Some Predictions

February 24, 2010

All sorts of people do predictions. I’ve never tried to think ahead so concretely, so it seemed worth a try. These are in no particular order.

No More Wires

ETA: 5 years

That’s right, no more wires. Wireless power is right around the corner. Right now, I’ve got my iMac and my MBP sitting on my office desk. Both have only a power cord. Soon, they’ll both have nothing. Every other electronic device in the home will have nothing. If you want to use older stuff, you’ll buy a product that will wrap the cord up tight and provide an adapter to get wireless power so you can take that old thing anywhere.

This is probably most interesting for mobile devices. No more charging things. No more docks, no more power cords, no more car adapters. When those devices are in your house overnight, they’ll just automatically be at full power when you leave in the morning. The drive toward longer battery life will end up being capped at a day or two of use. Newer portables, and Apple is leading the way here with batteries and low powered chipsets, are already almost to that point now.

So that’s one debate gone.

A new question is how to mediate where you get that power from. Is it universal? Do you have to login when you get to a new house to charge your device? Will your neighbor drive up your monthly power bill because they’re grabbing from your unsecured power network?

Global Energy Needs Will Be Solved

ETA: 10 years

This one feels less true today. There’s constant uproar about coal, oil, global warming (vomit), etc.

Some New Great Thing is going to come up, and it will provide for the needs of major building blocks of the world. Countries will use it. Cities will use it. City blocks will use it. Factories will use it. Giant container ships will use it.

I just wish I knew what It is. Or Its. I suspect It is plural. I have some guesses though. Thorium reactors. Giant lasers. Fusion. A first step is probably adding a lot more conventional nuclear power, so I’m glad to see the US do that now. Toshiba has developed self contained micro nuclear reactors that can power a city block.

Way back in 1900, when the population was exploding, if you would’ve asked people what they needed to get around in this growing world, they would’ve said faster horses. They wouldn’t have come up with cars. And in the future, we won’t use the technologies we have now. It’ll be something new, something different. I don’t think it will be anywhere close to implemented in 10 years either. Just that it will exist, and the world will be driving towards using it in a big way.

I’m not sure what this means for cars though. Individual cars are too small a unit to use any of the things I mentioned. This will be the last bastion of major uses of oil. But I expect a majority of cars, trucks, and buses to use something other than gasoline and diesel in twenty to thirty years. There will still be a subset of gearheads that love internal combustion engines, that will never go away. Most of the population doesn’t care.

I wonder what this will mean for the OPEC economies that are oil dependent. When the global need for oil goes away, those economies will have to adapt, and they will do it slowly.

Watts From Outer Space

ETA: 75 years

When I put “No Wires” next to “Abundant Global Energy” I get some interesting infrastructure changes.

Power going wireless in the next 5 years will largely comprise simple electronic appliances being disconnected from wall sockets; a futuristic convenience. Looking forward, large amounts of research will be done to extend the useful range, to send it through the atmosphere, to increase the wattage, and to apply it in such a way that it’s measurable (or more precisely, that it can be metered).

Once a sustainable fusion/thorium/laser reactor can be produced, there’s no point wasting valuable Earthly real estate and resources. Let’s send that sucker up into orbit and beam our power back down.

Our grandchildren will get their watts from outer space.

Once a power source goes into orbit, lots of infrastructure changes shake out. Almost all types of transportation can rely on that power. The power grid disappears. All those telephone poles, light poles, stoplights, power lines, windmills, solar panels, gas stations become superfluous. The problem of storing nuclear waste, one of the downfalls of nuclear power, goes away - it’s already in orbit, just give it an exit trajectory and let it float to the outer solar system.

No More Mail

ETA: 10 years

And I hope it’s sooner. One of my weekly annoyances is having to run out to the mailbox and grab a big pile of printed material I don’t give a shit about, sort through it, take out the one important thing, and toss the rest, shredding any 2% APR credit card deals.

Mail is outdated. Most of it is wasted. Most people I know do their correspondence, invitations, and bills online now, and we’re only at the beginning of a huge shift in how we move information, all in one generation. The first step will be a Do Not Mail list citizens can opt-in to that will disallow anonymous or junk mailers. I can’t wait.

I don’t think the USPS will ever go away. It’s too historically bound in our country. Its role will just be greatly diminished. It will be that stately old institution of the US government, gentrified much the same way railway stations feel today.

UPS and FedEx on the other hand will continue to operate and thrive. There is a place for expedient delivery of goods and certain business correspondence (notarized documents, etc) until someone comes out with a teleportation scheme of course, and I don’t have that on my list I’m afraid.

No More Books

ETA: 10 years

The paperless shift continues.. Just as newspapers, mail, and magazines are being taken over by communication over electronic mediums, so to will books. The process will be slower. Newspapers are horribly positioned. They require writing, editing and printing a massive amount of paper, and then distributing it geographically to get out today’s news. Twitter, Google, and bloggers only need to move a few electrons to get the news out. When I saw the cell phone picture of the US Airways plane that landed in the Hudson posted to Twitter before Wolf Blitzer had a chance to ramble on and show far away helicopter footage, I knew the news was doomed. It’s just too damn slow now.

