technology to drive five years of radical change

What will the world look like in 2019? Five experts tell Real Times about five ways technology will change the world over the next five years.

In the technology world, it can be difficult enough to make predictions a year ahead, so charting what the world will look like in five years is more difficult still.

Nevertheless, Real Times gathered together several technology experts from different fields, from academia to startup culture, to gauge their view of what technology trends would be significant by 2019. Here are five predictions that surfaced.

1. things will be grown and printed, not just assembled

Today, we painstakingly assemble even the tiniest mechanisms from the bottom up using conventional techniques. Prepare for this to change, says Peter Cochrane, futurologist, consultant and public speaker. This will happen in two broad fields, he says: biology, and industry.

“We will be programming material as opposed to trying to machine it or shape it,” he says. We will make artificial body parts from our own proteins that our bodies won’t reject.

Similarly, in industry, we’ll find ourselves printing increasingly complex mechanisms at higher resolutions, he says. Today’s 3D printers are relatively rudimentary. In the future, they will evolve to print mechanisms such as tiny gearboxes that won’t need assembling.

2. the Internet of things will meet lots of tiny clouds

The Internet of things is still a nascent technology, but it’s growing. In five years, it will be touching our lives in ways that we couldn’t have imagined, says Iain Klugman, President and CEO of Communitech, a technology cluster in Canada’s vibrant Waterloo tech corridor.

Prepare to see sensors and RFID chips in everything, Klugman says. Items will become aware of their environments, and will be able to communicate with other things using these tiny radio devices, he posits. He envisages scenarios in which your oven will know when your chicken is ready, by talking to a sensor in the cooking tray.

But Cochrane has a twist on this. “The Internet today can’t support 7 billion people, let along 250 billion things,” he says. Instead, he sees the Internet of things as a myriad of tiny clouds, in which devices will talk to each other

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This will be one example of future dynamic network configurations that will  come together and break apart as needed, functioning as autonomous parts of the Internet of things.Components inside a car will do this he says, but cars will also be talking to each other in dynamic clouds. “All the vehicles on the freeway will talk to each other,” he says. “The first vehicle to stop because of an accident will be able to relay that information down the freeway far more easily than via a centralized network.”


3. big data will become bigger

These interconnected devices will generate more data than ever before. David Dodd, CIO at Stevens Institute of Technology, argues that big data will change the way that we understand and make predictions about the world.

“The ability to mine big data for socio-economic and socio-political trends, to make predictions and interventions, will be huge,” he says.

Some of this data will be already available from the organizations we interact with, according to Dodds. But the Internet of things will dramatically evolve the data sources and volumes available to us, says Klugman, to affect us in ways both large and small. “It is going to creep its way into the most germane and everyday aspects of our lives,” he forecasts.

4. we’ll fill the automation gap

Automation is one way in which an increasingly large volume of available data will change our lives in the future, says David Jacobson, former director of emerging technologies at PwC, who now consults privately to industry. The last decade was about mobility, he said. The next one will be about stitching together the relevant information for an individual without them having to think about it.

“The cloud enables you to access enormous databases wherever you are, and pull out relevant information. But you don’t want to do that yourself. You want automation to do it for you,” says Jacobson.

Services such as Google Now are moving us partway there, as it monitors our daily routines and tries to give us information that it thinks we want. In the future, that information will become far more targeted, and personalized. For that to happen, he says, we’ll need “intermediary-ware” that will bind systems and data sources together.

5. interactions will be more natural

Interactions with automated systems will also happen more intuitively, says John Weigelt, national technology officer for Microsoft Canada, who predicts more natural interaction with technology.

“Natural user interfaces, computer vision, semantic computing, machine learning and improved translation will, as Craig Mundie once said, allow computing to act more on our behalf in place of working on our request as they do today,” he argues.

We are already beginning to see this with natural language search agents such as Siri. Now, IBM is putting services in the cloud based on Watson, the supercomputer that won the Jeopardy quiz show using natural language recognition and cognitive computing. By Weigelt’s reckoning, we’re just at the beginning of a steep and powerful curve.

These predictions for a technology-enhanced future are exciting, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Self-driving cars are already on vendor roadmaps for this decade, for example, while wearable technologies are a nascent but promising trend. Perhaps the most exciting thing: the basis for all of these predictions is already here. They just need us to put them together.