A Fascinating Future
The best way to predict the future is to watch those who are working hard to create it. It is fascinating to reflect on how fast the world is changing.
The Auto Industry
Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that Alphabet Inc’s Waymo has become the first company to receive a permit from the State of California to test driverless vehicles without a back-up human driver present in the front seat. Waymo will begin its testing on city streets in Silicon Valley before expanding to other areas in California. In Arizona, Waymo plans to launch a commercial self-driving, ride-hailing service next year.
Six months ago, Dieter Zetsche, CEOof Daimler-Mercedes, predicted that Mercedes’s future competitors will no longer be limited to BMW, Rolls-Royce, and other luxury car manufacturers. The new competitors will be technology companies such as Google, Apple, Amazon, and Tesla.
Zetsche predicts that traditional car companies will disappear because they will take the traditional approach of trying to build better cars, while tech companies such as Tesla, Apple, and Google will take a revolutionary approach and build computers on wheels.
Individual car ownership will shrink. Future car customers will simply use their SmartPhones to locate the nearest public car. That car, minus a driver, will show up at your location and drive you to your destination. You will not have to deal with parking; you will only pay for the driven distance; and you can be productive on the way to your destination. Without a driver, interior car space becomes a home office or a play station with no more front and back seats. Garages can be converted into living spaces.
Our kids may never get driver’s licenses and may never own cars. At risk are the jobs of truck drivers, taxicab drivers, bus drivers, and delivery service drivers.
Ridesharing and urban mobility are just around the corner. Uber is now the biggest taxi company in the world – and they don’t own any cars. Their biggest cost is drivers. Airbnb is now the biggest hotel company in the world – and they don’t own any hotels (yet).
Artificial Intelligence to Replace Human Workers
Futurists suggest that by 2030, computers will become more intelligent than humans. Today’s robots at MIT have been programmed to learn, reason, and solve problems by thinking like a person and mimicking the way a person reacts. Robots are nearly ready to replace humans at Amazon and Wal-Mart warehouses, and to clean homes. Tomorrow they will fight fires, serve in the military, and save lives. Any app or robot that doesn’t work with your SmartPhone will become obsolete.
3-D Printing to Replace Manufacturing
Computer-controlled 3-D printing that joins or solidifies material to create a three-dimensional object is rapidly replacing traditional manufacturing processes. The price of the cheapest 3-D printer has come came down from $18,000 to $400 within the last 10 years. At the same time, the 3-D printing process works 100 times faster than it did a decade ago.
Common airplane replacement parts are already being 3-D printed in remote airports. The space station now has a 3-D printer that eliminates the need for carrying a large number of spare parts. Next year’s SmartPhones may well include 3-D scanning possibilities. Major shoe companies have already started envisioning 3-D printing of shoes. You will be able to 3-D scan your feet and print your perfectly fitted shoes at home.
A 6-story apartment building has already been 3-D printed in Shanghai, China. This year, the Eindhoven University of Technology in Holland will build a series of concrete homes using 3-D concrete printing. The first home, expected to be completed in 2019, will be a single-story, 3-bedroom bungalow, followed by four multi-level homes, fully printed, and assembled on site. How long will it take for 3-D printing to create housing for the homeless, hotel rooms, jail cells, and everything else?
The Energy Revolution
Electric cars will become mainstream as politicians demand reduced auto emissions, climate protection, and clean air. Cities will be less noisy when more cars and trucks run on electricity. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), a global “Green Energy” Group, renewable energy prices will be competitive with fossil fuels by 2020, thanks to generous government subsidies and lower costs of regulations.
The Water Revolution
Less expensive power costs will lead to more abundant water via desalination of seawater and recycling. We don’t have scarce water in most places; we only have scarce drinking water. By 2020, we will all be puzzled as to why anyone ever opposed either recycling wastewater or stormwater recapture. Water, unlike oil, is never depleted. We can repurpose the same water that has existed for millions of years in its journey from the oceans to the land and back again to the oceans. The challenge is to remove impurities and free us from the tyranny of uncertain rainfall in specific locations.
The amount of energy required to desalinate 1,000 gallons of seawater has fallen from 10 to 13 kilowatt hours to 3.8 kilowatt hours and could go down to 1 kilowatt hour within five years. Imagine what will be possible when everyone on Earth has access to as much clean water as they want at an affordable price.
The Agricultural Revolution
Farms will become less labor-intensive. Robots will become experts in harvesting, watering, spraying, weed control, and packing. Farmers in third-world countries will become managers of their fields instead of working all day in their fields. The first veal produced in a Petri dish is now available. Petri veal will be uniformly tasty and less expensive than cow-produced veal. Insect protein (already being produced in the Los Angeles area) will be brought to market shortly. It contains more protein than meat, but it will be labeled as “alternative protein source” because most people still reject the idea of eating insects.
The Education Revolution
The old educational model, in which a horde of kids switch subjects, classrooms, and teachers every 45 minutes is dying, no matter what the teachers’ unions tell you. The cheapest SmartPhones are already available at $10 in Africa and Asia. When most kids have access to SmartPhones, they will all have access to the same world-class data at their fingertips. The great aim of education will not be data collection but informed thought, speech, and action.
Kids will employ 3-D imagery and robots to learn at their own pace. The challenge will be to learn to think and research, not regurgitate information now easily available on the Internet. Education will place a premium on perseverance, problem solving, leadership, ethics, technology, computer science, artificial intelligence, search techniques, strategic thinking, modeling, budgeting, and financial management.
The Khan Academy education model can be used for everything a child needs to learn at school in first-world countries. There have already been releases of Khan software in Indonesia and soon there will be releases in Arabic, Swahili, and Chinese.
The Moodies app developed for Google by Israeli start-up Beyond Verbal can tell what mood you are in by recognizing emotions in your speech. Soon, apps will be able to successfully examine your facial expressions for lying.
The Healthcare Revolution
The Qualcomm Tricorder X prize was awarded last year to Frontier Medical Devices and runner-up Dynamical Biomarkers Group. These companies competed to build a medical device that works with your SmartPhone, which takes your retina scan, your blood sample, and your breathing analysis. Tricorder then analyzes 54 biomarkers that will identify nearly any disease.
The Legal Revolution
There could be 90 percent fewer lawyers in the future, unless pompous politicians create a new regulatory thicket of insufferable mandates. Thanks to IBM Watson, you can now get legal advice for basic stuff within seconds, with 90 percent accuracy compared with 70 percent accuracy when humans perform the work. So, if you are studying law, stop immediately.
Author Carl Sagan observed that “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” That means we will see an explosion in the need for the smartest and best software engineers, computer technicians, and vocational training to service a wired world.
You and your children need to get ready for all this.
Your grandchildren? They’re probably ready already.
Where have you been?
Welcome to the future.