Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly

Future of “X” summaries

The Future of 5G

The Future of Uncertainties
Black Swans are completely unexpected events (unknown unknowns) that change the world forever. We cannot forecast them, but we can prepare for them through the practice of scenario building. By examining a list of things that seem impossible, and imagining what would have to happen to make those things possible, we can begin to detect patterns in the lead-up to unthinkable events. In this way, we not only make the future less surprising, we can rehearse responses and identify tools that are likely to serve us well in a variety of possible futures.

The Future of the Internet in China
There are three big challenges in the Internet space that all countries must face in the near future. China’s approach to the challenges will impact not only Chinese Internet users, but potentially all Internet users. What interface follows the smart phone, whether it be AR-enabled glasses, foldable screens, or wearable projectors, will not only be influenced by China’s substantial Internet-using population, but also by their manufacturing. Privacy, as it relates to online information collecting and sale, has consequences for broader community standards, and there is no one-size fits all approach to this issue. China must engage their own ethicists, community, government and technologists to develop a solution that works for China. Finally, globalization. Most of China’s internet success has been within China, but as China begins to consider how it might attract users from outside its borders, it will need to consider dialing back the protections that have held foreign Internet companies at bay.

The Future of Autonomous Cars
The prospect of a future with self-driving cars begs two categories of questions: How will they work in the real world? And can we trust them to be good and safe? Autonomous cars will not arrive overnight, and we will spend the next decade or more reengineering roads and cities to make self-driving cars work. As infrastructure evolves, the design of cars will also gradually evolve, giving way to a plurality of forms for different purposes. One thing all cars will have in common, though, is a capacity for massive bandwidth, connecting them to other vehicles and devices, connecting riders to work and entertainment, and, most importantly, allowing them to drive safely. But bandwidth is only one aspect of safety in autonomous cars. The more significant part is implanting them with a codified set of moral ethics. If-then programming is a foundational engineering task, so the implanting part is easy, but we must first establish the values, priorities, and responsibility sharing we want to see reflected in autonomous cars. Although we do not yet have strong agreement on these things, this is another aspect of autonomous cars that will progress alongside infrastructure and design, bit by bit, over the next generation.

The Future of Mixed Realities
A platform even larger, richer, and deeper than smartphones is on the horizon and it will revolve around an augmented reality that sits perfectly on top of this world. This new platform, the mirror world, will rely on four elements: devices, infrastructure, AI, and content. We will choose among many options for light-weight wireless, audio-enabled see-through glasses that provide access to the Mirror World and its many information overlays. Each set of glasses will be transmitting and receiving massive amounts of information, so the infrastructure of high-bandwidth, 5G, fiber optic connections, and compression will be essential. Cheap artificial intelligence will be necessary to map everything we see, and to identify and meet our needs. Finally, the Mirror World requires an entire ecosystem of content, apps, and interfaces that cannot simply be migrated from previous platforms, but will need to be created anew. The Mirror World will deliver tremendous benefits to consumers. It will redefine the way we learn about and trouble-shoot the world around us. It will give us entirely new ways to rehearse for unthinkable scenarios [see: The Future of Uncertainties, https://youtu.be/Z9i_16eKvdc]. It will facilitate simulations with a precision and confidence which numbers alone cannot deliver. It will allow people to annotate their environments for the benefit of others. It will make our real world machine readable and therefore searchable. We will use it in ways, to ends, for benefits we cannot yet imagine.

The Future of Virtual Reality
Virtual reality is a closed, fully synthetic, alternative world. As an entertainment platform, it transforms passive viewers into active participants. These immersive worlds are incredibly convincing, not only because of their technical execution, but because we consent to being transported and we want to be convinced. They are incredibly engaging not only because of the fantastical things we can see and do in them, but because, as social creatures, we are delighted by the ways we can relate to other beings. We might be tempted to think that VR worlds are built from scratch, but in fact we will import many of the same biases that create social challenges in the real world. Though our bodies will be intangible, we will still be able to feel psychic pain in virtual worlds, so we will use a range of tools and rules to reduce harms. There will be lawless frontier zones, which will be susceptible to collapse, but will enable people to experiment without limits. Most of the virtual worlds, though, will embrace rules, laws, and social etiquette intended to make them protopian, not quite utopian, but at least a little bit better than the real world.

