Disappearing Future 9. Smartphones
Say Goodbye to News at 6:00
Most Americans migrated to cable television from broadcast television; now, many are cutting the television cord altogether. We watch what we want, when we want, using Hulu or Netflix or other content delivery media. And we watch wherever we happen to be, using laptops, tablets, and smartphones.
And advertising dollars that used to go to the networks are now going to social media delivered over mobile devices.
The major networks will likely survive, probably becoming subsidiaries of one of the social network juggernauts (Google, Facebook, etc.), much like ABC network is part of Disney-ABC Television Group. What is becoming expendable—and will likely disappear—is the networks’ strings of local affiliates.
These outlets are largely repeater stations of their larger networks. Except for their morning and evening newscasts, they provide little that is substantially different from the network’s product.
The 6 o’clock local news once had the advantage of timing over newspaper delivery; now, it is behind virtually every other means of communication. The nearly 900 local TV affiliates just aren’t needed in the new mass communication marketplace. And despite how essential they seemed for all these decades, when they finally go away their collective presence will hardly be missed.—Rob Bencini
In 2030, the ubiquitous fixed roadway sign will have all but disappeared. This scenario begins in the late 2010s, as attention turns to decaying infrastructure. Thanks to increasing federal tax revenues driven by the shale oil boom, state departments of transportation will begin funding projects to replace bridges, repave highways, and (as an unexpected consequence) replace and update fixed-message signs.
Cars are becoming increasingly connected to their surroundings via GPS. The Internet of Place—connecting vehicles to traffic and roadway condition reporting systems—will emerge first in the more dense urban areas. Better information means there could even be fewer vehicles involved.
The old signs could be replaced by active media signs equipped with two-way communications that interact with the vehicles (rather than the drivers). These active-media posts might be updated via fiber-optic links. Some of their graphics could be sponsored by local enterprises, thus putting an end to billboards as well as roadway signs.—Jim Breaux
Farewell, Smartphone. We Hardly Knew Thee
By Paul Saffo
Devices will be superfluous in the more-intimate age of conversational interaction.
Looking back from 2030, it is hard to imagine just how central smartphones were to life in 2013—and how quickly they disappeared. Smartphones followed a trajectory similar to that other techno-antique, the PC, but the smartphone arc was even shorter.
The first smartphones appeared in the mid-1990s, but it was Android and iPhone that changed the communications landscape. By 2010, anything with a physical keypad seemed as obsolete as a rotary-dial Princess phone, and voice took a back seat to apps, Angry Birds, and tweets.
Ironically, it was voice that killed the smartphone. Robust AI-based voice recognition started to arrive in the mid-teens, and users discovered what they knew all along: We would much rather talk than tap. Driving directions were so much safer when spoken, allowing drivers to keep their eyes on the road. Tweet-sized quips were now uttered by AIs mimicking the voices of the celebrity dead. Even commerce became voice-based.
Robust voice eliminated the need to design around screens, just as touch-screen technology once pushed out keypads. Communicators shrank to the size of hearing aids, and their functionality melted into everything from eyeglasses, watches, and jewelry to vehicles and appliances. New functions such as breathtakingly accurate real-time language translation appeared (think Babel fish in Doug Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide), making these tiny devices essential and constant companions. Screens remained, but only as marvelous peripherals, not the center of communications activity.
We entered the age of conversational interaction, and our relationship with digital technology moved from personal to intimate. Couples who couldn’t speak a common language fell in love and married. Sociologists cautioned users against over-attachment to voice-AIs to the exclusion of human contact. And at those rare moments when we happen to think back, we marvel that anyone could have ever communicated anything of consequence on a device as clunky and old-fashioned as an iPhone.
Computing’s Future Is Wearable
By Harish Shah
Thanks to Google, the world will soon see the commercialization of the first wearable computer for the masses, with a head-mounted display to be worn like a pair of glasses by its users. Apple is also likely to soon release a wearable computer in the form of a smart watch, which has already been dubbed by many as the “iWatch.”
The same Internet-based communication currently used on smartphones or computers will likely also be utilized on the wearable computers. The need for smartphones will thus simply start diminishing, especially as prices for wearables begin to decline. That the wearable will primarily be a computer, beyond being just a communication device, will be its most attractive feature.
