I just read The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business by Eric Schmidt of Google and Jared Cohen. I am always intrigued by books that look at the future. I was most fascinated by the book because Eric Schmidt is the executive chairman at Google and one has to imagine that the things in this book are discussed at Google all of the time. When he talks about a new product or technology that will be around you can bet that Google is working on it in some manner.
The book takes a look at upcoming technology and how it might change everyday life. The book predicts a lot of things that are already today in the early stages of development but that will become routine in the future. He predicts, for example, that 3D printing will have a much bigger impact in the third world than in the first world. Poor villages will pool their resources to get a 3D printer which will allow them to make things they would otherwise not be able to afford or get.
One of the most promising uses of technology will be with medicine and the book predicts that we will carry nanotechnology inside of us that will alert us when there is any kind of imbalance or at the very first sign of cancer. If you need a new body part technicians will be able to grow one for you from stem cells using a technology that is related to the 3D printers. Everybody’s DNA will be sampled and drugs will be modified specifically to match your genetic patterns to eliminate side effects.
The book predicts that we will see a huge leap in productivity tools such as robotics, artificial intelligence and voice recognition. Keyboards will be a thing of the past and we will interface with our computers by voice, thoughts or gestures. Translation programs will allow us to carry on a conversation with anybody on the planet.
Of course, there are also the more fun things like cars that drive themselves, and entertainment that starts to look like Star Trek holodecks. Entertainment will be personalized, immersive and ubiquitously available on any device.
A lot of the book is spent looking at technology’s impact on society and how it will affect war, peace, freedom, democracy and terrorism. Schmidt predicts that virtually everybody on earth will become connected using cell phones and this will be a game changer. Certainly technology is not the panacea and it will not eliminate hunger and lack of resources. But it will give everybody the same basic access to information and will eliminate barriers that stop the third world from any chance of competing. Education may continue to have a classroom component in richer countries, but most of the people in the planet are going to be able to learn the same things if they so choose from on-line resources.
Technology will have a huge impact on the interaction of people and their government. Repressive governments will try to keep information away from their populace. But blocking Internet connectivity is what drove Egyptians to the street last year and caused the overthrow of the government. It is going to be a lot harder for a government to lie to its citizens when everybody is connected and has more powerful tools than today for finding the truth. While the natural tendency for governments is to obscure things, the upcoming digital age will tend to illuminate the facts through the widespread availability of data.
To some degree it will be easier for people on the local level to rebel against bad government. The beginning of this was seen in the various Arab spring uprisings in the last year. But governments will also have new tools also for identifying dissenters and autocratic regimes will have the ability to single out ringleaders of revolts. The book does not predict whether the people or governments will win these battles, but the battle will be different from today when you consider that there will be a more fully informed and totally connected populace armed with facts. Certainly the people will have the power to shine light on corruption and bad government and corrupt politicians.
Some of the technologies that will be coming will make it somewhat easier to be a terrorist. Communications will make it easier of people with like mindsets to find each other, and artificial intelligence will make it easier for bad guys to find or make nefarious tools and identify targets. But on the flip side, it is going to be a lot harder for anybody in the future to remain anonymous. It’s like that if you catch one terrorist you will quickly know their whole circle of associates. We saw the bare inkling of future police capability with the Boston Marathon bombings. Police were able to access data quickly and then used crowdsourcing to quickly identify the suspects. In the future that will be even easier with highly accurate facial recognition software that will be able to identify most people quickly.
This book says that the upcoming decades are going to see change coming faster than at any time in history, and I believe that. There is amazing progress being made in almost every technological field and the number of new technologies and devices that are appearing in our lives is astonishing. As a technology geek I love change and I hope the world is ready for the next couple of very interesting decades.