WE CAN SEE THE FUTURE
They’re the experts who know that the smartphone will be obsolete and you’ll wear all the technology you need in a single contact lens within 20 years. Mike Peake meets the futurologists
The arrival of Google Glass, the internet giant’s recent foray into the burgeoning wearable tech market, has been hailed as something of a digital revolution – as well as being roundly criticised as an outrageous invasion of privacy.
It is brilliant… but wrong. It is groundbreaking… but seems like it shouldn’t be legal.
The detractors, however, are shouting halt at a juggernaut; the proverbial horse has already bolted, and this particular beast is being powered by rocket fuel. Because what Google’s plasticky eyewear really represents is merely the teeniest, tiniest tip of the iceberg; the start of a trend that will gather momentum at an exponential rate. Alarmists point out that wearers of Google Glass can make use of an application that lets them take a candid photo simply by winking. The horror!
What they probably don’t know – and what they will definitely be unable to stop – is that within 20 years, Google Glass will have morphed into a contact lens no one will even know you are wearing, which will be able to record ultra-HD video all day long. And – less worryingly – that will show you what deals are currently on offer as you’re passing a store, or tell you exactly how many seconds you have left until the next train arrives when descending into the Underground.
It will change your life in a far more dramatic fashion than the internet has done over the past two decades.
The people who really understand what Google Glass heralds are a small band of men and women known as
‘Seeing a restaurant in the real world, you’ll be able to read its menu and its daily specials’
futurists, or futurologists, and by joining up the dots of what we know today with what they think we’ll know in the future, they are able to predict just where technology is going with a reported accuracy of around 80 per cent.
They foresaw the iPhone, they knew drones would steadily replace ground strikes, and they certainly know that in the not-too-distant future, you won’t have to wear a set of Google-branded goggles if you want to take secret photos. From personal technology to fuel; from outer space to education, these guys know where it’s at.
Two of the world’s most respected futurists are Ray Hammond, arguably Europe’s most widely published futurist who was honoured by Mikhail Gorbachev with a UN gold medal for services to futurology, and Dr Ian Pearson, founder of the company Futurizon and author of multiple books.
They take us on a whistle-stop tour of tomorrow…
“One problem we have is that we don’t yet have the language of the future,” says Ray. “In much the same way ‘the horseless carriage’ didn’t do a very good job of describing what the car would become, the term ‘mobile phone’ is very misleading.”
Within a decade or so, Ray reckons mobile phones as we know them will be no more, their functions having morphed into all manner of wearable pieces of technology that we have with us at all times.
“Think of assorted little items around the body,” says Ray. “On our wrists, in our ears, on our belts and microphones on our collars. They become a body network, and will look after everything, from our health to our finances, and all of our communications.”
Going forward a little – 20-25 years – retinal-projection contact lenses will be at the heart of this portable kit. They will be several giant leaps ahead of where Google Glass is today, and, says Ian, “will show how the mobile phone was just a passing technology”. All the processing power you’ll need, he says, will fit into something as minute as an ear stud, and we’ll be able to look out and see data overlaid on whatever we’re looking at.
“Today, we call it augmented reality,” he says, “and what’s going to happen, for example, is that when you see a restaurant in the real world you’ll be able to see its menu, its daily specials, and reviews from your friends.”
The contact lenses would also serve as TV and cinema screens, adds Ray, making ‘home entertainment’ as we know it utterly redundant. “Your entertainment goes wherever you are.”
We’ll see these lenses in just a few years, prototypes at first, used for measuring blood sugar levels and with other medical applications.
Chanel and Louis Vuitton might be looking two or three seasons ahead, but our futurists think they know what we’ll be wearing decades from now, and the answer is ‘whatever you want people to think you’re wearing’.
Dr Ian Pearson explains, “As augmented reality comes into play, you’ll soon be able to start making your appearance more and more virtual.”
He says we’ll each have a ‘digital aura’, so passers-by who are wearing retinal-projection contact lenses will not so much see you but the avatar you’ve created for yourself. “It’s a digital bubble, showing your Facebook profile, what you’re into, whether you’re single – whatever you like.”
He also argues that one of the biggest battles in tech in the coming decades will be the one over who gets to control what you see through these retinal-projection lenses. Will it be possible to walk down a high street and see just directions – or will the bombardment from advertisers be part of the deal that we will simply have to accept?
Housing is a basic human need, and as such Ray Hammond sees little change in the actual structure of our homes. 3D printing technology – imagine a giant 3D printer on a gantry, fed by concrete – will start to creep into construction, but beyond that the styles of housing aren’t likely to change much, though insulation (and, in return less energy waste) will become ever more important.
“The biggest change,” says Ray, “is that your home becomes intelligent. So the pipes know if the taps are about to develop a leak and ensure preventative maintenance can be carried out.”
We’re already witnessing the ‘brainification’ of our homes. But far more than a fridge that knows when you’ve run out of butter or the milk is near its sell-by date, your whole house will soon be “an intelligent shell communicating with components all the time for our benefit and safety”.
Ray Hammond, left, and Dr Ian Pearson don’t need a crystal ball to predict the future
Forget touchscreens; contact lenses will serve as TV and movie screens