The future is a foreign country

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THE END IS NIGH: it wasn’t Photo Credit: Terence Kennedy

TECH pundits are hopeless at predicting those known unknowns.

Forget 2012. For all we sad souls hooked on technology, the real date the world was supposed to end was the final midnight of 1999.

The hugely-hyped Millennium Bug made millions for its ‘pest controllers’ worldwide. Unless allowed (and paid) to work their corrective magic, planes would fall from the sky and power grids would collapse because older computer systems couldn’t handle dates beyond 1999. Civilisation would implode.

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Mea culpa: I was one of those ‘experts’, and I probably made enough from peddling my own alarmist Millennium Bug articles that I didn’t have to work again until, oh I dunno, the following Tuesday.

Was it all much ado about nothing? After the world threw an astonishing € 500 billion at the ‘problem’, the worst that actually happened was a few HSBC cash dispensers that failed, some invalid Australian bus tickets, and shock horror, sundry lottery machines throwing a wobbly in America.

It did all set me wondering just how reliable even the absolute experts’ tech predictions can be, given that by now we were supposed to be getting around in flying cars and letting robots do all our work, never mind that most unfulfilled computing promise of all: the paperless society.

Certainly we’re close enough now to a favourite prediction date, 2020, to make educated guesses on whether some of the most popular predictions might actually happen: the Internet of Things taking over the world, automation in everything from grocery shopping to replacing the poor warehouse sods working for peanuts ‘picking’ our online orders, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin going mainstream, blockchain tightening up online security overall, and artificial intelligence, where of course resistance is futile.

But what then? How many of these regularly-aired expert predictions are likely to become reality by 2030, 2040 or even 2050?

  • Nanobots plugging our brains directly into the cloud.
  • Human reincarnation through Artificial Intelligence.
  • Space tourism.
  • Self-driving (flying?) cars.
  • Unlimited energy from ocean thermal power.
  • Wars unabated (sigh), but fought by robots.
  • No more vegetarianism: all meat is synthetic.
  • Intercontinental railways.
  • Cancer cured.
  • Drones mapping every inch of the planet, including the ocean floor.
  • No more smartphones; voicebots everywhere.
  • Textbooks replaced by virtual reality.
  • Hyperloop travel making today’s trains seem like Stephenson’s Rocket.
  • All new houses built by 3D printers (the Dutch have already started).
  • Virtual telepathy dominating personal communication.

And perhaps the scariest of all:

  • Half the world’s current jobs will no longer exist by 2050. Including writing this column. So enjoy it while you can. Please.

 

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