Trends Forecast: 2014

Expect these major trends to continue gaining momentum throughout the remainder of this year.

By: Simon Anderson

Defining a list of important trends gets increasingly more difficult each year as the rate of advancement increases. Some things that logically should have happened years ago are frustratingly slow to develop in the real world due to bureaucracy, lobbying, cultural traditions, societal norms, and so on. It’s becoming more important to pay attention toconverging, rather than emerging, trends and technologies because the time between “first sightings” and full scale disruptions are steadily approaching zero.

Here are my top trends and technologies for the remainder of this year, but let’s do this a little differently this year. Here’s my number one trend forecast first (the rest are not ranked in a particular order of significance):

 #1. Virtual Reality – no, for real this time – Oculus Rift is blazing the trail here and creating an entire industry. Founder Palmer Lucky was fed up with the lack of any decent VR device, so he created one. The impact that this new generation of VR could have on the world by the end of this year is difficult to overestimate, and not just in gaming. Once you’ve used an Oculus Rift, you just “get it”. Trust me. I had incredibly high expectations going in and was still blown away. Taking the Rift off is like getting punched in the face by reality. And that was using the older “developer model” – there are far better versions now. The possibilities are endless, and I’m sure subsequent versions and competitor’s devices will be even more impressive and immersive.

Although not really VR, see also Avegant’s Glyph headset.

AUTOMATION

Your house gets one step closer to joining the robot uprising – The “Internet of Things” has become a hot topic, with many huge technology and communication companies, such as Cisco, AT&T, and Comcast, envisioning a world where everything in your house “talks” to everything else, can be controlled remotely, and learns your behaviors to optimize your experience at home. IoT devices were a huge hit at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show as well. Why should we believe tweeting toasters and grocery-list-generating refrigerators will start to be a common addition to our homes? Here are a few reasons:

    • It’s not just the big companies pushing this. Dozens of startups are also getting in the game here.
    • The hardware and software to make all this happen is getting cheaper and better by the day. Literally.
    • The majority of Americans have a smart device (phone or tablet).
    • The huge success of devices like the Nest thermostat (and recent acquisition by Google).
    • Emergence of uniform standards for IoT devices and platforms making it easier for users  and developers to get disparate devices and sensors to work together without needing a Master’s degree in engineering

Finally, after years of wishing I could tell my appliances what to do, soon they’ll actually listen!

Flying Autonomous Robots – In the near future, we’ll go from hearing about drones bombing suspected terrorists on TV to seeing them flying around the neighborhood taking video footage for the real estate agent trying to sell the home next door. Delivering our packages maybe, but not this year. The recent ruling by a federal judge that current FAA guidelines can’t restrict commercial drone use should blow the doors wide open, especially since there are already tens of thousands of drones being flown throughout the country that could easily be adapted for commercial uses.
Automation eats employment, has a big appetite – Inefficiency creates jobs. The more workers it takes to produce a unit of product, the more jobs there are. Automation is great at reducing inefficiency. And jobs. We’re nearing the breaking point on this as the distance between the productivity line and the employment line continues to grow on the charts of bewildered economists everywhere. As we continue to produce more with fewer people, a logical conclusion would be to gradually move to a shorter standard workweek; or to rid ourselves of it altogether and move to Results Oriented Work Environments (R.O.W.E.).

ECONOMIC

  • E-Money Madness – So-called cryptocurrencies are still in their infancy, but catching on surprisingly quickly. Many have heard of Bitcoin, but that’s just one of dozens of new online currencies. No complicated explanations of blockchains or mining rigs in this post, but keep Coinbase, Zerocoin and Ethereum on your radar.
  • “Access over Ownership” mentality starts really taking its toll –  Most Millennials today don’t see the value of owning something as long as they have access to it when they want it. This mentality shift away from consumerism is already having major implications in numerous industries. It’s really going to ramp up this year. See AirBNB and Uber for exhibits A and B of the effects of this fast-growing “Collaborative Consumption” trend.

ENERGY

  • Someone figures out inexpensive home energy storage. Utilities should be prepared to be in a very different business  We are really only one major breakthrough away in energy storage from solar and/or wind becoming a verycompelling option for most homes and businesses. As customers migrate away from the grid, the huge infrastructure costs of the utilities must be shouldered by a shrinking group of remaining customers, raising their prices. At the same time, renewables such as solar continue to advance and achieve higher efficiencies at a dropping cost, making them an even more attractive option than before. More customers switch, and the cycle accelerates. This will happen and the large utilities need to start preparing for this now.

 HEALTH CARE

This might be the year that health care finally gets dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. While there have been many incredible advancements in this industry, we’re still writing our name, address, and phone number on four different sheets of paper in most doctor’s offices. Hopefully this is the year of the beginning of a shift toward preventative care and the intelligent application of technology in health care. Some of the health care trends that could spur this transition include:

