by futurist Richard Worzel, C.F.A.
Southwest Airlines’ in-flight magazine recently contacted me with an interesting question: What things, of the everyday items we use today, are most likely to disappear? They wanted to ask me “about a few technologies or tools that are popular today, and are on their way out.” It sounded like a different, but useful, way to think about the future, which I always appreciate, so I took a swing at a small number of things that I think are likely to disappear. Here’s what I told them:
I’m going to start with the simple and obvious things, and then move toward the more complex and speculative possibilities.
First, CD and DVD (and Blu-ray) disks are going to disappear. If you want to buy them in physical form, you’ll buy a locked thumb drive or memory stick, but most people will just download movies or music to whatever computer is best.
Next, checks (or cheques, depending on where you are) and checkbooks will be disappearing as banks go almost exclusively electronic. Indeed, it may be possible to use checks, but if so, you will probably have to have a premium account, or pay a special fee to have one issued and handled.
Cables between home audio and video devices will give way to local WiFi plugs or factory-installed cards that connect them all wirelessly, intelligently, and without user intervention. The devices will handshake with each other on their own, and work seamlessly (hard as that is to believe) with only power cables being necessary for each device.
Landline phones are an obvious one (although some may still insist on having them, and will pay extra for service), but cellphones and hand-held electronics generally may also disappear. Indeed, all portable devices may consolidate into one computer companion, which will be a descendent of today’s smartphone. Whatever form it takes (and that will depend on whether we can finally get rid of the antiquated mouse/keynote/desktop interface), it will be our seemingly intelligent companion that handles all of the things we currently use portable electronics to do, including GPS, blood glucose monitor, heartbeat monitor, workout buddy, and more. Indeed, it may be that, at least with younger people, smartphone/computer companions disappear as well, as they will be embedded in our bodies. The computer itself may be located under an arm, and be powered by our body heat, or tap into the body’s own power source: glucose in our blood. The computer monitor would be replaced with a pair of glasses, or, better yet, contact lenses that also allow for Augmented Reality, as well as all of the functions currently filled by any electronic screen. Input will be either through gestures made within our line of sight, or by voice through a microphone embedded in our jaws that allow us to speak and hear by bone conduction.
Likewise, having a smart computer companion, with a computer at its center that is more powerful than the most powerful supercomputers of today, will eliminate the need for credit and debit cards. You’ll walk into a store, select a purchase, confirm it, either verbally or biometrically, and your computer will transfer funds either from your debit or credit account directly to the store’s bank account. Likewise, you will be able to just walk up to an ATM, have it spit out cash, and then just walk away because your computer will have communicated with your bank’s computer, which will instruct the ATM to dispense cash once you’ve arrived at the ATM, and once the bank’s computer has examined your biometrics to make sure that you’re you.
If our social institutions can move fast enough (which is the sticking point with a lot of technologies), we may be able to dispense with airport security line-ups. Computers will examine and identify every person entering an airport. Those it cannot identify, or that have a questionable background, will be pulled over for search or questioning. And those people who act out of character, seem unusually nervous, agitated, or who are lying (as determined by watching security cameras), will likewise be singled out for more intensive consideration. (And yes, the potential for invasion of privacy of these technologies worries me as much as it does you.)
And if we can get regulatory approvals to move promptly into new areas, then it may be possible to do without weight loss diets, insulin, and all the things necessary to manage diet-related issues, such as diabetes or Crohn’s disease, because we will (a) be able to tailor the nutrients contained in foods so they don’t harm or alarm our bodies, and (b) we may be able to genetically re-program our bodies so that they aren’t affected by sugar imbalances, nut allergies, gluten intolerances, or similar issues. I suspect this will still be in the laboratory within the next 10 years, not in everyday life – but it’s coming.