What decade are we living in?

Author: Ury Smirnov. Category: Subjective rating of changes. Date:21.02.2013, 9:59.

What technology does more than any other influence on our way of life in this decade? Let’s look at the variants.

Is big seen at the distance?

Passed “zero” years are often called “the decade of gadgets”. That, in general, is true: the most noticeable changes in lifestyle at the time did have a “pocket size”. Let’s remember ourselves at the beginning of a general mobilization, which was transformed into a general smartphonization and was crowned in 2010 by the famous statement of Steve Jobs, who proclaimed post-PC era (by the way, in 2011 the total number of smart phones and tablets surpassed the number of personal computers). And our attention was drawn to the whole range of multimedia players, GPS-navigators, portable game consoles and devices for special purpose: to find lost things, counting calories eaten, direct contact with the aliens, etc., etc.

Someone might argue that in fact, the “zero” was a decade of social networks. I would have readily agreed with this – if I were not sure that this phenomenon is of a much larger scale, and that the active development of social networks will continue for at least three-four decades. Networks will reach all areas of politics, economy and culture, will intertwine with the current institutions of government, business, education, civil society, and will also transform and partly replace them.

It is not only and not so much on the development of network technologies, but on the development of those who use them. In our generation, only sophisticated groups of people have learned to use the networks for collaboration, business, for the protection of their common interests, and so on. When the majority will master these patterns of interaction the social and economic changes will take place that will be equivalent to an evolutionary jump. From the outside it will look as if the world has a new, more intelligent species Homo: more informed and less prone to succumb to manipulation, better understanding his interests, more agreeable. Able to call and show solidarity, to look beyond his nose, take care of his living environment and to cooperate for the sake of it with other people. More human.

There are reasons that make this “utopia” possible and even probable – and we will discuss them in one from the future posts.

But now there is another interesting question: what definition of the current decade will seem us relevant in 2021?

Let’s remember, what the case with gadgets was. The world’s first smart phone appeared in 1992, the first communicator – in 1996, the first camera phone – in 1997. A first truly perfect “digital companion” in the face of Apple iPhone appeared only in 2007.

A similar story is likely to happen with the “title” technology of 2010th. Most likely, we had a “nodding” met in the “zero” years or even earlier. And it starts flowering or close to the middle of the decade, or in the second half.

In my subjective opinion, the greatest influence on our way of life in the next 10 years can have one of four technologies listed below (if you do not agree – offer your own versions in the comments.)

Unmanned cars

"Google car" in the way

“Google car” in the way

A variety of systems of automated personal transport (such as a network of special paths that move without drivers compact wagons for one to four passengers) developed since 1953. However, to learn ordinary car how to drive without a driver on normal roads took decades of technological development.

Thus, in 1958, Chrysler has introduced the world’s first passive cruise control to automatically maintain the speed of the car on the way and change it at the descents and ascents without the driver. In 1996, Mercedes-Benz was the first to install electronic brake assist on their vehicles. And in 1999, the same company for the first time introduced the adaptive cruise control that maintains a constant distance from the vehicle ahead. In 2003, Toyota introduced the first semi-automatic parking system. In 2010 the Volvo company developed the first Volvo Pedestrian Detection with function of automatic brake. And in the same year, Google has made a breakthrough by launching test of the so-called “Google cars” – cars, controlled by a computer system without human involvement.

Experimental “Google car” traveled about 1600 kilometers without a driver and more than 225 000 miles – with partial man’s participation. The only accident occurred when “Google car” waited at the intersection traffic light, and it was crashed with a car running man who violated traffic rules. Overall, by the end of 2012 12 test cars with autopilot passed without incidents over 480 thousand kilometers.

In 2011-2012, the authorities of Nevada, Florida and California have legalized the use of automatic cars. The next steps will be Arizona, Oklahoma and Hawaii. But Google promises appearance in the sale of the first “drones” only in 3–5 years. And many experts push back the deadline further, anticipating the lack of readiness for this technology of legislators and automakers. However, the unmanned cars have all chances, in this decade, to acquire if not purses, the minds of the majority of car owners.

In addition, as a century ago, automotive innovations can once again become the technological “locomotive” of a number of industrial sectors. For example, they can remove to a new level robotics – by breakthroughs in the development of pattern recognition systems and dialogue systems “man – machine”. By the way, there are rumors that the work on “Google car” has already spawned a breakthrough project in the field of artificial intelligence. Observers link with that the recent invitation to work in Google Ray Kurzweil, known visionary in this area and the developer of the concept of technological singularity.

Also, the mass emergence of unmanned vehicles on the road will cause exponential growth of traffic video. Sales (download) of movies, games will increase. Distance education will receive a powerful impetus. A new genre of logic games and competitions-quizzes, using as game elements objects along the road, will appear. The “driver” and the passengers will have something to do on the road. (By the way, this trend I predicted five years ago.)

