Forward to the Future
Updated: Sep 4, 2019
The following is my prediction of what a typical day will look like ten years from now:
(Afterward I briefly discuss the technologies which exist today which are going to take us there.)
“An afternoon with the Parker Family”
It’s raining this afternoon, the school bell has sounded and the students are gathered in the after school pickup lobby, avoiding the rain. Jamie tugs at the sleeve of her big brother Bailey and gestures, pointing out toward the road. Her friend Kayla’s dad refuses to buy an electric car, even though they’re significantly cheaper to both buy and run. He refuses to give up his petrol car, despite exorbitant fuel costs, substantial insurances, and the government levies that his internal combustion attracts. He also refuses to buy an Uber subscription, as their parents had. As a result his car, with its toxic exhaust fumes, was not allowed inside school buildings. Her friend Kayla, and her little brother Tommy, were getting wet in the rain, as their dad hustled their school bags into the trunk of his car, his small umbrella inadequate in the downpour.
“Knock it off!” Bailey snapped, tugging his sleeve away from his bothersome younger sister. At least some things will never change.
“Who is picking us up today?” Asked Jamie.
“It’s Tuesday,” Bailey said, “You know Laura picks us up on Tuesdays.” Their mother would be at work.
The cars filed through the pickup lane, some of them had a parent or significant other already inside, most were on autopilot, and as a result, were both driverless and empty. A white car displayed ‘Parker’ on its external LCD display. Now Bailey tugged at his sister; ‘Come on!’ he said.
The doors open automatically, recognizing both Bailey and Jamie as they approach the vehicle. They hop in.
‘Good afternoon children. How was your day at school?’ A friendly and familiar voice asks. It is the voice of Laura, their mother’s digital assistant.
‘Fine thanks’ says Bailey.
‘Great!’ says Jamie. ‘We are doing a new play in drama. I am playing the doctor!’
‘Oh wow!’ responds Laura ‘Congratulations Jamie! I’m sure your mum will be very glad to hear that, would you like me to let her know, or would you rather wait and do it yourself?’ says Laura.
‘You can tell her.’ says Jamie ‘I’m hungry, can we go to McDonalds on the way home?’
‘I’m sorry Jamie,’ replies Laura, ‘but your mother has said no to McDonalds, she suggested I remind you that there are healthy snacks in the pantry at home. Also, she has asked me to inform you that there will be no video games or TV permitted until your homework is finished.’
Bailey groans audibly. He knows that this means that Laura, who is also integrated into their home systems will not allow him to access games on his video game console, PC, or phone until he has submitted his homework to the school online. Jamie will not be able to watch Netflix or her favourite YouTube channels either. Laura will, of course, allow them to access the internet for the purposes of research and communication with parents of course, but that’s it. At least until the homework is done and submitted back to the school computer online.
Bailey sits in a seat, Jamie sits cross-legged on the floor of the car and opens her laptop, trying to get a head-start on her homework. ‘Cindy, open my geography project.’ she says to her assistant.
‘Sure thing Jamie!’ Chirps the friendly voice of Cindy.
Seatbelts were no longer compulsory as there hadn’t been a road accident in over five years. The last accident involving a car had been caused when a tree branch fell on top of a stationary car and the car had not had enough room to safely move out of the way. The vehicle had detected the threat however, and positioned itself so that the falling object would not cause damage to the occupants and no-one had sustained injury.
The car, meanwhile, is speeding along silently toward home through the heavy after school traffic. It arrived safely and the doors automatically open for the children. ‘Please mind your step as you exit the vehicle.’ Says Laura, ‘Your mother is running a little late today so you will have to fix your own dinner.’
‘Can we order pizza?’ asks Bailey already walking toward the front door.
Laura automatically transfers to their home system, ‘Yes, your mother said that you may order pizza for dinner.’ Responds Laura her voice now emitting from the doorbell adjacent to the front door. The door opens automatically recognizing Bailey and Jamie.
‘Great! Thanks Laura.’ Says Bailey.
The car stays to observe that the kids are safely inside before closing the car door. It then switches digital assistants to suit the next customer and leaves to go pickup its next passenger.
A short while later, homework completed and chores done, Laura pops in through Bailey’s headphones. ‘Excuse me Bailey, I don’t want to interrupt your game.’
