Disruptive Technology: Predicting The Future

For many years I made my living by forecasting what technology would be like five years into the future. Manufacturers would pay for reports that had my revenue forecasts and then use those numbers a number of different ways in their planning process.  Of course my numbers tended to be more conservative than those offered by  a lot of analysts. One product manager told me that he used forecasts from another analyst firm when it came to attracting investors, but he used my numbers for his actual planning work. What I learned over the years is that disruptive technology takes longer than people think to take over. Think of PCs, for example. It took several years longer than many people in the industry thought for PCs to become commonplace. Part of the reason is resistance to change, but another reason is that people need a specific reason such as an attractive application, to move them forward and make them change the fundamental way they do things.

Forecasting is one thing, but predicting major disruptive technology’s impact is another. It’s something that most people don’t do very well because it requires thinking completely outside the box. Remember the old Jetsons’ TV show? That vision of future transportation consisted of cars with wings on them. You have to break the mold for the way current things work in order to predict the future. So, here are some of my predictions for disruptive technology.

No More Smartphones: Thinking about investing long-term in smartphones? Don’t do it!. Much of the technology associated with a smartphone can be stripped apart into component pieces that you’ll wear (see my next prediction). There is no reason why a phone needs to look like a phone nor does someone have to hold a phone up to his or her ear to talk.

No More laptops, iPads, Notebook Computers: I know Steve Jobs would turn over in his grave over this one, but IBM Labs as well as other places have already developed wearable computers. Essentially you just need to place a small computing element in your pocket much like we now carry a key fob. What looks like an earring is in reality a receiver. As far as computing goes, why limit yourself to a tiny keyboard and and an even tinier screen. Most people will have a computer chip implanted that gives them 7/24 access to the Internet. They will probably use a version of a contact lens that gives them a virtual reality keyboard. Special coating on one’s fingers will enable the person to type on the virtual keyboard.

 Build it Yourself: Additive manufacturing will bloom as 3D printers become a basic home appliance. People will download designs the way they now download recipes. Does Mary want a new doll? The printer will produce one. Conversely, people who don’t have the inclination to print their own will be able to go to a neighborhood print center and pick up their manufactured and customized product.

The Cloud Becomes God-Like: As big data becomes even bigger, very complex databases containing images, music, etc. will become the norm. Do you see someone at a meeting and can’t remember his name? You’ll focus on him and send a message to your database in the cloud where all your contacts are kept, including images. The image of the person will be matched up and a name sent to you.

They Know Who You Are and What You’re Thinking: Some breakthrough research shows that scientists are just starting to identify brain patterns and match them up with specific thoughts. Thinking about a beautiful girl whose picture you saw? So, what’s the practical application of this technology in the future? Imagine if you’re walking or driving past a store. The store will recognize your IP address from your implant and match that address with your customer database entry. They will be able to end you an alert that a particular item you obviously like because you’ve bought it in the past is now on sale. If the store can recognize a specific brain pattern such as a sweater, for example, it could send an even more customized alert. Look for the civil libertarians to fight hard to keep our thoughts private.

Quantum Transportation: Maybe Star Trek was onto something when it showed people being beamed from place to place. The latest research on quantum mechanics shows that someday quantum teleportation is possible. Of course it will take many years for us to perfect it. Right now the best we can do is note the nature of entanglement. Old timers will approach teleportation the way people puzzled over fax machines. Remember the confusion over how you could send a report over a telephone wire? How could you squeeze it into such a small space? The same confusion will be found when it comes to the question of whether you’re sending a copy of yourself and whether that means there are two versions of yourself running around. Is the original destroyed? The debate will make the old debate over possible death panels and healthcare seem like child’s play. Still, quantum teleportation is a disruptive technology that will make traditional transportation obsolete someday.

Everything in the House is Talking but Me: Years ago Cisco Systems suggested the idea of a smart refrigerator, one that would keep track of what is being consumed and then produce a shopping list. Let’s take communications a lot further. Imagine all the appliances in your house in communication with one another and with your 3D printer. Imagine you decide you’d like a specific dish for dinner. You send a message to your home and then the real action starts. The master console checks to see what raw ingredients are found in the refrigerator as well as other areas of the house. The ingredients are assembled and the 3D printer uses its sophisticated synthesizing ability to take chemicals and build food molecules to fill in the missing ingredients. The final concoction tastes like what you ordered. Now, if you’re the type of person to become paranoid, imagine having to worry about what your appliances are saying about you.

Notice that each of these predictions has to do with breaking the mold associated with our current way of thinking about how to do things. That’s why the term “disruptive technology” has become such a cliche in Silicon Valley circles when it comes to attracting investors. Who wouldn’t want to get in on the ground floor when it comes to a truly disruptive technology? Smartphones and iPads broke the mold and created new ways of doing things. In the future, these devices someday will seem as antiquated as buggy whips and TVs with rabbit ears.


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