The Future of Innovation
It’s a popular trope: Technology promised us flying cars and all we got was 140 characters. The good news is that flying cars are essentially here. Their reach and benefits are extremely limited for now, but they will eventually become more commonplace. However, they will not transform our lives. The better news is that fast, short-form communication technologies, like the 140-character Tweet, really do have much greater potential to change our lives. These seemingly trivial communication platforms allow people across the globe to connect with one another, they illuminate obscure niches, and they can spur the development of nascent popular innovations. They accelerate the pace of scientific advances. Flying cars might look like progress, but these “trivial” chirps actually drive it.

The Future of Infinite Games
There are two kind of games. Typically we assume a game has a winner and loser, as well as a clearly delineated set of rules and defined spatial and time bounds for play. These are finite games. Many things in life operate like a finite, zero sum game. An infinite game, by contrast, has no winners nor losers, and aims to maintain gameplay as long as possible, with rules that can be changed in order to serve that goal. Though finite games are much simpler to grasp, real world examples of infinite-game structure abound, from the evolution of life and complex food webs, to the economics that drive the publishing and technology industries. In all such cases, webs of dependencies create new possibilities, opening up space for more participants who succeed, or “win”, when they also grow the web. This beneficient mechanic of expanding possibility can serve profit-seeking enterprises just as well as altruistic ones. Infinite success, measured by how many and how well and how long other people succeed, is a worthwhile goal we should orient our lives, our institutions, and our society toward.

The Future of Retail
Retail shopping is experiencing a great deal of change right now. E-tailing giants are experimenting with new kinds of stores, and traditional stores are struggling. I predict somewhat of a rebound by traditional stores, but also, more importantly, a convergence in retail that brings together the benefits of experiencing physical spaces and objects with the convenience of virtual transactions. There is room in this convergence for a variety of hybrid stores with different specialties. Some will excel in immediacy, while others will emphasize personalization. Some might guarantee authenticity, while others will take you on a journey of discovery. In this short talk, I offer several scenarios for how these hybrid retail shops might be experienced by consumers.

The Future of Schools and Learning
No matter a person’s age or experience, we are all newbies over the course of our lives. The jobs we do today are very different from the same titles held 10 and 20 years ago, and this pace of change is accelerating so much that the job you do 10 years from now likely does not exist today. So the most important thing for us to learn is how we, as individuals, are best suited to learn different types of skills at different points of our lives. The traditional classroom setting, with collaborative learning, is powerful and efficient, but it can be enhanced by new technologies and methods. Already YouTube has become an import source of instruction not only for do-it-yourselfers but also surgeons and programmers. Augmented reality glasses and the mirror world bring yet more opportunities. Advances in AR training are already unrolling in enterprise work settings, and soon this will become a huge part of what we understand work to be. That is, an agreement between employers and employees that the job is being created as the work is done, and that experts are grown in practice, and that part of the job is active learning. The most foundational skill we really need to learn, that should be the chief requirement for graduation, is learning how to learn.

The Future of Employment with AI
Does artificial intelligence jeopardize employment for humans? What will people do when smart robots join the workforce? AI already plays a role in many of our jobs, and if you have ever searched for information online, you have interacted with an AI. If we extrapolate the evolution of search, we can imagine that soon AIs will become even better at helping us learn solutions that have worked in the past and remember what things have failed. In this way, working with AIs can be like having a really smart colleague or expert old-timer on our team. And these AI coworkers can also help us experiment with new approaches because AIs can be creative as well. Their creativity is unlike human creativity, and that uniqueness is its primary value. AIs can also make valuable team members by performing rote tasks that humans are or become bored by. The share of work that AIs perform is likely to shift over time, but I cannot think of a single job or occupation that will not benefit from collaborating with and delegating to AIs. If we reframe our fears about robots taking human jobs, if we can utilize the AI over our shoulder, if we can see AIs as team members, we will find the future of work holds opportunities for all of us.