The first few years that wearable computers are on the market will likely be a phase of trial and error, when makers will be perfecting their technology, adjusting to the market, and meeting consumer needs and wants. Once this phase passes, we can expect history then to repeat itself, and our beloved smartphones will simply fade away, like pagers and other devices did before them.
The Concurrent Evaporation of Hardware and Privacy
By E. Scott Denison
Hold in your hand for a moment the sleek minimalist design that is your smartphone. Note the thin metal case, and touch the glossy, glass interface.
If you like that sort of thing, then you should keep it around as an heirloom. By 2030, we will have dispensed with much of the hardware that we carry with us, including phones and laptops, car keys or key fobs, possibly even digital cameras.
All these devices will move from silicon chips encased in industrial designs to smart surfaces, smart clothing, or biomechanically engineered microcomputers that have been implanted in or attached to the body. Retinal implants or contact lenses will carry the visual interface to the individual, or the user will transfer it to a variety of other “active surfaces” such as tables or walls.
Each app will carry its own embedded interface and, though true telepathy will still be a couple of decades away, gloves, rings, or bracelets could become the access point for manipulating the user interface. It may someday give way to subdermal implants that directly access brain imagery and transmissions to the microchips that are embedded in our bodies.
As our computers become more invisible and hardware design becomes more bio-design, we will also see our privacy nearly completely disappear. Each surface will become “aware” of our presence and our activities. Our bodies will carry an internal GPS tracking capability. Watch out for intrusive messaging, hacking, and surveillance that may come ever so much closer to our thoughts, actions, preferences, and individuality.
Passing of the Dumb Interface, Keyboard, and Mouse
By Alexandre Pupo and William Halal
Ongoing trend analysis at the TechCast Project suggests that the next wave of computerization will drive far more intelligent and convenient interfaces into mainstream use, relegating today’s dumb interfaces, keyboards, and the mouse obsolete—like the old slide rules and typewriters. Here is a summary of our forecasts in this area:
|Technology||Most Likely Year||Std. Dev.|
|Source: www.TechCast.org (2013)|
|Intelligent Interface||2019||4 years|
|Intelligent Web||2017||3 years|
|Virtual Reality||2019||4 years|
|Thought Power||2024||7 years|
Humans may soon rely on these technologies to serve as virtual assistants and to automate routine mental work. Artificial intelligence, speech and emotion recognition and translation, touch controls, and other interfaces are already entering the market.
In some cases, we can extend the power of sheer thought to communicate at a distance. Experiments are finding ways that allow individuals to direct their thoughts into electrical signals that communicate silently with computers, robots, and other people.
Graphical interfaces, digital games, and augmented reality are converging to immerse us in artificial environments that simulate sensory experiences. Other trends show that the Web is evolving into an intelligent system that understands spoken inquiries, gathers relevant information, and forms meaningful answers.
Today’s dumb interfaces will soon give way to touch, voice, avatars, language translation, augmented reality, and thought. An earlier TechCast study dubbed this virtual lifestyle “TeleLiving.”
About the Authors
Paul Saffo is a forecaster with more than two decades of experience exploring the dynamics of large-scale, long-term change. He is managing director of foresight at Discern Analytics, www.discern.com, and a member of the World Future Society’s Global Advisory Council.
Harish Shah is an entrepreneur, consultant, coach, trainer, futurist, and sole proprietor at Stratserv Consultancy, Singapore. E-mail harish_shah@stratservconsultancy .com.
E. Scott Denison is a design lecturer at Ohio State University. His article “When Designers Ask, ‘What If?’” was published in World Future Review’s Summer 2012 conference edition. E-mail scott@scottdenison .com.
Alexandre Pupo is an information technology professional and editor for the TechCast Project.
William E. Halal is professor emeritus of management, technology, and innovation at George Washington University, and president of TechCast LLC, a virtual think tank tracking the technology revolution. Visit www.techcast.org.
Rob Bencini, MBA, is a Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) and economic futurist from North Carolina. He provides trend impact analysis for businesses and local governments. Web site www.robbencini.com; Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Breaux is a futures studies graduate student in the Foresight Master’s Program, University of Houston, College of Technology. He received the APF 2013 Student Recognition Award, Individual Graduate Student, for his paper, “Weather-Related Disaster Recovery.” He is an engineer by training and works with a major infrastructure engineering firm in Texas. E-mail email@example.com.
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