‘It’s fine.’ Said Bailey.
‘Your mother and father are on the way home now, would you like me to order your pizza for you?’ she asks.
‘Yes please.’ He replied. ‘Can we get dessert as well?’
‘Let me check.’ Laura pauses a moment. ‘Yes, your mother said that if you got a good mark on your history exam that you may order dessert, I’ve just checked and you received a mark of eighty-eight percent, congratulations.’
‘Thanks Laura.’ He replied and returned to his game. Jamie was chatting with her school friends on her laptop somewhere in the next room.
A few minutes later, Laura notifies the kids that their pizza is arriving. Jamie opens the front door as a Domino’s drone hovers over their front yard. She pauses a moment as she knows it won’t lower itself and deliver the pizza if there is movement in the vicinity. Sensing it is safe the drone delivers the pizza onto the front porch and takes off just as mum’s Uber arrives. It has stopped raining fortunately, not that that would have deterred the pizza delivery drone, they could only not operate during electrical storms, this afternoons showers wouldn’t have bothered it.
‘Sorry I’m late today! Linda was away sick so I had to cover.’ says mum, hugging Jamie who carries the pizza and chocolate chip cookie dessert, which is both Bailey and her favourite, inside.
A moment later Dad walks in the door. Bailey is too immersed in his video game to notice. ‘Jervis, tell Bailey dinner is ready.’ said dad. Bailey had named his digital assistant ‘Jervis’ in tribute to his idol ‘Iron Man’. Moments later Bailey joins them at the table.
‘Congratulations on your history exam.’ dad says to Bailey.
‘Thanks dad.’ Bailey responds, his mouth already full of pizza.
‘Laura told me you got a part in the school play!’ says mum to Jamie.
‘Yes, I’m the doctor.’ Jamie proudly announces.
‘Well done, I can’t wait to see it!’ says mum, smiling at dad. who she knows she will have to drag practically kicking and screaming to the event. ‘Laura, pop that date in the family calendar as soon as it’s confirmed?’ she asks.
‘Sure thing Jen.’ Says Laura.
‘Oh and one more thing,’ says mum, ‘Please make sure you add it in to Peter’s work calendar so he doesn’t miss it.’
‘Will do!’ Says Laura cheerily.
‘Thanks a lot.’ Peter mouths silently to Jen, while Jamie is not looking of course.
‘Hey dad,’ Bailey asks. ‘I’m sixteen next month.’
‘And…’ though dad knows what is coming.
‘And, I’m old enough to have my own Uber subscription.’ This means that Bailey will be able to order his own rides, maybe even go through McDonald’s drive-thru occasionally, without having to get his parent’s permission.
‘Keep your grades up, and you’re paying for it out of your own pocket money.’ Says dad.
Now mum is rolling her eyes.
(Artificial Intelligence: Utopia or Dystopia? You decide)
The technologies which exist today which will enable the future:
Driverless transport will be commonplace. Cars, buses, trains, drone deliveries, even passenger planes will start becoming driverless. Using a confluence of several technologies; 5G (or probably 6G) mobile technology, the security of Blockchain encryption, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Automation, and Biometrics.
Car to car accidents become an impossibility as every car, including old petrol clunkers like Kayla’s fathers, are fitted with a compulsory 5G geo-locator chip, auto-ABS, and emergency engine shutdown device. Every vehicle, cars, trucks, buses, trains, even the drones buzzing overhead, are aware of the precise location, trajectory, and velocity of every other vehicle. They will be unable to collide even if you deliberately drove two vehicles at each other. Or inadvertently toward a a building, a tree, or at a pedestrian. The vehicle simply won’t let you. Random incidents, such as a a child or animal running out on to the road are still going to happen. However, the car’s sensor array is never distracted. It is observing 360-degree radius every moment. It doesn’t glance at its phone or look down to adjust the air-conditioning or radio. And it can respond in milliseconds, thousands of times quicker than even the most attentive human driver.
What if the computer malfunctions? These systems will be completely independent of the rest of the vehicle, and independent of any other system. There are inbuilt redundancies, and, should the system detect an error, the vehicle will stop, park itself and call a replacement to come pick you up.
