This article is part of the ‘Think Further’ series, sponsored by Alger Financial Management. For more ‘Think Further’ content and videos, click here.
As I talk to others in the tech industry, I’m often asked, what’s next for technology? First there was the PC, then the web. Then came the dynamic web experiences and “web 2.0”. Following that came social media, mobile, and the appearance of all your friends and family, as well as personal information into that web experience. So what’s next? The future of technology is all about the end user. It has no servers. It has no “destinations” that the end-user has to go to or search for on some company’s website. It’s entirely contextual, peer-to-peer, knows the user, and follows the them wherever they go. But what about beyond that? Where will we be in 20 years, 50 years, or even 100 years?
Predicting 50 years into the future is not an easy task to consider. The truth is, the number of possibilities and directions, as well as the acceleration of knowledge and technologies that will exist as we evolve in that direction are beyond what we can even imagine. But, with our limited knowledge and the paths we can currently see, we can make an educated guess at the direction for technology, and what that may mean for society. As I attempt to do this, I’ll focus on the paths I’m seeing now, and what it could mean for the future.
The Peer-to-Peer Society
One of the biggest changes in technology that will occur over the next 50 years will be the advent of what I call “The Peer-to-Peer Society”. There are technologies right now, which require no centrally owned server or business entity to ensure the success of the network occurs. Take Bitcoin, for example. Bitcoin relies on a technology called “The Blockchain”, which relies on a massive, peer-to-peer network of personal computers all verifying who “owns” money. Now imagine if this concept were applied to other things, like file systems, DNS, or even privacy?
In the future your computer, or even phone or embedded chip in your body will store encrypted copies with links to other encrypted data of everything owned by everyone in the world. Only those people with “private keys” will have access to that data, but they will also be able to designate access to that data to other people. Take, for instance, your address. You could provide access to the Post Office a public key that contains your address. Only they would be able to access your address and know where to send your packages. Then, along the way, no one will ever know your address but the Post Office and yourself.
Another element of the Peer-to-Peer society will be the advent of peer-to-peer commerce. Because of technologies like above, more people will “rent” things and “use” things, rather than buy them or own them. We will move, as we are now, from the ownership of digital content and the ability to easily share the things we create on our own, as well as things others have created, to the ability to easily share physical products and things we both create on our own, as well as use from our friends. Brands will need to come up with new ways, just as they have with virtual content, to reach people with physical content. Some are calling this “the sharing economy” or “collaborative economy”.
Taking this even further beyond, brands may not even be in the picture. In the future technology will enable people to do business with just other people, and we will all be a part of one large peer-to-peer ecosystem where everyone is sharing with each other, doing commerce with each other, and only the technology itself will serve as any form of organization of that commerce. Corporations will no longer have humans controlling them. Corporations will be autonomous and every “member” of those corporations will be their own CEO.
All your utilities will work this way as well. Everyone will run their own power – solar, wind, etc. all from their own yards and houses (which again, might even be rented from other members of these corporations), and will supply power to the rest of the autonomous power grid. Internet will be an entire mesh, with everyone containing wireless antennas that communicate with each other openly, no centralized ISP necessary. Water will be shared from house-to-house in various means. People will offer composting, recycling, and trash services from their own personal homesteads where they turn the garbage into useful items for generating more energy, plants, food, and products.
Sensory Data and Self-Awareness
We live in a world currently of mobile phones, tablets, and mobile technologies. Smart watches are emerging. Exercise tracking devices are starting to become mainstream, tracking your every move and storing other data alongside that. There is even a contest for a device that tracks health data so well, that it can identify diseases before you even know they exist. In the future, yours, and my life will be extended exponentially because sensory data will know before Doctors can even know there are statistical anomalies going on, in real time, with our bodies.
The future holds no destinations. The idea of “a world-wide web” where you have to go to a place by typing in a URL will be gone. The idea of “apps” you download and open on your phone will no longer exist. Instead, the devices you carry, if you even carry a device (you will likely have chips implanted in your body, connecting eyes, brain, even smell and taste all together), will tell you before you even need to look it up, what you want to know.
Walking by a restaurant? A notification pops up telling you your friend’s there and they’ve got a really cool idea you should go talk to them about.
Or, maybe your blood-sugar’s a little low. Another notification comes up to tell you a really good restaurant is nearby, or maybe it’s not even a restaurant – it’s someone’s house who voluntarily sells yummy cake for any visitor willing to knock. (remember my autonomous, peer-to-peer corporation that I mentioned above?)
Everywhere you go, software running within one of these autonomous corporations will know exactly who you are. Identity theft will be impossible. It will know what you like, who your best friends are, who you interact with, and the things you need to best exist in the world.
What’s an article about the future without a mention of flying cars? Well, I don’t think flying cars are necessarily in the 50 year future, but I think faster transportation is. For one, cars won’t be driven by people. In fact, those that run the mapping software will control the transportation system. You’ll simply ask (or it will detect automatically) to go somewhere, and an automatic driving car will show up at your door, no cost to you (except maybe a few prompts to go places nearby that you’re probably interested in, that others may have paid for), and take you to your destination.
The roads will be different as well. There are already prototypes of solar roadways that can be replaced by panels that inter-link together. Having powered roadways opens up a whole host of possibilities. For instance, what if magnetism were employed like bullet trains?
If there are no humans operating the cars, then the entire paradigm of driving changes. Roadways can now change to be much more like trains. Remove the friction from the wheels, and add lightning fast response times to the automated cars that all talk together, and you can be from one house to another all the way across town within just minutes. So perhaps flying cars are possible!
Space, the Capitalist’s Frontier
You can’t talk about the next 50 years without talking about the commercialization of space. As autonomous corporations take over, this is the entrepreneur’s next playing field. This is where all the future resources will come from.
Not only will people begin to be able to travel to outerspace for leisure, but they’ll also be able to stay there, and even live there. Wealthy, higher share owners of these autonomous corporations will fund the hotel chains and apartments in space. And this is just the beginning – it only starts in the earth’s outer atmosphere. We’ll venture further and further away from earth as we realize there is money to be made elsewhere in this universe.
There are already competitions to mine the moon, and asteroids, and other planets. There are practically unlimited resources in those places! As we do that, we’ll begin to settle each place we venture to, and our society will no longer be just earth. This introduces entirely new paradigms we can barely even understand today!
The end of Manufacturing as we Know it
With the advent of 3D printing, all sorts of things are changing. Currently, entire manufacturing lines are being replaced by completely automated “printing processes”. These machines that can print a device from the ground up out of varying materials will get smaller and smaller, and the number of people needed to produce the products will become less and less.
Factories will no longer be needed. People will just buy 3D printers for their homes, or for their businesses, and print the things they need, or the things they want to rent out to others. Even food will be printed! The entire problem of off-shore manufacturing here in America will be an entirely moot point.
It’s hard to wrap our minds around the next 50 years. What I’ve suggested here may sound crazy. However, contemplating current technology trends and the possibilities already available to us, I really do not think we are far off. Our future here on this earth and even beyond is really bright! And I think, with technology, there’s a good chance many of us adults living today will actually live longer than many preceding us to see it.