The urge to make predictions is inevitable at this time of year but I am going out on a limb - rather than make a forecast for next year, I am going to look even deeper into my crystal ball and make some suggestions for what we might consider to be standard technology in five years’ time. Full disclosure: in the spirit of the times, I have done a spot of crowdsourcing for this column, polling my techie friends for their ideas.
According to their vision, the world in 2017 will be a place without wires, where we will never need to charge our mobiles, tablets or, for those still carrying them, laptops. Wireless, or inductive, charging is already among us, but is still too expensive and burdensome to have mass appeal. By 2017, however, it is likely that you won’t have to worry about taking a travel plug or adaptor with you on holiday. Optimists even think that electric cars could be charged using a version of this method.
By 2017 watching TV and listening to the radio online will be much like regular television is today. It may even be an entirely unrecognisable experience, of course. Regular readers of this column will be aware that I am a big proponent of augmented reality and I expect that 3D viewing and augmented reality will have had an utterly transformative effect on the way entertainment and news are delivered to us. And by then, TV will be highly personalised, with content on demand, rather than broadcast. Radio Times will need a new business model.
Whilst you wouldn’t believe it given the current situation with the 4G roll-out, soon enough ultra-fast broadband will be ubiquitous (remember, this is a world without wires) and as a result, all sorts of things we can dream about now in terms of real-time delivery of information will be commonplace such as being able to drive to work without getting stuck in traffic, or targeted promotions when you are actually in or near a store, not sitting on a beach in a different country. Near field technologies that bridge the last metre between consumer and product, will be commonplace. Fast, reliable broadband also means that mobile payments will be commonplace so you might want to hold off on buying anyone that expensive leather wallet for Christmas. They won’t be needing cash or credit cards in this brave new world.
Another advantage of living in the future is all sorts of “things” around you will become so much smarter. For example, your house will know that you are on the way home and, because you don’t get stuck in traffic any more, the heating will go on at just the right interval before you arrive so the house is toasty when you walk in the door. And while we are at it, the way that house is heated will be much cleaner, cheaper and efficient than today. Devices from water meters to cars will optimise themselves for fuel efficiency and, basically, most things around us will be intelligent enough to behave in this way. Which is just as well. As the population of the world inches towards seven and a half billion people, water will be the most valuable resource on the planet and smarter appliances that can conserve energy and reduce waste will be vital but also much more common than today.
We are already on the cusp of whirlwind changes in almost every single aspect of healthcare. By the time the new royal baby starts school, his or her medical records will be digitised and optimised with all kinds of benefits. Toilets will check our health, supermarket store cards (even those with a royal warrant) will link our food consumption with predicted health issues, along with our DNA and medical history. Advances in personalised medicine and nanotechnology will provide a much more targeted delivery of treatment to cancer cells than chemotherapy can today, allowing doctors to administer smaller doses and minimise side effects.
If some of these ideas seem to be further out than a five-year horizon, I have but this to say: Apple released the first iPhone five years ago, the first iPad only two years ago. Both examples show the transformative power of well-designed and well-executed technologies so look forward to waving the wires goodbye. Alternatively, nothing will change and in 2017 we will still be spending three hours driving on the M25 to plonk ourselves in front of a linear telly to watch Coronation Street.