21 October, 2015
Welcome to the future. My name is Dave, and I work for a company called Microsoft. Back where you’re from, 1985, you might know us as a start-up that wants to bring the incredible power of computers to everyone on the planet. We’ve grown a bit since then, but that’s basically what we’re still doing.
I wanted to talk to you about the future that you’ve landed in, which may be a bit different from the future you were expecting – with flying cars and the Mr. Fusion home energy reactors and all. So before you get too disoriented by 2015, I wanted to give you a quick primer on where we (i.e. society at large) stand with a few things.
First, the things that didn’t quite happen. Double ties. Sorry to say, that trend never really took off. We went from skinny ties, to fat ties, and back to skinny ties. But no double ties. Also, much to our continued disappointment, our cars don’t fly, and they aren’t powered by miniature nuclear reactors. We’re doing some cool things with alternate energy in cars, but no great risk of small-scale meltdowns. And the hoverboard? Well, we’re still working on that one, but you might want to plan on some legal issues about using them on a public path.
Now, some of the things we got spot on. You were expecting to be able to have a video conference with colleagues and friends anywhere? Sort of a phone of the future? We nailed it. In fact, we’ve done one better, making that video conferencing available on your TV, your computer (they’re a lot smaller now), and your phone. Speaking of phones, you might have been expecting to see everyone walking around with flat, palm-sized cameras to capture just about everything. Well those are our phones now. But we also take pictures with them, and use them to play music and games. Actually you can get a whole lot done with just your phone for play and for work. You can even plug some of them into a monitor and use it like a full-blown computer.
There are a few things that go beyond what you imagined in the future. You may have pictured your son Marty Jr. watching a TV through a headset. We’ve developed headset technology, but rather than just being able to watch TV on it, you can use it to put holograms into real-world environments, blurring the boundary between the real and the virtual worlds. So for instance, if you were building a time machine, you could build a 1.21 gigawatt flux-capacitor digitally on your headset, and then virtually fit it into a real DeLorean.
Now about your clothes. For better or worse, we’re not wearing self-adjusting jackets or self-lacing shoes. We are, however wearing things with sensors that can talk to us and to each other, giving us all sorts of useful information. How am I sleeping? Which muscles am I over-training? Do I have access to this area? Where are my children? These are all questions that can be answered through your clothing. You can even play your favourite Chuck Berry guitar riff on a T-shirt.
But that’s just the start of what the future has in store for you, Marty. In the near future – in our near future – the emphasis is actually a move away from technology. To be more precise, the functional bits of technology will increasingly move to the cloud (a network of computers), into smaller and more varied devices – making much of the “technology” as we think of it now fade into the background. This will enable us to interact with, and interpret information with exceptional creativity. It will also connect us and allow us to interact with each other in unprecedented ways. This nexus where unleashed individual and personal creativity meets the power of collaboration leads to a very promising future indeed.
I know this is a lot to process, but if you want a glimpse of what’s to come beyond 2015, I’d love to invite you to an event we’re hosting called Future Decoded (don’t know if you know this, but someone parked your time machine there last year). You’ll be taken on a journey to decode the future of business and technology, and get insights into the latest social and economic changes. I guess you might not be ready for that quite yet…
But your kids are gonna love it.
Warmest regards from the future,