Every week on Monday morning , the Council and our invited guests weigh in at the Watcher’s Forum, short takes on a major issue of the day, the culture, or daily living. This week’s question: What Will Be The Most Significant Technological Development of the Next Decade?
The Razor: There are two game changers I see on the horizon, although the timing is probably much longer than a decade.
The first is driverless cars. Human beings are terrible drivers compared to computers. Even the best drivers can be distracted or suffer poor judgment in an instant. It will take a while for people to trust their cars, but when they do, American life will be changed in ways not seen since the internal combustion engine chased horses off the road. People will enjoy the independence of the car without the danger and required concentration, and while I’m not sure what this would mean to everyday life I would expect it to change.
The second is an electronic universal translator. We’re already seeing these used by the armed forces to a limited degree, and in our increased reliance on Google Translate – something that I resort to frequently since one of our members follows Russian language news services and alerts us to interesting stories. As the handheld translators used by the military and machine translation improves, we will reach a point where we could wear a headset like Google Glass and have the signs translated into English by the headset. Then we could enter a shop and speak English and have our smartphone recognize our speech and translate it into Italian and broadcast it in a voice that sounds like our own. The clerk could respond in Italian, and we would hear her response followed by an accurate-enough English translation either printed in our field of vision on our headset or voiced by our smartphone. Monolingual idiots like me would then be able to travel the world without fear of embarrassment or the need to torment myself with languages that simply will not stick in my Teflon-coated brain. I have been waiting for this device since I was studying Chinese in high school, and being pity-passed for four hopeless years by my teacher Mr. Wang.
GrEaT sAtAn”S gIrLfRiEnD: Methinks the single most significant tech development will be the widespread adoption of human stem cells to treat an extraordinary range of medical conditions, from organ failure to Alzheimer’s.
Unlike many other exciting technologies that may make progress, stem cells have already reached a stage where they are regularly making major breakthroughs. We’ve seen a 10 year old child in Great Britain have a new trachea grown inside his throat using his own stem cells. Bladders and blood vessels are close behind. There’s also been progress with stem cells treating blood conditions, blindness, joint conditions, heart damage, etc, etc.
Soon this kinda tech won’t be experimental, it will be universal.
The benefits – extraordinary healing of conditions that have few meaningful treatments – will make stem cells a popular and revolutionizing therapy in the field of medicine. This technology is here, it is growing, and in 20 years we will have developed a diverse arsenal of stem-cell tools that will constitute a major part of every hospital around the world.
‘Incurable conditions’ will be fewer, and millions will be able to live normal lives thanks to stem cell treatments. Billions will be able to live longer and healthier lives as stem cells repair and replace their failing bodies. Stem cells represent healing and longevity in one place, and they are already on their way here. Their continued development will be the single most impactful change in technology in the next two decades.
JoshuaPundit: In one word, robotics, and on many levels. The successful push for a $15 minimum wage in Seattle ( and San Francisco and Los Angeles are already climbing on the band wagon), the increased cost of benefits and other factors of productivity are going to see robots increasingly replacing humans in a number of jobs, and not just fast food. Bank tellers, receptionists, medical intake personnel, miners and factory workers are among the many jobs that will find themselves replaced, with maybe one or two human workers where there used to be a dozen or more. The technology to replace most of these jobs already exists, and as it becomes more competitively priced it will become more widely adopted. Even jobs like certain things now done by gardeners, and your friendly pool guy could be replaced with existing technology. One can only imagine what the future would bring…robot handymen, plumbers, electricians? The effect on human society of perpetual unemployment for so many will also be interesting.
I would not be surprised at all to see robot soldiers and pilots whom ‘fly’ their planes from the ground in fairly short order by decade’s end.
Robots, I’m certain will even have an effect on the Oldest Profession. Sex robots already exist and as the technology gets better will become more lifelike and affordable. Aside from home models, we may even see robot brothels.
At that point, there are going to be a number of moral questions raised. Is it humane and moral to exploit such lifelike robots? Do they have civil and human rights? What if someone wants to ‘marry’ one of them?
I think we’re in for an interesting decade.
Simply Jews: I would expect some developments in medicine first of all, on the boundaries of biotechnology and nano-technology. A decisive solution to several most frequent cancers, some hereditary diseases and organ repairs.
The Glittering Eye: To satisfy the terms of the question an emerging technology would need to be a) influential and b) prevalent by the end of the decade. I think that the only technological development that meets those criteria is additive manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing AKA 3D printing or desktop manufacturing has been used in practice for some time and the technology is improving (and getting cheaper) so rapidly I can’t help but believe that it will be quite commonplace by the end of the decade. I think it will be influential in three ways.
The first way is that it will undercut Chinese dominance in certain areas of manufacturing. That dominance has been produced by very low labor costs and you can’t get any lower than zero which is what additive manufacturing promises. As the technology matures China’s great distance from its markets will be more influential than its low labor costs, an advantage they’re already beginning to lose to places like Vietnam.
The biggest losers to additive manufacturing will be places like Vietnam which are only now getting into the low end manufacturing business. Historically, the path to high value manufacturing has always run through low value manufacturing—things like toys, apparel, paper goods, etc. When that path is closed I’m not sure what these developing countries will do.
The third way additive manufacturing will be influential is that it will change the way we think about certain things. Making new parts for things or whole things will become so cheap and easy no one will think of doing anything but getting them custom-made. The implications for warehousing, logistics, etc. are enormous.
Ask Marion : I think unless there are some major changes in society and with people standing-up to the ruling elite, all the major changes coming will put us further down the “Big Brother” rabbit hole… which will be bad for all of us. And the results of the 2014 and 2016 Elections will make a huge difference in the actual implementation and timing of technologies ready to go!
I see the following changes coming:
We will see the end, or at least the trend toward the end, of cash and credit cards and everything will be purchased and tracked on our telephones or some kind of ‘smart card’ device, or micro-chipping, making cyber-security the investment and industry of the future.
Drones will take over delivery of most everything, putting the postal service out of business.
Driver-less cars will become the fad and then will ultimately be made law.
All these technologies are already here and being used on some level, and will be sold to the American people as convenient, for their safety and well-being or with perks to increase the Nanny State… taking us ever closer to the 2005 Smart Card video scenario. Social media and reactions to governmental actions since 911 have already shown us that people are willing to post anything, give up most anything for the illusion of security and will buy into almost everything promoted.
Do I hope I am wrong… absolutely! Do I think I am… sadly not!
Well, there you have it.
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