Paul De Decker
My (april 2011) view on Tech Future
Did I to write this down (april 2011 on my blog) for the sake of historic trace ?
Anyway, I see so many old ideas now being put in books on "the future" that I figured I should write down my own predictions ...
Getting a bit tired of some of these future gurus talking about what really happened 10 years ago...
Computer-driven cars that can form convoys on motorways, guided by GPS, ABS etc. : that is really old stuff. Shouldn't say that, because it makes me non-young ...
Early 80s this was already done and published in Electronica (magazine), project Vera (if I remember right). The issues will always be there :
* all equipment must be changed in 1 go and must be standardised : this is both expensive and not profitable. If everything is the same, there is no differentiation and hence no value, so no margin.
If you don't do it all in 1 go, it's very risky. So we need a "compelling event" or a "burning platform" to make the change happen. I think a 10 days traffic jam will be needed, with people dying in their cars from hunger. Or, more realistically, a major company going bankrupt because their goods/services don't get delivered anymore.
My view : Instead of these old-style vehicles we have now (and I do like my car !), I think we will have some kind of "box" that will be put on a common carrier (like a train these days) and that will be transported to the destination. No need for steering wheels, engines etc. Your own personalised space on an optimised public transport-system.
To make sure people can still show their status, I see us being able to buy or rent different boxes : ranging from a very small one with plastic seats to a comfortable one with special audio/video and comfy seats. You will be able to pay for more space and for privacy (tinted tripled "walls"), so that you can still impress your neighbors with highly transportation unit.
This "STATUS" is critical ! Take a train to Brussels that arrives around 8h and you look around you. You notice the social classification system of 2nd class and 1st class (mostly civil servants with a seniority status). It's not the comfort of the seats, but the "social class" of people you share the train with.
To go somewhere in the future system, you indicate to the transportation system where you want to go and when you want to be there... like modern microwaves handle grilled chicken. Your box will join the common systems, but you will travel in your "own space" (if you can afford it).
No fun in driving, but you didn't move anymore anyway. Electricity produced by some kind of clever process, so no worries. And you can play cards or sleep on the way to your destination. A bit like a train, but door-to-door, private and your own style of comfort.
Audio / Video and probably IT
We currently use electronics to translate information (like an image) into a pattern on a screen, so that our eyes can make electric signals that our brain can interpret. In IT : our brain then sends signals to our hands to push badly placed switches on a keyboard ... You get it ?
It is today possible to have nano-technology-based circuits to interact directly with the brain. Research-level, but they're getting there...
So I predict the future TV will not be a pair of stupid glasses, but a device that links into our brain directly via the right kind of waves.
Not sure how kids will handle TV + iPod + Facebook + Youtube + SMS ... but I can't figure it out now either..
IT and especially IT - Business Alignment
I believe (and hope) that we soon will be done with re-inventing the warm water again. And by that I mean the strange behavior of every new generation of IT-people to improve the "Hello world" ...
It's time to take what we have and move to something interesting.
Take the formal methods, take the object-orientation, take the natural language, take agility and combine it into something that is worth the term "engineering".
An example of what I mean : in 25 years I moved from a 4MHz cpu to a 2.8 GHz and I still have to wait when I have made a selection on a screen.
30 years ago (during a visit in Munich Siemens) I heard a computer speak and I saw a computer follow spoken instructions. And I am still seeing the same level of sophistication in current speech-application.
So in IT I think technology has moved to the future. We now need people that are capable of thinking "out of the stone age".
I predict that the job of programmer and analyst (as we define it today) will not exist in 10 years from now.
There will be people making components (which we will call "tools") that business people can combine to do their job.
And hopefully some of them will have the guts and the brains to do what Mr. Dyson did and does for anything that has to do with "forced airflow". And I say that because he also made this hand-dryer that actually works. And the interesting thing is that the copies do not work.
Tricky to predict.
Stating that the PC-style device is going away is trivial. But what will replace it ? I use a smartphone, Ipad, Laptop etc. and they all serve a purpose and have pros/cons.
What I would like is something that connects me to all my information, wherever I am and with an interaction that is useful.
