Kevin Kelly, the founding editor of Wired, coined a very popular phrase : “The future happens very slowly and then all at once.”
I’ve seen the concept used quite a bit as of late as people come to comprehend that things are changing faster than they thought they would. In my parlance, I’ve been phrasing this idea as such: “the future is happening faster than we think.’
Yet as we head into 2017, I’m seeing the typical breathless end-of-year observations as people pull together their lists of things that will happen soon. One would think that one day in 2017, we are going to suddenly wake up into a world that we will barely recognize. Yes, the future happens slowly, and then all at once, but ‘at once’ usually means a span of time of several years, not a matter of months.
What will happen? One things seems certain!
Many of these predictions are bang-on: but it’s their timing is off!. With that thought in mind, I thought it would be useful to mention some of these trends of things that won’t happen in 2017:
- the streets won’t be flooded with self-driving cars in 2017. We’ll certainly see continued momentum in this space, with Tesla leading the pack and with every car manufacturer ramping up their efforts, R&D and deployment. There is a very real acceleration of the technology and capabilities in this space. Yet I think that it is going to take several years for the technology, business models and infrastructure to reach the tipping point. Missing in a lot of these conversations are the equally important developments and trends occurring with smart highway technology.
- jobs won’t suddenly return to the US in 2017. It’s a nice concept and certainly will be the theme for what I expect to be a destructive political thriller for the year, but bottom line: the jobs aren’t coming back. Manufacturing is all about robotics, productivity gains through technology, new skills and business models, and more. It would be nice for some folks to take time back to the 50’s, but its not going to happen.
- Silicon Valley won’t be suddenly afflicted with empathy in 2017. This is a recent meme that has emerged in the wake of the US election. I doubt it will happen. Silicon Valley has always been about accelerating change, making money, and having lots of fun in doing so. I don’t really see that changing any time soon.
- there won’t be virtual reality everywhere in 2017. 2016 certainly was a year that saw the maturity of the hardware and software around VR, and this will, going forward, be one of the most significant trends to impact industries, companies and skills. Just last night, I was reading a fascinating article about the opportunity to do a virtual flyeover related to the inspection of an electrical transmission system. This is real stuff, and a big opportunity. I do think that 2017 will see the technology become mainstream and recognized for what it is – it will be a year like that in which business and industry discovered the real potential of GPS. After this period of discovery, watch out! We can expect rapid acceleration with this trend.
- AI and robots aren’t going to make a lot of jobs disappear in 2017. People are freaking out about this one everywhere! This idea is perhaps one of the defining trends observations of 2016: that sweeping technological change – parituclarly AI and robotics — is going to render countless jobs, professions and skills obsolete. It’s certainly going to become real, and this is a pretty significant and profound trend. But like these other trends, it isn’t something that is going to happen with split-second instantaneity. Also, missing in this conversation is the reality at the same time that existing jobs and careers disappear, we are seeing the emergence of all kinds of new jobs and careers.
End of year lists are useful, as they help to spur creative thinking in people, and help them to align their actions to obvious future trends. The challenge is that sometimes, exuberance for the trend gets in the way of the practicality of the timing.
Having said that, I expect 2017 to be a banner year in terms of the speed of change of several major trends. I think we will see very fast acceleration with a variety of significant technologies and ideas – in my case, I’m carefully watching the cost collapse with 3D printing, computational analytics, energy sharing and storage, genomic interpretation and data sets, advanced material development, design methodologies and the impact of crowd-thinking, machine learning, the acceleration of science and chemistry, and the rapid emergence of smart highway infrastructure.