Future-Trends-784

Understanding trends is more of an art form than an exact science. But for those who can read the tealeaves, and make bold moves, leveraging trends can give them a serious competitive advantage.

As an example, LinkedIn just posted its annual list of top buzzwords, the ones most commonly used on their members’ professional profiles. The top word people in the U.S. use to describe themselves on LinkedIn is “Creative.” Last year “Creative” didn’t even make it into the top ten, where “Extensive Experience” topped the list.

And it’s not just the U.S. This was the most used word in Britain, Canada, Netherlands, and Germany. So what business decisions will you make that tie into people’s recast dreams of being “creative?”

Obviously, trends don’t happen in one-year cycles. They are constantly evolving, and all of the content below is, in one way or another, already happening. Last week we began our journey with trends 1-14 of the “28 Major Trends,” and this week we will finish it. Here are trends 15 – 28.

15.) Exploding Smartphone Industry – With a global population exceeding 7 billion people, we have seen the mobile phone industry mushroom to include over 5 billion members. Smartphones remain a small subset, owned by around 10% of all those with mobile phones. But not for much longer. We are about to see virtually all communication devices replaced with smartphones over the coming decade.

Leading the charge is Google with over 700,000 Android devices being activated daily. Over the past year, Google activated more than 255 million devices compared to 105 million Apple activations. Admittedly this isn’t a true apples-to-apples comparison (no pun intended) because Google doesn’t make their own phones and Apple does.

As smartphones and other devices evolve in this exploding market, look for a near-term push into near-field communications, 4G, and flexible bendable devices.

Critical to the growth of this mobile device market is the global supply of rare earth metals, which China currently controls 95% of known reserves. Looking out for its own self-interests, Chinas has been ratcheting down exports of these metals by 12% per year for the past 5 years. Their reluctance to export enough to meet global demand has touched off a world-wide hunt for new sources with promising finds being uncovered in Canada, Argentina, South Korea, and California. Look for several new mines to come online in coming years and China’s stranglehold on the industry to plummet.

16.) Hyper-Local Urban Farming Going Underground – A few years ago, a study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University reported that between 1980 and 2001, the distance food traveled from farm-to-table increased 25%, ranging from 1,500 to 3,000 miles. Since then we have seen a strong push to localize and even hyper-localize the growing of food supplies.

The drive to make all food supplies local has touched off a number of battles to rewrite municipal codes to accommodate everything from rooftop gardens, to backyard cows and chickens, to aquaponic and aquaculture projects, to experimental vertical farms. The next shift with see crops grown underground.

Dutch-based PlantLab recently announced it has figured out how to triple plant yield in a sunless, rainless environment housed in their underground research facilities. PlantLab uses artificial light and only 10% of the water typically needed. Using the correct spectrum from their LED lighting system has increased photosynthesis efficiency to 12-15% percent from sunlight’s 9% range.

By keeping the plants in a contained environment, PlantLab can also recycle evaporated water, which helps them grow crops using just one-tenth the water needed in traditional greenhouses. As an addition bonus, pesticides are no longer necessary. Production facilities can be built almost anywhere – from the deserts of Sahara to the icy plains of the Artic.

17.) The Gamification of Business – Currently a huge buzzword in techy circles, gamification is moving mainstream. Simply defined, gamification involves applying game techniques such as leveling, rewards and competition, to any human experience.

Many limit their thinking about gamification to mobile apps but it has far broader implications. Imbedded game features such as leaderboards, achievements, and skill-based learning are becoming common in day-to-day business processes, driving adoption, performance and engagement.

One recent example is the Nike campaign to gamify the process of personal training. People who visit the site, enter details of their running times and the routes they were on, and compete for prizes with others around the world.

Another example is the geo-location service Foursquare provides which encourages people to use its check-in technology by giving them an incentive, when they checked in to a certain venue. Many restaurants have picked up on this and offer free cupcakes or desserts to customers who talk about their experience on Foursquare and other social networks.

It’s all about adding fun to the daily tedium of living. Look for gamification to start making major inroads into college offerings as well as non-traditional K-12 educational programs.

