The noted 20th-century physicist Denis Garbor stated that the future “cannot be predicted, but the future can be invented”. It’s a motto that futurologist Dr Ian Pearson, who lived in Belfast for nearly twenty years and graduated from Queen’s University, can probably appreciate it. The leading expert tells Weekend which technological steps will shape our lives in 2022 and beyond.
Metaverse and Virtual Reality (VR)
It has launched a few times in the past and failed. Like 3DTV, I think there’s enough critical mass this time around to get it off the ground this year.
And that will lead to augmented reality, where you overlay VR over the environment around you – like walking around Belfast and seeing offers pop up – marketing information overlaid on reality – as you walk past stores. That’s easy to do.
This also has a negative side and can be seen as a gross invasion of privacy if not properly regulated, as facial recognition technology is clearly capable of identifying a person.
Theoretically, you could walk around town and see people’s phone numbers, names overlaid on their avatars, obtained through information available on social media.
In general, most of the applications coming out of VR are positive; upgrades to Zooms where you can meet people in 3D, albeit using avatars wearing smart glasses.
In the coming years, we may see contact lenses with 3D overlays in the real world. We may see a prototype of that this year.
Tissue culture meat substitutes
We’ve known for years that it’s only a matter of time before you can start growing meat cells in chemical plants and barrels, instead of using cows and sheep walking across a field.
This means that you are actually going to eat meat tissue. So people who are vegetarian or vegan can get animal protein without killing the cow or sheep for its meat. Some people who fall into this category may switch and start eating meat again.
This has been coming for a while, but it’s starting to hit stores now too, at roughly the right prices.
A start is now being made on making chicken from culture tissue. We are now at a breakout point in the coming years because there is quite a bit of momentum already and that would capture that trend very nicely.
We’ve seen these in the past – electronic dogs – 15, 20 years ago, and even before that I had an electronic cat in the 1990s.
They’ve been around for a long time, but we’re seeing more of them now because of the advancement of AI (Artificial Intelligence). There are new chatbots to talk to about various topics; sometimes they appear on a screen as an avatar. It’s just as easy to put it in a robot doll or pet that moves across a floor. Especially given the lockdown and many people who feel lonely.
I think it’s reached a market point where it’s very useful – it’s companionship for people.
Some studies have shown that they are really good for older people and that people bond well with electronic pets.
It is very good for alleviating loneliness, but it is not a substitute for a human being. It’s a close second best.
A few years ago, cruise ships started putting virtual windows in some windows because not everyone has a balcony.
If you don’t have a balcony and you’re looking into a cabin, there’s no reason why you couldn’t have a huge plasma screen on the wall that looks like a window, looking out onto a nice beach or showing you what the view would be if you had one outside.
Of course screens have gotten better, thinner and illusions get better every year at a good economic price. Windows in cruise ships have taken the lead.
It’s quite likely to happen in people’s homes – some people can buy a second TV and use it as a ‘window’. So they have a nice view of a Caribbean beach instead of looking out for the drizzle from your flat in Belfast.
You can of course have any view you want, and this fits with the trend in virtual reality where we are used to going around the world virtually.
People would be happy to have a view that overlooks whatever they want for the day – New York City, the Grand Canyon.
One of the major television brands has released a high-quality projector specially designed as a replacement for decor.
The purpose of this is to project onto a surface so you can transform your room into an art gallery or ‘window’ – or just change the room’s colors.
It’s under £400 and I think it’s something that could get off the ground this year or next year.
Electric cars and self-driving vehicles
Every week there is a new development that makes the battery last a little longer, or cheaper, or less pollution when they are made.
What I find interesting about electric cars is that they go well with self-driving cars. With the AI at the moment, it’s really really hard to get cars that can drive all day by themselves without any accidents in the real environment. It is very easy to get good in test tracks.
Lately, we’ve seen a lot of problems with people hacking software for self-driving cars, which is a potential danger.
There are two ways to make self-driving cars; you can either have a lot of AI and a lot of sensors, which is extremely expensive and a lot of high tech.
The alternative, which you don’t hear much about, is the idea of ’pod’ systems – electric pods that go around and pick up people.
Fiberglass shells could be used that are cheaper, and these could be used for public transport in cities, picking up and dropping people where they need to go, using the current road surface and guided by electronic maps.
It would be more environmentally friendly and cheaper for the consumer if he could buy his own ‘pods’.
By 2050 or thereabouts, the connections to the brain will be so good that much of our thinking will take place in ‘server phones’ in your head.
Think of it as an extension of your brain, one that works faster, has more memory and allows you to connect directly to the Internet.
Remember it’s still you, with your brain, but you have an extension for it in the servers, which could be anywhere in the world.
One day you die, or your body dies, 99% of your thinking will take place in the ‘cloud’, so you may barely notice that your body has died – your mind is still going.
By 2060 it will be cheaper, and ten years later everyone will be able to have it. Those born now, who will live naturally to age 70, will likely find that they will not “die” because they essentially live on digitally.
Androids will replace their bodies, while their minds will be in the ‘cloud’. It really is a matter of broadening your mind, not uploading.
The mind lives more and more in the cloud.