Tech Predictions for the Decade
By Elisa Batista
How will technology change our lives in the next 10 years?
If scientists and analysts at the market research firm IDC are proven right, paraplegics will be able to walk thanks to sensors embedded in their legs that will receive directions from a computer.
Doctors will monitor a person's vital signs through a computer that is connected to tiny sensors implanted inside the body.
Buildings made of "nanotubes," or carbon particles that are a thousand times stronger than steel, will withstand virtually any natural disaster.
And the Web will be intelligent enough to give users exactly what they are looking for: no more scouring hundreds of pages on Google.
These are but a few of the predictions made by IDC last week about the technologies of the future, said John Gantz, chief research officer for IDC.
While even IDC admits that some of these concepts are a bit far-fetched -- like molecular-level "nanomachines" that spin cloth, make buildings and manufacture prescription drugs. Other researchers and scientists agree that many of these ideas will eventually materialize.
Take, for example, the concept of the "semantic" Web, a next-generation version of the Internet that will enable users to obtain more precise information by utilizing computerized "agents" that find exactly what they want online. Today, if users search for "books about Agatha Christie" on Google, they receive hundreds of search results leading to information on the books written by Christie. In contrast, semantic Web agents will be intelligent enough to decipher the word "about" and find biographies on the writer rather than her works, Gantz said.
Other futuristic technology poised for human consumption is the implanted sensor. Gantz pointed out that University of Reading professor Kevin Warwick, who has a sensor implanted in his left arm, has undergone experiments in which scientists have been able to cause a tingling sensation in his left index finger by sending information to his nervous system. This is good news for paraplegics who may someday regain feeling in their legs by having a similar chip implanted in their bodies.
Gantz expects the implanted sensor to hit the market in "three or four years" in devices already attached to the body, such as pacemakers and prosthetics.
More complex applications of these sensors, such as helping a paraplegic walk or developing memory aids and even smarter prosthetics, are 10 years away, added Gantz.
Within that same time frame, he expects auto manufacturers to install "smart dust" sensors -- the size of a pencil eraser -- inside their cars. The sensors will alert a mechanic when parts need to be replaced.
"We are referring to very small sensors that fit on top of a penny," Gantz said. "Things are shrunk down pretty small."
Wireless technology may be hot right now with the proliferation of cell phones and Wi-Fi wireless Internet use in coffee shops, airports, homes and offices, but Gantz doesn't expect so-called "lily pads" to take off in 10 years -- or ever. Even though lily pads, or interlinked Wi-Fi networks that would give users free Internet access anywhere in the country, are often talked about in the industry, Gantz doesn't expect wireless phone companies to help it along.
The reason is that an open wireless network would let customers make free calls over the Net anywhere in the country and tap into their e-mail and the Web without having to pay roaming charges. That means less revenue for the wireless carriers, Gantz said.
However, Gantz expects so-called nanotubes, or molecule-thick carbon sheets, to make up the bulk of laptop computer displays and circuits in 10 years. Since nanotubes are a thousand times stronger than steel, some nanotechnology experts expect buildings and other industrial materials will one day be constructed with them.
A home built with nanotubes could withstand any natural disaster including floods, earthquakes and hurricanes.
Gantz also expects to see bendable electronic paper and flat-panel computers made with similar carbon material called plastic transistors. He predicts the first e-newspapers and bendable computers will hit the market in three years.
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/business/0,1367,57238,00.html