Business Unusual

The World in 2056 based on Blade Runner

Considering that in 1982 the cutting edge technology was the Compact Disc (CD). Technology experts wondered if the new laser-powered mini disc could disrupt the cassette tape and vinyl LP.

Computers were big and expensive. The internet existed, but the web was still a decade away.

Mobile phones were so big they could only be used in cars and briefcases and they were expensive to use.

It might seem easy to dismiss Blade Runner's makers' overblown assumptions that cars could fly and robots would be so life-like that special tests would be needed to identify them.

That test was based on the Turing test suggested by A.I. forefather Alan Turing. We don’t have robots anywhere near as polished as those in the movie, but a text-based A.I. has managed to pass a Turing test.

The environmental disaster is also thankfully not as bad, but it does show that humans impact on the environment was expected to result in more harm than good.

What it did get right is pretty amazing. Mobile video communications, voice assistants and home automation. Those are a reality in November 2019 and they were pure fantasy in 1982. The BBC wrote up a piece looking at what it did get right. Quartz did the same with the sequel Blade Runner 2049

Choosing to make the future incredible is what is needed to qualify as a science fiction movie. It would not work if it was set in the 1980s, just like 1984 would hardly have been possible if set when it was written in 1948. Setting something in the not too distant future adds to the plausibility and invites speculation and debate about the future.

So let’s do that, this is a look at what might be the everyday tech in 2056 that we don’t have now.

We will have robots

There are four types of robots that we will need to build. The factory robot would not be new but would be the standard.

The digital assistant is also not that new but will be far more capable even though it would only need to be virtual.

The two newer types would be carer robots which would be the guardians of the elderly and the young. It is very hard to develop robots that would be able to rival a nurse or nanny and while they are likely to be a profession that will survive basic automation, there will be such a demand for them, that it would be worth investing billions in their development.

They may not need to be physical robots, it may simply be a wearable with the ability to help you through the day and call for help when needed or smart wheelchairs, walkers and exoskeletons to extend our mobility and independence until very late into our lives.

The last type might be the most contentious, companion bots. Virtual assistants and nursing robots would be able to form relationships with us, but these bots would be made specifically for companionship. In this respect, it was predicted in Blade Runner. It would not be that there are not enough people for human relationships, rather than some would simply prefer to have a relationship with them and it is very likely they would also allow for physical relationships.

Smart toilets

Hardly the technology to get you talking and while we are unlikely to still be depositing our waste into drinking water, the opportunity to monitor our overall health by testing our waste will be a simple and effective way to compliment the health trackers monitoring our other vital signs.

Plastics

Surely we will have learnt our lesson about the destructive nature of plastic and stopped using them. Assuming we could find something as cheap and versatile, I am sure we would switch, but if we could produce it from something other than fossil fuels and continue to improve recycling then we can expect to see plastics for a long time to come. Already there are methods to create plastic from wood rather than oil.

Transport

Flying cars, autonomous cars, drones, space travel. All will be more advanced than they are now, but it is as likely the solution to our transport problem would be to no longer need to travel as much nor move as many goods. Local production of food in vertical farms and production of many consumer goods using high volume 3D printing would reduce the need for shipping for everything except for hard to replicate parts. Telecommuting with high-definition immersive communications would allow most to work remotely. Leisure travel is also likely to be focused on local natural attractions and virtual distant travel offering many more the chance to see the world without the polluting or overcrowding.

Politics

Politics in some developed countries will not survive the rise of the super technocrat. Already nations like Estonia are making most services available online. The requirements for new policies would be better sourced using experts in their field being co-opted to assist for projects. Diplomacy would remain as would a smaller executive branch for situations involving security. But most portfolios would be transferred to civil servants to manage.

Elections, if still needed, would be done over a period of time with the electorate rating the skills or outcomes they would most like to see and candidates being measured and assessed during the evaluation period against the electorate's preferences determining who the ultimate winner is. So not on popularity, but performance.

This may sound like the potentially poor-functioning process of evaluating and rewarding CEOs at the moment. Using incentives that are not in the best interest of a company, its staff or customers but rather the shareholders is not sustainable. Business bureaucrats are already managing larger financial and data portfolios and will likely begin to shift the rewards back to something that is a better balance of the short term and long term performance.

The same is likely to apply to how we manage trade, social welfare and capital investments

Families

Despite tens of thousands of years of stability, families in the next 37 years may be remarkably different. Improved health care if combined with more balanced lifestyles will see us living much longer. The first impact would be to delay most of the major life stage decisions to later in life. Study will take longer, you will work and build a career longer before starting a family. One consequence would see young adults living in spaces with more common areas. The same would apply in later years. Parents will balance their own needs and careers by using nanny bots to help with raising children, families will continue to shrink to an average of two per two-person family. Parents should get to spend more time with their children as the need to commute to work will be less and schools are likely to be a combination of virtual and real classes. This would allow for smaller virtual classes and more students accommodated in fewer schools as they may only need to attend real classes as little as once a week.

Security

It is unlikely that this will not remain a serious issue, in part because we are only just beginning to understand the implications and vulnerabilities of a society that is so dependent on digital communications. The implications for biometric fraud are more severe than current fraud when a name, signature or ID is stolen, those can be changed. It is not possible to change biometric markers like retina patterns, fingerprints and our voice. Should those be compromised there are significant and severe implications for their owner.

Cyber threats are also more likely to not only be the source of conflict but also the actual battlegrounds. It would be inefficient to carry out physical attacks that can be intercepted and that can only affect localised areas. Cyber-attacks can strike multiple places simultaneously and affect larger areas than conventional weapons. As is the case now, the threat of counter strikes is likely to keep most nations ready to defend themselves but wary of initiating the first strike.

Environment

It is possible that the slow pace of change to counter the worsening climate crisis may prove to be our undoing, but there appears to be sufficient research and social activism to avert the worst of the crisis. Action tends to be slow until a tipping point is reached when it can change dramatically and relatively rapidly, hopefully, we are almost at that tipping point. While 37 years is a relatively long time in technology time frames, for the environment it is a very short space of time. Addressing this with every technological tool we have would be the best application of our impressive progress even though it was the same progress that created the crisis in the first place.

These are pure speculation based on previous editions of Business Unusual and my own crystal ball gazing. Hopefully, it will inspire you to consider what our future may be and if you don’t like what you see you will join others and change it.

Image credit: Sergey Nivens 123rf.com


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