The Future of Smart Homes
Let’s take a tour of the smart home as we might know it in the next couple decades. I’ll discuss how heat, media, lights, and security will be regulated across the home and tailored for the various individuals inside it. This smart regulation will also extend to our homes’ material respiration: the goods and objects coming into and leaving the home. Some of these smarts will be embodied in helpful domotics — household robots who accomplish a wide range of chores — and of course appliances like refrigerators, but also our beds and closets. Our bathrooms will become personal wellness centers. Already we are becoming acquainted with speech activation for household assistants, and most smart home tasks will gravitate toward this interface. The myriad points of home smartness will perform best when connected together, and need to be managed by a smart home server. This presents a vulnerability, and this is another aspect where we will see innovation in security. Much of this networking and smartness will be accomplished not by wiring everything, but will be imbued by the smart glasses we will be wearing. This whole picture will take maybe 20 or 30 years to arrive, but I expect we’ll begin to encounter many of these technologies in our workplaces well before they show up in our homes because of the early expense and efficiency incentives.

The Future of Virtual Celebrities
A new type of celebrity is emerging. We see them already in places like Japan, where fictional idols are garnering millions of followers. This is today, and in the future, these digital influencers will become indistinguishable from real people, with complicated lives that are scripted by Hollywood screenwriters. These fictional AI constructs will also deliver unscripted interviews and will interact with fans as if they are real people. We will know they are NOT real people, but we will give them our attention and accept their influence for the chance to extend engagement with our favorite characters from films, or new fictional characters we admire. Virtual celebrities will come in several varieties — some cartoonish, some completely humanoid, some machine, some animal, and many that are hybrids in form, and hybrid in fictive extent. These virtual characters will be driven by AI, computer graphics, projection, and facial recognition. And of course, they will be data-driven. The same technologies that will allow us to follow the real-ish lives of fictional characters, will also allow us to filter our own appearances, and will allow projected avatars to inherit characteristics of their viewers, making them more sympathetic. All of this has huge implications not only for entertainment, but also partisan and personal politics.

The Future of News and Media
The business of reporting the news used to be prohibitively expensive to produce and disseminate. Now that the instruments are nearly free, the customers, the users, the audience, the bystanders and stand-uppers are actually making the news. And in many cases, bots are, too. In this talk, I’ll discuss the many benefits to this democratization, the role for AI in reporting, and the emerging tools we need to filter and verify the explosion of news content. I’ll also discuss the way our news consumption habits are shifting, the expanding ecosystem of media genres, and the deepening of our evolution as People of the Screen.

The Future of Facial Recognition
Facial recognition is part of a suite of biometric technologies that recognize our shape and size, the way we move, and our voices, among other things. These parameters can be used to confirm our identities, and also recognize our emotional state and activity engagement. We wrestle with several aspects of this technology. We see that, so far, facial recognition can be unreliable, and we fear the possibility of misidentification and fraudulent uses. As biometrics incorporate a broader range of parameters, reliability will increase and it will become almost impossible to fake. A more fundamental issue, though, is that our faces and bodies are simultaneously personal and public. And we are rightly concerned about the possibility of our bodies and their state being tracked through the world. But we also have much to gain from these technologies. There are considerable safety applications, as well as commercial aspects. There might be certain places we cannot go unless we consent to tracking; there might be no-recognition zones. Some stores might use tracking to facilitate purchases, while others might advertise that they do not allow tracking. In order for these technologies to develop, we will need to have a social dialog and a legal framework for negotiating where and when and for how long we are recognized. There will be a broad range of implementations, and consenting to recognition will become an important part of social knowledge and tech literacy, and a cultural norm.