Of course, the introduction of automatic transport, so as the introduction of any radical innovation may cause troubles to related industries (e.g., insurance). But, according to Forbes experts, only in the U.S. 30,000 lives will be saved each year, two million injuries will be prevented, and at least $ 400 billion will be saved (by saving road lighting, route optimization, drivers release and so on).


Food, "printed" on the 3D-printer

Food, “printed” on the 3D-printer

The concept of 3D-printing developed since the mid-1990s. The first “mass” industrial 3D-printer (for $ 30,000) was released in 2002. Initially, 3D-printing was used mainly for rapid prototyping (creating mocks-up and working models), and then the technology began to be used for the production of finished products.

Thus, in 2006, the 3D printer has been completely printed operating drone aircraft. In 2008 a printer was created that can print itself. A year later, the printer had printed working clocks. And in the same 2009 the world’s first biological 3D-printer was created that allowed to grow tissues with desired properties and whole organs. On the internet you can find videos that show, for example, how to grow artificial prostheses of arteries that can pulsate.

In 2012 it came to print a race car and a two-story building with all rooms, stairs, pipes, etc. The house has been printed by the printer D-Shape in a single pass of the sand and an inorganic compound four times faster than similar buildings are usually built. Another printer – Contour Crafting – printed two-story house in just 20 hours!
Industrial companies around the world have used 3D-Priter not only for prototyping. Elements of ammunition of U.S. troops and military equipment parts, rocket motors are already made with 3D-printing. The experiment on the “printing out” automatic rifle was successful (in terms of shooting accuracy). There are examples of technologies for the production of the interior, prepared food, ceramics, jewelry, musical instruments, anthropoid masks and bones for implantation, of human tissues for testing drugs, of analog solid wood, counterpart beef, finished products from analog of leather and a robot swimmer to study the dynamics of water. Around the world online and offline stores are opened, customers of which can order prints of various products.

Consumer 3D-printers also appeared on the market (even the world’s first 3D-printer in the form of a pen was recently presented!). However, mostly architects and designers are using them to create three-dimensional models of buildings and things. But over time it comes to printing dishes, toys, household items and simple interior decoration. Then we will not have to order from an online store courier delivery of necessary goods – it’ll be enough to download at the same store basic circuit of necessary thing. As bloggers joke, each domestic family will compete with Chinese producers!

Anyhow, it is clear that in the foreseeable future 3D-printing will become the material base of the next industrial revolution, saving energy, time and materials (waste sometimes takes up to 90% of the material at the traditional plants), the growth of labor productivity, price reduction, and economic growth. Perhaps this revolution will begin in the current decade. At least, according to Wohler Associates, a global turnover of 3D-Printing industry in 2016 will reach $ 3 billions.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality: beautiful but bulky

Augmented reality: beautiful but bulky

The first prototype of an augmented reality device – Sword of Damocles stereo glasses with a translucent screen with a silver-plated, on which an image was projected – were created in 1967. A year later, a similar device was used by helicopter pilots of Bell Helicopter Company.

The term “augmented reality” (AR) was put in circulation in 1992. One of the first consumer applications of AR was the game Mosquitoes produced in 2004, it displayed on the mobile screen the real view, fixed with rear camera, and put on it a virtual optical sight, through which the player can destroy virtual mosquitoes.

I’m sure you’ve probably viewed on YouTube a lot of other, even more effective (and much more practical) examples of AR. The problem is that in these projects AR objects usually are displayed on the helmet or on the computer screen (in the best case – a smart phone or tablet.) However, by their nature AR technology requires a more compact hardware “intermediaries” than even handheld gadgets. Ideal are contact lenses with built-in communications, with the ability to project images directly onto the retina. The first projects to develop them were created in 2009, but the first commercial results are expected to be, at best, in the second half of this decade.

AR glasses are easier to create. Glasses are better than the lens in giving people the power of information cyborgs without requiring implantation of chips and other abuses of the body. As for me, I’m quite satisfied with glasses. And, millions of other potential users are likely, as well. For as soon as in the spring of last year, Google announced its project of augmented reality glasses, users began to prepare for the real agiotage. Not for nothing Google is creating now a network of shops – obviously, that there was where to build a queue on the night before the premiere.

