Tech trends 2009 predictions

February 24, 2009
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Last week Keith Brophy, general manager of RCM Technologies, addressed a crowded gathering at Grand Valley State University’s Eberhard Center to provide his annual fun and informative look ahead at what he sees as the technological trends of the (near) future.

Assisting Brophy was Zoltan, the fortune-telling machine from the movie “Big.” After gazing into his crystal ball, Zoltan handed Brophy a card for each of the 10 predictions of what technology will bring in the next three to five years.

Brophy’s speculative outlook included the following:

Within five years, the location of 50 percent of adults will be tracked through their cell phones. Indeed, Google currently has a free service called Latitude that allows users to sign up by entering their cell phone numbers so they can track each other’s locations on Google maps.

In three years, only one-third as many newspapers and books will be published on paper. Alternatives to print such as online forms, electronic paper products and e-reader delivery methods will boom. Esquire magazine’s 75th anniversary issue last September used e-paper as its cover to create some marketing buzz.

In three years, social networks will become as foundational as the phone or electricity across a full range of demographics. Organizations will continue to embrace Facebook as a team-building effort and the social networking site will lose its “teen status.” Facebook’s population exceeds 150 million users, 75 million of which use the site every day. An astounding 850 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every month.

In five years, the first generation of heat-to-electricity energy harvesters will emerge on a wide range of products such as exhaust pipes and laptops, the beginning of a revolution on how energy is used. Lonnie Johnson, most well known for inventing the Super Soaker, will soon be known for inventing the Thermo-Electrochemical Converter System, which has monstrous advantages over current power sources.

In three years, the majority of people will use netbooks over laptops and desktops as the main way to connect to the Internet. Netbooks are streamlined wireless connections to the Internet that are low-cost and small, which makes them great for mobility.

In five years, as more and more software, applications and data move to the Internet, people will be freed from the keyboard and will access the Internet in ways that fit their lifestyles. Brophy gave a synopsis of a typical day: checking weather reports on the bathroom wall while brushing your teeth, talking to your car and having e-mails read to you; walls made of computer displays that are activated by voice and touch at work; and going for a run with a wireless connection in your shoes to track your workout and, equipped with GPS, will send emergency signals if you experience an injury or danger. Microsoft already has a coffee table that doubles as a functional computer display.

In five years, simple cyborgs will begin to appear, and social and legal issues will begin to rage. Technology is already available that allows a quadriplegic to control his wheelchair via his vocal chords; monkeys can feed themselves using robotic arms they control through thought.

In five years, 20 percent of professionals and their offices and 30 percent of homes will use mobile assistance devices, which Brophy referred to as “anirobos” — devices chock-full of sensors and artificial intelligence that work as GPS tracking systems, with the capability of reminding owners of appointments and helping them remember where they left their keys. The anirobo will be wrapped in an animal-like shell. Brophy mentioned Pleo, a baby dinosaur toy loaded with sensors and trainable by the owner. The more attention it gets, the friendlier it is, but if the owner kicks it, it will stay away.

In five years, many will own an “e-record” of their lives and allow selective electronic entities to access it. Many regions are going to gain competitive advantage by aggregating this data, and privacy issues will rage, as personal data will be viewed as gold. Brophy noted that these “data communities” will have productivity, health, economic and other advantages over those that choose to keep their personal information private.

In five years, there will be the start of a remarkable shift in workplace demographics and workflow. There will be a major societal shift of age-based roles as they are known today, fueled by an explosion of age-supporting technology. Brophy cited recent research that has shown humans can grow brain cells at any age and the Wii video game system by Nintendo has actually been a substantial resource for the elderly.

Brophy said some of the keys for individuals are to watch and collect their personal data and think about where and how to store it.

He said it is important to keep an open mind as technology ramps up the pace of change.

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