So, 2014 is approaching (in 3 years). This is a significant year because Robert J. Sawyer predicted some things. I quoted the article in 2004 but didn’t say much about it. I am, after all, not RJS. I’m just me. And I’m no prophet nor am I the son of a prophet.
I think even Mr Sawyer made his list to give some people some ideas, not really to predict the future.
Nevertheless, let’s do a quite status update and see where we are.
Our mornings will still begin with waking up. But forget the old-fashioned alarm-clock buzzer. Tomorrow’s bedside clock will be a sophisticated brainwave monitor. It’ll keep track of your sleep cycle, gently bringing up the room lights at precisely the right time so that you’ll feel rested, not cardiac arrested, as you awake.
Nope. I mean, we can do this stuff, but we haven’t arrived at a time or place where it’s cheap enough to be in everyone’s home. Most of us still have a morning wake-up experience that even prehistoric man would have baulked at. Being brutally woken from a cocoon of slumber by what I can only describe as the sound of a million souls screaming from the bowls of hell? Not particularly pleasant. Wake me up when this one comes true.
Today, your coffee can be brewed while you sleep; tomorrow’s robokitchen will have an entire hot (but low carb!) breakfast waiting for you. Also waiting will be an electronic-ink newspaper, with stories geared to your particular interests culled from sources worldwide (with foreign-language news automatically translated into English).
My breakfasts are indeed low-carb, but I have to make them myself. Despite all the wonderful gadgets I have accrued to myself, the kitchen is still about human labour. I mean, I can make the coffee maker make me coffee in the morning, but I have to grind those beans and load that machine myself.
I have a Kindle, so I suppose I can have news delivered (if I choose which news), and if I use Google Reader’s “Explore” feature, I can kind of get some news geared to my interests, but it’s not particularly good at understanding what I want to see. It’s fairly good at understanding what my friends and I have already seen, but that’s about it.
The difference between RJS’s future kitchen & media centre is where the labour component is. Guess what? I still do it all myself. I have to cook my own food and choose my own reading.
Of course, you aren’t the only one who has to get going in the morning. Your spouse and kids will be taken care of, too — with smart toilets analyzing their urine and sensor-rich toothbrushes checking their saliva to make sure everything is ticketyboo; most health problems will be caught early and be trivial to correct.
This toilet exists, and I think in the next 10 years we’ll see this happen (everyone can get back to me then, thankyouverymuch). But it’s pretty expensive right now. Not to mention that there’s a lot of disagreement among medical professionals about what constitutes a healthy person. Even if we did get the smart toilet… who programs it to help instead of hurt?
The toothbrush does not exist. Sadly. Oral care is still pretty barbaric.
Most health problems still involve seeing a doctor and having the doctor mis-diagnose you, prescribe something expensive, and wait for the problem to clear up on its own.
Your spouse might telecommute — perhaps half of all white-collar workers will do so in 2014 — but you might still have to physically go to your office. Along the way you’ll take your kids to school.
Almost no-one telecommutes. This is a human problem, not a technological one. Most bosses aren’t as concerned that you’re getting your work done as they’re concerned about continuing their own personal power-trip. No to mention that computers are still pretty dumb, and unable to properly quantify whether someone is actually doing their work, meaning your boss will have to figure that out by himself. Which means him doing more work. Which means (in net) that you don’t get to crunch the numbers in your jammies. Sorry.
No point quizzing them on facts as you travel along, though. In a world in which any information can be easily accessed anywhere, mere memorization is no longer part of the curriculum. But analysis of information — knowing how to think — ah, that’s the ticket! Naturally, your electric car will drive itself, communicating with millions of chips that have been steamrollered into the asphalt covering our roadways. No more traffic accidents; no more gridlock.
We’re getting there. Smartphones mean we don’t have to memorize much of anything, which I think might be why I’m always forgetting all the nouns I once knew. But some people, especially educators, seem to think that knowing things is useful. So we still do it until we don’t have to any more.
