Predicting the future of technology
The future for homo sapiens present radical changes that will not only give us new devices, but transform us into a new specie. Throughout history, humans have tried to predict the future. Whether we have looked to supernatural sources for information or used rigorous methodology, the history is packed with predictions that have failed spectacularly. Funny examples include Steve Ballmer’s famous prediction that the iPhone would be a marginal product or that democracy would be dead by 1950.
Predictions are uncertain in their nature, but that does not mean no good predictions exist. Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner showed that superforecasters exist. He has also shown that contrary to all available evidence, humans have an unfortunate habit of listening to the absolute worst predicators. The worst forecasters are recognized by bombastic statements and absolute predictions. They disregard new evidence, make vague predictions and do not care about contradictory evidence -traits that are loved by clickbait media.
In Acandos recent insight analysis, “The Future of Business: Beyond the Hype”, with Truls Unholt as a lead author, predicating the future has been a central topic. To avoid the worst pitfalls of forecasting, we have developed a methodology that give a good initial credence of Bayesian thinking.
The technology readiness level
A new technology is usually developed in a fixed set of phases. This can be plotted on a scale of technology readiness level (TRL) from 1 to 9. This scale is widely accepted and used by large organizations like the EU.
- Basic research (1-2)
- Applied research (3-4)
- Commercialized research (5-6)
- Innovation (7-8)
- Mainstream adoption (9)
Our hypothesis is based on the idea that by looking at today’s activity in these phases, we can both gain an overview of the technologies to come as well as their maturity level. The time of arrival will depend on future funding, breakthroughs, hype and luck, all reducing the inherent trustworthiness of specific time schedules. Based on this uncertainty, we say that the development in each phase is likely to occur in the given time interval:
- Basic research will likely become mainstream within 5-20 years
- Applied research will likely become mainstream within 3-10 years
- Commercialized research will likely become mainstream within 1-5 years
- Innovation will likely become mainstream within 0-3 years
Technology that will turn our world upside down
By looking at the activity in the basic research, we present you with a picture of the future. As we are not used to the exponential development of technology, these ideas may seem farfetched. What was science fiction ten years ago, is now heavily researched with huge financial backing across the globe. In basic research, we have found five main topics that dominate all institutes:
- Information technology with the focus on cyber security, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and virtual reality. To the information technology community, these subjects are starting to become mainstream, but much development is still in the early stages.
- Robotics; although robotics has come far in industrial applications, there are efforts to create agile robots and better autonomous systems like cars. There are efforts to integrate machines and biologic material to create what is known as cyborgs.
- Synthetic biology. There are large scale efforts to manipulate genomic material. This includes sequencing, editing and growing DNA to grow organs, reverse ageing, design humans and clone animals. The field will be the basis of what is known as transhumanism, a topic for later discussion.
- Nanotechnology. Synthetic biology is often classified as nanotechnology, but here we have made the difference to focus on the developments on material science. Smart materials, biological machines and new computing technology are some of the focus areas.
- Neurotechnology. Large institutions like the EU, DARPA, Facebook are all focusing on understanding the brain. This includes research on building virtual brains, manipulating brain activity and enhancing its capability.
Due to the science fiction like nature of this research, it is easy to dismiss it as a technology optimist’s guide to nothing. We will, however, advice the reader to take these predictions seriously. The amount of funding and backing these projects receive from huge financial institutions, suggest that many or most of these developments will bear fruit within 5-20 years.
This is the first blog post in a series that presents the results from Acandos analysis. In the coming blog posts, Wilhelm will delve deep into technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, blockchain, virtual reality and synthetic biology. The series presents a description of the main impact of technology on society, individuals and business, with topics like eternal life, the rise of China, modern warfare and platform economy.