5 Tech Predictions That DID Deliver
More often than not, tech predictions miss the mark. But every so often, for better or worse, technology leaps forward and takes us along for the wild ride. Join us as we celebrate the foresight and innovative thought of futurists who promised and delivered on their tech predictions for the future.
This article is Part II of our series on tech predictions. Click here to read Part I: 5 Tech Predictions That Didn’t Deliver.
1. Foldable displays
After an initial rocky start, foldables are becoming more common but have yet to gain a significant portion of the market. The cost and reliability are major concerns for consumers who are hesitant to be early adopters. Some companies have sought to meet the foldable screen market halfway, like Microsoft’s Surface Duo which is technically foldable but is really just two separate screens that can combine to form a larger display.
Others, like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold, offer a fully foldable laptop with a flexible OLED display. This bold move by Lenovo provides us with a vision of the future. It might not be the future of technology — but it offers a tantalizing glimpse of what could be.
2. The end of mall as we know it
“Strip malls,” Bezos predicts, “are history,” read the quote from a 1999 Wired magazine article. Jeff Bezos, the world’s second richest person and founder of Amazon, was uniquely prescient about this prediction. Some are predicting that one third of all malls in the US will close this year.
Bezo’s company Amazon is often blamed for the demise of many brick and mortar retailers, and that may be true, but it’s not fair to attribute the death of malls solely to online shopping. Nor is it fair to blame the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that forced so many retailers to close their doors. Online shopping and the pandemic are nails in the coffin, but they are not what put malls in the grave.
The decline of malls is the story of a death by a thousand cuts. Changing demographics are a big part. Long gone are the days of teenage mallrats perusing the Gap while drinking their Orange Julius. Now, Millennials are much more likely to purchase goods online than at a physical location. And it’s not just millennials who are changing their consumer habits. Everyone from Gen Z to Boomers are making more online purchases, the COVID-19 pandemic has simply accelerated that process.
Another major blow to malls was the closures of anchor stores like J.C. Penney and Sears. These anchor stores ensured regular traffic the malls location, where consumers might also do shopping elsewhere.
Are malls a thing of the past? No, but the salad days of the neighborhood mall are over. The malls that still remain are investing significant sums and coming up with innovative ways to stay relevant. The reinvented malls of the future are looking to be stylish lifestyle hubs, with yoga studies and microbreweries that cater to a more upscale clientele.
3. The death of personal privacy
In his 1999 book The Age of Spiritual Machines Futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted that by 2019, public spaces will be constantly monitored, and all actions will be recorded. He went further to suggest that personal privacy will be a major political issue, and some people will protect themselves with unbreakable computer codes.
It’s debatable whether Kurzweil was right or wrong about personal privacy being a major political issue. Many of us happily sign away our rights to digital privacy when using social media or apps on our phone. Our cell phone providers have also gotten into the game, double-dipping by charging us exorbitant fees while also selling our location data to the highest bidder.
But Kurzweil very accurately predicted that public spaces in the future will be increasingly recorded, and our movements tracked. According to a Georgetown Law report, one in two American adults is in a law enforcement facial recognition network. A recent IHS Markit report speculates that by the end of this year, there will be one billion surveillance cameras in the world. Then we have the rise of Amazon’s Ring doorbell service, allowing surveillance tech to extend beyond public spaces and into personal ones.
As mass surveillance and facial recognition technology advances and becomes more pervasive, so too do the methods to thwart the technology. In some cases, glasses with LEDs can obscure facial recognition software. Some have even used head-mounted projectors to superimpose another face on top of their own. More low-tech solutions also exist; using makeup and hair extensions to conceal your facial features, while others use graphics printed on clothing that are designed to confuse sensors.
Are these ingenious solutions enough to stop the mass proliferation of facial recognition software? Probably not. AI companies have already found ways to identify your face even if you’re wearing a mask. How long until they update their software to counter LED lights or projectors seems like only a matter of time.
4. Work from home
The death of the office has long been predicted, but in 2019 many workplace futurists were claiming that 2020 would usher in a new era of remote work. I don’t think any of these futurists could predict how right they were.
Unless you’ve been living on a deserted island with no human contact, you know the work from home movement got a major shot in the arm in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic shuddered businesses around the world. Tech companies like Zoom saw revenues increase by 355% and customer growth rose 458% compared to 2019. Undoubtedly, many will return to the office when more of the population is vaccinated. But as companies invest in infrastructure to accommodate remote workers, it’s likely that significant portion will not return to their cubicles and water coolers.
5. 5G broadband cellular networks
After several years of talk, and in some cases — fake 5G — the real 5G networks are quickly becoming a reality.
5G or “fifth generation” broadband cellular networks are the slated replacement for 4G, which, for better or worse, helped usher in a new era of mobile connectivity. 5G promises to pour the internet into our brains almost faster than our minds can perceive it. But it’s not so much the speed that makes 5G so revolutionary — it’s the low latency times.
Since our devices must send and receive information to access the internet, the less time the signal takes, the faster the connection. With latency times approaching or exceeding human perception, 5G will allow mobile internet applications that have not been possible before and will be a gamechanger for the consumer and industry alike.
Healthtech will be a major benefactor to the 5G revolution. Telemedicine can be improved by allowing surgeons to control robots without delay. One such example is a brain surgery in China where a doctor conducted the operation by controlling a robot through a 5G network. Manufacturing can also be improved by controlling automated machines in real-time through the low latency 5G network.
Work from home could also be revolutionized. One of the promises of 5G is that it will take augmented reality out of the works of science fiction and deliver it into the hands of the ordinary consumer. The business trips of the future might be as simple as slapping on a pair of VR goggles and transporting yourself to virtual meetings and events. It’s possible that in the not-so-distant future, we might look back at teleconferencing and webinars with the same quaint nostalgia we feel for the dial-up internet days.
Will future work events be done wearing virtual reality headsets sitting on your couch? It’s anybody’s guess. But 5G is finally here and is shaping up to revolutionize how we experience mobile connectivity.
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