18.) Going Cashless – Signs of our emerging cashless society has been popping-up in small doses since 2005. And while 2012 may not be the year that consumers instantly go cashless, it will be the year that major players like Google and MasterCard roll out their cashless initiatives around the world.

For consumers, the initial attraction will be convenience, but eventually mobile payments will create an entirely new data-driven eco-system of rewards, purchase history, daily-deals and more. Key to this movement will be Near Field Communication (NFC), a technology that allows for encrypted data to be exchanged between two devices in close proximity (“near field”) to each other.

Here are a few of the changes happening in this market over the past few months:

  • In October 2011, the Google Wallet, a free, NFC-enabled mobile payment system became operational at select retailers across the US. Licensing MasterCard’s PayPass technology, shoppers simply tap their mobile device on special terminals at points-of-sale to pay instantly.
  • In June 2011, PayPal demonstrated its own mobile payment app for Android devices.
  • Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s latest venture, Square, is an electronic payments service which enables users to accept credit card payments by using a portable card-reader device that plugs in to iPhone, iPad or Android devices. Both the Square card-reader and app are free, although there is a 2.75% charge for each payment made. In November 2011, Richard Branson and Visa became investors in Square.
  • In June 2011, Sweedish-based iZettle was launched to enable consumers to accept anywhere-anytime credit card payments. The iZettle app works with iPhones and iPads. Bills can also be paid or money transferred using this service.

Google CEO Larry Page sees himself as the next great visionary, following in the footsteps of Steve Jobs, Nikola Tesla, and Thomas Edison, as he attempts to rewrite the rules for major industries by pushing initiatives like driverless vehicles, wireless power, and a cashless society. With our hero-based culture, look for Larry Page to emerge as the heart and soul of the movement to turn virtually every electronic device into a payment device.

19.) Ending the Dream of Home Ownership – If you had to choose between starting your own company, traveling around the world, or owning your own home, which would you choose?

Attitudes among Gen X and Gen Y are increasingly shifting towards creating a full life experience rather than settling down and building a nest egg.

Home ownership in the U.S. dropped to 66.9% last year from a high of 70% in 2005, and some are forecasting it will drop as low as 62%, a level not seen since the Census began tracking this data in 1963, as the hurdles to owning a home increase.

Naturally, this begs the question: Is a 62% home ownership rate so bad? It’s still far higher than in most European countries. And, more importantly, why is it assumed we need to own our own homes?

Trillions of dollars have been spent propping up the American Dream of owning our own home. But the dream is shifting, so look for Congress to quit spending money on it. Instead, look for new experimental approached for redefining the relationship between people and the places they’re living in. The stage has been set, it only a matter of time before a new paradigm unfolds.

20.) Accomplishment-Based Education – Writing a book, receiving a patent, or starting a business are all symbols of achievement in today’s world. But being the author of a book that sells 10,000 copies, or inventing a product that 100,000 people buy, or building a business that grosses over $1 million in annual sales are all significant accomplishments that are far more meaningful than their symbolic starting points.

Much of what happens in today’s colleges and universities is based on “symbols of achievement,” not actual accomplishments.

Students that enter a classroom will typically find themselves immersed in an academic competition, a competition that pits students against each other to produce results that best match the teacher’s expectations. Only rarely will the work product of a student in a classroom rise to any notable level of significance. Completing a class is nothing more than a symbol of achievement.

Look for this to change quickly as the tools for creating and managing “accomplishments” remotely become more pervasive. More details here.

21.) Driverless Cars and Autonomous Vehicles – The next revolution in transportation will be here soon, and it won’t be streetcars, monorails, Segway’s, or electric vehicles. It will be self-driving cars, and the adoption of this technology will change virtually everything in the field of transportation planning.

The idea of jumping into a vehicle and having it shuttle you to your destination without anyone “driving” it may sound like pure fantasy to some, but it’s far closer than most of us think.