  • Wearables – Personal Monitoring Devices, such as the Jawbone or FuelBand are quickly improving and becoming widely available to the general public. As it becomes easier (and even fun in some cases) to monitor and understand our own activities and health, more people will start doing so. This will improve overall awareness about our food decisions and exercise routines and help move us toward a preventative care approach to our health. As methods for aggregating and understanding this information are developed, we can expect new insights into the effects of our collective activities.
  • Your Teledoctor will see you now – The widespread availability of devices that allow video calling has enabled a new service for health care providers. Now, for a low cost and without an arduous trip to the nearest hospital or clinic that takes your insurance (if you’re lucky enough to have insurance), you can easily talk to a specialist using your phone, tablet, or laptop, and even show them what’s bothering you. This reduces unnecessary visits to an office, saves money, and increases patient satisfaction. This type of service should expand significantly this year.
  •  Less hospitals, more retail clinics – Many health issues don’t require a trip to the hospital or urgent care and can be handled much more efficiently at a “retail clinic” such as those now in pharmacies such as Walgreens and CVS. Expect the hospitals to work overtime to discredit these retail clinics as they see some of their core revenue generating patients slipping away.
  • Continued major advancements in fighting and curing disease – Our technology for diagnosing, treating, and even curing disease is advancing rapidly, but the diseases we’re fighting in most cases are not. This gives me tremendous hope for the future of health care, especially as we move toward sub-$100 genome sequencing and genomic data-sets containing the sequence of millions of individuals.

MOBILE

  • Smartphones get dumber – By the end of 2014, expect the first “dumb-phone” to be released. It will be low cost and have outstanding battery life. Instead of having a powerful, battery-draining processor onboard, the device will use the essentially unlimited computing power in the cloud to do the processing and simply send the results over high speed networks.
  • We go back to two devices – Tablets were a great option in 2010 when they were introduced, especially if you were carrying around a 3.5” iPhone. Now that Android devices have lead the way to large HD screens becoming the standard, the case for carrying around a separate tablet becomes a lot less compelling. Apple may even finally introduce a 4.7” – 5.1” screen iPhone this year. Not doing so would be a huge mistake. Again.
  • Have a real conversation with your smartdevice – It won’t be like the movie “Her” yet this year, but expect to have a lot more meaningful conversations with your smart device soon. It will know a lot more about you and what you like and don’t like, as well as the context of your inquiries. Just don’t expect to fall in love with your OS – yet.
  • “Mobile or Die” for most businesses – Most businesses will find themselves choosing to embrace mobile technology or choosing not exist – this year that realization will hit most of the stragglers that have yet to adapt and adopt. Expect to order and pay with your smartphone at most restaurants and fast food joints, and check in and out of hotels without ever waiting in line at the front desk. This includes payments as well – swiping a physical credit card will start to look as antiquated as writing a check does today.

SOCIETAL/POLITICAL

  • Surprise! We’re being spied on by everyone – Security and privacy concerns increase – cybercrime, spying scandals and NSA revelations will just continue to get worse the rest of this year. People may finally begin to realize that there is no such thing as privacy anymore – even when using the latest biometric logins or “secure” networks. And if your fingerprint gets “hacked” (hopefully not literally) it’s not like you can just get a new fingerprint. Apparently, Apple in their infinite wisdom didn’t see this as a potential issue, but I beg to disagree. Ultimately, there may either be a huge privacy-concern fueled backlash from the general public or just a collective shrug as people come to accept this new “glass house” reality.
  • “Purples” finally get representation – Later this year, a viable (likely centrist-standing) third party may begin to emerge out of our extreme collective frustration with D.C. and our broken two-party system. Technology will enable us to easily find the candidates that we most agree with regardless of party affiliation. Hopefully online voting isn’t far behind.
  • Legalize it – With Colorado and Washington state blazing the trail of legal and taxable recreational marijuana use, many conservatives who traditionally opposed it may be persuaded by the flood of new tax dollars they now see flowing in those states. The private prison industry, alcohol and tobacco companies, and many law enforcement groups that get a significant amount of funding from drug-related arrests will push back mightily against the inevitable public opinion shift toward legalization. Expect “Reefer Madness” like advertising in the near future, heavily funded by those groups with a vested interest in continuing our failed drug war.

 TRANSPORTATION

  • Goodbye dealerships – Today, storing hundreds of cars locally on large lots full of sometimes predatory salesman doesn’t really make sense. For the shrinking number of people still wanting to own a car in the future, they may be more comfortable just choosing their options online or at a retail kiosk and having their new car delivered to their home or business.
  • Elon was right – Electric cars start to really take hold with “regular” consumers, not just early adopters, as do charging options and networks of charging stations. Ironically, some of the first automobiles ever built were electric and we’re just now coming full circle more than 120 years later!
  • Next big jump in self-driving cars – The technology powering autonomous driving is advancing exponentially and Google could soon hint at a consumer-ready model in the works. This would spark an “arms-race” among manufacturers to advance their own autonomous efforts, since they are already uneasy about what Google is up to and potentially see their own demise in the distance unless they act quickly. Or, they may just increase funding to their lobbyists and attempt to stifle innovation using bureaucracy and political power.

BONUS ROUND

  • Quantum computing – This unique form of computing has tremendous potential, almost all of which is completely unrealized at this point. It could lead to a Utopian future free of disease and work or to Skynet controlled robots enslaving humanity. Or, maybe somewhere in between those extremes – I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
  • 3D printing – Stop me if you’ve heard this before…
  • Soylent is FOR people – Food alternatives, such as Soylent, become widely available and hugely popular among busy professionals. Also, the work done to develop these food replacement products has big benefits for those organizations fighting world hunger as they are much less costly and easier to transport and store than buying thousands of bags of rice, for example.
  • Vertical Gardens – indoor vertical, and often hydroponic, gardens are becoming a compelling option in many areas that lack the agricultural space or water necessary for traditional produce growing. The devastating drought in California may increase funding for developing new vertical garden related technology.
  • Traditional universities are still screwed – Yep. Stop building!!!