Back to the Future! Expectations v reality in the technological revolution.
As the dawn of the new decade is upon us, we look back on some of the weird and wonderful predictions of 2020 and explore how our expectations of technology have fallen short in some areas and exceeded in others. As we reflect on this, we will also look towards the future, and explore where technology and humanity could be by the midpoint of the century.
Flying cars and personal helicopters? The future of transport.
One of the most long-standing predictions from over a century ago, often depicted in futuristic films like Blade Runner, and Back to the Future was that by 2020 we would abandon driving and opt for flying our cars instead. As you gaze up to the sky you’ll notice that this prediction has not materialised, and possibly never will. However, technology and transport has changed rapidly in recent years. The rise of tech giant Uber is a sign of what is to come for the transport sector. From a UX point of view, the rise of Uber is unsurprising. The basic principle of User Experience is to ensure the user has to do very little in order to get what they want. The seamless app lets you book a taxi instantly on your phone as it automatically pinpoints your location. No phone call needed, no standing outside in the cold trying to hail a cab, no scrambling around to find a cash machine, no guessing how long it will be before it arrives. Uber has certainly taken the hassle out of what was once a long frustrating experience in a busy city, to a quick and effortless process.
There are certainly no signs of Uber slowing down in the next few decades, as they (along with manufacturing giant Tesla) are pushing to make driverless cars the future, and they’re likely to succeed. Despite one of Ubers self-driving cars killing a pedestrian back in 2017 resulting in a huge backlash (and rightly so) the overwhelming evidence indicates that self-driving cars are a far safer solution for our roads, with around 94% of road accidents are caused by human error. Whilst flying cars may be a pie-in-the-sky idea, one thing is for certain! On a planet struggling to combat climate chaos, transport will have to change in a significant way. Are the likes of Tesla and Uber the answer?
The power of voice.
In 1987 Apple released a video named the ‘Knowledge Navigator’ in which a professor interacts with a voice-controlled assistant, remarkably similar to their virtual assistant Siri, released in 2011. 36 years later and it is no secret that personal voice activation has taken the technology world by storm, statistics in 2019 revealed that almost ¼ of US adults now own a smart speaker. With Siri, Alexa and Google now being integrated within our homes, our cars and our workplaces, thousands of Skills are on the tip of our tongue. Voice technology is a rapidly growing market, with tech giants pumping millions into the industry to improve our experience. Some believe the next phase from voice activation is mood activation. Technology will be able to harvest facial expressions, voice, body language and as it already does – heart rate. It is hoped that this will create will create a personalised experience like no other. However, we have a long way to go in terms of voice technology. We often hear of the horror stories of voice assistants going rogue, from Alexa ordering a £140 doll houses by accident, to police breaking into a house to turn off an Echo smart speaker that was blasting music at 3am (on its own). There is obvious room for improvements to be made with our current voice activation, with Google currently working to improve their word error rate of 4.9%, it is clear we have not met perfection yet. Is mood activation an optimistic venture? It may not seem like it now, but certainly watch this space!
Looking into the future: Where will we be by 2050?
Future of UX: Will developers be obsolete?
Robots taking over the world has long been a favoured theme in the sci-fi world, however whilst robots have failed to take over the world (yet), they have begun to reshape (and possibly take) our jobs. An Oxford University study in 2013 analysed 702 jobs in the US, and found that 47% could be automated within the next couple of decades. Automation reshaped the labour market from its birth in the industrial revolution and is set to revolutionise the future of employment again within the next few decades as the digital revolution takes shape. Whilst the jobs most at immediate risk to automation are mostly low-skilled and low-paid occupations, what will happen to UX in the digital revolution? Will companies want to pay for user testing when they will be able to harvest data from people’s emotional reactions in their own home? Many predict programmers and developers will become obsolete once AI (Artificial Intelligence) has become sophisticated enough to code itself without human assistance. How far will machines go and where will that leave us?
Homo optimus: the next stage of human development. Can we really become immortal?
Theorists have coined the next phase of human development as Homo Optimus. Within the next 30 years it is predicted that humans can reach immortality through technological advancements such as AI, combined with the human brain, will create smarter, healthier and happier people. The human body will soon be included in the integration of our devices as its predicted that our skin could become electronic, made up of nano implants that will connect us to our devices seamlessly. Changing your outfit or hairstyle could soon be done with a touch of a button on your phone!
TV shows like Black Mirror, and BBCs Years and Years have given us a glimpse into a world where humans collide with machine, and provide us with some serious questions to consider. Should we abandon natural imperfection and strive for a rationalised human existence of excellence? Alas, who really wants to live forever?
The world of technology is a rapidly changing landscape, full of innovation and excitement. Whilst we can analyse trends to support our predictions, it may be harder to guess the economic, social and political climate we could be face by 2050, that could change the direction of technology altogether. What is clear however is that technology is on a relentless drive to improve efficiency in every aspect of our lives and from a UX perspective; maximising the user experience in new and inventive ways.