Originally published in MediaPost, September 7, 2010
Superconsumers will have hit their prime by 2020; indeed, they'll control the bulk of purchasing power in this country. What kind of world will they live in?
Predictions about the future are admittedly difficult and usually incorrect. But in the spirit of Bill Gates' 1995 blockbuster The Road Ahead, where he famously predicted that by 2005 people would carry around a Wallet PC that would be used to pay for things with digital money, I present: 15 predictions for the digital world, circa 2020.
By Wallet PC, I mean smartphone, and by 2020 smartphones will have displaced credit cards and cash as one of the primary ways to conduct transactions. Just wave your phone against a payment pad and the transaction is done. Throw in similar technology for use on locks and as a driver's license, and the most forward-thinking superconsumers will have only a smartphone in their pockets -- no more wallets and keychains.
By 2020, the Internet will be so ubiquitous and universal that children won't even know what it is. With high-speed Internet access everywhere -- in the car, on the street, in stores -- it'll be so ubiquitous that you won't even think about whether you are online or if you're in a location where you can get Internet access. Speed won't be an issue, and the price is free.
Every device will have an IP address and every system a Web-facing API. The result: Everything is connected to the Internet, everything can talk to each other, and people can immediately control anything they want. Need to lock all the house doors and make sure the oven was turned off? Done. Refrigerator out of milk? Ordered. Need to see the status of a manufacturing job for work? Checked. Can't find that sweater? No problem - even smaller, mundane objects have RFID embedded.
Thanks to projections integrated into every smartphone, mobile devices become the primary computer for most individuals. You'll use the mobile device in your hand just like today's iPhone, and when it's time for a larger screen, just project what you see against a wall or tabletop. Some people prefer retina-display screens over projections, so for that reason tablets and flat-panel displays that sit on a desk or hang on a wall are still widely used. Projectors are integrated into many other devices, making computer-generated moving images ubiquitous in internal and external environments. 3-D is still a gimmick; people just don't like wearing 3-D glasses when sitting at home watching video.
Thanks to speech recognition finally being ready for primetime, voice becomes the principal way people interact with computers. Typing is still used for long-form inputting -- for example, writing an article -- but for everyday tasks, talking is the norm. Going to Web sites, ordering things online, and viewing documents are all done with voice - a particularly good thing given the dominant use of mobile devices.
For those who need to type, the mechanical keyboard will have been replaced with a variety of technologies that allow typing in just as compelling a way as a physical keyboard, but without the need for carrying around such a bulky object. Computer screens will evolve to allow touch sensitivity, giving the user the same tactile feel as a traditional keyboard, but you are typing on a computer screen. Thanks to integrated projectors in phones, large keyboards can also be projected on any flat surface, which is then used for typing (the phone's built-in camera can detect which "keys" are pressed). Does this mean the end of laptops? Laptops and tablets become one and the same, with some tablets equipped with pull-out stands that allow you to use a tablet just like today's laptops.
Web browsing will have been replaced by a collection of intelligent agents who complete tasks on behalf of users and remember personal preferences. Rather than searching for a restaurant on Google and then navigating Open Table to place a reservation, users just tell their computer, by voice, that they want a 5 p.m. reservation at a local French restaurant. Intelligent agents do the rest. Google will have similarly evolved from a place to find Web sites that contain information and services to something that returns the specific information you're looking for and executes the service you're looking to complete. Web sites will still exist and people will still visit them - but outside of content experiences, Web sites are just a different set of intelligent agents to use.
You'll be able to throw away your computer, because they would've gotten so inexpensive that disposable computers and screens are everywhere. Newsstands sell dirt-cheap ereaders that are preloaded with content you want to read on the train. Every vacation gift shop has throwaway screens that are perfect for shooting HD video and reading on the beach if you left your tablet at home.
Thanks to bandwidth, storage and processing power as all effectivly infinite and free, local storage will have become a thing of the past. Everything is stored in the cloud -- documents, photos, videos, applications. Users can access their data and content from anywhere and never worry about backing things up again; corporate data centers are rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
TV will have evolved to become another Internet-enabled screen, this time one that happens to be really big and bolted to your wall. ABC, MTV and ESPN still exist -- but they're just a few of the many video playlists people can enjoy. Since all rights issues associated with video would have finally been sorted out, individuals create and publish their own video playlists, and Pandora-like video services create video streams tailored to the user's interests. This will all be paid for by the $75 per month consumers shell out for premium content (of course, you may have to adjust for runaway inflation, so more like $750) -- 2020's version of a cable television bill.
Thanks to the speed of video rendering and the amazing amount of data collected about individuals by the world's marketers, all advertising will become personal and uniquely relevant to the user. Ads including the user's name, local environment and references to personal preferences are the norm. And guess what? Consumers won't mind it, because the products featured are always something they're interested in or looking for already.
Language translation technology will have gotten so good that it'd be even more of a struggle to convince students to learn a foreign language. Why bother when voice-enabled audio translation services give everyone his own personal translator, which works surprising well even for live conversations?
With universal connectivity and the whole world finally online, content will be far more interesting with everyone around the world creating it. The result: Viral videos from Chile and podcasts from Kenya can become popular in London and Mumbai. Universal translation will further tear down the barriers to content sharing. The long decline of Hollywood and American media continues.
Thanks to intelligent agents and data becoming even more connected, the few barriers to privacy that now exist online will go away. Schools will teach children about the importance of monitoring what they publish and what they do in public places because of the potential consequences of living in a transparent world. But culturally, it doesn't matter: People - especially younger generations -- would have become used to living in a world where everyone knows everything about everyone. But, a surprising number of superconsumers embrace the "off-the-grid" counter-movement, a conscientious effort to live a life that cannot be monitored digitally.
Founded in 2014 by a pair of MIT seniors, Scribber will become the fastest service in history to reach 1 billion users and $100 million in revenue. It'll be amazing to think people lived without Scribber, it's such an everyday part of people's lives. On the business front, it's the most eagerly-awaited IPO of 2021.