Future Inventions

Invention Probability by 2050*

Invisibility cloaks 85%
Emotionally aware machines 100%
Robotic soldiers 100%
Vertical city farms 90%
Fully sensory internet 100%
Childcare robots 90%
Robotic surgery 100%
3D printers 100%
Oceanic thermal converter 60%
Programmable matter 80%
Injections to treat addictions 100%
150 GB memory sticks 90%
Mobile phone implants 50%
Wireless speakers 95%
Everlasting chewing gum 5%
Everlasting gob stoppers 10%
Downloadable dreams 2%
GPS shoes 99%
Artificial eyes 99%
Body part farms 50%
Non-melting ice 10%
Transatlantic tunnel 5%
Implantable sense of humour 0%
Video wallpaper 70%
Virtual reality windows 60%
Fully sensory Internet 100%
Sleep hotels 100%
Just in time food shopping 100%
Powered exoskeletons 100%
Silent villages 60%
Quiet paint 80%
Spray on surgical gloves 20%
Disposable cardboard phones 70%
Wireless recharging 100%
Keyless home entry 100%
Digital wallets 100%
Self-repairing paint 100%
Real time road pricing 100%
Self-parking cars 90%
Single global currency 60%
Shy shields 10%
Flying Cars 1%
Oceanic mirrors 2%
Plastic bones 85%
Plastic bridges 75%
Face transplants 90%
Memory pills 25%
Artificial hearts 80%
Aerosol dirt 10%
Face recognition doors 100%
Plastic teeth 80%
Plastic planes 40%
Space Tourism 100%
Moon colony 70%
Space elevators 10%
Lists of inventions for 2100 100%

* Mainstream availability



The Colour of Money

Was it just me or was anyone else suffering from pink ribbon fatigue this week? Before you start sending me hate emails let me explain. First of all my mother suffered from breast cancer so I do know a little bit about the distress caused by the disease, although I’m willing to concede that, as a man, I don’t know very much.

What’s irritating me is not breast cancer but the tactics being used by some charities to raise money and awareness.

A good example is Bono’s Product Red campaign A while ago, the New York Times reported that over $22 million had been raised to help women infected with HIV in Ghana, Swaziland and Rwanda. But some critics also pointed out that as much as $100 million had been spent by commercial organisations such as American Express, Microsoft and Armani promoting their connection with the campaign. The amount of money raised by the campaign is now thought to be in excess of $50 million but the criticism remains. Cause-related marketing or embedded giving it’s called and it satisfies the heads and hearts of charities and commercial organisations alike.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation has done a phenomenal job rasing money and awareness and all credit to that for that. However, I am becoming uneasy about the hundreds of companies worldwide that are using the issue of breast cancer (and other serious issues) to support their sales.

Money is often given with very few questions asked and I am especially concerned about whether or not some of the companies contributing to the pink ribbon campaign globally might not be contributing to the problem.

For example, many of the companies that are using pink ribbons to boost their image amongst women are producing products that, according to organisations such as Breast Cancer Action (US), contain or create chemicals that are likely to be associated with the development of the disease.

You’ve probably heard of white washing and green washing. This is pink washing and I suspect that a key motivation of many of these commercial organisations is raising money for themselves.

Another issue is that many of the pink “home and lifestyle” products that these charities are endorsing. Shoes, t-shirts and cute baby jump suits seem to be fashion products aimed at women in their twenties and perhaps thirties when it’s well known that 80% of breast cancers are diagnosed in women aged fifty plus.

Now you could argue that breast cancer is most dangerous for young women but if that’s the case shouldn’t we be spending more time educating young women about some of the risk factors such as alcohol and diet?

Charity is becoming an industry like any other and we are increasingly being asked to shop for convenient solutions. There is nothing wrong with this. Building an element of giving into everyday products is a great idea but it is becoming so widespread that I am starting to feel coerced. Most embedded giving is unregulated and the precise nature of the relationship is unknown. Moreover, introducing a third party into the giving equation is moving the donors further away from the recipients, which instinctively sounds like a bad idea.

Media Trends and Timelines

Had a coffee with fellow futurist Ross Dawson this morning. Decided it was time to create another timeline so we’ve settled on a media innovations timeline from 1600AD to 2030. Interesting thing was that a few thousand years took just 30 minutes but we became a bit stuck with future developments. Weird. Does this mean that it’s a case of the same but different in the future? Answer: No, we just need more coffee.

Things that did make me laugh were Advertising supported education, foetal sponsorship, emotionally responsive programming and speed-reading glasses.

The timeline will be out in a week or two (I think) and will be available for free download at nowandnext.com and futureexploration.net. BTW, there is obviously something on the air. I’ve just been asked to contribute to another future innovations timeline for Wired magazine.

2009 Trends

Things are looking crunchy. How bad things are nobody really knows yet, but it does look as though several parts of the world are either in, or are entering, recession (a recession is when someone you know loses their job. A depression is when you lose your own job). Given that we don’t know what’s happening it’s premature to speculate about specific consequences. Nevertheless, one can perhaps make a few general statements about what’s likely to happen as a result of recent economic events. So here’s a list of predictions:

1. Lower oil prices
Lower economic growth means less demand, which means less appetite for energy and specifically oil. The fact that people were worrying about oil at $140+ a barrel just a few months ago is a perfect demonstration of the cyclical nature of both markets and risk.