Unfortunately, we will have to wait: Google Glass will be on sale not earlier than in 2014 (although the developers will have test samples this year). As the head of the project Babak Parviz notes, “It’s hard. This is not a laptop and a smart phone. This is a completely new platform. Therefore, the way people interact with it, and what they do is completely new territory. We hope that when we put it to developers, other people will think of what else this powerful platform can do”. So in this case it is not about the continuation of “decades of gadgets”, but about the new information reality.
By the way, you may have noticed: it is the second project of Google, mentioned in this post. I do not see an exaggeration in that: the founders and executives of the company think a lot about the future. You can still remember the world’s first commercially successful project of electric car Tesla, which involves Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and a project on mining on asteroids, which included Eric Schmidt and the same Larry Page…

But not without reason Google relies on developers. Of course, the glasses of the company will be able to do much: make phone calls, to perform voice commands, transmit sound through the bone, keep the video in real time (which is useful not only for travelers but also for those who want to scare off bullies or to protect themselves from the pressure of the inspector-bribe ). However, without a global infrastructure of online services that provide users of Google Glass with a variety of information anywhere in the world (infrastructure even more powerful than a network of sites that exploit the possibilities of “Maps Google”) this ambitious project could fail.

On the other hand, start-ups in the field of AR – especially those that are willing to be the first in taking relevant thematic and geographical niches – have great opportunities. One of the future posts I’m getting ready to devote to analyze AR trends, which can develop more rapidly.

Neural interface

 One of the neurogarniture models

One of the neurogarniture models

Many experts believe, not without reason, that the major scientific and technological developments of the XXI century will be related to the disclosure of secrets and capacity of the human brain. Thus, a prominent neuroscientist Vileyanur Ramachandran says about the upcoming fourth scientific revolution which will surpass the combined results of the three previous (i.e., the discoveries of Copernicus, Darwin and Sigmund Freud).

It will be enough affairs in this area for the next hundred years, but the current decade has a chance to become the decade of neural interface.

Back in 2003, a brain interface was created that worked without implanting electrodes. This opened the way for the creation of portable devices with feedback to help one manage the technical equipment, to control one’s emotional and intellectual state, and in the long term – to “communicate” at a distance with other people.

This, of course, is not about mind reading (at least – so far). The mechanism here is different: each person has certain concepts, images, commands associated with unique patterns of brain activity. A computer program can “learn” to recognize specific patterns of the operator – and to respond to them as to commands.

Today neural interface with feedback is actively used to help the sick: they give a possibility to even completely paralyzed person to go online, to write letters, to manage home appliances, etc. Remote operators use the neural interface for correction of robotic devices. And DARPA is conducting experiments on the use of this technology for the rapid exchange of information on the battlefield.

Technology actively penetrates the gaming industry. So, if you want, you can buy (so far only through Amazon.com and other western sites) one of the most popular models of neurogarniture compatible with iPhone or iPad, along with a set of puzzles, exercises, games. For example, in one of the many tasks you have to drive the ball in the right pocket with a “power of thought”. 🙂

But only at first glance the game with neurointerface may be perceived as yet another banal “time killer.” Neural interface with feedback, if you have special programs, allow you to visualize brain activity, to assess the level of concentration and relaxation, to analyze the effectiveness of different tasks and exercises execution. They can become an objective tool that allows each of us to control the work of the brain and the growth of its abilities. They will allow creating an industry “fitness for the brain” – global and local networks of intelligent services and clubs in which everyone can develop his mental abilities under the guidance of professional coaches. So today bodybuilding fans purposefully improve their body in the usual fitness clubs.

In the future neurogarniture will be used to control and self-control results in either training or the labor process. Knowledge workers will be able to determine the time*, when their personal effectiveness began to decline, and it’s time to switch to another type of activity or to rest. Operators of automated manufacturing and robotics will do particularly complex and delicate tasks using neural interface. And people in the arts – will create multiple versions of the same work, the choice between them will happen automatically, depending on the extent and direction of interest of the viewer, listener, reader (the first experiments in this direction are already carried out).

* Maybe someone thought about the horrors of sweatshop and corporate totalitarianism. I am confident that by the end of the decade the developed countries (and after them – the rest) will pass laws restricting the use of neural interfaces by employers to monitor employees. Employers will be allowed to use the neural interfaces to test candidates for jobs, for periodic re-certification, to improve workplace safety, for workers to perform complex operations, but it will be forbidden to monitor the performance of the employee during the day, his loyalty, emotional and intellectual preferences, habits, attitudes toward superiors, colleagues, partners, customers, sell products and so on. But to use separate neural interfaces by the workers for self-monitoring and self-reflection will be encouraged. If you come up with something different, now you know, against which to protest. 🙂

Neurorevolution can be slowed down just with a hypothetical third wave of the global economic crisis.When the money runs out, the majority somehow seeking out by “feet”, not by the “head”. 🙂 But many people use the hard times for learning, growth, gaining footholds that lose others. Among these proactive people one has to look for the first customers of this market, which will become one of the most respected and prosperous in the XXI century.

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