.
Kevin Kelly, futurist and former executive editor at Wired magazine, provides a glimpse of what the future may look like over the next 30 years. In his book “The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future,” he proposes 12 trends that will transform how we work, learn, spend our leisure and communicate.
In the early ’90s, few people thought the internet would amount to much. No one was eager to get their business online or rushing to buy a domain name before all the good ones were gone. No one imagined that one day we’d have instant access to books, music, videos, maps, satellite images, weather forecasts, news and shopping on our phones.
But a lot has changed in last 30 years, and the pace of change will keep accelerating. Kelly writes, “You won’t have time to master anything before it is displaced. In this era of ‘becoming,’ everyone becomes a newbie. Worse, we will be newbies forever.” Not long after we discover the “next big thing,” everyone will be moving on to something else. But on the bright side, the greatest internet inventions are yet to come.
Everything in the future will be “smart.” IBM’s Watson outperforms the smartest Jeopardy contestants and diagnoses diseases better than most doctors. In addition to medicine, AI will be added to everything you can imagine, including music, painting, law, finance, chemistry, education and entertainment. Jon Favreau recently filmed the remake of the “Lion King” using virtual reality.
Kelly predicts that most jobs will continue to be taken over by automation. In fact, there’s a good chance that your new job in the future will be teaching a robot to do your old job. Job success will depend on how well you work with robots. Ninety percent of your coworkers will be unseen machines.
In the future, information and entertainment will be on-demand and streamed. 3D printers will be everywhere, ready to create an array of tangible items for users. Anything that can be copied will be copied, making many items free or extremely cheap. The things with the most value will be things that can’t be copied, like trust, knowledge, authenticity, personalization or experiences.
Wikipedia offers some insight into how information will be transformed by the web. Scholars and trusted users will become “screeners” to ensure that material submitted online is reviewed and continuously edited. Traditional publishers will continue to lose ground until all printed material is online, mutable, linked and cross-linked. Eventually, a “universal library” will be created.
“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.” According to Kelly, “Something interesting is happening.” Instead of owning things, we will temporarily access the items we want on demand. Netflix mails DVDs to nearly three million customers, but they stream shows to approximately 130 million subscribers. Decentralization, like Bitcoin’s decentralization of currency, will become the norm, as will cloud services.
Kelly contends, “If today’s social media has taught us anything about ourselves as a species, it is that the human impulse to share overwhelms the human impulse for privacy.” If Facebook were a country, by population it would be the largest on the planet, sustained by unpaid labor who freely share details about their lives. And this is only the beginning. Kelly states, “On my imaginary Sharing Meter Index we are still at 2 out of 10.”
With so many options when it comes to food, vacation destinations, music, films, and books, we will need help narrowing down choices. We will grow to rely on “gatekeepers,” like Amazon and Google, who offer personalized recommendations and predict future desires. Kelly worries, however, that we may become trapped in a “filter bubble” where suggestions remain within our comfort zone, limiting our experiences and perceptions of the world.
New technologies are simply earlier technologies that have been “rearranged and remixed.” Users will continue to edit, remix and customize anything digitized. Our former economy was built on warehouses of solid goods, but our future economy will be built on “intangibles” that can be redesigned and adapted.
Twenty years ago, virtual reality was too glitchy and expensive to go mainstream. But it’s come a long way since then. Kelly predicts that as the price of VR continues to fall, it will become ubiquitous. In the future, it will also feel more authentic and trigger “a deep engagement with other people.”
Everything that can be tracked about a person will be tracked, including heart rate, sleep, steps taken, calories, conversations, DNA, and mood. Some people will record every waking moment and store all their video to the cloud. While people say they want privacy, social media tells a different story. Anonymity will not exist, and everyone will adjust to total surveillance.
Much of what will occur in the future will be improbable. Kelly states, “The impossible things happening now are due to the emergence of a new level of organization enabled by instant connectivity between billions of people at a planetary scale. We are headed for a trillion times increase. The improbable is the new normal.” Incredible and disruptive technologies will “unleash a barrage of new huge questions we could have never thought to ask before.”
Kelly proposes that in a thousand years historians will conclude that right now is “when inhabitants of this planet first linked themselves together into one very large thing. That thing will become much bigger, but now is when the thing first awoke. Future people will envy us, wishing they could have witnessed the birth we saw.”
The scale of our connectivity is already massive. Approximately 66% of people in the world have a mobile device. Kelly predicts that by 2025, everyone will have one and be connected.
While it’s impossible to predict specific products or services that will emerge over the next 30 years, he believes they will all support “increased flowing, sharing, tracking, accessing, interacting, screening, remixing, filtering, cognifying, questioning, and becoming.”
Kelly is an optimist about the future and the changes technology will bring. While poverty and turmoil will still exist in the world, he writes that our creations and connectivity will make us better people. He rejects the idea that we will become enslaved by AI and robots (clearly he’s never watched any of the “Matrix” or “Terminator” movies). Instead, he believes we will work alongside them. “This is not a race against the machines,” he contends. “If we race against them, we lose. This is a race with the machines.” Humans will continue to ask the important questions and AI will us help answer them.
Melissa Brown is a web developer at SimpleDzn.com and former business professor at the University of Alaska. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is brought to you as a public service by the UAF Department of Applied Business.