On the brink of unimaginable change ■

We are on the brink of unimaginable technological change. The predictable acceleration of hardware, connectivity and sensors coupled with an unforeseen plethora of new business models and the need to tackle problems on a global scale leaves me optimistic about the coming decades.

It was with that in mind that I started developing Envisioning Technology– as a framework for speculating about currently emerging technologies that are bound to grow in the foreseeable future, and how they might do so. From Bio-enhanced Fuels to Telepresence. From an Interplanetary Internet to Artificial Retinas. All areas were of interest.

The exercise of researching these distinct technologies then led me to designing a framework in the form of a visualization. This incorporates key observations, such as inter-related areas of research in addition to pure speculation, such as when they might reach mainstream, or the impact they might have for consumers.

By extrapolating on current developments happening globally and then organizing these observations by area and in time, I started making sense of the bigger picture of our technological landscape.

Speculating about the future in public makes you question your assumptions on when and how the future will play out. It’s also an engaging method for talking to researchers, builders and developers in their respective fields.

Disagreeing with someone else’s guesswork is easy, while proving your own stance about things that have not happened yet is hard. My opinions about the when and the how are generally based on observing the volume of developments happening in a field and by looking at how important that area with its distinct technologies is likely to become socially. In a way, I am almost playing it safe in my predictions. Most technologies in the 5-15 year timescale have the backing of either existing corporations or government backing, meaning the vested interest in seeing their research come to fruition is large.

The value of any futurecasting happens by looking at intersections of seemingly different areas. When you start building timelines for individual technologies or fields of research, you start noticing their connections and dependencies. An almost tautological example of dependency is mobile communications: in order to develop a fifth-generation (5G) network, you first need a fourth-gen, a third-gen, etc. But in the case of having computers that recognizes objects and people (referred to as Machine Vision), the anterior availability of Depth Imaging (3D-cameras), Narrow Artificial Intelligence, Digital Photography, and a dozens of other preceding technologies becomes necessary. It is from these unlikely and spontaneous connections that the truly unforeseeable technologies spring.

The idea of publishing Envisioning Technology is exactly that of stimulating debate and discourse. I want to engage those who are already building the tools of the future to better understand where we are likely to be heading. I really believe in our capacity to transcend nature, to solve massive problems (not only the self-inflicted ones), and to truly better the lives of everyone on the planet – through technology.

[Originally posted on IBM Smarter Planet]