We’re still not teaching anyone how to think. Education is still about facts and not how to use facts. Kids are still generally a bunch of bumbling idiots, high on facts, and low on logic.
My car is still controlled by my hands and feet. Self-driving cars are coming, but they are a technological and a human problem. The technology is in its infancy. It’s a tough nut to solve. It’s a hard design problem. And once you’ve solved that problem, you have have to deal with people who are willing to accept that people kill people all the time, but can’t wrap their heads around a computer killing people. Which inevitable will happen somewhere, sometime.
So we still have lots of accidents (though less and less), and we still have lots of gridlock (more and more).
Once you’ve dropped the kids off — yes, learning can be done online at home, but socialization still happens best in a real school and at a real playground — you will use the rest of your commute time productively, catching up on full-motion-video e-mail and reading reports (or having them read to you by totally realistic voice synthesizers). You’ll arrive at your office relaxed.
Learning online? Done. Socialisation in real life? More and more online.
And because my commute is still about me driving places, I don’t get to do anything interesting while I drive. At least, not legally.
My Kindle reads to me, but it still sounds like a robot drunk on aluminium.
I arrive at my office aggravated.
Throughout the day, your wristband — a combination cellphone, PDA, camera, and e-book display, all controlled by spoken commands — will be your lifeline.
Close! My smartphone does this. And it can definitely be controlled by my voice. Still, I don’t want to control it with my voice. No-one needs to hear me emailing my wife about what we might be having for dinner, or what we might be having after dinner (iykwim).
In fact, typing on smartphones blows chunks. Someone, fix this.
You’ll have just one phone number, good worldwide with no long-distance or roaming charges, and the wristband will screen calls for you, with a computer-generated avatar kicking in to deal with most routine matters.
Google Voice and Skype kind of do this, but neither are pervasive yet.
Still, even 10 years from now, much business will require face-time. No problem. One major wall of your office in, say, Toronto, will be a vast flatscreen, showing you your company’s Vancouver office. You’ll be able to walk up to the wall and chat with whomever is depicted as casually as if you were both sharing the same water cooler.
Flatscreens are still too expensive for this. And I don’t know anyone who wants to be that connected to anyone else. It’s a bit too much. We like our off buttons, you know?
Your cubicle will have a smart wall of its own, giving every worker the appearance of having a window; yours might show real-time footage of Lake Louise, assuming that global warming hasn’t melted the adjacent glaciers and flooded everything. And no matter which office chair you sit on, it will adjust automatically to your body’s proportions.
Cubicles are still cubicles. The human spirit is still your boss’s steppingstone to being your bosses boss. Seriously, who would spend the amount of money it would take to do this in order to get a marginal increase in productivity? All this stuff is out of the reach of most people and corporations.
And guess what? Global warming hasn’t done much.
Also, our chairs are still made out of plastic. They don’t do much more than go up and down.
Of course, we’ll all live in an enhanced reality. Today’s bulky virtual-reality goggles will have been replaced by contact lenses that overlay textual information on your vision; the lens will be in constant communication with the computing powerhouse in your wristband. You’ll never be in the embarrassing situation of not remembering the name of an acquaintance you happen to run into; facial-recognition technology will identify the person, and provide you with all pertinent details instantaneously.
Virtual reality has always been, and will always be, totally ridiculous. Until they can shrink it down so you don’t look so much like an imperial storm trooper, it’s never going to catch on. Also, immersive, generative worlds aren’t particularly feasible just yet.
I can never remember people’s names, and my phone sucks at this because it’s in my pocket.
I’m curious what interface Mr Sawyer thought we would use for all this? Because as far as I can tell, we’d all have to be wearing a heads-up-display of some kind, and no-one has come close to inventing one that doesn’t get in the way.
You’ll want to make some time in your day for exercise — and the microprocessors in your running shoes will keep track of your pace, telling you when to slow down or speed up for maximum effect. Meanwhile, nanotechnological probes will be working their way through your bloodstream, clearing plaque out of your arteries, and getting rid of dangerous chemicals.
