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5 Trends That Will Drive The Future of Technology

2013 March 20

Trends get a bad rap, mostly because they are often equated with fashions.  Talk about trends and people immediately start imagining wafer thin models strutting down catwalks in outrageous outfits or a new shade of purple that will be long forgotten by next season.

Yet trends can be important, especially those long in the making.  If lots of smart people are willing to spend years of their lives and millions (if not billions) of capital on an idea, there’s probably something to it.

Today, we’re on the brink of a new digital paradigm, where the capabilities of our technology are beginning to outstrip our own.  Computers are deciding which products to stock on shelves, doing legal research and even winning game shows.  They will soon be driving our cars and making medical diagnoses.  Here are five trends that are driving it all.

1. No-Touch Interfaces

We’ve gotten use to the idea that computers are machines that we operate with our hands. Just as we Gen Xers became comfortable with keyboards and mouses, Today’s millennial generation has learned to text at blazing speed.  Each new iteration of technology has required new skills to use it proficiently.

That’s why the new trend towards no-touch interfaces is so fundamentally different.  From Microsoft’s Kinect to Apple’s Siri to Google’s Project Glass, we’re beginning to expect that computers adapt to us rather than the other way around.

The basic pattern recognition technology has been decades in the making and, thanks to accelerating returns, we can expect computer interfaces to become almost indistinguishable from humans in little more than a decade.

2. Native Content

While over the past several years technology has become more local, social and mobile, the new digital battlefield will be fought in the living room, with Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple and the cable companies all vying to produce a dominant model for delivering consumer entertainment.

One emerging strategy is to develop original programming in order to attract and maintain a subscriber base.  Netflix recently found success with their “House of Cards” series starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.  Amazon and Microsoft quickly announced their own forays into original content soon after.

Interestingly, HBO, which pioneered the strategy, has been applying the trend in reverse. Their HBO GO app, which at the moment requires a cable subscription, could easily be untethered and become a direct competitor to Netflix.

3. Massively Online

In the last decade, massively multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft became all the rage.  Rather than simply play against the computer, you could play with thousands of others in real-time.  It can be incredibly engrossing (albeit a bit unsettling once you realize that the vicious barbarian you’ve been marauding around with is actually a 14 year-old girl).

Now other facets of life are going massively online.  Khan Academy offers thousands of modules for school age kids, Code Academy can teach a variety of programming languages to just about anybody and the latest iteration is Massively Online Open Courses (MOOC’s) that offer university level instruction. (For a good example, see here).

The massively online trend has even invaded politics, with President Obama recently reaching out to ordinary voters through Ask Me Anything on Reddit and Google Hangouts.

4. The Web of Things

Probably the most pervasive trend is the Web of Things, where just about everything we interact with becomes a computable entity.  Our homes, our cars and even objects on the street will interact with our smartphones and with each other, seamlessly.

What will drive the trend in the years to come are two complementary technologies:.  Near Field Communication (NFC), which allows for two-way data communication with nearby devices and ultra-low power chips that can harvest energy in the environment, which will put those entities just about everywhere you can think of.

While the Web of Things is already underway, it’s difficult to see where it will lead us. Some applications, such as mobile payments and IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative, will become widespread in just a few years.   Marketing will also be transformed, as consumers will be able to seamless access digital products from advertisements in the physical world.

Still, as computing ceases to be something we do seated at a desk and becomes a natural, normal way of interacting with our environment, there’s really no telling what the impact will be.

5. Consumer Driven Supercomputing

Everybody knows the frustration of calling to a customer service line and having to deal with an automated interface.  They work well enough, but it takes some effort.  After repeating yourself a few times, you find yourself wishing that you can just punch your answers in or talk to someone at one of those offshore centers with heavy accents.

Therein lies the next great challenge of computing.  While we used to wait for our desktop computers to process our commands and then lingered for what seemed like an eternity for web pages to load, now we struggle with natural language interfaces that just can’t quite work like we’d like them to.