The Future of Big Data
Big data is valuable because it delivers evidence of how humans live. And we can use that evidence to make better decisions, write policies with better outcomes, and design more useful products and services. This evidence-based future relies on a nascent ecosystem of technologies which will expand alongside the science we use to make it all work in real time. Tools for data collection are a fundamental component, but processing all of the data is even more critical. Big data cannot be made useful without the application of artificial intelligence, but we also need improved bandwidth and compute processing power. On the social side, we have questions of privacy to work out. If all of our actions are collected as points of data, and if the purpose of the data collection is to make accurate predictions, what does that mean for individuals? Solutions, like differential privacy and federated learning, for example, offer some ideas for technological ways in which collective patterns can be established while protecting individuals. A final key component to success with big data is the concept of symmetrical knowledge. The goal is to design a system where the benefits are shared, allowing two-way transparency, so that we better understand ourselves as a collective, while also having a view on how the data is being collected and used, and holding data collectors accountable.

The Future of Robots
There is a continuum of robots, from automated to autonomous. We might envision a future where autonomous robots will operate all day, but this will not be possible for a very, very long time. The main hurdle is not intelligence but power requirements. So, for the foreseeable future, most of our robots will be machines of automation. Still, we will make a huge variety excelling at extremely narrowly defined tasks that humans don’t want to do. For example, a weeding robot will be more efficient at its weeding job than any human, but it will not harvest the plants and it cannot assess the plants’ need for fertilizer. Robots will also be a source of entertainment for humans. We will be riveted by robot dance and acrobatics, and we will continue to cheer battling bots. Although robots might be more efficient on wheels and large enough to carry enormous batteries, we will tend to design the ones that we live and work with at our own scale, reflecting some of our own interface so that we can more easily understand and interact with them. In spite of these planned similarities, robots will continue to be constrained by limitations that we cannot easily overcome. They will be different from us in many ways, and they will be better than us in certain very narrow ways, and that is their benefit.

The Future of India in comparison with China
India’s population growth is on track to overtake China very soon, and it’s economy is also starting to grow. However India’s is still primarily an agricultural economy, lagging about a decade behind China in basics like roads, plumbing, clean water, transportation, factories, and education. Therefore, much of the investment in India is going toward upgrading the infrastructure of basic human needs, unlike China which is investing in drones and robots. India also has yet to urbanize, with far fewer top-tier cities than China, so there’s a larger divide between the urban city dwellers and people in the countryside. With taxation structures that disincentivize entrepreneurs and starups, India has several bureaucratic hindrances to overcome. China also leads India in materials science and physical manufacturing. However, India has a long tradition of working with mathematics, and one area in which India has a significant lead over China is in software development. And there are several cultural advantages that prime India to be a global power. India is hugely diverse, moreso than China, has a centuries-long familiarity with English, and with a diaspora of Indians all over the world they cater to a diverse culture, ready to export globally what they produce. India and China possess complimentary strengths, and, with formal cross-investments, we can envision a partnership between the two that enriches the world for everyone.

The Future of Blockchain
Blockchain is a very powerful group of technologies that facilitates distributed trust. As a decentralized system, it is incredibly robust and adaptable, advantages which are counterbalanced by its slow speed and inefficiency. It is an essential requirement for digital currencies, like Bitcoin, which are useful in places where central banks are ineffective or very expensive. Bitcoin also allows users to do things the government doesn’t approve of, which might be criminal or political or revolutionary or trans-national. But digital currencies are also incredibly volatile and it’s hard to predict their future. Blockchain, on the other hand, offers utility far beyond digital currencies. As we continue to evolve our relationship with technology and privacy, we can see a role for smart contacts, which could be used to negotiate trust and approval across large networks. In the Mirror World, where individuals are constantly contributing virtual objects and artifacts, there is a massive need to verify whether things are legitimate or not. In the physical world, blockchain can be embedded to track the provenance of objects and to confirm authenticity. In a world of 8 billion people, a distributed system like this makes a lot of sense, and many experiments are underway to reduce the need for computational cycles, reducing the environmental costs. We are still waiting to see how decentralized systems like blockchain scale up, and we are still exploring what it’s really good for, but I expect that this technology will become part of the ecosystem of invisible infrastructure in the next 10 years.

