It’s almost 2014. We are finishing our holiday shopping, planning New Year’s events and getting ready to feast on all the good food of the season. I’m no Isaac Asimov–his predictions for 2014 were remarkably accurate and his writing was incredible–but I’ve got a few predictions of my own for 2014 and beyond. Some trends to watch, some technology to follow with interest. In no particular order, here they are:
Geek Ethicist’s 2014 Predictions & Trends
We love our technology. We love it so much we can’t stop touching it, looking at it, thinking about it, buying accessories for it…. We are inseparable from our technology: our technology is us. Articles—and people!—talk about “unplugging” because we are constantly plugged in. Unplugging is now synonymous with that rare, uncomfortable digital vacation. We can hardly stand to part with our devices. It’s a lonely world when you aren’t connected….
If we are so connected to our devices, especially our phones, it only logically follows that soon we will wear our devices. We already have wristbands and watches that monitor our bodies digitially, returning data about our movements, body mass and the intensity of our workouts. Google Glass, that coveted wearable computer, promises to revolutionize the way we interact with our computers and the world. And Google isn’t the only company creating tech-infused glasses. My prediction is that technology will soon be woven into everything: our carpet, our clothing, our accessories…and that this pairing will be so smooth and natural we will cease to notice when a thing is digitally enlivened and when it is not. We will begin to assume that everything has a computer in it—or we will think that everything should have a computer in it.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
Oh, the Internet of Things! IoT, why have you not exploded to great fanfare the world over? Once again, I am not the only one who declares that the New Year will be the Year of the Internet of Things. Quietly, the IoT is taking over. We now have smart home security systems, smart fire detectors, smart lights…and some even have smart homes. It is only a matter of time before the world around us is the world of the Internet of Things. Wearable technology is only one aspect of the Internet of Things: our children’s toys will talk to them, relaying messages from us; our cars can park themselves; our appliances can turn themselves on and off. The Internet of Things has arrived, but the world has failed to notice. I predict that 2014 will be the year that the world finally opens its eyes to the Internet of Things, is awed and clamors for more.
Robots, FOR REAL!
If you haven’t seen Robot and Frank, it’s a thought-provoking movie about robot ethics (the robot helps Frank carry out burglaries!) and robot usefulness in the not-so-distant future. Cutting edge scientists talk of robots with imagination, robots that can heal themselves (below), robots who will sense our emotions and respond in helpful ways. That’s an incredible future for robotic kind and 2014 will see its inception. Some people are afraid robots will take our jobs: I’m afraid robots will become indispensable to us in more scary ways. We will fall in love with them! The day is coming when people will connect with robots on emotional and relational levels that we could not dream of: Lars will find his Real Girl and she will be a robot, not a blow up doll. And no one will be able to come between that relationship. I’ve been waiting my whole life for a robot wife: 2014 might just be the year that I find her (or print her myself!).
Researchers have already created self-healing 3D printed shoes, electrodes and phones: how long will it be before we 3D print our own self-healing robots? Not long, I’m guessing. Once we design the perfect, sentient robot who can sense our emotions and meet our needs, 4D printing will allow these robots to print new parts for themselves. Or, like self-healing shoes, the materials used to create these robots will heal overnight: a new, perfect robot emerging every morning! The only problem is that our robot friends may outlive us…and we may bequeath our earthly goods to our robot companions instead of our children. But those are topics for robot ethics, a field that will certainly explode once the first self-healing robot emerges from its printer.
Automatic & 3D Photography
Ah, yes. Technology has made it possible for us to record almost every moment of our daily lives. We take selfies like narcissistic fools. We post pictures of our latest exploits on Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook. The new riddle is: If a tree falls in the forest and no one records it and posts it online…does anyone care? Did it really happen? It’s not a riddle though because we know the answer: No. No one cares and it might as well not have happened. In order to feel like we are living, in order to validate our existence we MUST record the moments of our life and put them online for others to view and comment on. But sometimes pulling out the camera or phone is inconvenient: in fact, we’ve merged phones with cameras to make it more convenient, to make sure we always have our cameras with us. But even that isn’t enough: we need automatic recording (selfie drones?). We need cameras that sense the special moment and take that perfect picture for us.
Never fear! Big Business knows us and has anticipated this need! There are prototype cameras that use your brainwaves to snap photos: no fingers or bulky camera necessary. It’s an easy prediction to say 2014 will bring you automatic photography so you’ll never have to miss a moment…and you won’t have to break the moment to capture it.
But automatic photography is not enough! We have 3D printing, 3D movies and live in a 3D world: where is 3D photography for the average man, woman and child? It is coming. We see glimpses of it already and I predict we will see the advent of 3D cameras for the average consumer in 2014. Bring that selfie to life in 3D!
We want things and we want them five minutes ago. McDonald’s has acclimated us to instant service. The problem with the Internet is the not-so-insant delivery. But with Amazon’s drones and Google’s robots duking it out for fastest automatic delivery, it’s only a matter of time before your Internet orders arrive at your door as fast as your Big Mac arrives at your car window. Even Ebay has an option to deliver locally for $5: no one wants to be left behind in the race to our front door.
