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Inventing the future is the best way to predict it

By Ian Pearson

THE future is hard to predict. Technology development is always accelerating and an increasing number of new fields is being created every year. My top 25 predictions for the future are:

2002 – use of talking-head technology for video conferencing
2002 – intelligent cats’ eyes in the road with integrated speed cameras
2002 – smart clothes that alter their thermal properties
2003 – kitchen food tester that identifies presence of food bugs
2003 – notebook computer screen with contrast as good as paper
2003 – avatar cosmetic surgery (avatar is 360 degree images based on
photography)
2003 – air mouse and air typing
2003 – use of passive picocell (a proprietary technology that converts optic signals into wireless and vice-versa without needing a local power supply. The device generates/receives radio signals in a protocol determined by the optic signals)
2003 – home intranet
2003 – video jewellery
2003 – virtual retinal displays in glasses
2004 – toys with network based intelligence
2004 – instant electronic diagnosis of illness
2004 – tactile sensors comparable to human sensation
2004 – cellphone location used in traffic management systems
2005 – widespread use of virtual reality in education and recreation
2005 – clothes that collect and store solar power
2006 – artificial electronic life
2006 – first organism brought back from extinction
2006 – emotionally sensitive toys and robots
2007 – portable translation device for simple conversation
2010 – Artificially intelligent (AI) entity ‘robot’ passes GSCE exams
2010 – highest earning celebrity is synthetic
2010 – anti-noise technology built into homes
2010 – insect-like robots used in warfare

What must be remembered by anyone preparing for the future is that technology change isn’t very important in itself. What matters is what this change enables or destroys.

The intention of the timeline is to illustrate the potential lying ahead for beneficial technologies. Not all will be successful in the marketplace.

Some won’t ever be implemented at all, but as the rest come on stream, our lives will improve in many ways. Of course, the far future is much harder to imagine than the near future. One thing is certain in the distant future – the world will be a very different place.

It is hard for many people to believe or accept some of the changes listed above when half of the world’s people have yet to make their first phone call. The process will inevitably be slower in the developing world, but the path will be similar. Each new technology brings many benefits but could also have a price.

We will have more variety of entertainment, better health, greater wealth, and probably better social well being. We will have more time saving devices and ultrasmart computers will do most of our admin, but the future world will offer so much more opportunity to be productively and socially busy that we will have even less free time than today! If we think of this as living life to the full rather than in terms of stress, then the future looks good.

Ian Pearson is the long-range radar for BTexact Technologies, British Telecom’s advanced research and technology business. He searches years ahead for new technologies and events that might impact on the way businesses and society work. Among the things he’s looking for are technologies and applications that may require businesses and individuals to rethink their vision of the future and how they currently operate.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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