Over the Horizon: 21st Century Breakthroughs
By Glen Hiemstra, 2001
This is the third article in our new Strategic Alliance with the Northwest Venture Group.
Most people living today recall when the year 2001 represented “the future.â€ Countless writings and a famous 1960’s movie speculated about what life would be like when we arrived in the future, and the movie established certain iconographic images of the future in human consciousness. So, how did it turn out? Are we living in the future we always imagined?
The answer is yes and no, as some things met our imagination – ubiquitous wireless computing and communication, while others fell far short – interplanetary travel.
Despite the risks involved in doing so, on the occasion of actually crossing the threshold into 2001, it seems appropriate to look over the horizon at the next century. In particular it seems worthwhile to look at the first decade of the new century, because with any luck we will live to see these years.
In addition, as the millennium turns for real, the tech sector is lagging, and it is natural to wonder whether the last few years were a mirage. Or, might new tech revolutions emerge in the coming decade and more?
George Washington University conducts an annual Delphi Study of leading authorities in science and technology, to ascertain the likelihood and possible timing of key scientific and technological breakthroughs. The Delphi technique is accepted as one of the more useful forms of technology forecasting.
The GWU Year 2000 Forecast lists the top ten breakthroughs for the year 2010. The list contains no surprises, no startling inventions. Instead, the forecast represents a belief that technologies that are in early stage development or adoption today will have evolved into dominant market positions by 2010. The list suggests that continued faith in a long-term technology revolution may be justified, and that there are substantial business opportunities in the coming century.
Breakthroughs for the next 10 years, 2001-2010:
- Portable Info Devices – computing and communications will gradually shift from devices that we carry, to devices that we wear. These might include computing in our running shoes, augmented reality sunglasses, wireless communication buttons on our clothing, and so on.
- Fuel Cell Automobiles – people often assume that we will see the end of the automobile era in the coming century. This is unlikely. We are instead seeing the beginning of a second automobile era, currently with the introduction of hybrid cars, and by 2010 with the emergence of fuel cell vehicles.
- Precision Farming – Add about $6000 of computing and satellite communications gear to farm equipment. You have the ability to precisely read the condition of a plot of soil and to apply a custom amount of seed, fertilizer, herbicide and so on, increasing the efficiency and the environmental friendliness of farming.
- Mass Customization via the Net – No major news here, but expect a continued refinement of the supply chain, and the continued gradual shift to a demand chain via the net. Keep in mind that 2001 computing and networks are 6-8 orders of magnitude short of the standard equipment of 2010, and that a much larger percentage of the world’s population will have ubiquitous access to the net by 2010.
- Teleliving – Expect development and adoption of larger, flatter wall screens, real time always on access to the net, and integration of augmented reality into daily living. This will lead to a much deeper integration of the cyber and real worlds into a whole.
- Virtual Assistants – Imagine assistants that you tell to scan documents on the Web and summarize their key points for you, rather than simply providing a list for you to look at. Imagine an alarm clock that knows your calendar, and can check the traffic cams, adjusting your wake up time accordingly.
- Genetically Altered Organisms – A matter of great controversy in 2001, the GWU survey respondents expect the environmental issues to have been resolved by 2010. More likely is the following, a division of the world into “genetic modification free zonesâ€, in which no genetically modified food is allowed, while other regions take advantage of these developments in biotech, in spite of the risks.
- Computerized Health Care – A major Northwest health provider made a big splash by announcing that four docs would engage in a pilot in which they would provide access to patients via email. This in the face of surveys that show that some 60% of health care patients would like email and other electronic access to their medical provider. Health care lags all other major systems in computerizing its operations. This will be a major area of emphasis in the coming decade.
- Alternate Energy Sources – One recent study asserts that world oil production will, finally, peak in 2007. While we have heard this before and the 40-year supply of oil seems to be a perpetual 40 years, the next decade will likely see major inroads for alternate energy sources, in particular the fuel cell.
- Smart, Mobile Robots – Expect robotic applications to move beyond fixed installations with limited duties, such as the assembly robots common in auto factories. Intelligence, sensing capabilities, and mobility will advance dramatically in the coming decade, by the end of which we will begin to see the robots of sci-fi dreams.
Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, author, consultant, blogger, internet video host and Founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.