The Future

At work today, I was sent an email regarding futurists, and views of how technology, politics, and global change may influence major decisions. Since I mostly disagree with the original articles, I figured this would be a good place to make my predictions, for the benefit of all.

Let’s start with the improbable, which the articles do not give note to: Flying cars and jetpacks. These are promises from our forefathers, that by now we should have such devices. This is more attributable to the limitations of their imagination, rather than the practicalities of such devices. NASA has a actually developed the computer navigation and tracking systems for large numbers of personal airborne vehicles. The propulsion via jets or propellers is possible, but highly impractical (considering the inefficiency of fossil fuels from their use). Perhaps the biggest hurdle is the risk management of such endeavors. A small, light vehicle that fits in a driveway or garage would be unsafe; conversely, a rather safe vehicle would be too large for the average property owner. Also, the features to make such a vehicle useful via current propulsion are also bulky. New propulsion and safety technologies would be required to make such a pipe dream a useful reality.

With regard to climate change — While many of the last few years have been uncharacteristically hot, no correlation has come my way that directly shows human involvement in such change. Also, some climate records used by environmentalists have been proven to be incorrect. In fact, livestock have been shown to contribute nearly 20% to the greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. This, along with evidence of a “little ice age” throughout many of the preceding centuries, characterizes such climactic fluctuations as a possibly naturally-occurring phenomenon. The plants and animals of Earth have been spewing gases (including Carbon Dioxide!) into the atmosphere for hundreds of millions of years. Did you know, the most all-encompassing ice age on Earth occurred as the result of cyanobacteria photosynthesizing carbon dioxide (of which the earth’s atmosphere was primarily composed) into the oxygen we all appreciate today? This is where I digress — this does not mean that humans can be irresponsible about their waste, and their effect on the planet. Reducing, reusing, renewing, and recycling are positive things, but the direct incentive has not proven great enough for people to follow it. This is because playing with garbage is gross.

An economic incentive program wherein waste disposal, as a cost to a taxpayer, can be relieved when measurable per-household efforts are made to recycle, may cause a change (this is an extrapolation of programs already in use throughout industry). Our fiat money system is traded in exchange for goods and services, including government services through taxation — hence, such tradeoffs in the field of waste management would be legal.

Speaking of our fiat money system(!)… we will NOT revert back to the “gold standard,” no matter how crummy the American dollar becomes. Basing currency on Gold makes no sense — and even basing money on the triggers or measures of inflation does not solve anything. Let’s stop talking about this.

Bread and Butter of my Predictions

The number of consumer electronics that would be fun to have in my pocket(s) is disproportionate to the volume of my pockets (Since ‘nam!). The iPhone, as a combination of numerous devices (even if Apple’s measure of such things is silly), shows that such pocketry is a logical concept for the near future. It is therefore a gross mis-estimation to believe that people will carry dedicated ebook readers or digital-ink newspapers. It is increasingly more likely that consumers will carry a single device that stores their media, interprets it, and communicates with larger external networks of data. The form factor is shrinking for laptops (at least thinner, if not with smaller screens), and the ideal form factor given the iPhone’s browser as a consideration for easy zooming may shrink down to a very pocketable size.

In the near future, expect very holistic devices: Key features that show progress: 1. geotagging photos taken with the device using the device’s GPS 2. Automatic backups of device to central data repository [Note: while it is impossible to touch on everything, it seems conclusive that people are willing to pay for large online private storage spaces and faster-than-communal internet access above actual information. Net Neutrality as a current issue keeps these structures intact.] 3. Open architecture and developer-friendly systems — Proprietary systems for consumer electronics is DEAD. Stop locking us out of our devices!

Of course, a person can only be digital on a tiny device for so long. Home systems are also evolving. 42-to-60-inch screens, coupled with multiple media boxes, seem to be the status quo for current consumers. This WILL change. Screen size and shape appears to be a stagnant part of this equation (though do not discount those display-makers. Your living room window may be your television in the not-to- distant future. Heck, why not ‘nano’-paint a display on your wall?) The box(es) connected to the monitor, though, will be shaped by the same open, combined approach as that of mobile devices. Proprietary gaming consoles hurt consumers and game makers, as well as being sold below costs by box manufacturers. This model is silly, especially as more and more games are internet-based, and the sale of discs and cartridges are to be curtailed. Micropayments and per-play services are possible outcomes of opening systems — but I would not be surprised to find more, smaller game companies, especially homebrew game-makers like in the 1980s. A single system by which video games are created and distributed would make it more feasible for people to learn a single system. Nevertheless, the Media Center PC/DVR/HD-DVD/Blu- Ray/Webcam/Game console/Everything is going to be a reality. It will be more and more commonplace to use a “television” as a desktop pc, and more congruent to use and create for such a system.

The OS is a futile thing to spend billions of dollars developing. The basic function of the operating system hasn’t REALLY changed since the mid-1990s. People buy the latest-and-greatest system because of illusions of compatibility and advanced operation. However, what does a user need, and what things does XP or Tiger or Feisty Fawn lack that Vista or Leopard or Gutsy Gibbon are likely to remedy? If you don’t spend most of your time in a browser, you’re probably in the minority. Web apps are the logically-better mousetrap that will make most desktop applications obsolete. The transitional pieces such as Silverlight, Prism, and AIR will only take us to a browser that operates differently.

Expect browsers to be more cross-compatible and standards-based, with cookies and other locally-stored values transportable from terminal to terminal. This includes mobile browsers. Expect the very systems of navigation and “language of the web” to change to accommodate our turing-test-passing partners.

Will the book survive these changes? Sure, but the romance one may have of writing a book on a typewriter now is foreign even to generations born since the 1970s, so the idea that the book is an ideal format for a trip to a park or other excursion is wishful thinking. After all, people think that the web is killing our culture, despite our culture showing strong support for such changes. Let’s face the economics of change — people want more and more from less and less, and they want it THEIR WAY.

As a librarian, I’m tempted to think that services will be more tailored to mobile devices, whether it be reference or circulation. But as books become less and less important to people in the future, even those roles could be in jeopardy.

If you’ve made it this far, then you probably think I’m crazy and rambling (guilty on both counts!), but I will continue to elucidate these views further into the future, and to include scathing commentary regarding politics and religion in the future.