Even though I’m not normally a fan of prognostication, last week I attended the Churchill Club’s 13th annual Top 10 Tech Trends event due to its unusual format. Curt Carlson, President and CEO of SRI International, offered ten predictions that will most impact technology over the next three years. The validity of the trends were debated by four panelists – Steve Jurvetson (@dfjsteve), Paul Saffo (@psaffo), Ajay Royan, Aneesh Chopra (@aneeshchopra) – and voted on by the audience using a 1 (highly unlikely) to 10 (highly likely) scale.
Given the varied background of the panelists, the debates were as interesting as the trends themselves. You can watch the entire event on Fora.TV (fee required) or read a detailed analysis from Eric Savitz. Alternately, here’s my summary:
Age Before Beauty
The trend is technology products designed for Baby Boomers.
Audience score: 4.4
The panelists agreed that the retired population is an untapped market for technology but felt that generic products should be adapted for them, rather than specific products. Good design works for everyone.
The Doctor Is In
The trend is a combination of artificial intelligence, the Internet, and very low-cost medical instrumentation to provide high-quality diagnostics and advice—including answering patient questions—online to a worldwide audience.
Audience score: 4.0
Only Chopra agreed. The rest believed remote treatment was possible and would be used in very specific situations but doctors would continue focus their practices on in-person treatment.
Made for Me
Practical, one-off production of physical goods in widely distributed micro-factories: the ultimate customization of products.
Audience score: 4.6
Carlson seemed slightly frustrated at this point because the panelists disagreed with the third trend in a row. They believed that the physical product did not need to be personalized but rather the software/technology within it. The iPod is the same but everyone’s music is different.
Pay Me Now
Technology and business models based on attracting consumers to share large amounts of information exclusively with services providers.
Audience Score: 6.9
After changing the trend to “give me this for free,” the panelists pointed out that this future had already arrived and will become even more prevalent.
Rosie, At Last
The trend is robots becoming embedded in our environments, taking advantage of the cloud, to understand and fulfill our needs.
Audience score: 6.0
The panelists universally agreed that robots will not become common in our personal lives in the next few years but will become ubiquitous in factories.
The rise of true social networks, designed to maintain real, respectful relationships online
Audience score: 8.0
This was the highest score from the audience and the panel concurred. People are no longer enamored with thousands of Facebook friends or LinkedIn connections, and prefer trusted interactions.
Hyper-resolution, augmented reality and hyper-accurate artificial people and objects that fundamentally enhance people’s experience of the world.
Audience score: 5.8
Chopra took pains to point out that the U.S. military already uses augmented reality but the others felt like the commercial uses were too specialized and would not be high priority for investment.
Engineering by biologists
The trend is practical engineered artifacts, devices, and computers based on biology rather than just on silicon
Audience score: 5.1
Perhaps the most interesting discussion. While the panelists agreed that this would be a future, they argued that it wouldn’t be a trend of the near future.
Tis a gift to be simple
Cyber defense through wide-spread adoption of simple, low-feature software for consumers and businesses
Audience score: 2.9
This trend was universally rejected by the panelists, our table, and the overall audience. The panelists even argued that low feature software that didn’t inter operate well might leave us more vulnerable.
The trend for developing countries to turn around the flow of innovation: Silicon Valley will begin to learn more from them about innovative applications than they need to learn from us about underlying technology
Audience score: 7.1
The panel agreed with this trend but I’m not sure that I do. Having lived in the Valley for 20 years, I think it’s too early to count us out.
Which of these trends do you think are most likely to pan out over the next few years?
Thanks for the great recap for those of us who couldn’t attend. What I found interesting about the trends was how they seem to fall under three broad themes:
(1) System shifts: The “doctor is in” and “reverse innovation” fall here … for the former, you need sensors, new payment plans, change in mindset, etc. These are tightly coupled, complex systems that have a lot of prerequisites and dependencies
(2) Cultural shifts: “Social, really” falls here …. These are trends that are happening because society demands them
(3) One off pushes: “Augmented reality” falls here. These are ideas that a single company could productize and market
The above is simplistic and some trends might cross multiple categories. In general, I think trends in the 3rd bucket are the most likely in the near term as a single entrepreneur can jump start them, the second bucket is foregone conclusion with timing the only question and the third bucket is dependent on network and system with the most difficult path.
If I look at this not from the “most likely”, but from the “most important” perspective, I tend to think the trends that impact systems and networks are going to be the most important as they would change ingrained ways we live which may not be sustainable. I’ll go with the “Doctor is In” and “Reverse Innovation” as the “most important”. Most likely, I’ll go with the safer “Social, really”.
Upcoming infrastructure issues (what happens when everybody accesses Netflix online at the same time?) and the upcoming issues of dependable, inexpensive energy may affect how some trends pan out.
Social, really – Technology has been experiencing the same issues that bars, clubs, and restaurants have always dealt. MySpace is a little like that club that used to be hot, but no talks about it anymore because they are all standing behind the velvet rope at the new hot club, Facebook. A Fortune magazine cover story on the problems at Twitter also point to the extreme ups and downs that accompany even the hottest of the existing trends.
The Doctor is In could be a viable solution to providing affordable, accessable healthcare for our country, though it will undoubtable start off being specialized premium services.
These trends point to how people’s expectations of technology has grown from appreciating a service to expecting a servant. That is what I see as the next trend – technology moving from service to servant.