The Next Big Thing(s)

For those of you who know me, you know that I've been using technology my entire life.  I believe technology has dramatically revolutionized the world and is continuing to do so.  Technology, as I mentioned in my previous blog posts, enables humans to be more powerful, informed, and productive.  What that means is that technology amplifies the good and the bad in people, but as a whole, I think it would be hard to argue that technology has not improved the lives of billions of people around the world today.

As a child, I used a TI-99 computer and later a 386DX PC.  I also grew up around the IBM 'big iron' that my dad worked with as a Computer Operator.  Still, as I expanded my interests and as I became a teenager, I became very interested in technologies like cellphones, ham radios, scanners, GPS technology, and of course- the Internet with the power that it brings including the web, email, instant messaging, etc.  Each platform is very useful for their specific tasks, but I always used to wonder- why can't we combine these systems?  I used to own a Magellan GPS receiver, and I wondered why I needed to use that in conjunction with a magnetic compass and a physical map.  Why can't the GPS project my location onto a map, and determine direction via an internal compass?  Why can't we use a wireless system to keep that map updated?  Why can't I communicate my location in real-time over a radio network to others?  Why can't I send and receive emails over that system as well?  Why can't a camera be Internet connected to send photos in real-time?

It took about 15 years, but those technologies have finally converged, as I always dreamed and predicted.  Today, using my Android Galaxy Nexus phone, I can watch my GPS location in real-time on Google Maps or any number of other map applications- all using up to date maps provided over the Internet via my mobile provider.  It can determine my direction in real-time via the integrated compass.  If a family member wants to see where I'm at, they can immediately do so from their phone using Life360 application that I have installed, which uses my internal GPS.  I can send and receive emails, SMS messages, photos, videos, etc. from my phone almost as easily as I can from my computer.  In fact, this phone has a dual core 1.2GHz processor and 1GB of RAM, more than many desktop or laptop computers.  In an instant I can share a thought or a photo on Facebook, or Google+ and distribute it to hundreds of friends and relatives.  I can receive up to the second news and updates from around the globe.

This integration is very powerful.  Information is now available at people's fingertips, instantly, around the globe.  Teenagers now (statistically) prefer a smartphone over a car, something that was unthinkable only a couple of decades ago when I became a teenager.  There are many parts of the world where they have 'skipped' the infrastructure that we in the United States became used to- land-line telephones and computers.  Now, many parts of Africa, for example, do not have any physical telephone line networks- instead they have advanced mobile towers and infrastructure and most people carry smart phones.  Those smart-phones are their computer and their phone all in one, all deployed without the expense of building the physical wired infrastructure.  In fact, I've been a bit surprised by the number of people today who only use their smart phones, and don't even have a traditional computer.

In fact, technological innovation builds upon itself- it's actually exponential.  The power of technology and the Internet has democratized and decentralized information, and enabled breakthroughs around the globe by people that would not have had the resources or necessary information to perform research and innovation in the past.  So we're moving forward faster than ever before.

Now, we're approaching the dawn of another new technological era.  I predict that the technologies that will change how we use technology in the next couple of decades are here today, so get ready for the ride...

I predict that driver-less / automated vehicles will become commonplace by the end of this decade.  Google, Stanford, and others have nearly perfected driverless car technology.  Again, when you think about it, there is no reason why humans need to be involved in a task as mundane as driving.  Vehicles know their position via GPS technology, they know the road network via up to date maps and Internet connectivity, they know when road construction is underway, they know when traffic is bad in certain areas, they know speed limits and shortcuts, and most importantly, using scanning laser and radar systems, they know exactly every object that is in the path of or surrounding your vehicle, and they can react far quicker than a human can to changes in it's surroundings.  Automated vehicles will save tens of thousands of lives annually, and provide transportation independence to millions of people including the young, old, blind, or otherwise handicapped.  Don't get me wrong, I believe it should ultimately be the decision of a human as to whether or not they want to drive manually, or let the vehicle drive.  That said, other than doing so for occasional pleasure, who would want to manually drive if they could use that commuting time more productively?  Legislatures need to keep pace with the technology, of course, and as I write this Nevada, Florida, and California have done just that- legalizing automated vehicles on public roads for testing purposes- it's a small jump to legalizing them for the masses.

Another revolutionary technology is the further evolution of the smartphone- except in the not too distant future, it won't be something you carry, it will be something you wear- similar to glasses. Virtual projection technology and augmented reality technology will change the way we see the world around us... literally.  Project Glass by Google is working on this technology.  As you walk down the street, for example, you will have a plethora of information available in your field of view including weather information, news, stocks, emails or other alerts.  You could be following a virtual path projected on the street in front of you- taking you on the most efficient route to your destination.  You could video conference or talk to someone remotely.  As you walk you could see other people's names and information floating above their head- data that could be aggregated from Google+, Facebook, Twitter, etc.  As you approach your friend, you could see the latest news in that person's life floating above their head.  You could be warned of traffic, weather, etc.  You could ask your device where you could get pizza nearby, and the locations would just 'pop up' as you physically look around.  You could interact with the system through hand motions, looking, eye movement, and voice recognition.  All of this technology is here, today.  It's just a matter of refinement and mass acceptance, but mark my words- that is coming.  Just as the smartphone has sparked millions of new ideas and uses, so will augmented reality devices.  These systems will revolutionize how we, as humans, work and play.  We will be more connected, more efficient, and more productive than ever before in human history.  You will be able to summon nearly all human knowledge at the blink of an eye, and display it in high definition right in front of your eyes- whenever and wherever you are.  As display systems evolve further, we will be able to utilize 3D holographic technology to project and sort information, and we will be able to interact with technology through our thoughts.  These systems are getting closer and closer to every day reality.

Technology will continue to become more and more efficient, until the holy grail of fusion energy is realized.  Through miniaturization and revolutionary designs, systems will become more and more energy efficient, and will take advantage of inherent power sources including cheap solar and kinetic energy.  Another technology that will completely revolutionize the world in which we live is fusion energy.  Most analysts predict we are perhaps 20-40 years away from perfecting a sustainable fusion reaction to produce a substantial net gain of energy.  Fusion reactors should be powerful, safe, and able to provide abundant cheap and clean energy.  When that happens, many technologies throughout history that do work, but are not efficient due to the amount of energy required, will finally take hold and change the world dramatically.  Space exploration, vehicular transportation, aviation, desalinization- these are just a few of the areas that will change dramatically with abundant cheap and clean energy.  The ability to store energy will also dramatically advance- batteries will become more capable and more efficient and may even utilize fuel cells, hydrogen, and other technologies.

Nanotechnology and genetic research will revolutionize medical science.  Now that the human genome is mapped, we are learning more and more about what specific genes do, and we can treat and cure diseases never thought curable through the use of gene therapy.  Revolutionary nanotechnology enables what are essentially tiny programmable robots to enter your body and target specific cells, viruses, or bacteria- they can repair damages arteries, target and destroy cancer cells, aid the immune system, kill specific viruses or bacteria, and thousands of other tasks which will result in a dramatic lengthening of human lives.  Many people predict that there are those alive today, whose lives can be extended dramatically- perhaps even hundreds of years, through the use of these technologies, and that- in fact, it may be within our grasp to 'cure' aging as we know it.  That's not to say people won't still die of accidents or other causes but they might not have to die of 'old age' per se.

We live in an exciting world indeed!


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