Remember 1997? That's the year when the Star Wars special editions began our long national breakup with George Lucas; the world was first introduced to the musical stylings of Limp Bizkit; and AOL unleashed an unyielding torrent of CDs on the world, promising ever-increasing amounts of free hours on the "world wide web." Crazy times.
Now think back: what would 1997-You's reaction be if someone told them that in 10 years, they would be able to access a robust, video-laden internet via a buttonless, mouseless device the size of a calculator (oh, and it had a camera and you could make phone calls with it)? You would have thought this soothsayer got a little too much O2 at their neighborhood oxygen bar before watching an episode of seaQuest on VHS, amiright?
However, looking back, there were many surprisingly accurate predictions of today's sci-fitastic tech (along with some notable misfires). Here we collected forecasts from top tech thinkers about how our electronic lives will evolve over the decade to come. We're sure there will be a mix of bullseyes and bulls%!t, so be sure to check back in every few years to see how we're doing.
(Note: When compiling this list, we were less concerned with the small gadget tweaks that we'll see in the very near future, as much as we were with predictions that go out on a limb with some wacky balls-out disrupting stuff.)
1. Controlling Devices With Our Mind
Expected By: 2017; embedded brain controls 2020
Science fiction and fantasy has long harbored visions of technology that could read our thoughts or otherwise meld with our minds. And we have already seen some small, but definite steps taken towards these ends. According to IBM, there will be widespread mental interactions with computers by 2017.
One company researcher blogged about a world where future incarnations of existing "meatware" will
probably get smaller. So I can imagine it will have completely dry sensors, and I'd be wearing it all the time, perhaps embedded into a baseball cap, and with a finer range of thought patterns detected and connected directly to my mobile phone - allowing me to interact with the world just by thinking particular thoughts. In doing this I could wonder what the traffic will be like on the way home and this information would pop up in front of me.
If you also think about smarter cities, if everyone is wearing the device and open to sharing their thoughts, city heat maps could be created to see how people are feeling to create a picture of the mental health of a city. Or musicians could create elaborate pieces based on what they are thinking about.
Intel has echoed similar notions, predicting that by 2020 they will have developed consumer grade brain-implantable microchips that will allow us to control technology with only thoughts.
2. Photo-Realistic Gaming
Expected By: 2019-2024
Man, Battlefield 3 looks nice. Real nice. But still, it's for-a-game nice. Not yet say, Prometheus trailer nice. Video game characters have evolved far beyond the muscled Contra twins of yesteryear, but few gamers would have any problem deciphering today's most advanced avatars from human actors. But this may not always be the case. In 2009, Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney predicted that gamers will interact with photo-realistic worlds in "10-to-15 years."
Of course, as game characters become more naturalistic, developers will inevitably run into a different kind of problem beyond rendering capability, namely "anything that requires simulating human intelligence or behavior: animation, character movement, interaction with characters, and conversations with characters. They're really cheesy in games now."
3. Smartphones As Powerful As The Human Brain
Expected By: 2023
Computers have already beat us at Jeopardy, so Skynet must be right around the corner, right? Well, maybe. According to renowned (but sometimes wrong) futurist Ray Kurzweil, computers need to achieve 10 petaflops (that's 10 quadrillion calculations) per second in order to match the power of one human brain.
And it's been done! Late last year, Japan's massive K Computer based in Kobe became the first 10 petaflop machine (not to be outdone, DARPA is already building an exaflop-level computer — that's a million trillion calculations — to go online by 2018). According to Kurzweil's "Law of Accelerating Returns," which describes the rate at which computing power gets more powerful for less cost, by 2023 we will have commercially produced 10 petaflop machines that will cost under $1,000. That means a top-shelf electronic device will have the same capability as an adult human brain, giving consumer gadgets staggering new abilities. This also means that relatively supercharged computational power will be commonplace, giving science and industry around the world a powerful new tool to build the next generation of technology.
As a side note, for what it's worth, nearly always wrong science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke predicts that AI will reach human levels of intelligence in 2020.
4. Robots, Robots Everywhere
Expected By: Every South Korean home 2015-2020; One-third of US military by 2015
South Korea LOVES robots. Helpful robots. Teacher robots. Freaky robots. All kinds of robots. The government predicted back in 2007 that every South Korean home would have a robot at some point between 2015 and 2020 and robots will routinely handle surgery on humans by 2018. South Korea is so invested in the future on robotics that it has drawn up a Robot Ethics Charter to dictate the relationship between man and machine.
While the South Korean government is preparing for a world with robot teachers and robot surgeons, the US military has been investing heavily in robot warriors. This research has resulted in advanced predator drones which the military has effectively utilized around the world. As of 2006, The US army had developed around 20 remotely controlled Unmanned Ground Systems and 2,500 uncrewed systems deployed in active conflict.
That same year, the U.S. Department of Defense predicted that one-third of its military will be robotic by 2015. These goals were born out of the military's (now-defunct) Future Combat Systems (FCS) program. I don't know if they're quite on pace to make that 2015 target, but future militaries will have an ever-increasing reliance on robot soldiers.
5. Self-Driving Cars In Mass Production
Expected By: 2018-2020
While self-driving cars are under development by several companies, they haven't yet found their way to local dealers. But as any student of the march of technology knows, where there is a will, there will be a way. So, when will we be able to buy vehicles (or step into an unmanned cab) and simply speak "drive me to the movies, Mr. Car"? Well, back in 2008, GM CEO Rick Wagoner predicted that self-driving cars would be commercially available in 2018.
In a similar prediction, cars equipped with Google's much-heralded self-driving tech are rumored to start production in 2020. Neither of these are out of the realm of possibility.
In June of 2011, Nevada became the first state to recognize driverless cars (following a lobbying effort by Google). It is speculated that Google specifically chose Nevada so that the tech giant would be able to showcase driverless models at a future edition of the CES or Las Vegas Auto Show.
One thing is for sure, we will one day have automated vehicles. They're safer, greener, and more efficient. The only question is when. Besides, we've already hit an important milestone: In the summer of 2011, a car equipped with Google's self-driving tech had already been involved in its first accident, but before all you ambulance chasers get too hungry, Google claims the five-car smash up was due to "human error."