  • Google’s self-driving car project has already racked up over 200,000 driverless miles on highways. Google reports these cars have required intervention by a human co-pilot only about once every 1,000 miles and the goal is to reduce this rate to once in 1,000,000 miles.
  • In 2010 VisLab ran VIAC (VisLab Intercontinental Autonomous Challenge), a 13,000 km test run of autonomous vehicles. In this competition, 4 driverless electric vans successfully drove from Italy to China, arriving at the Shanghai Expo on October 28, 2010. This was the first intercontinental trip ever completed by an autonomous vehicle.
  • Many car companies including General Motors, Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, and Volvo have begun early testing of driverless car systems.
  • General Motors has stated that they will have a driverless model ready for final testing by 2015, going on sale officially in 2018.

Even though car companies are making plans for the transition, planning departments are not. Most local and regional transportation departments are working with models that assume 20 years from now transportation systems will be basically the same, with only slight variations around the edges.

Driverless cars will be far safer. Human-based foibles like speeding, inattention, inexperience, impairment and fatigue all contribute to road accidents. Driverless cars will remove the human variable from the system. Along with fewer accidents will come the eventual elimination of traffic cops, traffic courts, stoplights, and parking lots.

Look for rapid advancement in this area and for Google to make a play to design an Android-like operating system for all driverless cars.

22.) The Drone Side of Life – Sometime over the coming months you can expect to see a version of the following help wanted ad:

“Help Wanted: Full-time aerial drone pilots needed to help manager our growing fleet of surveillance, delivery, and communication drones. We are also looking for drone repair techs, drone dispatchers, and drone salesmen.”

In 2010 the U.S. Military spent $4.5 billion on drones, increasing to $4.8 billion in 2011.

With this kind of focused spending, military drone technology has improved dramatically over the past decade. But as a technology, future drones will go well beyond military uses. The stage is being set for thousands of everyday uses in business and industry all over the world.

With basic drone hardware being matched up with smartphones, and the bottom-up design capabilities of app developers around the world, drones will quickly move from the realm of personal toys to functional necessities that we interact with on a daily basis.

For those of you looking to switch careers, the drone marketplace will create one of the hot new industries of the future. More details here.

23.) The Coming Transparency Wars – Can you feel the layers being lifted? Transparency is entering our lives in unusual ways and much like having individual veils lifted from a multi-veiled garment; we are now able to see the world around us with far greater clarity.

Recently, several misguided thinkers have proposed the notion that the more transparent our society becomes, the better off we’ll be. Using the logic that a self-watching society will be a safer one, they advocate for radical transparency. This is simply not true. And the privacy advocates will not let it happen.

The greatest danger of too much transparency is that we will become consumed by watching each other, and somewhere along the way, we will lose sight of the big picture. Each day will be filled with constant drama as we exhaust ourselves trying to right every wrong, and solve every problem.

We are all terminally human and have very limited ability to improve who we are simply because someone else may be watching. However, drawing the correct dividing line between privacy and transparency will not come easy. This will continue to be a volatile battleground for many years to come. More details here and here.

24.) Dismantling the Justice System – In a country that claims to be the land of the free, the number of people under the control of the U.S. corrections system has exploded over the last 25 years to more than 7.3 million, or 1 in every 31 U.S. adults, according to a report by the Pew Center on the States. The actual number of people behind bars rose to 2.3 million, nearly five times more than the world’s average.

A new study by the University of North Carolina now shows a shocking 30% of all young people get arrested at least once by age 23.

People who enter prison cannot lead productive lives. Removing too many from wage-earning positions, turning them into wards of the state, is a recipe for economic disaster.

We are seeing some experimentation and improvements around the edges but so far nothing major. Even with its massive inertia to maintain the status quo, public tolerance has reached its limit for this kind of needless expenditure and constant friction between the government and its citizens.

Look for this to become one of the long-term movements splintering away from the Occupy Wall Street crowd. Ironically, the biggest changes in this area will happen when driverless cars start eliminating the need for street cops. More details here.

25.) Going Waitless – In our highly competitive business and social environments, we have a need to be active and engaged at all times. And waiting in line, for virtually anything, becomes irritating.

For this reason, Los Angeles-based QLess Inc. has devised a text-messaging service to help eliminate the wait.

The department of motor vehicles seems to be the epitome of mind-numbingly long wait times and Johnson County, Kansas was one of the first to implement QLess to alerts customers when it was their turn.

