A glimpse into the future?

18 years ago, Kodak had almost 200,000 employees and sold 85% of all photo paper. In 2012 they went bankrupt. And according to a recent post by Dr Robert Goldman when technological singularity really kicks in, the same fate awaits many industries over the next decade.

Self-proclaimed “Antiaging & Sports Medicine Pioneer” Dr Bob is a rather exuberant character and seemingly a big friend of the stars (he is pictured on the home page of his website with the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger). Yet I’m far more interested in his recent Facebook / LinkedIn post entitled ‘Future Predictions’ which has gone viral and already been shared well over 100,000 times.

Dr Goldman initially asks us to go way back to 1998 (where is the Doc’s DeLorean when you need it?) and ask our former selves whether would we have envisaged that within 3 years we would have turned our backs on paper film forever? It’s interesting given that digital cameras had actually been invented over 20 years earlier. Those pioneering models only had a meagre 10,000 pixels, but with the inevitable applicability of Moore’s Law that capability flourished. And according to Dr Bob, as with all exponential technologies, it was pretty useless for quite some time but ultimately it became so superior that it killed off it’s predecessor within a relatively short period of time.

Goldman posits that with the advent of Artificial Intelligence, the 4th Industrial Revolution (what he calls the ‘Exponential Age’) is just around the corner and it will have unprecedented effect on all industries. He talks about the way software has already started to disrupt some traditional industries. His two examples are well documented and require little explanation… Uber don’t own any cars and Airbnb don’t own any properties but are now respectively the biggest taxi and hotel firms on the planet.

And as computing power becomes exponentially better, the capabilities of software expand at the same pace. Goldman provides a controversial example: in the US he reckons that there is no point in graduates studying law. Why? Because of IBM Watson. He says you can already get basic legal advice from Watson that is 90% accurate instead of the 70% accuracy when the same questions are asked by human equivalents. His hypothesis? There will be 90% fewer lawyers in the future and the only ones to survive will be the specialists. Hmm well I’m not sure we need less lawyers, maybe just cheaper ones?

Again he talks about how Watson is already helping nurses diagnose various forms of cancer. He even goes so far as saying that Watson is 4 times more accurate than human nurses. Maybe that’s right but I can’t see Watson administering a catheter, delivering a baby or offering genuine words of comfort to a patient any time soon.

Anyway, what does this add up to? He simply states that by 2030 computers will become more intelligent than humans. Well, given some of the people I have had to contend with over the years, I would suggest that the Sinclair ZX Spectrum surpassed their brain capacity some time ago.

By 2018 the first truly self-driving cars will become available to the public (assuming the legislation is in effect for them to be road legal). Tesla have apparently already uploaded self driving software to their vehicles and are simply waiting for the right time to activate it. The Doc also says that by 2020, the car industry will start to be disrupted. He envisages a World where people don’t necessarily want to personally own a car. His version of the future is more like the aforementioned Uber where you summon a driverless vehicle via your smartphone, it arrives at your location and drives you to your destination. You won’t need to park it, you only pay for the driven distance and you can be infinitely more productive on the journey. The implications? Our children will never want or need to get a driver’s license. Most likely they won’t even own a car. Hmm well I’m not so sure it’s going to happen that fast (or maybe that’s just because I’m a petrol head).

In turn, that will transform our cities because in this future forward scenario we will need 90% fewer cars and if that’s the case then we won’t need as much parking space. The number of car accidents will also plummet. Right now, around 1.2 million people die in car accidents every year. That’s the equivalent of a passenger plane crashing every 2 minutes. He says that autonomous vehicles will help save a million lives each year. As for insurance companies, premiums will become 100x cheaper because of the relatively low numbers of accidents. He even goes one stage further and suggests that their car insurance business model will effectively disappear (assuming that ever happens, I can’t imagine many mourning their passing).

Car companies will inevitably evolve to build these more intelligent cars, and he predicts that tech companies such Apple and Google will enter the fray either with their own variants or via collaborations with the existing players.

As electric cars start to proliferate then our cities will be quieter and electricity will become increasingly cheap. Solar has been on an exponential curve for 30 years, but it’s impact is only just beginning to reach its full potential. Last year, for the first time ever, more solar energy was installed worldwide than fossil. And as the price for solar will inevitably drop then the use of coal and oil will become increasingly obsolete.

And with the advent of inexpensive electricity also comes the possibility of cheap and abundant fresh drinking water. Desalination now only requires around 2kWh per cubic meter which means the scarcity of drinking water on this planet will be eradicated forever.

In terms of healthcare, ‘science fiction’ becomes ‘science fact’ with the introduction of a piece of kit which resembles the Tricorder from Star Trek. Dr Bob postulates that it will be able to take a retinal scan, a blood sample and you even breathe into it. It can then analyse 54 biomarkers which will identify virtually any malady.

The price of the cheapest 3D printer has tumbled from around $18,000 to $400 within a decade and they have become 100 times faster. Some airplane spare parts can already be 3D printed and the International space station has a 3D printer to replace some essential components (good job really as Amazon don’t currently deliver that far). Within 10 years he suggests that circa 10% of everything that’s being produced will be 3D printed. And that even includes food. Petri dish produced veal is now available (sounds jolly appetising doesn’t it?) and will be cheaper than the real thing within 2 years. And what about eating insects which contain more protein than meat. Branding and marketing might be a tad tricky though as the thought of ‘Cockroach Crisps’ or ‘Grasshopper Goujons’ are not exactly appealing are they?

And to conclude, with all these advances, a little bit of good news. We are going to live longer. The average life span is increasing by roughly 3 months per year as medical advances improve. Four years ago, the life span was around 79 years. It’s now 80 years and that is accelerating to the extent that by 2036 there will be a one year increase to life expectancy each year.

So what do you make of Dr Goldman’s predictions? Do they hit the bullseye or or do they miss the target entirely? And have you got any future forward forecasts of your own that you would like to share?

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Steve Blakeman is Managing Director – Global Accounts for OMD based in London / Paris. He was named by LinkedIn as a Top 10 Writer for Marketing & Social for 2015 (Top Voices) and also ‘Agency Publisher of the Year’ for EMEA.

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