In this article (the first in our ‘future-gazing’ series) we take a look at where we think society might be 30 years from now; based on evolving technology, an understanding of when those technologies will mature, and what the public (and experts) are thinking… Just consider:
59% of automotive executives agree that half of today’s car owners will not want to own a car by 2025*
82% of consumers agree that by 2025 a single sign-on platform will be an absolute purchasing criterion*.
For most people, it is not the technology driving this change which is of interest, it is the applications and services which it unlocks for all global consumers. And it’s from this perspective – the consumers – that we try to predict the shape of things to come…
Where are we today? What is driving this thirst for change? It is all about communications. A century ago, few people travelled outside their country; two centuries ago people rarely left their immediate community; three centuries ago, people mainly stayed where they were born and generally had little concept of the world.
Today communication is effectively universal: we can instantly communicate with anyone anywhere in the world. We can talk to them while walking down the street; we can send data, pictures, and videos. All of this has happened within the last century and it has changed the way we live and interact. We no longer write letters or make long journeys to hold important talks – instead we text, email, and Skype.
The starting point
Key to all of this is the internet – the ability to communicate digitally with anyone, anywhere. But this is just the start: if we now extend the internet to add in things as well as people, we get the much-hyped Internet-of-Things (‘IoT’) where any device can talk to any other device or person.
There are many examples of how this capability can change our lives and some lifestyle effects are discussed below, but in reality, the phrase that resonates most is: “if you can think of it, you can do it”. (Many people wrongly attribute this quote to Walt Disney.)
We will also all have ‘personal communicators’, which will be the main interface between humans and digital services. These will be tailored to meet the specific needs of their owners, avoiding the need to have to learn how to use different device interfaces and in some cases, not being able to use the device at all.
These personal communicators will link to a personal (or ‘citizen’) account stored in the cloud which will hold basic information about you provided at your discretion, including the services you wish to make use of, together with what specific pieces of information about you that you wish different services to be able to access, and a data interchange area to store temporary data such as your next journey plan. Consider how this may operate; you move house, all you do is update your personal account – one entry and all services will know you have moved.
It is not just a matter of your fridge communicating with your favourite supermarket to order replacements for food used – as often quoted in the press, it is about lifestyle.
Yes, increased automation will come, covering mundane work such as food re-ordering, vacuuming, detecting faults around the home and prioritising them (e.g. lightbulb failure vs. security lock failure), curtains closing as it gets to dusk, and support for the infirm (such as doors opening automatically as you move around the house). However, these aids simply remove the need to personally carry out these tasks.
From a lifestyle perspective we must consider devices and systems informing and guiding us in a way that improves and enhances one’s lifestyle. Simple examples could be:
- accurate localised weather predictions for a week or two forward suggesting when would be good to go for a round of golf or have a barbecue based on knowledge of your lifestyle preferences and activities
- warnings about local vandalism, break-ins, road closures based on knowledge of your diary, where you are going and when
- suggestions concerning entertainment in the home including TV programmes, radio and films again based on knowledge of the whole family’s preferences.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Smart/digital assistants such as Siri and Cortana are already starting to get to this level.
Is this Big Brother or Terminator territory? Maybe. Some may feel intimidated by how far technology can go and be afraid that it will take over; others may just accept it and take advantage of the benefits it brings. None of the world’s leading technologists believe the ‘technological singularity’ (when artificial super-intelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilisation) is going to occur in the next 30 years. So for the next few decades runaway technological growth will at least be fathomable (to the extent it is now!).
Note also that that achieving the above examples (a smartphone linked to a user profile in the cloud) can and will be delivered using existing technology. Ancillary issues – copyright, charging for data, privacy regulations, online authentication, and the verified validity of data – still need to be addressed.
There will be a transformation in the way we work. We already have working anytime, anywhere, hot-desking, and video conferencing – although the usage of these technologies has not yet hit its zenith.
In an ideal world, any company could operate globally with staff located anywhere, without a major bricks-and-mortar set of offices, and all central services available through the cloud.
However, competition among companies and poor data security guarantees are holding many back. Acceptance of data sharing of publically available data will go some way to solving the problem, whilst the IoT will enable full linkage and remote control of application-specific products (such as petrol pumps).
Again, the biggest problem is not technology – the real problem is commercial coupled with a desire to continue with tried and trusted ways of working. Look at the way a start-up venture operates and leverages technology compared to an established ‘top 500’ corporate – miles apart!
CEO’s are getting younger and are more knowledgeable about technology and how it can help their own business sectors; so, the future may come faster than we think. On the other hand, people are living longer, and their reticence to change will only increase as the rate of change increases (exponentially).
Travel services will be significantly changed, improving people’s lifestyle experience while also optimising efficiency by removing wasted time.
In the case of passenger transport services, door-to-door, demand responsive travel will be the new norm. This will involve ‘joined-up’ public and private services, no more fixed schedules and routing, smaller endpoint vehicles (for pick‑up and drop off), and most exciting of all, autonomous (or driverless) vehicles to improve safety and ensure that smaller vehicles can be operated economically.
Public transport and road haulage will be at the forefront in the use of new technology as soon as it becomes commercially and legislatively available. Demonstrations and limited pilots around the world over the past five years show that the technology (both hardware and software) are closer than most people would imagine.
Today we know about and can see the technology working in practice as it develops, however, not all the requirements are yet in place, so it will still be a few years before we see large-scale fully-autonomous vehicle uptake. Transitional issues, such as non-automated poorly-operating manual-vehicles (i.e. human drivers) operating on the roads along-side autonomous vehicles, is acknowledged as one of the major issues in autonomous deployment.
Perhaps of more concern is the possibility of hackers interfering with autonomous vehicle systems causing them to crash. Clearly, there are associated legal issues concerning insurance and liability in the event of accidents/injury.
The city in 30 years may look the same but could be operating in an entirely different manner; as an ‘integrated city’.
Data sharing and the IoT will provide the basis for identifying device faults occurring, setting traffic lights to green for emergency vehicles; guiding traffic to avoid further congestion via in-car sat-nav; and having all government departments able to be informed, respond quickly and work together in the event of a major emergency.
The whole point being the ability to know what is going on from a single control centre and being able to deploy and co-ordinate all relevant services as needed.
The effect will be a well-run city at an economic cost with citizen requirements being fully and rapidly served: for example, the shortening of planning decision times as a result of the ready availability of all reference information required.
The city will become a more desirable, efficient, effective, and safe place to live, work and play.
What will be the effect on society?
Of course we do not know but we can look to the past for clues. The industrial revolution moved people from being spread thinly on the land to being concentrated in towns and cities; education requirements changed and new technology (at the time) massively affected people’s lives.
The railway, for the first time, allowed the general public to move out of their local area and travel widely. More recently, the invention of the transistor and the growth of the electronics industry, barely 75 years old, has fundamentally and radically changed the way we live and, in fact, has changed the very fabric of society.
What does it all mean…
Before each of these technological revolutions, could we have predicted their coming in advance? The general consensus is no.
So can we predict forward 100 years today, almost certainly not; however, 30 years looks to be within the bounds of our perception based on our existing knowledge of emerging technology and the speed of change.
On the other hand, the pace of change is accelerating so quickly – commonly called exponential growth – that even 30 years may be too far ahead to consider. And yet governments and businesses worldwide have no choice but to try and predict it and plan accordingly.
This long-term strategic technology thinking is where ALCO Consulting excels – providing a technology and vendor agnostic roadmap against both an organisations objectives and the realistic prospects of all the ‘shiny new technology’ the future will bring.
* KPMG’s Global Automotive Executive Survey 2017