Those of us who can remember the 20th Century fondly recall artifacts and phrases from our “youth”. And time marches inexorably on. The cool, whiz-bang, stuff of 2017 is the nostalgia of 2040.
First, as a bit of a reminder, here’s some of today’s technology nostalgia:
- Television that only came in two colors – black, and white (well, and a few shades in between)
- Telephone book, telephone booth, party line (and we are not talking politics here), telephone operator.
- Video tape – along with video “tape” we’ve also remember Beta video recording, VHS video recording and “film” among other terms. Some of us older folks still talk about “filming” or “taping” but really “recording video” or something similar should be the operative term. Related terms like photo film and negative are also gone from the lexicon.
- No, not Google maps, but honest-to-goodness paper maps that you could get for free at the gas station as the station’s hired help filled your car for you (something which still happens in Oregon, incidentally).
- Library research. There was a time when writing a term paper or doing research required a library card and a lot of work finding and reading books and magazines. Now “research” is simply a Bing search and Wikipedia from a computer.
- And quite a few other reminders: floppy disks, Blockbuster, game boy, transistor radio, cassette players and tapes, Polaroid cameras.
- Humans as computers. See the movie Hidden Figures to understand this one.
When the 2040s roll around, presuming civilization still exists, what out-of-date artifacts and phrases will we remember from 2017ish? Here are a few of my ideas:
- “Extra DUI Patrols On Now”. These signs often appear above freeways on readerboards. People will still get drunk in 2040. And they will still climb into cars. And I don’t think there will a magic sobering pill or drug. But all automobiles will be self-driving. In fact it might be illegal to manually drive a vehicle on a public highway. So DUI (and speeding tickets and auto injuries and millions of associated jobs) will be history.
- Automobile ownership. People will still own cars, in the way that they own Brownie Cameras or a Victrola today: as an historic artifact to be polished and preserved and admired. I suspect ride sharing services and public ownership of many vehicles will replace private ownership.
- Dying of cancer. Perhaps I’m being too optimistic here, especially given the Trump Administration’s proposal to eviscerate funding for medical and health research, but it appears that genetically tailored cancer treatments and other similar discoveries will make cancer an historical anomaly by the 2040s. Not too many folks will be nostalgic about it, though.
- Fighter pilots. With the advent of drone warplanes, it is hard to believe that manned fighters or bombers will exist in the 2040s.
- Paper forms. I was amazed, when I became a federal government employee in August of 2016, that almost all my in-processing consisted of a stack of paper forms on which I wrote my name, date of birth and social security number. We’ll still use paper in 2040, but hopefully NOT for in-processing to a new job.
- Certainly many many of today’s jobs will be automated. Routine, repetitive, physical labor jobs are the first to automate, and perhaps 50% of the work in today’s economy will be done by robots in 2040. But few jobs are 100% susceptible to automation, so work is likely to change, rather than completely go away. Indeed, people may end up doing physical work for enjoyment – carpentry and gardening as examples.
- Smart phone. The smart phone and the tablet computer have fundamentally changed the character of life and work over the past 15 years. But the newest versions of these devices are only incrementally better than their predecessors. I suspect that another personal technology innovation is lurking in the next 25 years. I know it will have a voice control component (Bixby from Samsung or Alexa from Amazon or something similar).
On the other hand, I’m fairly certain some facets of life are unlikely to change significantly over the next 25 years:
- Space travel (or lack thereof). It is amazing that the last manned moon landing was 45 years ago in December, 1972. Arthur C. Clarke imagined huge space stations in orbit around the earth, and missions to Jupiter for 2001, wildly optimistic. Elon Musk, China and others are planning moon and Mars missions. There will be some such missions, but I think human space travel will still be relatively rare in the 2040s, or relegated to suborbital, expensive, pleasure jaunts for the wealthy.
- The 20th Century heralded some major innovations in the kitchen. Indoor plumbing, refrigerators, dishwashers, gas and electric ovens are all innovations which have really occurred in the last 100 years. Indeed, only the microwave oven and the Keurig coffeemaker are recent innovations of any widespread significance in the kitchen. Remember the TV dinner? This quick-to-fix, complete-meal-on-a-tray never really caught on, perhaps because the tray tasted almost as good as the food in it.
- Artificially intelligent killer robots. Nope, I don’t think the singularity will occur by 2040. I love the concept of IBM Watson and similar “artificial intelligences”, but think we have a long way to go. And I’m pretty sure I don’t want to live in a world where machines are more intelligent than humans.
I’d welcome your thoughts on any of this, via comment or email, but particularly any ideas on innovations you see (or don’t see) over the next 25 years.