India & China continue to show massive growth potential from the original BRIC countries, expected to join the US as the top 3 by GDP in 2050. Half of India’s 1.2-billion population is under the age of 25. By 2020, India will have the world’s youngest population, with a median age of 29 years, compared with a median age of 37 in China [Investopedia].
This demographic dividend could potentially give India the biggest labor force and make it the largest consumer market in the world. The chap that defined BRIC coined a new term earlier this year: MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) These are the 4 countries expected to show growth because they have a large proportion of the population about to enter working age.
A number of TED talks focus on the city, and make the case that well designed cities can be both more efficient and offer a better quality of life (more walking, less driving). Reductions in food miles can even be seen with local hydroponic and aquaponic systems providing local sources of fresh veg and protein. With more of us in cities we’ll need fewer cars, so hopefully car-sharing solutions will help to address the need for occassional car journeys - (BlaBlaCar, Uber, and perhaps even last mile electric vehicle solutions like the Cite Lib by Ha:mo trial in Grenoble)
I predict we’ll also start to see cities becoming smarter through the use of Big Data to aggregate information from sensors peppered throughout the city (Internet of Things), optimizing use of resources (water, traffic, lighting, power distribution, parking spaces). [Sogeti: Smart Cities & the Internet of things / Cisco's bet on Smart Cities and IoT in India]
The Narendra Modi government announced that the government would be spending time and effort in building out 100 smart cities over the course of the coming years. [CNN]
Data warehouses and business intelligence have long been the domain of specialist data scientists in the enterprise, leaving the business decision makers one step removed. Due to the capabilities of the systems, analysis has been complicated by the need to limit the amount of data analyzed, constraining complexity for the server, but increasing it for the user. With the new tools coming that are able to process 'Big Data', it now becomes more practical to throw every bit of data you have into the system, then explore to find insights. With better software on the analytics end, in a few years I can see the business decision makers themselves beginning to use the tools to explore hypotheses & generate insights.
Deep learning techniques such as neutral networks are getting more and more capable (Google recently detailed how they can parse all of the street numbers in France in 2 hours), and soon will allow us to analyse the massive amounts of data in more meaningful ways.
The world’s population is aging, and this means more more healthcare will be required, but many of us will also be working longer before retirement.
Big Data and Health
With the increasing availability of low cost sensors in smartphones or wearables to measure our own bodies we're already seeing demand to track simple things like steps (e.g. Google fit) and weight (e.g. Withings). More advanced sensors are on the horizon allowing you to track heart rate via a smart watch; and more attributes (I'm waiting for my Scanadu Scout to be delivered). This trend has been termed the Quantified Self, and those such as the human guniea pig Tim Ferris are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. The big gap at the moment however is this is just data. We need something to analyse the data and turn it into actionable insights. Developments in cloud based big data analytics might provide something here - and all of the companies building the devices must be thinking along these lines. I think Google's approach to offering a central bucket for data from multiple devices (Google Fit) might have the best chance of generating something useful, although Apple and Samsung are also working on platforms. I'm expecting useful insight generated here both for the individual to make their own life choices; and for organizations to aggregate data across populations to study changes affecting larger groups due to changes in their environment or activities. [GigaOm / TechCrunch]
The reducing cost of genome sequencing has already led to companies like 23andme offering a cost effective service to individuals to check for genetic abnormalities; and they've opened their database up to researchers for large scale analysis. In the UK, the NHS have just announced an initiative to collect and decode 100,000 human genomes by the end of 2017, to look for common themes in the fight against cancer and rare diseases.
Government and the crowd
Will the way we're governed through one vote every 4 years, followed by a political party desperately hanging on to power continue? I'm not sure, but with the technology we have at our hands today, it wouldn't be difficult to ask the population to vote on smaller issues more regularly. If the establishment doesn't get this soon, the potential for individuals to utilize the mass participation, crowd enablement platforms to coordinate, protest and drive change. [TED - Jeremy Heimans - What new power looks like]
Additive manufacturing such as 3D printing will get better and cheaper, allowing local manufacturing at the point of use. Initially I think we'll see this utilized for spare parts and components, but eventually I think we'll see local 'replicator' shops able to print more and more complex products on demand. Uses of 3D printing will extend further into verticals such as the medical space printing replacement components, artificial limbs, and scaffolds for the body to repair itself. HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology should be interesting in 2016 as it brings newer stronger materials and the ability to print in multiple materials at the same time.