Connection : obvious... high-bandwidth, good reliability, ease of access.
Interaction : in a first phase I believe the foldable screens and projected keyboards would already help to make our handheld devices useful as portables. I wish handwriting would work (without having to return to school to write "correctly"), but I've given up on that possibility.
I do wonder why there is no real commercial offering of foldable screens (thin plastic that functions as a screen and that you fold up when you don't need)... probably too fragil ?
When we've sailed past the current outlet-sales of old obsolete technology in solar panels, we will get to a more interesting phase.
Today we have a weird situation : politicians tell us solar-panels make energy cleaner and cheaper. Still we have to pay extra (because so many people used the subsidies) for electricity and nobody dares to calculate the true CO2. Much like nobody dares to say that hybrid cars pollute more than others (partly because the batteries need a lot of CO2 during their life-cycle and partly because the cars use almost double the amount of fuel in real life [did the test at 120km on motorway with cruise-control : 10,3 instead of 6,2l/100km].
Another weird thing : there is a company that is now advertising that their cleaning technique will improve efficiency of solar panels, that are exposed for 2 years, with 30%. So solar panels that get dirty will loose 15% or so every year ???
What do I predict ?
Use of different methods (new photovoltaic cells, which exist but are not being pushed because the old stuff makes huge margins today) to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen. Store the hydrogen (there are safe methods, so we just need to have serious controls in place) and use the hydrogen in cars. And if needed to regenerate electricity.
I also predict that it will be shown that putting thousands windturbines in the sea (not 10 !) does alter the flow of the wind (vortexes e.g.) which will transpose some of the energy contained in the sea. And that will alter our weather.
Added this after re-reading, cause there is no future without Social Media, or is there ?
I am still surprised of the impact of Facebook and others. And I am less surprised of the expected life-time of most of the social networks. I won't name names, because some seem to be in their terminal phase and they wouldn't like me mentioning that.
My predictions :
* The majority of the social networks will have a commercial life of less than 5 years. Founders will sell their shares for a lot of $ via important go-betweens (who will cover their interests). If you were to note the names now and compare to the top-5 in 5 years, I predict none will be there (unless they adjusted to a new form).
* There is a social value in the social networks. The commercial value however lies in the exploitation of personal data. I think there will be a major hick-up (probably linked to personal information that got public whilst the owner thought it would stay between friends) within 3 years that will cause a shockwave.
* Youngsters will switch often and quickly, making it very hard to find a commercial model with a pay-back that is longer than 2 years, which will make funding a problem.
** BIG ONE : the manipulative techniques that are being used and promoted to improve your "importance" on the search engines and the social networks WILL prove COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE as more honest parallel searches and offers will appear. Companies who use manipulative techniques to gain importance on the Internet will loose out and disappear quickly (supporters turn into hooligans quickly on the 'net).
I do NOT believe that social networks change the fundamentals of the economy. I heard that argument before...
I DO believe it is factor to be taken into account, because it speeds up certain routes to market (or paths of information) .
I also think that the pay-back (or ROI) of any investment in specific social-media-type solution must be scrutinised and be less than 18 months. Otherwise the money should be considered an image-building campaign and written-off accordingly. It also means that you need a very good strategy if you want to use social media to gain business. Considering the 18 months (at most), not something for beginners or amateurs...
Does INNOVATION really matter ?
Is it still worthwhile to study engineering (IT or electronics) ?
But only for those who are capable of dreaming and saying "can do" !
Engineering is not about doing another refinement of existing stuff. It is about changing things fundamentally. About never being satisfied, about always questioning ...
But it's also about daring to ask the question : what does this improve for others ?
Do I still believe in Technology and Innovation ?
I am worried about the hyping and the spinning of information.
But I fundamentally believe that new dreams (ideas) that are coveted correctly, with a respect for the idea combined with a realism for the economics, WILL change the world for the better.
As for structuring : Mr. Fleming (who did discover one of THE major medication) should have been fired on the spot, because he did not even clean up before leaving ....
But we would not have the medication today without a rigourous process to turn his "discovery" into a reliable drug today.
It is about "stimulate the dream, structure the realisation"