Kind of. You have to hook up to your phone, but shoes can do this now. Not most shoes, but some.
Nanotech is till in its infancy. There’s no way they’re going to be letting the grey goo into your blood in two years.
And naturally, your wristband will be recording everything you see and do, with software indexing it all as you go along.
And it could all be uploaded to a central computer to track everyone all the time and then crime would disappear! Except… what if you were in a cave deep below the earth and something happened where you were transported to an alternate universe and in your absence you were accused of your partner’s murder? No, this whole life-recorder thing won’t work at all.
This one’s a good 20 – 30 years away.
You won’t have to worry about losing your car keys in the future — your biometrics will identify you whenever necessary — but you might forget where you’ve put your sunglasses and hat (sadly, both of which you’ll probably always need when venturing outdoors). No problem: just ask your wristband, and it’ll tell you where they are.
I don’t lose my keys because I put them in the same place. And global warming hasn’t done very much. Sadly, my smartphone doesn’t know where anything is. Yet. Google is working on this, I’m sure.
Recording your entire life will take a lot of storage, but the cost of data storage will be essentially zero by 2014, so that’s no problem. The images of your life will be beamed through the air to an archive that only you can access; quantum cryptography — unbreakable even in principle — will have made such transmissions totally secure.
The storage thing is just about right.
Everything else, though, not so much. I wish. That would be fantastic.
No transmission is ever totally secure.
On the way home, you’ll stop to pick up a few things at the grocery store. No standing in line, though, to check out: you’ll just waltz out the front door, as the Radio Frequency ID chips in the products you’ve bought allow their costs to be tallied and your account automatically debited.
They do have self-serve checkouts now. I guess that’s something. But I still have to do some scanning and whatnot. RFID is not everywhere. I mean, they barely just got it in credit cards.
You might make dinner yourself, if you enjoy cooking. But if not, your automated kitchen will again take care of everything, including doing the dishes. And you’ll have a humanoid robot, too — the descendant of today’s dancing Honda Asimo — that will take care of all the other housework.
I wonder what Mr Sawyer thinks the time to market is for making a successful mass-market product from a quirky one-off idea like the Asimo? Sorry if I sound a bit pissed off, but I’m grumpy from all the cooking.
After dinner, you’ll have your pick of any TV show or movie ever made, available instantly on your wall-screen TV.
This, at least, I can do. Thankfully, when it comes to entertainment, we do not screw around.
(Micropayments will work flawlessly: you’ll be able to access any premium information off the expanded, full-motion-video Web, with the creator compensated automatically.)
Micro-payments are still silly. They will always be silly.
Meanwhile, your kids will be off in their rooms, enjoying fully immersive virtual reality experiences — who’d have thought homework could be such fun? Eventually, though, it’ll be time for them to get ready for bed. Smart washcloths will make sure they clean everywhere, including behind their ears.
Virtual reality is ridiculous. Homework is difficult. Washcloths are made in China from crude oil.
And, a little later, you’ll turn in for the night, as well. But perhaps just before you fall asleep, a thought will occur to you — something you just have to remember to do the next day. Except you don’t have to remember it at all; all you have to do is mention it to your wristband — yes, you’ll go to bed with it on. And then you’ll fall asleep, totally relaxed, confident that your technology will remind you of this, and everything else that’s important, come the bright and wonderful morrow.
Sure, except that I have to type it with my thumbs into my smartphone. And that makes me wake up.
Technology still mostly sucks at doing things that don’t involve showing me ads, telling me what my friends are doing, and delivering entertainment.
So, have I got it right? Only time will tell. But, as I said at the outset, if I’m wrong, feel free to look me up in 2014 and let me know. Of course, if you do, I’ll bend your ear then about what life will be like in 2024…
So in closing, unless we do some major product development in the next two years, 2014 is going to resemble 2004, 1994, 1984, 1974, and 1964 a lot more than us futurists would like to think.
And unless all the geniuses out there pull their collective heads out of their collective adwords, 2024 is probably going to look a lot like today, too.