Welcome to the next phase of computing.  As I previously wrote in Forbes, companies ranging from IBM to Google to Microsoft are racing to combine natural language processing with huge Big Data systems in the cloud that we can access from anywhere.

These systems will know us better than our best friends, but will also be connected to the entire Web of Things as well as the collective sum of all human knowledge.  The first of these, IBM’s Watson, costs $3 million to build, but will only be about $30,000 in ten years, well within the reach of most organizations.

When Computers Disappear

When computers first appeared, they took up whole rooms and required specialized training to operate them.  Then they arrived in our homes and were simple enough for teenagers to become proficient in their use within a few days (although adults tended to be a little slower).  Today, my three year-old daughter plays with her iPad as naturally as she plays with her dolls.

Now, computers themselves are disappearing.  They’re embedded invisibly into the Web of Things, into no-touch interfaces and into our daily lives.  While we’ve long left behind loading disks into slots to get our computers to work and become used to software as a service – hardware as a service is right around the corner.

That’s why technology companies are becoming increasingly consumer driven, investing in things like native content to get us onboard their platform, from which we will sign onto massively online platforms to entertain and educate ourselves.

The future of technology is, ironically, all too human.

– Greg

6 Responses leave one →
  1. March 23, 2013

    “and one more thing” ….

    3D printing or fabrication.

    While Fab may affect society it wil itself also affect technology .

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Very true.

    Thanks Martin.

    -Greg

    [Reply]

  2. April 3, 2013

    Hi Greg,

    Again nicely written piece on futuristic trend. All things said and done, the future of technology will will be human [as you said].

    On a separate note, i was thinking that are we fast enough to move in parallel with the technology? Just to give you an example, i am from India where Bangalore is one of the biggest in terms of outsourcing in IT. We are one of the biggest telecom market still the penetration of smartphones is around 5% only. Among this 5%, there is a big chunk of people who’ve got the top end smart phone but they only use for making calls and reading texts.

    There is beautiful concept called, laggards lock (https://sites.google.com/a/anandkurian.com/concep/the-laggard-s-lock) where people knowingly or unknowingly are not able to move hand in hand with the upcoming technology. I don’t know much about the rest of world but i am sure there would be a masses who are not comfortable to adapt themselves according to the technology.

    My larger question here is, keeping in mind the advent of technology and its futuristic pace, do you think people to some extent will curb the progressive nature of this technological advent because companies might feel they’re engaged in something which will take ages for consumers/users to grab their hands on?

    Cheers,
    Piyush

    p.s. Genesis of this question is completely based on Indian context

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    Short answer is no. I don’t think we are able to keep up with technology. There are even algorithms that come up with answers that scientists don’t understand, but they work!

    It’s a bit scary…

    – Greg

    [Reply]

  3. April 18, 2013

    Greg

    Stimulating as always.

    Sure we could debate which are the trends. In reality what people and companies have to be structured to deal with is trend mutation -i.e. trends and change don’t just come from one area and things mutate. Hindsight is a great gift when rejustifying the past and defining a key catalyst that becomes a trend. I remember 3D Cinema and then TVs being a big trend prediction a few years ago – yet for many 3D movies more people choose to pay less and watch in 2D. If we go back – we can find lots of others that didn’t happen. Often when trends are talked about they are heavily technical. Cultural, social, economic, ecological, etc – also trend and interact. What makes the future so interesting is that it is unpredictable. Stuff just doesn’t come over the horizon – it comes around corners. Whilst you can can spot trends and plan ahead for them – if that is all a company does – it really doesn’t get or have the culture or bravery needed when Trend A mutates into A2, Trend B into B3 and A2 & B3 combine. As Trends and Future units grow in companies – looking to spot the thing they must look into, we still get lots of companies who believe they are embracing the future by insuring againsts it. The concepts of social media and big data – feel a bit like that to me now. In discussing trends – what matters isn’t that you understand them – but what you are going to do as a result. Those that do – tend to …funnily enough …make or break the trends that make it.

    [Reply]

    Greg Reply:

    I think that’s very true Mark. Trends are useful to watch, but the future is always uncertain.

    – Greg

    [Reply]

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