In the September-October 2013 issue of The Futurist, there is a thought-provoking feature in which 10 well-known futurists speculate about which technologies and/or cultural distinctions that we now know and love will disappear. Some of the speculations are both interesting and disquieting.
One of the most controversial predictions was made by the well-known and respected futurist Paul Saffo, whose article, "Farewell, Smartphones, We Hardly Knew Thee," postulates that the device that has become a virtual part of our bodies will disappear as wearable and/or voice-activated electronic devices become commonplace. (Learn more about this technology in 6 Super-Cool Wearable Devices.)
"When we happen to think back, we [will] marvel that anyone could have ever communicated anything of consequence on a device as clunky and old-fashioned as an iPhone," Saffo writes. A related article in the same series, "Computing’s Future Is Wearable," by Harish Shah, supports Saffo’s position.
"The same Internet-based communications currently used on smartphones will likely also be used on wearable computers. The need for smartphones will thus simply start diminishing, especially as prices for wearables begin to decline. That the wearable will primarily be a computer, beyond being just a communication device, would be its most attractive feature," Shah writes.
If we accept these projections, we must also consider what this might mean to Apple, which counts the iPhone as its leading product. Apple would have to get ahead of the curve and really develop the iWatch and other wearable devices. It would also have to maintain the iPad and current iPhone product lines while it developed a new competitive iPhone, and perhaps an iPad replacement. Many firms find this dual product support difficult to do. Meanwhile, new firms that are only working with new technologies – rather than being saddled with legacy products – are better able to take over the dominant place in the market.
The impact of innovation on computer technology even goes beyond the attack on smartphones. The TechCast Project’s Alexandre Pupo and William Halal in their essay "Passing of the Dumb Interface, Keyboard and Mouse," lay out forecasts of the years when massively disruptive technologies enter the mainstream.
|Technology||Most Likely Year||Standard Deviation|
|Intelligent Interface||2019||+/- 4 years|
|Intelligent Web||2017||+/- 3 years|
|Virtual Reality||2019||+/- 4 years|
|Thought Power||2024||+/- 7 years|
|Artificial Intelligence||2024||+/- 7 years|
The essay defines "thought power," explaining that "experiments are finding ways that allow individuals to direct their thoughts into electrical signals that communicate silently with computers, robots and other people."
With such forecasted changes, it is not surprising that massive job disruption is also predicted. Thomas Frey, executive director of the Da Vinci Institute, explains how the impact of just a few really disruptive technologies will contribute to job elimination in his essay called "Two Billion Jobs to Disappear by 2030." The disruptive technologies include driverless cars, education changes, 3-D printing and automated manufacturing. He ends the essay with optimism.
"At the same time that billions of jobs are disappearing, we will be creating billions more. But to do so, we will need to streamline our systems and prepare for the skill sets and job demands of tomorrow," Frey writes.
This last statement is the heart of the "creative disruption" that I have been discussing in print, in talks, and on blogs for the last few years. The most important attribute that workers must have is the ability to adapt to new systems and new technologies.
One of the major structural changes that GOJO Industries’ Carrie Anne Zapka, author of "Obsolescence of Fixed, Pay-Per-Time Compensation," predicts is the elimination of most fixed annual salary and hourly pay rate jobs.
"Work will be negotiated between temporal workers and ‘workees,’ those for whom work is performed. Compensation will be volatile. Real-time supply and demand, crowd reputation ratings, experience points and recommendation networks will replace resumes and job titles."
If this scenario plays out – and I have no doubt that it will – it will be accepted as an entrepreneurial change by some but will be scary to many. If a person in this system does not consistently perform quality work at reasonable rates, he or she may not be competitive enough to maintain a middle-class life style. In addition, the health care and retirement benefits that employees now depend on may become non-existent. (Read more about how to adjust to major tech changes in Reboot: How to Adapt to a New Tech Environment.)
There will still be fixed salary jobs, particularly in the public service area, such as police, fire fighters, sanitation workers, emergency services and teachers – and in top management positions in large corporations. In most cases, however, the public service positions are not ones that will tend to allow great upward mobility. This type of structural change, made possible by virtual marketplaces and telecommunications systems, may turn out to be more disruptive than any purely technological change.
The point is that the world is changing fast, and we must be ready for anything. Are futurists on the right track? The specific changes predicted here may not come to fruition, but if futurists are right about anything, it’s that the world of 2030 will not be one that we would recognize today.