The Future of Sharing and Access
The Sharing Economy is a well established name for a set of services that don’t always involve sharing but do fit a long-term trend toward prioritizing access over ownership. File sharing and modern bike sharing platforms illustrate the wide range of services that don’t necessarily encapsulate the spirit of the word. If sharing typically connotes a temporary loan of a finite object between an individual owner and the borrower, ride-sharing and home-sharing platforms hem closer to the conventional understanding. But the economics of these transactions are challenging because ownership, management, and maintenance are expensive burdens. And pricing on these decentralized platforms was initially set below conventional alternatives, but this undervalues the immediacy being delivered by these platforms. We are seeing some of the enthusiasm for these platforms dissipate and some companies have failed. But if we examine the true drivers behind the sharing economy, the desire for rapid access without the burdens of ownership, we can start to see other ways to meet the needs fueling the sharing economy. 3D printing and one-hour delivery services, for example, meet that need without any type of sharing. And if we agree to let AI peek at our behaviors, our needs can be anticipated, further accelerating access. As we recognize the actual value delivered and make better use of the tools of immediacy, the sharing economy will become what it has always really wanted to be: the access economy.

The Future of e-Sports
E-Sports is a growing industry with audiences, revenues, and prize winnings already outstripping many professional sports. The category includes any kind of video games, electronic assisted games, and games with remotely controlled or autonomous robots. Competition includes person-to-person as well as team-based contests, and many have large audiences live streaming or watching in arenas. Players and teams are sponsored by major brands, just like conventional sports, and teams themselves are run like businesses, being purchased for hundreds of millions of dollars, with players training and quartering together. Most e-Sports have been played with hands so far, but players will soon use more of their bodies to control gameplay, using VR and AR tools to more fully immerse and specialized equipment to play. Players will be vulnerable to injuries and physical differentiation will compare with what conventional athletes experience today. Numerous wearable electronics will also allow viewers to feel as if they are on the field. Beyond supremely teched-out players, arenas will also host all manner of unmanned machines, from drone racing to total bot mayhem. The flow of money into these sports will increasingly include betting, and some will have economies built directly into them, using blockchain and cryptocurrencies to reward in-game achievements. With the vast quantity of statistical data being collected during these contests, fantasy leagues will be massive, further growing attention and revenues. In the next ten years, we’ll see e-sports playing some role in the Olympics. By that time, we will probably drop the “e” and these games will fully join the broader pantheon of Sport.

The Future of the Attention Economy
All the things we create as a society are becoming cheaper to produce, and some have dubbed this the age of abundance. But there is one remaining, fixed scarcity: our attention. Though we might attempt to multi-task, the number of things we can give our full attention to is limited by the clock. Our individual attention pays for and runs major parts of the economy. In this short talk, I consider the future of competition for this precious commodity, and the new curation tools that help us decide where to spend it. Advertising agencies have mediated the competition for our attention for a long time, but we can expect to see their models shifting significantly, in some cases decentralizing, and in others being completely bypassed. Currently, algorithms also play a role in the competition by surfacing things we are interested in. They will continue to be important, but they will soon do a better job of drawing upon our social graphs while leading us to serendipitous discoveries. These algorithms will also become more informed by what we do rather than what we consume. These changes will move the attention economy in a direction that is more sustainable as it increases opportunities for us to share and curate the things we find interesting and valuable, compensate us for doing so, and keep discovering things that are relevant but unexpected.

