February 25, 2020
Welcome to year three of my yearly technology predictions. The goal of this project is to publicly state predictions and gauge whether I’m right or wrong. Many folks make predictions, but when they don’t come true, they usually fudge their memories to make it look like they are correct. This self-serving bias gives people a false sense of expertise in seeing future events. My goal is to break that cycle through practice and feedback. Until I reach omniscience, this will also be a good exercise in humility.
I think is beginning to happen. Books like Nir Eyal’s Indistractible explain ways to make technology work for you. We’re beginning to discover ways to reduce the less savory aspects of phone usage while keeping most of the benefits. I think we’ll continue to develop new forms of etiquette to make our phone use more healthy and less distracting.
I’m wrong on this one. The market is also at record highs, so that might have something to do with it too.
As our population continues to grow, we need more efficient ways to feed them. Vertical farming is a method of farming where produce is grown in large stacked greenhouses. Greenhouses, coupled with automation, is a far more efficient way to grow food. Vertical farms use up to 95% less water than traditional methods. Additionally, you can put your vertical farms right in urban areas, cutting down on food miles. Overall, I expect vertical farms to appear around most large population areas within the next five years.
While 3D printers are popular among techie folks, I think you’re going to see a huge uptick in the adoption of 3D printers among less technical people. Other tech devices have followed a similar trajectory. First being used by technical early adopters and then being used by a larger swath of people.
Microsoft recently pledged to go carbon negative. I think more corporations are going to step up to the plate and make ambitious environmental stances. Ultimately, it’s going to require massive investments to reduce airborne pollution, and it’s refreshing to see companies take this on.
As the cost of electricity from renewable power sources continue to head towards price parity with fossil fuels, power companies will gradually switch over to them. Additionally, the devices we use that currently run on gas will switch over to electric. The news talks a lot about electric cars, but consider your local home improvement center. They have an increasingly growing selection of electric yard tools. This is an environmental win because smaller engines, like those in lawnmowers, pollute more than you’d assume. Electricity is an energy abstraction layer. Even if you’re getting your electricity from coal now, you can swap it out for a renewable later without having to change anything downstream.
Human wants are infinite. Once we replace low level service jobs and menial white collar jobs with AI, we’ll find other new careers for humans to do. I’m not saying the transition will be smooth, but this is another industrial revolution.
Grass-fed meat will still be taken from animals, but your McNuggets are going to be grown in a lab. There’s a whole class of meat that’s cheaply mass-produced in factory farms. Lab-grown meat is going to disrupt that whole category. This is fantastic for the environment since most of the negative ecological impact of animal products comes from factory farms. There are ecological benefits to pasture-raised animals, so they will still be around.
I think Silicon Valley’s time as an innovation center is mostly over. When your main source of apps are based on making the lives of single urbanites slightly more convenient, you’ve run out of good ideas. Venture funds are beginning to realize that people outside of the Valley can code too, and you can run companies there for far less money. Expect more money to bleed out of high-cost centers into the Midwest.
A few startups are pioneering flying cars based on drone technology. Combine this with autonomous driving, and you can have a whole fleet of robot air taxis. While the tech exists today, I think it’s going to take a few more years to get past all the regulatory hurdles. People will need to get used to autonomous terrestrial cars before we get the flying kind.
Here’s to another year of trying to see the future. It’ll be fun to see how many of these I get right or wrong as time goes on. You should try this for yourself. Track your predictions and the logic that goes with them. The worst-case scenario is that you get to laugh at yourself in a few decades when you make a list of worst predictions.