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  • Author Will Dunn
  • Published May 27, 2014

Six things that will happen (and three that won’t)

If 1960s sci-fi were to be believed, by now we should all be living in floating cities, driving Jetsons cars and wearing nothing but onesies. Well, at least one thing on that list happened, we suppose… besides, we quite like our onesie.

 

The future-gazing skills of some 1960s writers might not have been too hot, then, but Stuff magazine’s associate editor Will Dunn’s are. Here are six things that are sure to happen in the next few years… and three that aren’t.

 

Yep, definitely…

 

Your next iPhone won’t crack when you drop it
If your watch uses a sapphire crystal face instead of glass, you’ll already know why it would makes sense to have sapphire on a phone: it’s quite a lot harder than nails, or concrete, or almost anything else you care to scrape or hit it with.

 

We first saw a prototype sapphire phone screen a couple of years ago, but recent patents from Apple make it a fairly safe bet that the next iPhone will be vulnerable only to sharpened diamonds. So you’ll have to remember to keep your sharpened diamonds in your other pocket.

 

Your next car will drive itself… some of the time
This year’s cars already have active braking that works up to 35mph, and some can reverse-park themselves. In the next few years we’ll see those abilities advance incrementally. Ford’s Chief Technical Officer recently told us they’re planning to make cars that drive themselves in stop-start motorway traffic (up to about 50mph) within the next few years. As cars become fully autonomous, Ford says they’ll become more like taxis – you won’t own one so much as subscribe to them as a service, like self-driving Zipcars.

 

 

Wonder-materials will change how things are made
You know the huge, huge difference plastic has made to people’s lives? That’s about to happen again. We’re at the beginning of a very exciting time for man-made materials: graphene, the carbon sheet material that’s 100 times stronger than steel and could replace silicon in a new generation of super-fast processors, is the main one, but there are others.

 

Silicene and phosphorene are atom-thin forms of silicon and phosphorous that have similarly amazing properties, and there’s also nanocellulose, a paste that can be made fairly easily from wood pulp, which dries to become stronger than Kevlar and conducts electricity.

 

The rest of the world will get on the internet
While it might seem like everyone in the world is on the internet already, they’re not; actually, the majority of the world’s population (about 60 per cent) is without internet access. For companies like Google and Facebook this is a vast, untapped market, so they’re cooking up plans to connect the huge swathes of Africa and Asia that are currently offline. At the moment, they’re both looking at using a very high-flying craft (Google’s going with balloons, Facebook with drones) that float around 20km up, like stratospheric Wi-Fi routers.

 

Robots will make life easier (and harder)
It’s a fairly solid rule of capitalism that if a machine can do the job of a person, that person’s getting a P45 and a pat on the back. Every large tech firm from Google to Dyson is taking an interest in robotics, and a recent study by Oxford University found that 47 per cent of the workforce could be replaced by robots.

 

Opinion is divided on where this will lead us: could be a utopia in which robots do all the rubbish jobs and we put our feet up, could be a situation in which a small number of very rich people own all the robots and everyone else is unemployed and hungry.

 

 

Cryptocurrencies will be the new money
At the moment, Bitcoin might seem like a niche way of buying illicit things on the internet, but it has demonstrated one very important fact: anyone can create their own digital currency. Anyone want to guess who would like to have their own currency? JP Morgan Chase recently patented a ‘virtual cash’ system that’s basically Bitcoin, but controlled by a bank, and you can bet that other banks are drooling at the thought of being able to set their own exchange and interest rates. Will you be paying in pounds or MasterCoin?

 

… nope. Not these.

 

Broadcast TV isn’t dead
Some soothsayers are fond of saying that BBC iPlayer and Netflix have put an end to scheduled programming, but it’ll be a while before the traditional TV broadcast breathes its last. For one thing, live TV audiences are huge – big events like Olympics opening ceremonies can rack up a billion viewers in an hour, while it takes even the biggest YouTube videos years to equal that. For another, only live TV offers ‘second-screening’, because it’s only fun to watch something and tweet about it if your friends are watching and tweeting at the same time.

 

Wearables have a way to go
Would you actually want Google Glass on your personal face? Yeah, us neither. A lot of major tech firms are betting the house that wearable tech will be as big a revolution as smartphones have been, and they might be right, but we haven’t yet seen a product that’s genuinely unmissable. We’re not saying it’s not out there, but the huge efforts companies like Intel are making to find the Magic Wearable Product that everyone will adopt is starting to make us wonder… does it exist?

 

You’re not going on a private space flight
Not unless you’re a millionaire, anyway. The rather misleadingly named Virgin Galactic (technically it should be called Virgin Sub-Orbital, which doesn’t sound quite as amazing) is a short flight in a very powerful aeroplane to the same airport from which you took off. It doesn’t make you an astronaut. We’re not saying it wouldn’t be amazing, but it’s not ushering in an era of private spaceships.

 

 

Will Dunn is associate editor of Stuff magazine

 

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