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Thomas Frey’s revolutionary vision has inspired people in the higher levels of government as well as the top executives in Fortune 100 companies, including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Lucent Technologies, Boeing, Bell Canada, Visa, Ford Motor Company and many more.
What technologies do you think would be with us in the future?
1. Binary power is the concept where two otherwise harmless beams of energy will intersect at some point in space, creating a source of power.
2. Proof has to be demonstrated on two very fundamental levels before there is reason to think that time travel is truly possible. The first is to be able to communicate across time, and the second is to be able to view things across time. If we cannot first communicate across time, or view real life images of another time, how can we possibly imagine sending people across time?
So the ‘viewing things across time’ technology that I think most promising is—viewing the past. Think in terms of setting up sensors around a room and being able to replay images of past events, as much as 20, 50 or 100 years ago.
3. Disassembling matter. Imagine a technology capable of breaking all of the molecular bonds in any given material. As an example, place a rock on a table, focus a beam on the rock and visualise all the molecules in the rock separating and falling in a pile onto the table.
This is probably a poor example but I think you get the idea.
What are today’s most prominent technologies that you believe will have no takers in the future?
Some of today’s technologies that are on their way out include fax machines, the checking industry, traditional television, invasive surgery and regular AM-FM radio.
Many years ago, the famed father of fractal geometry, the gifted mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, was presented with the question: “What is the distance around a lake?” His response was: “It depends on your perspective.”
If you look at a lake on a map from an altitude of 100,000 feet or 30,000 metres, it is very easy to draw a line around the lake and measure the distance. As you move down through the different altitudes, more and more details become visible and the distance continues to increase, as suddenly the line is being drawn around clumps of dirt, and later grains of sand, and eventually individual molecules. The distance around a lake approaches infinity.
The Mandelbrot distance-around-a-lake perspective has far reaching implications. As we develop the technology to see tinier and tinier particles, we will also be able to define physical objects in unique and different ways. And one way will be to define every object as digital information—digital information that will be searchable, traceable, and yes, even ‘spyable’.
So is the case when you look at a departmental store from a distance--it is just a building, but as you come closer, the components with RFID tags become clearer.
While the argument will arise that RFID chips have the ability to emit signals that make them uniquely and unreasonably intrusive, the reality is that all objects emit reflected light and this too will some day be the source of uniquely and unreasonably intrusive information.
Considering your view that some of the promising technologies will vanish, how different would the entertainment of the future be?
I am going to answer this in a rather unusual way and talk about how libraries will become a very entertaining place to go to.
John Naisbitt tells us, “In the experience economy, services are linked together to form memorable events that personally engage the customer.”
As an example, coffee can be bought on a commodity level at any grocery store. On a product level it can be bought in any restaurant. But if you want the real coffee experience, you have to go to Starbucks. If you pay close attention, Starbucks is not in the business of selling coffee. Rather, their primary product is the Starbucks experience. So, if we transition that concept into the information world, how do we go about creating the ultimate information experience? How do we take words on a page, books on a shelf, or digitised bits on a memory stick and create information that has an impact? Another way of asking this is, how do we create informational experiences that are entertaining, timely, pertinent and fun, while at the same time are meaningful and relevant to our lives?
Libraries are a perfect example of an industry struggling to make this transformation. Long regarded as a ‘centre of information’, libraries find themselves competing with Barnes & Noble and their warm, inviting atmosphere, soft comfortable chairs and in-store coffee shops. Future libraries have an opportunity to reinvent the information experience.
Here are some examples of featured experiences that could be added to a library:
• Treadmills and exercise bicycles—People can read a book or listen to an audio book while they are working out. In fact, with added blood flow to the brain, this type of exercise-learning can actually improve retention.
These are just a few of the possibilities for creating the next-generation super-entertaining library.
Technology is going to play a major role in driving us towards the future—what would be the structure of enterprises or businesses going ahead?
Running a solo (one person) business in the past meant that you had a one-person practice, most often offering a professional service, well suited for lawyers, accountants and doctors. However, a new breed of solo business has emerged that allows people to leverage the power of the Internet and control a vast empire from their home office or wherever they happen to be. Across the world, thousands of people are giving birth to what I call an ‘Empire of One’.
Few people can run their ‘Empire’ business without good relationship-building skills. While it is commonly thought that online businesses isolate people, and owners end up being quite insulated from their customers and vendors, successful businesses are far more sustainable if they are built on a foundation of good will and solid relationships. Relationships can be as weak as an e-mail exchange or a voice at the end of the telephone, or as strong as lengthy face-to-face meetings. But, a person’s ability to build endearing forms of communications between affected parties, has a direct correlation to the likelihood of success.
Typically, the business outsources everything—information products marketed and sold online, or products manufactured in Asia, sent to a distribution centre in Europe, with customers in the US, UK and Brazil. Manufacturing, marketing, book-keeping, accounting, legal and other operations are all out-sourced to other businesses around the world.
Yes, much of this has been done before, but a person’s ability to leverage people and products across country lines in a below-the-radar fashion, and still maintain control of a vast and virtual empire, is refreshingly new.
Virtual Citizens are already out there—what do you think about a ‘real’ virtual world in the future? How would people interact or commute, transfer money or buy things in that age?
The world presently being created on Second Life already has much of what you are talking about. I see Second Life as the next generation of social networking, but so much more.
What is the future of laboratories or inventions?
In the past, computer programming has been focused around architecting the flow of electrons. In the future, nanotechnology will be focused around architecting the flow of matter.
What would the PC of tomorrow be like? Will the PC even be around or is it just going to be ‘ubiquitous’ computing in the full sense of the word—every object being a computer, the whole environment being the user interface, etc?
Our goal will be to make the interface between information and our brains as seamless and as invisible as possible. Presently, the PC is a rather clunky way of making that connection.
PCs will go away within the next 10 years and a variety of devices will be created to take their place. But we eventually would not want to be bothered by physical devices.
I like to think in terms of information swarms—invisible particles that hover around us, communicating with our minds whenever we desire to ‘plug in’. While much of the information swarm will communicate directly with our minds, we will also have visual interfaces that float in space in a way that is only viewable by us.
Patents—are they a hurdle in the way of inventors or do they provide the protection they are meant to? Do they slow down our journey into the future in any way?
I often say that the next big thing was always invented over 25 years ago. This is usually a pretty good rule of thumb for cutting-edge technology because the adoption curve is typically a generation (25 years) or more.
So if we want to know what the next big thing is—it is already in existence. There will be income streams coming in, and analysts following it, waiting for the market to crystallise.
In my mind, patents are only useful when they move the state of the art forward. Too much of what is going on today is nothing more than corporate gamesmanship. As an example, a typical cell phone will touch on as many as 200-300 patents. If every patent required a $5 royalty, our cell phones would cost a fortune. Many of our emerging technologies will not be able to make it to market because of too many demands on the revenue streams. Once the patents expire, the products become affordable.
If I were put in a cryogenic capsule and woken up 50 years from now, would I have a ‘Future Shock’? If yes, what would that be?
Yes, because the cryogenic capsule would not work and you would be dead.