Tomorrow's World: The Future of Technology

Ten of the world's leading futurologists predict the next big technological innovations.

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Say hello to Charlie. Charlie is just like every other five-year-old in the UK. He loves his Xbox, is never without his Nintendo DS, and will soon get his first mobile phone. As he grows up, the increasing sophistication of the connected world will allow Charlie to experience life in entirely new ways. In the not-too-distant future, he'll be able to touch objects via the internet, play video games using an augmented-reality visor, and really talk back to the TV...

CALLING THE SHOTS: VOICE RECOGNITION

Kids can talk long before they can write. Speech comes naturally to humans. Writing simply puts speech into code. The technology of voice recognition needs lots of computing power: hardware, software and energy. But the effect of Moore's Law means that this capability is now widely available.

Dialling a number into a phone, typing a text message or even writing an essay on a laptop will soon be a matter of just talking to a piece of kit. Once the voice-activated technology becomes common, even turning on a light, opening a garage door or microwaving a meal may also become a short conversation with a microchip.

The Qwerty keyboard was designed to overcome the inefficiency of mechanical typewriters. Soon we won't need to let our fingers do the walking - we'll just ask our appliances, politely, to do what we want, the way a child asks for an ice cream. They don't send Mum a memo.

The Nintendo Wii brought the experience of controlling games through movement.

Combine that with speech and the gaming experience will be transformed.

For a 15-year-old, a world without mobile phones and websites is inconceivable. When today's five-year-old is 15, chatting to their TV to select the next programme will seem just as indispensable.

Roger Parry, chairman, Future plc


YOUR LIFE ONLINE: HEALTH MANAGEMENT TECHNOLOGY

Ageing populations in developed countries are driving the growth of life-management technologies, from home genetic-testing kits marketed by 23andme, to Fitfone, a Japanese device that monitors fitness. Then there is Pruhealth's Fitbug, a pedometer that can be plugged into the computer to reveal the extent of the user's physical activity (policyholders pay less if they do more exercise).

Our ability to control our health through technology will increase, thanks to apps within mobile devices that monitor vital statistics such as cholesterol and heart rate. Living our lives online will take on more of a physical manifestation as we store our genetic and medical profiles on life-management platforms. Healthcare brands will offer real-time advice based on our personal profiles such as diet, exercise and information about our general wellbeing. Nintendo's Walk With Me is an example of a brand moving into this area, with users downloading pedometer readings to view performance details and motivational content.

Jo Rigby, head of insight, OMD


LAST WORD: THE E-READER

Paper and books are the last links in the analogue chain, and once that link is broken, all hell will break loose. Every other creative recorded industry, such as music, film and TV, has gone digital. Now we are about to get digital access to every word that has ever been written.

Printed newspapers will disappear completely, as will most magazines, but their content will be available on e-readers. I've been convinced of this for several years. The problem with a lot of these devices is how long they take to arrive; often you can get a great idea but deliverability is not good enough. They will get it right eventually.

I don't think we have found the iPod of e-readers yet. Amazon's Kindle is great, as is the Sony Reader, but they haven't quite devised the definitive version. People like the battered old look; you need something that enables people to create their own covers. We will know it when it comes along.

William Higham, author, The Next Big Thing


SNIFF AND BUY: THE SCENT SYNTHESISER

This will sit beside our internet access device and recreate the scents and smells of the objects, scenes and experiences we are sampling. It will need to be in stereo so the scent can be directed from a particular place on the access device. If you are looking at a holiday on the web, how lovely would it be to see the blue sea and smell the air? If you are shopping for perfume, you could actually smell it online. It is very simple technology - you analyse the scent at one end and reproduce it at the other. It has already been done by TriSenx with its Scent Dome. Spatial awareness will be important. Of course, we will also have tactical feedback with a computer that passes back movement and feeling. The future of the web will be multi-sensory, though the most difficult part is touch.

Eventually, there will be 3D holographic projectors that allow people to watch a game of football via a hologram.

Ray Hammond, author and futurologist


KIDS ON THE GRID: CHILD TRACKERS

GPS-based trackers for locating kids already exist. Only, right now, your child has to be trusted to keep the device with them. But as the technology progresses, the size of the trackers will shrink. Before long, the devices will be as small as the chips with which people currently tag their pets. They'll be injected under the skin - the location of your child beamed straight to your mobile phone. The darlings will never evade detection again.

But will this be good? Yes, in some ways. It's not just that your child need never become lost or, worse, taken. Tagging them will also be convenient, so you know that they're coming in for tea. You may be happier to let them amble about the neighbourhood too: they can now walk to school, benefiting from the exercise, and reducing car usage to boot. But there will be a downside. Monitoring via technologies such as CCTV may reduce the concern that people have for one another, as the assumption is that everyone is being cared for already, by electronic means. And then there's the resentment that your child may harbour. Sometimes, kids need to be able to get lost, for it is only then that they find themselves.

Mark Vernon, author, Plato's Podcasts


IT'S OUT THERE: THE CONTACTLESS WEB

I wonder whether mobile devices will be around in the future; perhaps, eventually, they'll disappear. All your information will be stored somewhere in the great computer cloud, so you could have a key that unlocks that information wherever you are. It could work like the Oyster card, carrying a radio-frequency chip that allows you to access information wherever there is a terminal. Everywhere you go there are surfaces and screens that can give you access to information. Even shop windows and bus shelters can be turned into your own personal information space. You could carry the key in your wallet, phone or watch and, one day, under your skin.

Developments such as Surface, Microsoft's tabletop computer screen, could allow for far greater access to the cloud where your information is stored. There would be no need for hot-desking, you could move to any computer you like. It could be a bridge between onand offline; you touch it against a piece of furniture you like or point it at someone's clothes and it would save your preferences, bookmarking the real world.

Izzy Pugh, creative director, Added Value


HD SPECS: THE VIDEO VISOR

There is going to be a lot of development in the area of visors that allows people to play games or watch videos. In the next few years, the visor will become the normal interface for mobile phones and will be indispensable for tomorrow's internet. There may even be spectacles that allow a computer screen to overlay images onto the world around you. This could change the architecture of buildings when you walk down the street and enable you to choose what individual shops look like. For example, buildings could have avatars that differ depending on who looks at them.

If you made 3D contact lenses with wraparound high-definition video built into them, most people would want to buy them. Eventually, it will be possible to put components into the cornea of the eye. The advantage of many of these developments is that they will have less environmental impact than current technology, so it will be a green future.

Ian Pearson, futurologist, Futurizon

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