The Future of Meat
Animal meat has long been a rare and expensive part of the human diet, and although it is now widely considered essential and necessary, eating meat still carries many downsides. It is still more expensive than most other forms of nutrition; it requires killing animals, which we know to be more intelligent and conscious than we previously realized; and raising meat at our current scale of consumption comes at a terrible environmental cost. In short, meat is a finite resource that needs a synthetic solution, and we can expect that solution to follow the typical path of progress: replacement, improvement, advancement. Meat replacements are not a new concept, but modern alternatives are substantially different from the plant-based proteins we’ve known for hundreds of years. Now, synthetic meat can be made from animal cells so that it has the same components and attributes as real meat, but this “clean meat” or deathless-meat is grown in steel vats instead of inside animals. You might’ve already grown accustomed to Beyond meat and Impossible burgers, and although lab-grown steaks haven’t made it quite yet, within 10 years we can expect a vast range of artificial animal products that are more delicious than their native counterparts. They will also cost less to produce and reduce environmental harms. After that, perhaps hybrid meats (beast blends?), and individually tailored foodceuticals. So, that’s the future of meat: affordable, ethical, sustainable, and evolved.

The Future of Agriculture
Although agriculture might seem like an old-world enterprise, farmers have always been quick to embrace new technologies and automation. In this talk, I will address two frontiers of technology advancement in farming that will have broad impacts over the next 20 to 30 years. Already, robots are being used to do the most labor-intensive farm jobs, like large scale weeding, but soon they will also take on the more delicate work of assessing and tending individual plants and animals. We can think of this as automated precision agriculture, and the AI-assisted machines that do it will be as common as tractors. The next frontier of agricultural advancement will be new kinds of plants and organisms. Biotech driven crops and anymal proteins will be optimized to grow in an abundance of sun with low soil requirements. These resource-efficient food products will also be easier to harvest, more nutritious, and with equivalent or better taste. Because these advancements will support the increased scale of demand we face, I expect this type of farming to become the norm. But there will also still be fully non-GMO, hand-tended farms; there will be technology-assisted organic farms. Food and farming choices will be abundant.

The Future of Health
Health is an area of major innovations, and although I can’t possibly summarize all of them, I’d like to give an overview of some of the ways we will use technology to create wellness in the next 20 to 30 years. One broad trend we will continue to benefit from is the increasing personalization of care and therapies. This tailoring of healthcare will be accelerated by the application of AI to big data. We already have many tools to collect data from and about our bodies, from smart watches to sensitized articles of clothing, and we can expect this data collection to become embedded in our environments as well. While this data has been largely overwhelming so far, AI will soon be able to transform it into actionable insights and advice. This is true also for DNA-based data we are beginning to collect and aggregate. Science still has a poor understanding of the correlation between many genes and personal health, but when we can apply AI to vast sets of DNA sequences, we will have a better grasp on the role of individual genes, and will be able to address personal risk for individual patients. Patients needing surgery will benefit from doctors who employ AI assistants that specialize in precisely their surgery. Medications “printed” on demand will give our providers a chance to assess the effect of a single dose, and then tailor the next depending on how we respond. These are all near-term advances. In the next two decades, we should also look forward to developments in regenerative tissues, whereby our bodies can be triggered to regrow damaged parts. Genetic engineering, and test-tube babies will remain in the realm of the far, far future.

The Future of Movies
We often think about movies as being the big blockbusters that appeal to millions of people, and take millions of dollars and hours to create. But most of the moving images we see in our lives are not big blockbusters. They are the smaller, more local, common videos we consume on YouTube and Instagram. These poles represent the common extremes of videos we consume, both in terms of production expenditures and duration. As we consider the future of movies, we should expect to see a greater variety emerging between these poles, and even pushing beyond them. Hit television series have established a precedent for the 100-hour narrative — that will grow to 2- or 300. And while television commercials have been telling 30-second stories for decades, Tiktok is expanding this form, and we should expect ultra-condensed story-telling to stick around and become even more deliberate. Production methodology and toolsets will also expand. The economics of digital versus physical world-building are on the brink of inversion, and we can expect to see movies utilizing virtual sets and characters not only because they are more flexible, but also because they will soon be less expensive. Digital set-builders might even license their creations for re-use, so that filming in 1920 NYC could become a consistent shooting location. Characters being similarly malleable will also become common. Actors and crew will use headset displays to be present in the digital environments. Editors will use the same displays to do their part. This evolved methodology and toolset will be utilized by the whole range of creatives: blockbuster-makers, indi auteurs, longform masters, micro-storytellers, as well as ordinary folks whose movies will continue to form the broad, fertile base of the always-on pyramid.

