The rate of technological change has been considerably slower than its trendline ever since the start of the 21st century. I wrote about this back in 2008, but at the time, I did not have quite as advanced techniques of observing and measuring the gap between the rate of change and the trendline, as I do now.
The dot-com bust coincided with a trend toward lower nominal GDP (since everyone wrongly focuses on 'real' GDP, which has less to do with real-world decisions than nominal GDP), and this has led to technological change, despite sporadic bursts, generally progressing at what is currently only 60-70% of its trendline rate. For this reason, may technologies that seemed just 10 years away in 2000, have still not arrived as of 2014. I will write much more on this at a later date.
But for now, two overdue technologies are finally plodding towards where many observers thought they would have been by 2010. Nonetheless, they are highly disruptive, and will do a great deal to change many industries and societies.
1) Artificial Intelligence :
A superb article by Kevin Kelly in Wired Magazine describes how three simultaneous breakthroughs have greatly accelerated the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Most disruptions are usually the result of two or more seemingly unrelated technologies both crossing certain thresholds, and observers tend to be surprised because each group of observers was following only one of the technologies. For example, the iPod emerged when it did because storage, processing, and the ability to store music as software all reached certain cost, size, and power consumption limits at around the same time.
What is interesting about AI is how it can greatly expand the capabilities of those who know know to incorporate AI with their own intelligence. The greatest chess grandmaster of all time, Magnus Carlssen, became so by training with AI, and it is unclear that he would have become this great if he lived before a time when such technologies were available.
The recursive learning aspect of AI means that an AI can quickly learn more from new people who use it, which makes it better still. One very obvious area where this could be used is in medicine. Currently, millions of MD general practitioners and pediatricians are seen by billions of patients, mostly for relatively common diagnostics and treatments. If a single AI can learn enough from enough patient inputs to replace most of the most common diagnostic capabilities of doctors, then that is a huge cost savings to patients and the entire healthcare system. Some doctors will see their employment prospects shrink, but the majority will be free to move up the chain and focus on more serious medical problems and questions.
Another obvious use is in the legal system. On one hand, while medicine is universal, the legal system of each country is different, and lawyers cannot cross borders. On the other hand, the US legal system relies heavily on precedent, and there is too much content for any one lawyer or judge to manage, even with legal databases. An AI can digest all laws and precedents and create a huge increase in efficiency once it learns enough. This can greatly reduce the backlog of cases in the court system, and free up judicial capacity for the most serious cases.
The third obvious application is in self-driving cars. Driving is an activity where the full range of possible traffic situations that can arise is not a particularly huge amount of data. Once an AI gets to the point where it analyzes every possible accident, near-accident, and reported pothole, it can easily make self-driving cars far safer than human driving. This is already being worked on at Google, and is only a few years away.
Get ready for AI in all its forms. While many jobs will be eliminated, this will be exceeded by the opportunity to add AI into your own life and your own capabilities. Make your IQ 40 points higher than it is when you need it most, and your memory thrice as deep - all will be possible in the 2020s for those who learn to use these capabilities. In fact, being able to augment your own marketable skills through the use of AI might become one of the most valuable skillsets for the post-2025 workforce.
2) Virtual Reality :
Longtime readers recall that in 2006, I correctly predicted that by 2012-13, video games would be a greater source of entertainment than television. Now, we are about to embark on the next phase of this process, as a technology that has had many false starts for over 20 years might finally be approaching reality.
Everyone knows that the Oculus Rift headset will be released to the consumer in 2015, and that most who have tried it has had their expectations exceeded. It supposedly corrects many of the previous problems of other VR technologies that have dogged developers for two decades, and has a high resolution.
But entertainment is not the only use for a VR headset like the Oculus Rift, for the immersve medium that the device facilitates has tremendous potential for use in education, military training, and all types of product marketing. Entirely new processes and business models will emerge.
One word of caution, however. My decade of direct experience with running a large division of a consumer technology company compels me to advise you not to purchase any consumer technology product until it is in its third generation of consumer release, which is usually 24-48 months after initial release. The reliability and value for money are usually not compelling until Gen three. Do not mistake fractional generations (i.e. 'version 1.1', or 'iPhone 5, 5S, and 5C) for actual generations. Thre Oculus Rift may be an exception to this norm (as are many Apple products), but in general, don't be an early adopter on the consumer side.
Combining the Two :
Imagine, if you would, that the immersive movies and video games of the near future are not just fully actualized within the VR of the Oculus Rift, but that the characters of the video game adapt via connection to some AI, so that game characters far too intelligent to be overcome by hacks and cheat codes emerge.
Similarly, imagine if various forms of training and education are not just improved via VR, but augmented via AI, where the program learns exactly where the student is having a problem, and adapts the method accordingly, based on similar difficulties from prior students. Suffice it to say, both VR and AI will transform medicine from its very foundations. Some doctors will be able to greatly expand their practices, while others find themselves relegated to obsolesence.
Two overdue technologies, are finally on our doorstep. Make the most of them, because if you don't, someone else surely is.