[@3DPrintingIt / CNET HP unveil / Recode HP's 3D printer is a replicator]
Software Defined Infrastructure is a buzz-phrase that's popular at the moment, describing infrastructure that's less rigidly single function, and more programmable - allowing it to be optimized for a particular workload or task. In some instances, virtualization is used to abstract the realities of the underlying infrastructure - however this can come with quite a performance penalty. Smarter implementations allow software at each layer to negotiate with the layer below to allow for a more optimized overall solution. In 5 years time I don't think we'll be talking software-defined any longer, as software intelligence will just be built in at every layer regardless.
Apps vs the Cloud
There has been some debate over the last few years as to where apps should run - locally (android, iOS, windows) or via web applications based in the cloud delivered by a browser; but I think the best solution for most apps going forward will be a thin local app for responsiveness and caching optimized for the platform it is on, coupled to the bulk of the application hosted in the cloud. Google Inbox and Feedly are both good examples of this model. An idea from the cellular operators (Mobile Edge Computing) is also leading to the push of applications to the edge of the wireless network, providing a compute platform within the network for caching to reduce network load and latency.
Human / Computer interfaces
Voice recognition for control of technology & live translation are both getting closer. Android's voice control is already pretty good; and Microsoft have just demonstrated live voice translation between English and Spanish on a Skype call.
3D VR systems will continue to improve (Oculus Rift, Google cardboard) allowing consumers to experience products and places in augmented reality; making gaming, online retail, and tele-presence more immersive. This could drive demand for more 360 video and photography content, although I suspect the majority of content for these systems will be computer generated.
2014 started off with massive hype around Google Glass, and whilst I can see applications in certain niches (Recon Instruments, Aircraft maintenance, printer servicing), I don't see regular consumers walking around with these just yet. Smart watches on the other hand will provide a way for us to leave our phablets in our pocket while still being able to check & process notifications, or access Google Now/Siri. I don’t see much of a future for the standalone activity tracking devices, as this will just be a feature of another smart device.
The automated home is also getting closer, although innovation is getting stalled by the plethora of standards, resulting in islands of disconnected devices. Perhaps a single uber home hub that can talk multiple standards will address this one, or broader adoption of the AllJoyn framework from Qualcomm’s AllSeen Alliance.
Shopping & 3D printing
As more of our shopping is done online via Amazon, with some actually being 3D printed at a local depot, I doubt the future of retailers on the high street is rosy. I think they may end up being replaced by vendor owned or vendor sponsored showcases - allowing the customer to touch and feel the product (or use 3D scans and augmented reality to see themselves in the clothes) before ordering online for shipment to the showroom or the home. In some ways the Apple micro stores within other stores are a precursor to this, although I was a little surprised to hear that Samsung had just shut down their flagship store in London.
Yes… the #dronie will continue to be a thing as drones get cheaper and more intelligent, supplanting the action cam with an aerial version.
Security & Hacking
Yes… this is going to get worse before it gets better. [The Next Web - Tech things I'm excited about in 2015]
And just to soften the above positive view of the future, here are a few less predictable events that could really shake things up.
I wonder how realistic the space debris destruction cascade issue is from the movie Gravity. If we lost a good proportion of our satellites, and were unable to put up replacements, then we'd be set back in a whole host of areas.
There is still a possibility of a massive asteroid impact, albeit a pretty small one. The chances of 1950 DA hitting earth has been calculated to be 1 in 4,000 on the 16th March 2880… but are there others we don’t yet know about yet, and will we be able to do something about it before it's too late? [Slate.com]
Global warming triggering a runaway effect, melting the glaciers, unlocking further stores of Co2 and methane from the arctic permafrost, rising sea levels, and turning off or disrupting the jet stream. This could accelerate the effects of global warming far faster than we could mitigate them.
If you've made it this far - I'm impressed. I was originally intending this post just to be a list of bullet points, but then added a few comments and links to explain what I was thinking.
To finish, watch this recap of the TED Talks of 2014, to see where we came from this year; and subscribe to TED on @TEDTalks or YouTube