3D Printed Driverless Cars
Driverless cars are so 2013. But 3D Printed Driverless Cars? THAT sounds like 2014! Google started the driverless car mania, and now Ford, Toyota and Nissan have created their own versions. Driverless cars are on the road in Milton Keynes, England and will be driving down a road near you very soon. But we’ve all heard that: driverless cars are old news. 3D printed cars are all the rage: Porsche has made people salivate with downloadable plans for a 3D printed model of its Cayman sports car. Not the real thing, but a first step. Urbee 2 promises to be the first 3D printed car to drive across the country.
So we’ve got driverless cars and now we have 3D printed cars: the intersection of the two is bound to happen and I’m betting it happens soon. 2014 soon. Who wouldn’t want to print their own car and then have it drive home while they drink a cocktail? Wherever the line for that queues, I’ll be there.
Remote Diagnosis – Medical and Psychological
As technology brings the world into our living room with online shopping, streaming media and instant delivery, why do we still need to leave our house to go to the doctor or see our therapist? Why can’t we do that in the comfort of our own home, too? 2014 will usher in the era of remote diagnosis and remote treatment sessions, both medically and psychologically. Many therapists have extended their practice via Skype and the Internet is full of ads for online therapy. Doctors have been reluctant to enter the digital age, but with digitized patients’ records and the convenience of online diagnostic sessions, demand and ease will soon outweigh a doctor’s hesitancy. People go where the money is and the money is migrating online. New mood sensing apps are able to tell your shrink how you feel and may be able to forge new pathways for psychotherapy. Marketing can meet us at our point of need: it only makes sense that our therapist and doctor should too.
I’ve talked about this before, and I have to say this is my pet favorite. I have been waiting and waiting for robotexting. This one may be more wishful thinking than possible prediction, but 2014 needs to make robotexting a reality. Some apps are close, but no one has perfected robotexting. With the new sentient computers, someone should be able to create a computer who knows what I want to say to my wife, my children and my friends and then just says it when it needs to be said! Maybe I’ll have to wait until I print my own robot for this to become a reality, but I need it NOW!
Truly Personalized, Embedded Marketing
Algorithms that read your expression are already being used by software and app developers; the results of research based on these algorithms is currently being used by Unilever, Mars and Coca-cola. The point here is to offer “just in time information” that helps people in their everyday lives at the moment that they need it. This is the place where marketing and need can perfectly intersect, but it requires a certain degree of intrusion into each person’s life. Haven’t we already allowed that? We put ourselves out there every day on social media, on our smart phones, in our Google searches. Our computers know us perhaps better than any real person in our lives. And who uses the copious amounts of information we create? Marketing professionals and big business. It only makes sense that, as our devices and software improve, marketing will improve. Soon marketing will be so seamless, we will hardly notice it. Commercials have become ineffective because of their intrusive nature: something we want [a television show or movie] is interrupted by something we don’t want and didn’t ask for [a commercial]. But if we were presented with information about a product at the exact moment in our lives when we needed that product, it would seem less intrusive, right? That’s what advertisers are counting on.
Life in the Cloud
Google and Apple forged the way for mainstream cloud storage. Soon everything will be in the cloud: your credit cards, your music, your books, your TV, your documents. Wait! That’s already happened! While many companies offer a certain amount of cloud storage for free, my prediction is that people will demand more and more storage space in the cloud as they move from main storage in hardware to storing everything in the cloud since it’s accessible from everywhere and easier/faster to access. 150,000 hard drives fail a week: that’s a lot of end-user panic that could be avoided by cloud storage.
Big cloud storage corporations will rival big media corporations. And it’s possible that the big media corporations will be the same corporations fighting for control of the cloud storage marketplace.
Here’s where it all comes together: facial recognition, emotion sensing software, robots, the Internet of Things, cloud computing and constant connectedness. Perceptual computing will create devices that understand us and assist us in our daily lives seamlessly, to the point that we forget they are there. MIT has created the technology to remotely reach out and touch something! Google is creating robots and those ‘bots are getting better and better. Apple has patented face recognition. Neuromarketing has made it’s debut. Apps are in process that will allow your phone to sense your emotions and cheer you up. When all of this is put together, we will have robots that can sense our emotions better than our best friends and phones that will dial up our therapists when we are crying in the car or bathroom. Soon, our computing will be able to perceive everything about us and insert itself into every part of our lives to increase our effectiveness a–dare I say?–happiness. Mark my words: 2014 is going usher in the most advanced, perceptive computing the world has ever seen!
If you’re looking for me in December 2014, I’ll be chilling with my robot wife, watching my driverless car 3D print itself and skyping my therapist. Text me: I won’t even have to lift a finger to reply or to send you a picture of the scene. I. Cannot. Wait.
See you in the New Year! Cheers!
Have a geeky ethical question? Send your ethical dilemmas to the Ethicist at firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily Cantin researched, co-authored and created original artwork for this article.