Top Futurist: Faster Technological Innovation Great, But Not Enough5:37 PM EST Fri. Oct. 12, 2012
The speed of technical innovation is accelerating, leading to a revolution in the way humans interact with the world in the next 18 years, said noted British futurist Ray Hammond.
Hammond, speaking at the recently concluded Intel Capital Global Summit, said that by the year 2040, he expects everyone to have a personal digital assistant sitting in a nano transplant behind their ear continually speaking to the global brain, which is what people in 2012 call Google.
Glasses attached to that digital assistant will let the wearers look at a person, for instance, and see their name and company. And while a few older people may want to take those glasses off to view the natural world, most will not, Hammond said.
Digital assistant will evolve from today's smartphone, Hammond said. However, what it will be called is anyone's guess, as today's users and developers still have no complete understanding of what such devices will actually do.
"I would argue with you that when you call the smartphone a smartphone, you are being disingenuous," he said.
He cited several examples of how the names for technological innovations changed over time depending on society's understanding of the technology, including the projector, called the "magic lantern" when first introduced 150 years ago, and the automobile, which was originally called the "horseless carriage." "We could only describe it by what it wasn't," he said.
Other examples include the train ("iron horse"), the refrigerator ("ice box"), the radio ("wireless") and the computer ("mechanical brain").
"We always lack the language to describe the technological future. ... We lack the language that allows us to explain it clearly," he said.
The significant innovation that will revolutionize the future over the next couple decades currently seems to be masked by today's financial crisis, but it is happening, Hammond told the audience of technology developers and entrepreneurs.
"You guys are creating like mad," he said. "I think we are quickly at the end of our financial crisis, and that we are in for a long, sustained economic boom."
NEXT: Megatrends Impacting The Human Race
However, Hammond said, the fast pace of technical innovation is only one of a number of megatrends shaping the world, megatrends that must be addressed if the world is to be a safer, healthier place to live for its growing population.
The first is the growing population itself. Hammond said 7 billion people live on Earth today, with 8.2 billion to 8.3 billion expected by 2030 and over 9 billion by 2050.
That represents a fast growing base of consumers that businesses will be addressing. "But where are we going to find the food, water and electricity to serve a population growing by half?" he said.
Getting enough food is easy, if the conditions are right, Hammond said. There is also plenty of water, but it is in the wrong places. While some predict the increasing use of tankers to move water to where it is needed, Hammond said he expects to see the development of low-energy water desalination to alleviate this problem.
The second megatrend is the chaos being caused by global warming.
Hammond said he respects and sympathizes with those who believe that humans are not responsible for global warming. However, he said, the truth is, regardless of the cause, the planet is indeed warming, leading to increased extremes in the weather.
"It is important for us to find ways to reduce this warming," he said. "Over the next 50 years, we need to transition to lower energy use."
The third megatrend is energy production, an area Hammond said changes must be made in order to protect the planet.
While full energy independence is a laudable goal, it needs to be coupled with the development of alternative forms of energy, he said.
"This is imperative," he said. "There is a 30-year carbon lag. The carbon we are emitting [into the atmosphere] today, which is four-times what we produced 30 years ago, won't come to haunt us until 2042."
The fourth megatrend is globalization, or the need to support the world's poorest people as a way to enrich everyone.
NEXT: Lifting The Poor To Build A Healthier Future
Hammond said 600 million people in Southeast Asia have been lifted out of abject poverty since 2001, with more being helped through ethical and sustainable decisions than were helped by foreign aid.
"If you give a young man in a poor country a job, training and career path, you reduce the violence of terrorism," he said.
Currently, about 2 billion of the world's poorest people who live in the 58 poorest countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, are playing no role in globalization, Hammond said. But, it is important that they be brought into globalization.
"There's an African saying, 'If you don't include a boy in the village, he will come back as a man and burn the village down.' ... We in the developed world cannot afford to ignore the poorest 2 billion people."
The last megatrend Hammond cited was multiple revolutions in health science.
These include the coming availability of technology to record every child's DNA at birth as well as advances in stem cell technology, both of which will have huge implications for the health and lifespan of today's humans.
"Most of you in this room will live at least 20 years longer than you expect," he said. "Factor that into your pension plan. And, most children today will live for almost infinity."
PUBLISHED OCT. 12, 2012