When I rethought the future

If you’d asked me what April, 2020 would be like back in April, 2015, I would have guessed wrong. Of course that’s the problem with predictions of the future. They’re almost always wrong. Take Back to the Future’s version of 2015, The Running Man’s version of 2017, or Blade Runner’s version of 2019. They may have gotten some coincidental details right, but most of them painted a picture that looked nothing like the years we lived through.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t guess.

My hopes for the future, back then

Today I’ll throw back to a post from April, 2015 when I bemoaned the fact that our vision of the near-future was already over ten years old. I gave a few ideas for what a brighter future would look like. To date, none of them have gotten any closer.

My hopes for the future, now

As I write this, many of us are still at home, many of us are waiting for our jobs to open back up, and we’re beginning to wonder what a “return to normalcy” actually looks like. But that’s the short-term future. We’re going to get back to normal, and I personally think that we’ll come out of it with a better understanding of how to stay healthy. We’ll appreciate what matters most, too.

But let’s presume for a minute that we can look to a brighter future.  What would that look like?

Flexible, decentralized manufacturing

One thing we’ve all realized in the last month or so is that our factories need to be more flexible. The real winners in the last month have been companies who’ve been able to rapidly adapt to creating the things we need right now. So let’s home factories get smarter, assembly lines get more reconfigurable, and that we can face challenges head on.

Virtual presence

We already have Teams, Zoom, Skype, and other videoconferencing apps. And, we’ve gotten pretty well versed in what makes them good and bad. So, let’s make all that better. How can we create real virtual environments that let people collaborate without boundaries? VR headsets have already made a big jump in power but there’s more work to be done. How about those VR eyeglasses we saw in Westworld? That would really make a difference.

A cleaner, safer world

In the last month we’ve seen a lot of problems happen in areas where it was practically impossible to avoid people, where everyone’s environment was perpetually grimy. Cities like New York come to everyone’s mind of course. I think the future will see more advances in antimicrobial coatings and large-scale disinfection. Imagine some sort of device that could effectively Lysol-bomb lower Manhattan without killing the trees or animals. Maybe we wouldn’t need to do that but imagine if it were there when we needed it.

These may not be as exciting…

These concepts may not be as thrilling as some of the ones I talked about five years ago, but they’re also probably more achievable. A lot of what I’m talking about is already possible and just needs to be refined. That means the future could be closer than we think.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.