Book publishing has no time-to-market constraints, so there’s not an urgent drive to overtake the industry. But you can still feel the big publishing houses creaking along, looking over at their journalistic peers and wondering if there’s anything they can do to stop the ubiquity of bytes.

There isn’t.

Books will always exist. Let’s get that straight. Perhaps a more appropriate title for this prediction would be “Publishing in the future will be electronic, focused on the author’s content not on the printing process, and people will read on screens not paper”. That doesn’t have the same punch though.

Screens not paper: that’s the gist. The Kindle aims to replace lots of books with one easy to read screen. It’s a start. It sounds like the iPad has similar aims as one possible use case. They’re targeting educational use as well, hoping to put textbooks on an easy to access screen instead of a 30 lb processed piece of tree.

I bet my kid’s backpack will be lighter than mine was.

Moore’s Law Will Hold

For at least ten more years

This seems both simple and complicated at the same time. It feels like a simple prediction because, well, Moore’s Law has held since, like, forever so ten years more shouldn’t be too bad. But.. it is exponential.

The complicated part is that different people mean different things when they reference Moore’s Law. The original is that the number of transistors on single chip doubles every two years. Most other computer technologies seem to follow similar exponential rates. So I’ll be precise. The exponential curve for processing speed and memory will hold. Graphene transistors are already showing huge strides in early testing. Solid state drives will continue too.

The numbers don’t even seem that outlandish anymore. I’m talking about processing speeds around 96 Ghz and hard drives around 32 TB. Ok, 96 Ghz is fast. 32 TB is an obscene amount of bits. So what?

I think we’re nearing a time where, for almost any single user, the performance of off the shelf components will be more than sufficient. For almost all consumers, specs won’t matter. What will matter? Access and availability.

Less Than 50% Market Penetration For Windows

ETA: 5 years

It took awhile for this to click. I’ve been reading other people’s opinions of Macs, Linux, and Windows for years so I take no credit as to the originality of the following idea.

The internet killed Windows.

Once it got momentum as a personal computer, everyone used Windows because everyone used Windows. If you wanted to hit the majority of the market with your software, you wrote it for Windows.

The internet now is a universal platform on which apps can be built and run. That means you can build it in any language you want, in any IDE you want, with any libraries you want. As long as it renders in the web stack that a browser can render (bear with me here), your potential audience is basically the entire computer-using world.

But why does that kill Windows? Windows sucks for development. Shitty command line ability. Shitty language runtimes. Shitty proprietary APIs. Proprietary IDE environments. The smart people that wanted to hit the whole computer-using world wanted to use good technology, because they were smart. That wasn’t a huge percentage of users, but it was the most important slice. Once they were gone, it was only a matter of time.

On OSX, right now, in my terminal, I’ve got /usr/bin/ruby, /usr/bin/perl, /usr/bin/python, /usr/bin/java to choose from, along with all their documentation and all sorts of other crap. I know what version they are because I can sit on the command line and type ‘ruby -version’ and find out. I know what methods String has in ruby, because I can run irb and type ‘String.methods’. I can find processes with ‘ps aux | grep processname’. I know I can run all these things on Windows, but what a hassle it can be, so why bother?

The smartest thing Apple ever did for Macs was build OSX on a flavor of Unix. Apple combined Unix with an unflinching desire for solid design principles and captured the most important slice of users out there.

Most People Will See A Computer As An Information (or Internet) Appliance

ETA: 5 years

So starting with Unix was the best decision Apple made for Macs. The best realization Apple has made as a computer company is that most people don’t give a shit about computers.

The best computer company in the world KNOWS that most people don’t care about computers!

The iPhone was the first real sign. The upcoming iPad is an even more dramatic piece of evidence. These things aren’t made for geeks. They still cater to geeks because of OSX and the design aesthetic, but they’re built for normal people that just want to get shit done.

Most people don’t care about computers. That’s the weirdest thing in the world for a geek to say. For the past ten or fifteen years they’ve had to care, and now, finally, there’s a glimmer of hope that maybe they won’t have to soon. The user experience that the iPad offers is that glimpse. The computer - the RAM, processor, hard drive, wires, screen, login, antivirus, operating system, CD/DVD drive, even the mouse - all that crap is out of the way. They hit one button and get their email, hit another and their kid writes a paper for school, another and Facebook pops up, another and Google finds the instructions they need for that Bobby Flay recipe.

The iPad is the first real computer that can do that. By real, I mean not a total piece of shit.

New Display And Input Methods

*** 5-10 years ***

Packaging in the computer industry is important for two reasons: input devices and screens. Laptops, phones, and all-in-one computers are all packaged around either the keyboard or the screen. If a multitouch, readable screen was not necessary, I’ll bet the iPhone could fit on my keychain.

Something, I wish I knew what, is going to keep this change going. Multitouch is only the beginning. Think bendable, transparent screens. Think air multitouch, where any surface becomes the screen. Think holography. I bet embedded HUD displays could follow, overlaying info over exactly what you see. After a couple Gooogles, it sounds like augmented reality is the new hot buzzword. Pick your poison.

That’s all I got. The Future’s pretty cool! Boom de yada! Boom de yada!

xkcd Loves the Discovery Channel

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