Driverless trains are already becoming commonplace, and although my wife doesn’t completely trust this technology either, I attempt to explain that a mere fifty or sixty years ago you wouldn’t have dreamed of getting in an elevator which didn’t have a man in a uniform operating it with a lever. Could you imagine the first fully automated elevators ‘I’m not getting in that death trap!’ I can almost hear my her declare. Now it is so commonplace it would be awkward and uncomfortable to share that small space with a ‘driver’ who you must ask to push buttons for you.
Blockchain encryption ensures that this network is un-hackable, safe, secure, and importantly, private. It’s okay for the other cars to know your vehicle’s location velocity and vector for both efficiency and safety but your personal privacy is safeguarded. Personal ownership of vehicles drops to a tiny minority, mostly car enthusiasts and collectors.
Bailey’s mum did the math. Figuring out the cost of owning two family cars. (Including registration, insurance, running-costs, and servicing of their two family cars and realized it would be significantly cheaper for the family to pay a monthly family-package subscription to a ride-share company.) Their monthly subscription covers unlimited rides for the entire family. No longer needing the garage to store cars mum turned it in to a painting studio (although Bailey and dad had campaigned hard for a home theatre).
There are less cars on the road, less traffic, and no accidents ruining tens of thousands of people’s daily lives. Vast swathes of land have been reclaimed and re-purposed. Hundreds of inner-city and suburban car parks have been converted into affordable living, office-space, and shopping districts.
Biometrics, such as facial recognition, keep you safe and secure. The front door won't open for Jamie if it senses a stranger outside. However to collect the pizza while hot, and when safe to do so, no problem. It keeps you and your data private to you, and whom you choose to share it with.
Your digital assistant is so much more than a clunky box on your desk, kitchen counter, or bedside table. It’s a personalized interface, intuitive, and fiercely loyal to you and your privacy. It’s ubiquitous, it’s with you in your car, in your office, on the beach (perhaps via your watch or your sunglasses), its in your phone and in your home.
The best executive assistants, (I would imagine) is intuitive. It’s Jeeves to your Wooster. One who thinks of the things which might have slipped your mind, or simply what you haven’t thought of yet. Like to book that hotel, or what to pack for that trip. This might sound overwhelming to some people, but I imagine it will detach us from our devices. Instead of staring at a screen to organize your daily life, or search for information, you speak it naturally at the speed of thought. The information you’re after can be recited to you, sent to you in a message to read later, or called up on the nearest display.
The best technology makes your life simpler, easier, and more enjoyable. As technology becomes more sophisticated it should become more intuitive, not more complicated. Every piece of technology I consider buying or using these days I scrutinize with the following questions: ‘Will this make my life easier, or more difficult? Will this save me time, or absorb my time?’ If it’s just for entertainment or pleasure; ‘Does it represent good value? Does it bring me together with my friends and family? Does it allow me more time to spend on things which are important to me?’
It’s important to do our due diligence. Of course, we need to ensure that personal privacy and safety are maintained. That ultimately jobs are created, and not lost. That the cost of living is reduced and the quality of life for all humans is improved. Imagine the freedom that driverless ride-share can provide the elderly, infirmed or disabled. Imagine highways becoming fields and carparks becoming homes. Tyler Durdon envisioned a utopian future in ‘Fight Club’ where we farm corn in the carpool lane of abandoned superhighways. But I think Google founder Larry Page put it best:
‘I totally think we should be living in a ‘time of abundance’ If you really think about the things that you need to make yourself happy, housing, security, opportunity for your kids, it’s not that hard for us [as a society] to provide those things. The idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people’s needs is just not true. Richard Branson suggests companies to hire two part time people rather than one full time person. If you ask people; ‘would you like an extra week (or two) of vacation time every year?’ ‘or a four day work week?’ everyone will raise their hand. Most people like working, but they’d also like to have more time with their family or to do their own interests.’ – Larry Page (2018)
This gives a vision of the future where technology has made our lives, not just simpler, but cheaper, more affordable, and more achievable. Where people are working for a sense of purpose, and not long hours for an insufficient paycheck. Perhaps there will be more people working but working less hours. Spending more time on the things that are important to them.
There can be a bright side to the next industrial revolution, if we make it so.