2. More home cooked meals
People have less disposable income and are feeling anxious about what lies ahead so expect to see more cooking from scratch (to save money) and more home cooked comfort food (to feel better on the inside even when things on the outside are looking gloomy). At the extreme people will also start growing their own food — at least until they realise that this isn’t quite as easy as it looks. Nevertheless, gardening as an antidote to stress should make a comeback.

3. More affordable housing (for a while)
One of the major reasons for the current financial mess is that individuals and institutions alike thought that boom and bust had ended. House prices went up but no longer went down. This was great news for real estate investors but if you simply needed somewhere cheap to live it wasn’t.
So say hello to more affordable housing (assuming you can find anyone still willing to lend you money to buy one). However, this might not last long because people are already viewing houses as ‘safe’ places to put their savings.

4. More thrift
Expect people to brand switch from what are perceived to be relatively expensive supermarkets (e.g. Waitrose and Tesco) to cheaper discount alternatives such as Aldi and Lidl. Also expect retailers to place more emphasis on value for money. We will also see more trading on e-Bay,
more second-hand clothing swaps, more charity shops and more make do and mend.

5. More time with family
In boom times time becomes relatively expensive. Thus people spend less time with their family and friends and outsource all sorts of things from childcare to cleaning. In a recession such behaviour tends to reverse so expect to see people spending less time at work and more time with their immediate family.

6. More street crime
The recession will not be universal and some wealthy areas will be almost immune to the ravages of the economic chill. One consequence of people having less money (or none) will be an increase in crime, especially opportunistic street crime.

7. Less obesity
Lower oil prices may result in people driving more but a more likely result is people walking and cycling more. Add to this a trend towards healthier eating (because fresh food is cheaper and people have more time to cook from scratch) and one result could be leaner, healthier nations. Actually this is probably rubbish.

8. More time in education
If there are less jobs or the job market becomes more uncertain then it would not be unreasonable to assume that people will spend longer in the relatively stable and risk free world of education.

9. Interest in serious news & media
In times of serious economic upheaval and anxiety individuals have two options. The first option is to bury your head in fantasy and escape (everything from escapist movies to virtual worlds). The second route to find out what’s going on. Expect to see a revival in the fortunes of serious newspapers and magazines like the Financial Times and The Economist.

10. More big-bank consolidation
Market consolidation has been going on for at least a quarter of a century but recent events will speed up this consolidation, especially in sectors that have been most exposed to debt. Expect to see more big global banks but also expect to see more interest in local non-bank lenders such as building societies and savings and loan companies.

Quote of the month

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”

Thomas Jefferson, Letter to the Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, 1802

Future Files (US/UK edition)

I can’t resist sticking this up. It’s from Publishers’ Weekly in the US. They have got my book ‘Future Files’ as their Pick of the month for October. God bless America.

” Cheaper than a crystal ball and twice as fun, this book by futurist and web creator Watson examines what “someday” could be like, based on the five key trends of ageing; power shift to the East; global connectivity; the “GRIN” technologies of Genetics, Robotics, Internet, and Nanotechnology; environmental concerns, and 50 less general but equally influential developments that will radically alter human life by the year 2050. Watson gently scoffs at Jetsons-like wishful-thinking technology and flying cars; instead he predicts the fanciful (mindwipes, stress-control clothing, napcaps that induce sleep) and the useful (devices to harness the sea to generate energy; self-repairing car paint; retail technology that helps us shop, based on past buying habits; hospital plasters that monitor vital signs). In between the fun and frivolity, he prognosticates the frightening: the “extinction” of individual ugliness and free public spaces; the creation of hybrid humans; a society made of people who are incapable of the tiniest tasks; and insects that carry wireless cameras to monitor our lives. Part Jules Verne, part Malcolm Gladwell, Watson has a puckish sense of humor and his book is a thought-provoking, laughter-inducing delight. (Oct)”

Black (insert day of week as appropriate)

What a week. It’s always dangerous to make short-term predictions but occasionally you need to stick your neck out. People are worried about their jobs. People are worried about their homes and people are worried about their savings. The toxic nature of some recent interbank lending means people are also genuinely frightened about what’s going to happen next.

To this point I offer two thoughts. First, even if the financial system does collapse it’s not the end of the world. It’s only money. On almost any other measure you can mention we are better off now than we have been for a very long time. There is no immediate threat to our physical health or our physical security*. It’s not a global flu pandemic and it’s not the start of WW3 either. Moreover, even if 2008 does turn into 1929 (it won’t) the material circumstances and prospects of most people are still vastly different.

Second, even though many parts of the world seem certain to fall into a recession there is still a lot of money around. China is awash with cash and whilst the US is certainly an important export market for China, Asia is far more important. So is internal Chinese consumption. What this means is that a US inspired financial crisis is still not necessarily a global economic one over the longer-term.

It seems to me that the most likely scenario is one where the US and Europe are de-coupled from the rest of the world economically in a manner that is analogous to Japan’s ‘lost decade’ in the 1990s. Global growth will slow down but it won’t end. Furthermore, whilst some sectors will be hit hard (financial services and retail being obvious examples) other sectors such as manufacturing or technology may still shine relatively speaking.

A final point is prices. People complain about the cost of food and petrol but what they miss is that these prices are relative. Other things, such as the cost of manufactured goods, have dropped sharply in recent years. I could be wrong about all this, of course, but I figure that if 1929 does return then we will have bigger things to worry about than my latest blog post.

* Can you imagine the consequences of another US 9/11-style attack in the middle of the current financial crisis? This is one scenario that I’d rather
not think about.