These are published chapters from my book The real Internet of Things, published on January 1st, 2017.
Before we discuss the main concepts, I want to call out a number of technological and civilizational trends that are useful to notice and observe. While the forces are somewhat independent, they often interact with one another, and when grouped together they can show us a great deal about where we’re going.
First, you might still be stuck on the massive claim made in the introduction.
Is this guy really so arrogant as to think he can predict technology decades into the future? Only geniuses and fools attempt this, and most who think they’re the former are actually the latter.
I hear you, and I agree. When I hear crazy long-term predictions I always think two things: either the prediction is going to be obvious, or it’s going to be wrong.
I think my approach is different in a subtle and powerful way. Rather than predicting the exact form, of the exact tech, in the exact order that it’ll emerge, I’m taking a reverse engineering approach.
Specifically, instead of starting with tech and seeing where it’s going, I’m starting with humans and what they seek, need, and desire. In other words, I think we can predict the future of technology through a strong understanding of what humans ultimately want as a species.
So if you want to know the shape of water—which can take any shape—your strongest play is to study the shape of the potholes (and other containers) it’ll end up in.
To that end, humans have always sought forms of the following:
- enjoying friends and family
- telling, or listening to, a great story
- falling into, and enjoying, romantic love
- having children and seeing them thrive
- creating useful and/or beautiful things
- becoming more socially influential
- receiving attention and praise from others
- becoming more powerful
These were fundamental human desires 100,000 years ago, and they remain so today. So that brings us this question:
How do we maximize these experiences and capabilities within us, both at an individual level and at the level of society?
Answering that question is the ultimate purpose for technology, and the following trends are some of the forms that this change will take.
From centralized to peer-to-peer
We’re moving from a world of proxies and mediators to a world of direct interactions. They may use a platform, but the interactions are increasingly between individuals rather than from individual to broker and broker to individual. Not only are direct interactions more efficient, they reduce the opportunity to control others by limiting their access to services.
From forced to natural
Because we as humans are still fundamentally what we were on the African plains, technology interfaces that flow naturally with our human intuitions and behaviors will dominate those that require superfluous, foreign actions to work. Expect technological interfaces to move steadily towards thinking, speaking, gesturing, and otherwise emoting, as these are the most human of all behaviors.
From obvious to invisible
Technology that distracts from thinking, speaking, and emoting by being obtuse or otherwise distracting will lose to technologies that are invisible. Expect to see technology disappear to whatever degree possible based on current advancement.
From manual to automatic
Some tasks are manual and can give pleasure in their execution, such as cooking or tending to a garden. Other tasks are tedious and without redeeming qualities. Expect all such tasks, such as paying bills, handling insurance, driving to work, keeping ones’ living space clean, etc., to be handled by technology.
From periodic to continuous
Many activities only happen periodically because they are resource (time, money, attention) intensive to execute. These include: assessing the value of assets, adjusting insurance rates, checking the health and happiness of various groups, etc.
From private to open
Private information is sensitive because it is private. A natural way to reduce the sensitivity of data (and therefore the risk associated with its loss and misuse) is to have the data become more public in nature. We won’t need to do anything to make this happen (although some will try to speed the process for various reasons). It’ll mostly take place on its own simply because 1) the value and scale of private data usage in thousands of connected systems and companies, 2) the lifespan of sensitive data (D.O.B/Address/etc.) is much longer than is practical to rotate, and 3) the fact that it’s easier to add data to the public knowledge store than it is to remove it.
From visual to multi-sensory
While visual and audible inputs are the most natural in terms of interacting outside ourselves, we should expect the use of touch and smell to be incorporated into more and more interfaces. This will happen simply because they provide additional native bandwidth into the brain in a way that can be both rich and subtle at the same time.
From aggregated to curated
Information services were initially focused on providing as much data to the user as possible because we were information starved. Now the problem is the opposite: Instead of needing more information, we are now overwhelmed by it and are instead in need of filters. The trend, therefore, is to move from raw information being provided to the user, towards the data being processed and tailored by services that produce relatively few curated results.
From designed to evolved
Perhaps the apex of all trends, this deals with the transition from design to evolution, or from top-down to bottom-up. It’s from small numbers of ideas pushed downward by small numbers of people, who think they know best, to large numbers of ideas combined, mutated, and spread laterally and upward by everyone.
The primary benefit of this shift is that ideas will massive variation and are free to combine and be tested as viable solutions to problems. When this combination, mutation, and testing of ideas is performed continuously we end up with infinitely more chances to fail and adjust the approach, ultimately leading to superior outputs.
Many of the concepts discussed starting in the next section will vibrate at the frequency of one or more of these trends.