What the World Will Look Like for Future Generations

The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.

Warren Bennis

Flying cars, the Terminator and the end of poverty.

If one were to believe the future laid out for us in the 1960’s and 70’s, the world would be a lot different than today. Futurists are a lot like fortune tellers in that they tell you things in such a way as to claim they were right no matter what happens. Additionally, the old saying that even a broken clock is right twice a day means that eventually we will have flying cars, autonomous robots (maybe with; maybe without human skin), and we will end poverty. How we get there is the focus of this article.

Wisdom comes from age and experience. As anyone coming of age in the 30’s what the greatest invention of their youth was and you might find that it was scotch tape (1930), electron microscope (1931), the folding wheelchair (1932), stereo sound (1933), road reflectors (1934), nylon (1935), computer science (1936), blood banking (1937), copy machine (1938), or contact lenses (1939).

For those growing up in the 40’s it might have been antibiotics (1940), deodorant (1941), secure wireless technology (1942), dialysis (1944), flu vaccine (1945), microwave (1946), defibrillator (1947), and the instant camera (1948).

For those in their 50’s, the polio vaccine (1953), the solar cell, (1954), Velcro (1955), the hard drive (1956), birth control pills (1957), lasers (1958), and seat belts (1959).

People raised in the 60’s’s saw weather satellites (1960), cordless power tools (1961), cassette tapes (1962), liquid crystal display (1964), Kevlar (1965), mammogram (1966), handheld calculator (1967), and ARPANET (1969).

People growing up in the 70’s (my cohort) experienced fiber optics (1970), floppy disks (1971), MRI (1972), mobile phones (1973), posting notes (1974), personal computer (1975), word processing (1976), IVF (1977), email (1978), and the Sony Walkman (1979).

For those of you growing up in the 80’s, you had the distinct pleasure of being introduced to the fax machine (1980), artificial skin (1981), the artificial heart (1982), DNA testing (1985), disposable contact lens (1987), RU-486 (1988), and the World Wide Web in 1989.

For those of you who grew up in the 90’s’s, the inventions of your youth were such things as he first web page (1991), birth control shots (1992), commercial GPS (1993), DVD’s (1995), cloning of adult cells (1996), readers (1998), and Napster (1999).

For today’s young adult growing up in the 2000’s, you were fortunate to see the invention of camera phones (2000), iTunes Music Store (2003), Skype (2004), YouTube (2005), HPV vaccine (2006), Apple iPhone (2007), home DNA test (2008), and the smart thermostat (2009).

For you kids who have come of age in the 2010’s, you have experienced Siri (2010), IBM Watson (2011), Google glass (2012), Lab grown meat (2013), prosthetics that can feel (2015), artificial pancreas (2016), and sight assistance for the blind (2017).

An important thing to take note of in this list is that many of the innovations that we take for granted day-to-day you may think of as being invented much later. For example, the personal computer, invented in 1975 didn’t actually make its way into our daily lives until the late eighties and early 1990’s. Birth control is associated with the late 1969’s, even though it was invented in 1957.

So, what might the people coming of age remember about this decade?

Mass Customization

As we witness authoritarian tendencies rising around the world, much of it is driven by government distrust or disappointment. In a world where Facebook feeds you only what you are interested in and connects you with only people with which you have things in common; when Amazon and Netflix give you recommendations based on your past purchasing and viewing habits, then why can’t government offer me customized services?

A significant problem with governments of all kinds is the failure to recognize the shades of gray so common in the world today. For example, in the United States, you must register for social security at age 65, whether you need it or not. Additionally, if you do not, you are penalized the rest of your life for your failure to do so. This means that if you are Jeff Bezos (currently one the wealthiest man in the world), you are forced to register and accept social security payments. There is no option to opt out or donate the money to one of his employees. The law is the law and there are no exceptions.

Imagine if government services could be customized and services tailored to individual citizens? Perhaps the unhappiness with government would disappear in this new order. Unfortunately, to fill the gap, authoritarian leaders, offer personalized solutions without the means to deliver them.