With this type of service, people don’t have to be present as the grueling minutes click away. Many customers now go grocery shopping, while waiting in a virtual line, or come in closer to their estimated appointment time.

Since implementing the system three years ago, customers no longer camp out on the floor and spend far less time complaining.

Look for wait-less systems to spring to life in doctor offices, auto service shops, pharmacies, Disneyland, and virtually every place in society where the wait needs to dissipate.

26.) Power of 10 Interface – The distance between information and our brain is getting shorter.

Twenty years ago if you had access to a large information base, such as the Library of Congress, and someone asked you a series of questions, your task would have been to pour through the racks of books to come up with the answers. The time involved could have easily have been 10 hours per question.

Today, if we are faced with uncovering answers from a digital Library of Congress, using keyboards and computer screens, the time-to-answer process can easily be reduced to as little as 10 minutes.

The next iteration of our information-to-brain interface will give us the power to find answers in as little as 10 seconds. Look for major advancements in “smart contacts” in the coming months to help close the gap towards the 10-second goal. More details here.

27.) Emergence of Food Printers – 3D printing is a form of object creation technology where the shape of the objects are formed through a process of building up layers of material until all of the details are in place – a relatively slow process often requiring hours to complete.

Three-dimensional printing makes it as cheap to create single items as it is to produce thousands of items and thus undermines traditional economies of scale. It may have as profound an impact on the world as the coming of the factory did during the Henry Ford era.

Marcelo Coelho and Amit Zoran, a couple ingenious minds at MIT working on the Cornucopias Project, have created a very visual way for us to imagine next generation food that will come from similar 3D printers. Each of their designs proposes an advanced way of mixing ingredients, forming new compounds, and building a layer-by-layer aesthetically pleasing menu item with perfect texture and shape.

Look for continuing progress in the area of 3D food printers, even though the Jetson’s style food synthesizers may still be a few years off. More details here.

28.) The Self-Health Movement – No one cares more about your health than you do. So it was only a matter of time until someone invented the self-diagnostic tools, self-monitoring devices, and self-analysis systems to put “self” into the center of the healthcare equation.

Apple’s App Store currently offers 9,000 mobile health apps, along with 1,500 cardio fitness apps, over 1,300 diet apps, more than 1,000 stress and relaxation apps, and over 650 women’s health apps.

But apps are only part of the equation. Peripheral devices are setting the stage for the true self-revolution:

  • All Apples stores now carry the Withings’ Blood Pressure Monitor, a peripheral device that plugs into the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch and takes the user’s blood pressure. Data can be sent directly to a doctor or saved (confidentially) to the cloud.
  • Lifelens has created a smartphone app to diagnose malaria. The app can magnify a drop of blood (captured via a simple finger prick) and identify whether malarial parasites are present.
  • In October 2011, Ford demonstrated three SYNC apps offering in-car health monitoring for drivers to track chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma and hay fever.
  • Also in October 2011, AT&T announced it will begin selling clothes embedded with health monitors, able to track the wearer’s vital signs – heart rate and body temperature – and upload them to a dedicated website.
  • The X Prize Foundation is co-sponsoring a $10 million prize for the best mobile device allowing consumers to diagnose their own diseases.

Every new peripheral device will create a market for hundreds of new apps, and we haven’t even scratched the surface of what will seem like a massive influx of brilliant new peripherals over the coming months. Healthcare industry execs should be nervous.

Final Thoughts

I will end with a few comments about the new systems that will be needed to tie all of these trends together.

We are currently out of balance between backward-looking problem-solving and forward-looking accomplishments. Forward accomplishments help erase past problems. They solve problems in a different way. We need more forward-looking accomplishments, and our greatest undertakings in the future will come in this area.

This need for future accomplishments will also dictate a need for new and better systems to regulate, manage, and leverage the activities surrounding them. These systems will need to be global in nature, and over time, a few will emerge to challenge the power of nations. National systems are already putting the brakes on emerging global systems, but it will only serve as a short-term delay of the inevitable.

The era of global systems is coming very soon.

See “28 Major Trends for 2012 and Beyond – Part 1

By Futurist Thomas Frey

Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything