On The Horizon – Part Three

This is Part Three of a six part mini series on Predicting the Future. For Part Two (the world of 2021) click here. For Part One (the Introduction) click here.

Thinking ahead 10 years in the future, things begin to get a little less clear. That is, if you’re thinking linearly. In that frame of mind, it’s hard to imagine anything will change all that much. You might think there will be an iPhone 12S, even thinner TV’s, or maybe some cool virtual reality video games. But, if you try to bend your thought processes towards exponential thinking, your focus shifts. Think back to the graph I made illustrating this point:

I’m not getting any better at drawing lines.

Now I’ll go ahead and zoom in on the part where the line starts to split:

Exponential JPEG
And I bet some of you thought you’d have that clunky flip phone forever.

See all that stuff that was “cutting edge” in 2006¹? Yeah, I haven’t seen my iPod in almost five years, mainly because it’s in my phone now. As much as the world of 2016 is a leap from the world of 2006, the gap between the world of 2026 and today is most-likely going to be bigger again, and then some.

Before we get started on our 10 year predictions I’d like to take a second here just to point out how hard it would be to actually predict something to a high degree of accuracy. To say, in 2006, that in 2016 we’d have refrigerators that you can order groceries from would be like predicting which path a mouse will take in a maze. It’s seemingly random. There are many variables; economic, social, and environmental influences, development cost, public interest, and so much more that have an impact on how technology can develop and where it could go. This leads many to either overcompensate or under-compensate in their predictive thinking. I’ve been guilty of overcompensating for what I thought could happen in the future before…

BEHOLD THE FUTURE WORLD OF 2015 (oops). Source

We all do it. I think the main reason for this is we either don’t know how things develop and change, or we are pessimistically or optimistically biased towards our own mental image of the future. So, with that in mind let’s cautiously wind the clock ahead ten years and make some predictions!


Mr. Hematite – In 2026 I’ll be turning 38 years old. With any luck I’ll have settled down with someone and have a couple of kids running around causing trouble. And, as we make our way to the grandparents’ house for dinner one evening, I’ll have more time to come up with interesting answers to “are we there yet?” because we’ll be traveling there in a Self-Driving Car.

Not exactly the sexiest car on the market. Source

The nature of a self-driving car is pretty straightforward. It’s a car that drives itself, duh. Well, at least it sounds straightforward. The path to making a truly self-driving car is a long, winding, daunting road. Think about it, someone has to make a system that will allow a car to drive from Point A to B, all on its own, and deliver its passengers in one piece (i.e. ALIVE). It’s crazy to think about getting into a car, buckling up, and then watching a show as your car drives you to the mall. Indeed, early iterations of self-driving cars are already heavily in development today.

If the perfect system is created and implemented, our society stands to benefit in countless ways. A few that stand out are obvious: distracted driving (texting, eating, grooming, generally not paying attention, etc.) becomes a thing of the past, people could go out for drinks and the possibility for drunk driving will not exist, which will prevent many senseless accidents and deaths, and your car could meet you where you want to be picked up. This is all tantalizing, until you realize the perfect system is not possible. This brings us to one of the biggest hurdles before self-driving cars become the norm: morality.

It’s a weird concept to talk about in terms of an artificial system, but morality is going to be one of the biggest areas of focus for companies that develop these products. Think about it this way: your car is set on an optimized route through the downtown area, taking you to a restaurant with your significant other. Once you hit downtown the roads get very congested. Not everyone has a self-driving car since they’re new to the market and decently expensive, and you see some drivers swerving between lanes to beat the rush. One of those drivers is so frustrated that they cut into oncoming traffic to get ahead, but they didn’t see you and now you’re on a collision course. On the sidewalk to the right you see a mother and young daughter walking. You are going to hit either the oncoming car or the pedestrians on the sidewalk and there’s nothing you can do. What does the car do?

I apologize for the dark hypothetical situation, but this is probably the most-relevant question when dealing with self-driving cars. Accidents happen, but historically it’s always been a human at the wheel in some way. Now an automated system is calling the shots. What does it decide? Surely if such a system is ever put in place it will have advanced environmental sensors (sonar, GPS, lasers, etc.) and the computational ability to formulate probabilities of future events. There’s also reason to believe that the system could then determine, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, the probability of yours, your significant other’s, and the oncoming driver’s survival in the event of the head-on crash, as well as the probability of the pedestrian’s survival after a collision with your car.

I don’t yet feel comfortable putting my life in the “hands” of this guy. Source

So, the question still looms. What does the car do? Does it hit the oncoming car, killing them and you or saving a combination of both in order to save the pedestrians? Or does it hit the pedestrians in order to save the other driver and you? Does it factor in the age, fitness, and general health of all parties? What about the number of people who could be negatively affected? What’s the moral choice? I don’t have an answer, but I do know three things:

  1. Self-driving cars will need an entirely new set of laws to govern their systems and use.
  2. Insuring one of these cars is going to be impossible using today’s approach, therefore the insurance industry will need an overhaul itself.
  3. No one, and I mean, no one, is going to buy a car they know might kill them in certain situations.

Based on that, yes, there are some pretty big hurdles to jump over before the first self-driving cars are among us and getting us all around safely. But, the very smart people and businesses that are going to bring about this automotive revolution are thinking about these problems today. With that let’s check out where sell-driving cars land on the spectrum.

There are a huge number of things that can side track the mass distribution of a self-driving car system. Not putting all my eggs in this basket, but it could be amazing.

Mr. Magnetite – In the next ten years we will be setting up a moon base. I know right? A moon base.

No, Dr. Evil, I’m talking about a real moon base. Source

Pretty hard to picture at the moment, largely because people from NASA and the U.S. Government have been saying that they’ve wanted to return to the moon for years now, but it’s not hard once you imagine the rate of technological advancement with the breakthrough that SpaceX just made. That breakthrough is being able to send a payload to space and bringing the rocket back to Earth without crashing it into the ocean, and then reusing it.

See that video? Well, I hate to say I told you so, but I did. SpaceX just made their second successful landing, this time on a barge floating in the middle of the ocean. One step closer to ultimate rocket reusability.

In my last entry I wrote about how we will see reusable rockets becoming much more commonplace in the next half decade. This reusability will make the systems required to get to space decrease considerably in price. Once it falls to a point, more and more private companies will be latching onto it; the amount of companies that use it will expand exponentially as demand goes up. Basically, once companies get into space and realize that it’s a rather safe investment with low risk and high return, they’ll set their sights to the moon. The moon will become important for a number of reasons, but I’ll touch on two.

First, the moon has been a beacon for explorers for aeons. Ever since man first looked into the sky, he has dreamt of one day walking on the mysterious, alien surface of the moon. This dream has since become a reality, but it seemed to be a one-off. In the early 1970’s, instead of manned moon exploration becoming the springboard to Mars and beyond, all missions ceased and have not been continued since. Several probes from various countries’ space programs have been sent there in the years following, but nothing with living people aboard. Getting a manned flight to the moon was just too damn expensive for most nations besides the United States or the USSR to really even fathom. The Moon had lost its splendour. Fortunately for us, the technology that got us there in the 60’s and 70’s has come down in cost, and new technologies have cropped up such as SpaceX’s and BlueOrigin’s reusable rockets. This means that in the next decade, it is very likely that private companies as well as national space agencies will be using these technologies to their advantage to get to the moon and claim a piece of it as their own.

Do any of these spots look like a good place for a lunar backyard? Source

Secondly, our moon is an entirely untapped source of resource wealth. Raw minerals like those found here on Earth (like titanium and iron) can be found on the moon, as well as Helium 3 to power fusion generators and potentially vast amounts of frozen water². Beyond its resource stores, the moon may be an ideal staging post for satellite deployment missions, advanced research, and maybe even proof-of-concept projects like building a space tether on the moon first just to see if we can before trying it out on Earth (if you don’t know what a space tether is, check out this awesome video). But, the far-off prospect that I’m most excited about is where space tourism ties into all this. With a steep cost for a round trip, only the most wealthy of the rich will be able to go to the moon. But some will, and they’ll take pictures and videos of them hitting a 3000 yard drive on the 9th hole of the Armstrong course. Everyone will want to go then, and with time prices will drop, and they will.

It looks like someone already beat the rich guys to it. Source

We find that even though today it seems like a pipe dream, the setting up of a moon base can be viewed as a rather foregone conclusion. Human’s will colonize the moon, but it will take the right economic and technological developments for it to happen. These developments, however, are shaping up around us as we speak.

Now let’s go ahead and draw a line on our spectrum.

FPS Moon
This might be tough to pull off in 10 years, but I think they’ll definitely be well on their way to getting a moon base “off the ground” in a decade or so. Heh.

Mr. Wüstite – Every day we wake up, turn the coffee machine on, press buttons on our phones and computers, open doors, and input commands on any number of devices. What if I told you that one day soon the number of things you physically touch to interact with will drop by a lot? Welcome to Gesture UI’s.

“I hate when I can’t skip the ads.” Source

In a logical next step from buttons, to touch screens, to advanced motion sensing technologies, gesture user interfaces are poised to change the way we interact with our gadgets. The main goal here is to make the user experience intuitive, engaging, and invisible. There is serious potential here for these forms of UI to create a seamless bridge between our digital and physical lives.

We’re already seeing early iterations of this technology in action. There are a few examples out there, but I want to focus on Microsoft’s Kinect product.

They didn’t tell me it doesn’t hover. Source

The Kinect, when bundled with an Xbox, allows one to play games using their physical movements and gestures, besides controlling the user experience on the console. Now, I’m no pro with video games but using this was fun, novel, and easy. There were a few hiccups here and there, and if you or someone you know owns a Kinect you know what I’m talking about (“Xbox open that. NO, DO NOT TURN OFF“), but there seems to be a solid foundation on which to build the future here. In fact, I saw a concept of a projector-type product that scanned the interior of a room and used the room’s geometry as a surface upon which it projected striking augmented reality programs. The limits of this kind of technology are almost impossible to comprehend. I keep coming back to how Tom Cruise’s character manipulated video with cool gloves on a panoramic screen in Minority Report. Think that level of control, but perhaps without the need for the gloves at all.

Come on, Tom. Those gloves are so 2045.

The biggest hurdles to this technology really taking off is the interest (and therefore investment) in research and development. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s cheap to create a system that recognizes people first as being people and then as a person inputting commands that then manifest on-screen. This will take time, but thanks to companies like Microsoft and others, a lot of the initial concept work is done and all they need to do is wait for the right people to come in to improve, innovate, and mass-distribute the technology.

With all that said, I think I had the easiest time plotting this one on the spectrum this week.

This technology definitely seems feasible within 10 years, as far as I can tell. Who knows, perhaps we’ll be ordering pizza with dramatic gesticulations on New Years Eve, 2025?

And there you have it, Part Three of our six part mini series on Predicting the Future is in the books. Wow, we’re almost halfway there! Stay tuned for next Monday’s entry as we take a look into what the world may have in store for us in 2041 (spoiler: it might be scary).


Featured image: Gesture controls are the stuff of the future. Source

¹ – External images for this graph were sourced on Google: Source, source, source, source, source, source.

² – Wikipedia article on the moon. Source

{the hematite blog} is a very new blog by a very regular guy that wants to learn and write about all sorts of stuff. I’m a little rusty, and this blog is about my journey to shake some of that rust off, get better at stuff, learn, and try new things. Maybe we can all learn something along the way. Thanks for stopping by!

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