Artificial Intelligence

While government may not be ready for mass customization, it is likely that AI will offer the tipping point. It is likely that in the next four years, we will see a significant realignment of society that occur about every 80 years (the last was the Great Depression). Driving this change will be AI. What we currently see in AI today will likely not be what we see in four years. AI, in its infancy today will be a mature product. The algorithms that create funny headlines and stereotypes will be ironed out and people will become accustomed to what is likely to be seamless communications between machines and humans.

A question about AI can also be related to what we see in the unrest in societies around the world today. A problem with social media is that it is generally unregulated. This seems to be getting worse as trolls make outlandish statements and people believe them. One of the great promises of a mature AI is that it can act as arbitrator for social media and suppress some if not all of the untruths and conspiracy theories that run rampant today. This suppression should offer the ability for us to fact check and whitewash untruths and propaganda. Of course, many people will assume that a machine making decisions about human thoughts and emotions is the stuff of dystopian nightmares but consider that what untruths and propaganda do to humans today. Wars, discrimination and online harassment could be eliminated. Yes, it can be scary to think that machines will make decisions, but if the right controls are not put in place, it is possible to control it.

The Past as Prologue

How AI and mass customization might play out over the next twenty years is anyone’s guess. Perhaps the terminator scenario will play out, but let’s hope not! What we do need to do is to pay attention to the past to learn about the future. Just look at how things changed by blood banking in the 30’s. How many more people would have died in WW II had blood transfusions not been avaiable? After all, In World War II, compared with the 1914-1918 war, the mortality rate of wounded men who reached forward hospitals alive was more than halved. The liberal use of blood and plasma played a major role in achieving this reduction.

The birth control pill dramatically changed society in the 60’s and 70’s, even though the birth control pill was invented in 1957. This difference in dates should clue you into how you can also become a futurist. Start by being curious and thinking critically about how today’s inventions can become the most important technologies of tomorrow. Let’s take a quick, but not necessarily comprehensive look at the things that are happening today that may or may not be important in the future.

Resistive Heating – by allowing the sun to heat sand, the heat can then be used to heat buildings; in effect, a sand battery.

Virtual Reality that allows you to smell and e-skin to help you feel someone in another location.

The Spin Launch can actually launch small satellites into space without a rocket. The system literally uses centrifugal force to “throw” the object into space.

Brain Reading computers have shown that humans who might be quadriplegic can control a robotic arm to do simple tasks for them.

3-D printed bones, food, buildings, and whatever enterprising individuals can come up with.

Direct Air Capture (DAC) may someday allow us to reduce the carbon in our atmosphere similar to trees. The CO2 can then be pumped deep into the earth or combined with hydrogen to produce fuel.

Energy Storing Bricks are a new technology that can store energy and release it as electricity to light a building at night.

Self Healing Living Concrete would involve a process that could displace the second most consumed material on earth. This means that replacement of concrete.

Of course, these are just a scratch on the surface of exciting new technologies that can change the world in the next decade or two. Think about how you, as an innovator might be able to capitalize on tactile and “smell” technology in a theater, when talking to your kids in college or apart from your significant other during a business trip. This seems to be a tremendous opportunity for someone with the ingenuity. While the immediate benefits of brain reading machines can be seen in people with physical disabilities, an innovator might decide to create a way to clean your house or even better lift large objects on a construction site or in a warehouse. 3-D printing means potentially even Amazon could be put out of business. Imagine that you need a new television and a machine or two in your house could print it. Food cubes could be converted into your favorite meal.

The future is never actually predictable. There are a thousand variables and new discoveries that happen each and every day. However, as an innovator, one of your jobs is to constantly scan the world to identify new things and how they might inspire you to create the world of your imagination.

March 15, 2024

Dr. Brett Trusko
Director, Board of GIMI-IAOIP
International Journal of Innovation Science