The Future of Moore’s Law
The basic premise of Moore’s Law is that computers are getting twice as fast every couple of years, while costs stay the same. The theory is based on Gordon Moore’s observations in the 1960s about the rate at which engineers were able to increase the number of transistors on silicon chips. Although the theory has been applied far beyond Moore’s original observations, many have noted that the curve also describes rates of improvement before Moore’s work, suggesting it is not just a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think this curve is an inevitable function of the structure of physics. We could also describe it as the speed of learning, that as we make things over and over again, we are able to make them better. And generally we do see that this rate of increasing computation power at sustained prices has been in effect for about 60 years now. Although there are limits to digital bits, we see this trend of doubling across various technologies, for example in storage and bandwidth, so the curve appears to be independent of the medium. Looking ahead, I expect we will continue to see this curve apply to new frontiers of computing: quantum, photonic, and analog. This curve is so foundational to our experience and expectations of technology, that it defines our understanding of modern life and progress. I feel confident that development in these new frontiers will sustain this curve of better and cheaper.

The Future of Programming
Programming is a largely text-based medium, but as with so many areas of life and work, this practice is being transformed by visual toolsets. Presently, we see this in the way programmers use YouTube to quickly absorb new solutions to coding challenges. We can expect to see this shift influence the way code is “written” soon, with an increase of gesture and voice commands in VR and AR interfaces. AI will also have a significant effect on programming, playing an assistive role, managing access to libraries and templates, and also autocompiling code so that people can focus on higher-level design. Programming will continue to move to the cloud, which will necessitate a major paradigm shift away from sequential instructions toward a new framework of parallel computing. Full decentralization will mean that security must be a fundamental aspect of everything we do because every project, every line of code will carry risk burden to the cloud. In the next 10 to 20 years, these will be the new frontiers for programming.

The Future of Progress
I believe we are heading into at least two decades of increased productivity and prosperity which will, on average, improve the lives of everyone around the world. This increased prosperity will be unprecedented, but it is a reasonable expectation because it will be an expansion of a long boom already two decades underway. The tremendous quality of life improvements already unfolding around the world are due to a handful of one-time events, including the automation enabled by cheap energy, women joining the commercial workforce, and the trend toward total urbanization. If we can maintain the benefits of these events, I believe we will experience 6 more one-time drivers that will extend the boom, reaching even more people. The next wave of prosperity drivers includes: universal connectivity; ubiquitous AI; sustainable energy; accelerated innovation; biological engineering; and the next generational handoff. In this talk, I will give an overview of each driver, why it is imperative and likely, its approximate arrival time, impact on daily life, and relationship with the other drivers. The Great Progression is here to stay.

The Future of the Quantified Self
The “Quantified Self” was a movement that I helped start over 20 years ago. The idea was to use technology to measure and improve ourselves, our behavior, our health, our performance using mostly wearable bits that were becoming cheaper and cheaper. A worldwide movement blossomed, including a massive number of devices, methods, and aspects for personal information tracking, allowing individuals to collect data on things like their own allergy response, glucose fluctuation, athletic performance, mood variation, work output, and more. But there was a critical technology bottleneck, and many of the companies that sprang up because of this new movement are no longer around. Although it quickly became very easy to gather a huge corpus of data, the tools and intelligence to facilitate understanding and meaningful advice for improvement have been slower to develop. There is much less hype around the movement now, but there is still progress toward the original goal of personalization. And the scale and access to AI required to turn rafts of data into actionable insight will arrive. When it does, we will see benefits in the form of medications that are tailored for our particular selves at a particular moment in time. We will gain a deeper understanding of the correlations between our habits and efforts, and the quality of our personal relationships, our creative endeavors, our work performance, and the condition of our bodies. We will come to know and measure ourselves to such an extent that it will become not only our personal identity, but also our digital identity, our identification, accurate and daresay impossible to fake. Quantified Self gave us a rubric for pursuing an n of ourselves, and it will continue to inform the basis of how we think about and personalize everything around us.

