The journey to the future always begins tomorrow. That may be a glib statement, but it’s also a strategic rule that is guiding many technology companies’ planning for the way the world is expected to be.
At the Cisco Live conference in Barcelona last week, the world’s leading networking hardware company revealed that this was one of the keys to its innovation.
“We like to make predictions of the future so that we can think about where we should be going, and contrast that with Cisco’s overall strategy,” said Rowan Trollope, senior vice president at Cisco. He is also Cisco’s general manager for the Internet of Things and Applications, meaning his day job is not only to think about the physical shape of the future, but to guide its creation.
“The reality is we are heading into an age of intelligence from a technology perspective, made possible by all the advances in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning we’ve seen in the last few years. Those two advances are what underpin many of the innovations you’ve seen from us already.”
In a keynote address, Trollope took his audience through the key inventions and technologies that can already be predicted today through to 2050. However, rather than taking the safe route of predicting general directions and periods, he gave exact years when we could see specific innovations come to pass:
“Dubai has announced that, in 2022, they will launch the worlds first driverless hover taxi. A flying car. We finally get a flying car! This is real, this is happening.”
“By 2025, we believe you’re going to start seeing smartphones disappear. Last year I went to Florida to a little office park and visited a company called Magic Leap. They are launching an Augmented Reality headset, completely wireless, with all the capabilities of a smartphone, but you don’t have to carry around this brick in your hand. Google Glass was version 1, Magic Leap is version 2, and there will be many more versions. The experience I had was so much better than looking at a piece of glass. It’s hard not to imagine a world in which we don’t carry smartphones.”
“In 2027 we should see the first commercial launch of a technology called text-by-thinking. It was launched in 2010, and has been tested in medical applications. It’s pretty exciting but also super weird.”
As we reach the end of the 2020s, says Trollope, complete simulations of the human brain will become possible.
“This will allow us to achieve an incredible milestone, which is to fully simulate the functioning of the human brain. They can already do this for mice in the lab, so it’s only a matter of time. This will also be important for medical purposes.”
“The 2030s,” says Trollope, “will make the 2020s look like nothing has happened.
New job tiles on LinkedIn that will be common in 2030s will include positions like Avatar Manager, Body Part Maker, Vertical Farmer, Nano Medic, Climate Change Reversal Specialist, and Waste Data Handler. The world of work looks very different.”
“By the early 2030s, in 2034, we will see 1 Terabit connections (1000 Gigabits or a million Megabits per second) to the home become common, and even with on-person connection technologies, built into what we wear.”
This is where the role of organisations like Cisco becomes clearer. Because the company is the world’s leading supplier of the routers and switches and other equipment that allows computer networks to communicate, it also has a central role in making possible the rapid increase in data speeds on the Internet. Particularly with the rise of the Internet of Things, connected sensors and devices – and analysis of the data they generate – will play a key role.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do in next 12 years to get to that world of 2034,” says Trollope. “Gathering data from every object around us, will transform the way we live and work. We will see really astounding progress from a networking perspective.”
“By 2036, as a result of reverse engineering the human brain, experts predict, Alzheimer’s will finally be cured. But between now and then we will see many of the diseases that afflict us today wiped out.”
“When we get to the 2040s, things really start to happen. We believe by 2040, the average home PC will have the computing power of 1-billion human brains. While today you have a thousand songs in your pocket, you will have a billion brains in your pocket by then.”
Trollope also believes that many of the computing giants that are household names today will have disappeared, become new entities or merge. He showed a mock-up logo for a brand called DELLnovo, cheekily suggesting the merging of Dell and Lenovo, today respectively the American and Chinese leaders in PC production.
“By 2045, Ray Kurzweil, the chief futurist of Google, has predicted we will reach the Singularity. That is the moment AI becomes smarter than humans. What Elon Musk and Bill Gates are concerned about, is that it might decide that it doesn’t need us pesky humans around anymore. Regardless of whether we believe that or not, we must be prepared for a future that is radically different.”
“By the end of the 2040s, virtual telepathy will dominate personal communications. Advancing text-by-thinking over the next 20 years, that technology will become good enough for personal use and cheap enough for most people on earth. It will radically change our culture and society in ways we can’t imagine.
“By the 2050s, we will have the first permanent human presence on Mars. We will finally become an interplanetary species. If you believe Elon Musk, it will happen even sooner.”
The big question, says Trollope, is what happens to planet Earth? It will need to support almost 10-billion people, but scientists believe it doesn’t have the “carrying capacity”.
“It will require two Earth-sized planets to support 9.7-billion people. The problem is that we only have one. The only way to survive comfortably in such a future, is that we have to be vastly more efficient with our resources, and that requires technology.
“We cannot have clean water and air for all people on earth without technology infrastructure. Every single system will require the groundwork we are doing today as a company and as an industry.”
Trollope has a warning that is both hopeful and ominous: “We have to think about how we are going to get there with technology. This puts in perspective why we do what we do. We have no choice.”