Blink and you’ll miss it: The future of technology


Photo credit: Ren Rader

Illustration by Ren Rader

As this decade comes to a close, it’s only natural to wonder what our technology landscape will look like in 2029. Unfortunately, most technology predictions are spectacularly wrong.

For example, in the late 90s, as technology stocks pushed the NASDAQ to dizzying heights, economist Paul Krugman was not sold on the “information superhighway.” Arguing that growth projections were wildly exaggerated, Krugman predicted that the Internet’s impact on the economy would be no greater than that of the fax machine. He was wrong. The internet now connects 3.5 billion people.

Or, consider the case of ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. In 2007, he chuckled at reports that Apple was building an iPhone, asserting that the device had “no chance” of earning significant market share. Industry analyst John Dvorak agreed, suggesting that “Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone.” Ballmer and Dvorak were wrong. Apple has sold more than 2.5 billion iPhones to consumers around the world.

As we can see, making predictions about technology is a fool’s errand. Please take the following claims with an enormous grain of salt.

During the coming decade, we will be bombarded with advertisements that celebrate bendable, flexible devices.

According to analysts at Allied Business Intelligence Research, rigid screens are on the way out. They predict that more than 228 million users will use bendable or foldable devices by the end of the decade. The thought of a computer that can be rolled up and put in one’s back pocket is appealing, but the first attempts to implement flexible screens have not been successful. And it’s not as if consumers are clamoring for this functionality. In a recent piece for Salon, technology writer Nicole Karlis describes bendable screens as an “absurd technology” from the “future no one asked for.”

Gaming systems will be faster, more immersive and more ubiquitous.

For approximately 50 years, computer processing power has grown rapidly, doubling every 18 to 24 months. Referred to as Moore’s Law even though it is not a natural law of the universe, this exponential growth of computing power has fueled the growth of the gaming industry. When Sony releases the PS6 in eight years, consoles will be significantly more powerful, graphics will be even more compelling, and ultra-fast bandwidth will make it possible to stream high-quality games to underpowered devices.

Technology giants will continue experimenting with wearable augmented reality (AR) technologies.

If you have ever experimented with Snapchat lenses or played Pokemon GO, you have personal experience with AR. While virtual reality (VR) describes a completely immersive simulated environment, AR is all about layering computer-generated content on top of the “real” physical world. Google Glass was a dismal failure, but that has not slowed attempts to market augmented reality. Samsung is developing “smart contact lenses” with motion sensors that use eye gestures as a form of user input, and many analysts anticipate Apple-branded AR headsets and glasses before the end of 2023.

The Internet of Things (IoT) will further chip away at individual privacy.

Technologists who promote the “Internet of Things” imagine a world in which everything and everyone is connected to a digital network. As defined in one crowd-sourced and web-based encyclopedia, “the Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.” That’s right, people and animals are part of the IoT.

On the one hand, there are practical benefits of widespread, embeddable devices. It would be nice to receive friendly text messages from houseplants on the brink of death: “Hey, Aaron. This is Basil, the basil plant in your backyard. Don’t mean to bother you, but I’m really thirsty and it’s like 103 degrees outside. Could you maybe water me a little bit?”

But there is always free cheese in a mousetrap. This convenience comes with a price. IoT extends the digital surveillance grid into every nook and cranny of our daily lives, making it harder to disconnect, and time-strapped consumers do not always pay attention to these costs until it is too late. The next time you see a heartwarming commercial for the Internet-connected doorbell Amazon Ring, it might be worth remembering that Amazon has partnered with more than 400 police departments across the country, giving law enforcement access to these devices’ video feed.

Many of today’s assumptions about technology will be thrown out the window.

Most of today’s corporate certifications and LinkedIn endorsements will be meaningless in the world of 2029. Paradigms will fracture, dominant programming languages will slide into obsolescence and human-computer interaction will be conceptualized in radically new ways.

In the face of these technological changes, Trinity students will be OK. After all, technology skills are just one small part of the capabilities you have cultivated during your time at Trinity. Both inside and outside the classroom, you have wandered outside of your comfort zones, learning how to write, think and create in many different ways. These skills are the true foundation of innovation.

Oh, and one last bonus prediction: By the time 2029 rolls around, almost all of the students who are currently reading this will be pushing 30 and wondering where the last 10 years went.