The Future of Fintech
Finance and money are, essentially, a type of communication. As such, they are experiencing a huge amount of change. With our smart phones behaving more and more like financial devices, money is acting more and more like bits, sent and received as easily as a text message. The first and most common impact we’re seeing is the arrival of the cashless society. This relatively minor change for individuals accelerates the broader rate of transactions by making selling and purchasing so incredibly easy. This is where we are now, but the prevalence of digital cash opens the door to many more sophisticated changes we can expect soon. For example, charging interest was something that previously only banks could do, but now it is technically quite trivial. This innovation is the foundation for peer-to-peer lending programs, which have hit some roadblocks, but still show promise. P2P lending is just the start of the disaggregation of banking services. Traditionally, the old banks were gatekeepers to many different financial services, but soon we will see more new banks specializing very narrowly in savings accounts only, for example, or perhaps mortgages or investments, but not all of them. Another near-term change we can look forward to is the utilization of dynamic pricing in physical stores, something we already see in online retail. Eventually, we will be able to expand this concept beyond retail into the larger economy as a whole, with real-time accounting, at first for individual companies, but eventually for entire industries and countries, truly macroeconomic-scale visibility. This is one of the frontiers of fintech. Another frontier to explore is the role of A.I. in guiding investment. Another is the possibility of using baby bonds to equitably share the gains of society at large. The frontiers of fintech call us to advance our technical and regulatory abilities, but they also present opportunities to advance our cultural and social values. Tremendous innovation lies ahead in the word of financial technology.

The Future of Fabrication
Manufacturing and fabrication often evokes visions of endless conveyor belts of things made at large sale. For many things, this is indeed the way they are made, it is efficient, and this approach will largely continue. But increasingly we are also making small batches of things. This drive toward one-of manufacturing is fed no only by the desire for personalization, but also by efforts to uncover the next great niche thing, to innovate. 3-D printing has been the great enabler for this exploration in personalized and niche fabrication, and it has come a long way from the days of simple plastic layering. Now, 3-D printers commonly fabricate in all kinds of metals, but we can also print food stuffs and tissues for the body. The cutting edge for this technology is multi-material printers, with tremendous resolution and scale capabilities. These printers can materialize products from an expanding library of digital-first designs, with a variety of materials and at a level of production not possible with conventional milling. This is the gateway to the on-demand manufacturing economy, offering benefits including the digitization of inventory, flexible manufacturing across individual machines, and innovation accelerated by easy duplication, modification, and improvement. These benefits will be nurtured in the technologies of rapid prototyping and one-of production, but they will also inform and advance the broader future of making, including mass manufacturing.

The Future of Space
For most of its history, the space industry has been funded by governments, but now it is undergoing a renaissance because of investment from private enterprise. Much of this is coming from Silicon Valley, using the principles of agile design and manufacturing to bring a new era of space technology. There are two promising economic models for growing development in space right now, and neither of them are space tourism or asteroid mining, although there may be a small amount of this activity on the 25-year horizon. More valuable, and more immediate are the projects of data collection and data transmission, both of which would require a web of nanosatellites enveloping the earth. Data collection is essential because as our economies are increasingly global in production, reach, and impact, it is necessary to have a perspective on macro-level information about Earth. These very small satellites, no larger than grapefruit, would hang out in low Earth orbit, and use sensors and cameras to monitor not only scientific data but also material and construction flows, as well as agricultural development. The project of data transmission is equally important because universal connectivity has become a global expectation, but one that is impossible to solve with cell towers alone. The same web of nanosatellites will be able to carry transmissions across their web, as well as up and down to the surface, increasing GPS resolution and possibly becoming the foundation for 6G connectivity. A number of startups are investing in this right now. Both of these projects will demand making rockets smaller, more reliable, and reusable. These projects carry huge value for global industry, stewardship, and communications, and they will drive the advances in space technology in the coming decades.


 

This site operates under a Creative Commons License.