Frontier TechnologyMy son has just celebrated that great milestone: his 21st birthday – Happy Birthday, son!
As I sat down to write a speech for his party it made me ponder how accurate are we at predicting what 21 years of living will bring.
When it comes to my son I know I could have certainly guessed some of it … the months of crying as a baby, taking the first steps, heading to school for the first time, years of learning and growing, the teenage battles and then with luck heading to University. He achieved all that and so much more as he heads off for a year of learning in a Japanese University.
Right now, parents who are just welcoming their new babies into the world may be going through similar predictive hopes, and I imagine many children will take the same time-honoured path.
How different though will their world be in 21 years’ time compared to now.
With all the digital disruption, we hear about every day, the future looks incredibly unpredictable. Will Artificial Intelligence (AI) absolutely change our working, leisure and educational lives so that life will become so unrecognisable? There are those that suggest a dystopian world with total automation meaning driverless cars, trains and trucks. We could all have our own personal assistant which does everything for us: searching the globe for the best birthday present for our mum, giving us the selection from around the world, arranging the purchase and shipping direct to our house with a small verbal request from us.
Our entertainment needs are on demand throughout the globe and teenagers are not only spending more time in their rooms, but living an immersive and social world totally unconnected to their parents. In the negative version of this world, if we get the social ethics and economic sharing model wrong, then millions may have no jobs; displaced people with few skills to access the economic boom created by robots and automation.
If we take the positive train of thought, then a child born in 2018, by the time they are 21, will be in a highly connected social world where technology has given us all access to a global market, where a great inspiration can generate a business almost single handily and give us all the freedom to do whatever we want with the knowledge and means all at hand.
So, to avoid the very tricky crystal ball gazing, let’s look back for inspiration.
Back in 1997, when my son was born certainly the world was different. John Howard was Australia’s Prime Minister, the movie of the year was Titanic, the hit TV show was Friends, the single of the year was Elton John’s tribute to Princess Diana, Candle in the Wind and the CD was the smart way to
listen to music. The toy fad was the Tamagotchi and for the new digital gamers, Sony PlayStation, which had launched two years earlier, made a big leap with dual shock controllers.
The internet was still in the early days and there was a battle growing between an upstart browser Internet Explorer Internet Explorer versus Netscape Navigator. The new challenger had a novel model: it was free. Now that was unlikely to catch on!
Fewer than 40 per cent of households had the internet; or another way of looking at it is that it has taken up to 21 years for us to take the internet supply to be as normal as water or electricity supplies. If you wanted all the web had to offer, AOL was offering unlimited access for US $19.99. Video wasn’t easy to do online but if you did, just like 85 per cent of viewers, you used Real Networks for streaming capability. 1997 was the year the MP3 format was launched for audio, which is still going strong and Apple launched the PowerBook 1400 PowerBook 1400 at US$2,499: at the time a laptop revolution and the roots for the Apple MacBook many of us love and use today.
Palm pilots were the rage for mobile work connectivity. President Clinton was the US President and apparently only sent two emails whilst he was in the Oval office. A massive contrast to Donald Trump who uses twitter many times a day to share his personal and policy views and even fire his Secretary of State.
As far as artificial intelligence goes IBM had made a breakthrough when their Deep Blue super computer beat for the first time the reigning world chess champion Gary Kasparov . 21 years ago, there may have been conjecture that computers would take over the world by 2018, and here we are. IBM’s Watson can do amazing things with data analytics but the super computers are certainly not yet running the world.
So, looking back over the 21 years: Yes, technology has changed amazingly and we have access to so many more services, products, entertainment, knowledge and work efficiencies. However, it could be said that much of what is here today has been an evolution not a revolution.
So, with that positive perspective I am looking forward to the next 21 years and see that much of what will emerge will be an evolution of the technology – smarter, better and far more expansive – however my guess is that much will be born and nurtured out of what we can see already in technology. Just like my son, the new generations think they are a revolution on the previous and everything they do is so brand new and revolutionary.
For me, the technology change, we are experiencing will seem revolutionary and rapid, where in many ways it is just the next evolving generational change in the evolving life of humanity.
Written by Paul Whybrow