Skip to comments.10 bold predictions for 2014: How 3D printing, the NSA, and porn will shape our world
Posted on 01/16/2014 6:44:54 PM PST by 2ndDivisionVet
2014 is upon us, and what a year its shaping up to be. We can now see that 2013 was a transition year, a time of evolution but not revolution. Many of the threads first unspooled last year, though, will run out in 2014, leaving us in the position of predicting their effects. Here are ten specific, falsifiable predictions for 2014 some safer than others. These are designed to look at a wide swathe of the technology sector, from consumer electronics to government surveillance.
Some of these predictions will be wrong, but come 2015 well begin this lists sequel with a score card for this go-round. Its going to be quite a year
1 Googles Calico will make headlines, despite not actually doing or saying anything important
Googles life extension moonshot is going to arrest news organizations for years to come, even if only in terms of its spectacular failures. At this point, something spectacular is assured, what with such a startling amount of money and talent going into the venture. Still, these are the most fundamental problems of all existence: why does life have to end? To think that anyone, even Google, could make significant progress on this problem in a year seems absurd. The company seems to still be in the acquisitions phase and may very well not have begun work on anything beyond buying start-ups.
Still, at this point Google is a daily fixture of news programs, featured for anything from NSA surveillance to a new Android update; anything Google does warrants coverage simply by virtue of the fact that Google is the one doing it. Google will release some relatively meaningless updates about the company a new hire or start-up acquisition with too many possible implications to be useful and we may even wring some excitement out of a job posting or two.
Nothing of substance will come out about Calico in 2014, save a piece-meal understanding assembled from any large tech purchases the company happens to make. Nevertheless, people will find reasons to get hot and bothered about it.
Additional prediction: At least one group will start an anti-Calico campaign on the basis that it is unnatural, despite not knowing anything about what it actually does.
chloe holmes bionic hand
2 A para/quadriplegic will take a step under their own power, but costs will remain prohibitive
This is a pretty specific claim, so lets talk it through. Amputees can already take steps and handshakes under their own power, with direct input coming from the brain. Thats old news. However, a paraplegic hasnt lost a limb, but the ability to transfer messages past a certain point along the spinal chord. This means that methods like targeted muscle reinnervation wont work, because they still rely on the healthy neural input coming down the nerves. Rather, for a paraplegic to walk we must either fix the nerves or circumvent them.
In the long term, I believe fixing the nerves will work. That, however, is more than one year out, by far. What is much more achievable in a short time frame is finding ways around the damaged spine. Scientists are becoming good at reading brain waves with electrodes, and a neurally-controlled robotic system clamped around the legs could fit the criteria for this prediction. You might argue that things like this qualify already, but this whole hip control thing seems like a pretty weak stand-in for neural control technology that is right on the brink of widespread implementation. To me, that is what is implied by under their own power.
On the other hand, a simple neural signal-booster could also do the trick; fields like optogenics could let us turn information collected from electrodes on the brain back into the language of neurons, below the point of spinal damage. Put one on the major nerve cluster leading to each leg, and have it receive input from electrodes reading the appropriate section of the motor cortex.
Were too close in too many possible ways, and the headline is simply too juicy to pass up. This one will go down in 2014.
Corollary prediction: The costs of a robot exoskeleton of this kind wont come down to remotely consumer levels under at least 2020.
3 The DoD will test a potentially lethal autonomous defense system
The US Department of Defense is under a lot of pressure. The organization is pressured by funding cuts and a number of new international rivals who play by a whole new set of rules. While China doubles down on cyber warfare and Afghan insurgents continue to refine the guerrilla tactics of their forebears, the DoD will characteristically take its biggest gamble on technology. Over the next 25 years, the US military will become, to some significant extent, an autonomous robot army we know, because they said so.
But thats a 25-year plan. As far as 2014 is concerned, well, this prediction could very well already have come true, without us knowing it. It might be more accurate to predict that the first autonomous system will take to the field publicly, with some sort of publicly disclosed result. The result will almost certainly be a properly destroyed dummy truck, but the point will not be to show off the power of this technology but its mere existence. A high-flying drone that can search for, acquire, identify, and destroy or request to destroy a target would satisfy the requirements.
One of the main advantages of autonomy is that it lets you get involved in engagements that are otherwise prohibitive; right now, there are practical concerns stopping the US military from combing every inch of a Middle-Eastern mountain range or bustling urban center. A fleet of autonomous drones, small searcher quadcopters with orders to alert larger hunter bots? It might sound laughable, but every individual technology required for such a scenario exists in some form today.
The DoD is ultimately less interested in winning wars than it is in scaring its enemies out of starting them. Autonomy is the US militarys best guess at a silver bullet for future war and 2014 will be remembered as the year that strategy got its first, shaky public debut.
Additional prediction: The first autonomous killbot test will provoke huge backlash from the international community, but the consternation will come to nothing.
4 Oculus Rift will be a short-term success, establishing VR and changing gaming forever
Oculus Rift will release to huge positive buzz. The first universally-loved game developed specifically for the Oculus Rift will be released in 2014, but it will be a small and simple title that wont drive many device sales.
The headset will be an utter failure with twitchy online shooters, but will totally revolutionize the single player, narrative-focused video game. Manufacturing shortages will make the news by the holiday season, and more than one expert will give an interview about the dangers of our youth disappearing into their new-fangled face-boxes.
The Oculus branding will be too weak to install the device as the Kleenex of virtual reality. Ultimately, the innovations that make Rift work so well are easily copied, its themes easily varied upon to create a viable competitor product. The start-up will enjoy very real success in 2014, buoyed by an abundance of investor interest, but by the end of the year we will see the larger corporate machines start to bring their sluggish but effective attention to bear on the problem.
Sonys VR headset, the latest version of which was just announced, will struggle due to pricing, and the devices general Sony-ness. Legends of horrible software compatibility will plague the device, and it will pose no real threat to Oculus this year despite offering a technically superior viewing experience. Samsung will announce their own competitor in the Galaxy meta-brand, but details will remain scarce. Whacky third party solutions will get relatively little attention, and Valve will be widely assumed to be preparing a version of their own despite never having given the slightest such indication.
Additional prediction: Rumbles will surface about Apple working on a headset, a market-spanning device aimed at both Oculus and Google Glass. It will be rumored to heavily incorporate Siri.
5 The NSA will be revealed to have spied on US politicians, resulting in reforms that only ban that very specific scenarios
Those who are in a position to know have said it: theres a lot of info still to come from the Snowden leaks. We cant know what that information will be perhaps just another in the now yawn-inducingly long list of exploits and hacking strategies available to the NSA but I have a strong suspicion that the next big game-changer in surveillance will be its application to politics. The ability to abuse NSAs powers for political purposes is so enormous and the barriers to abuse so low that its hard to imagine that this has not occurred at some point. Whether it was a deeper-than-legal check for background dirt or a quick peek at internal party communications, it seems almost impossible that somebody, somewhere, hasnt tried to beat democracy with technology. 2014 is the year well learn about it.
The revelation will lead to much outrage and swift action from legislators after all, their will be on the line. In this case a head will actually roll, and new legislation will be quickly drawn up making such abuses extra-illegal. However, in order to rush the new prohibitions through a polarized (and paralyzed) system, the language will be so specifically targeted at political surveillance that it will have no utility whatsoever in protecting average citizens. Arguments used against it will be equally valid when applied to mass surveillance of citizens, but that fact wont get much attention.
Additional prediction: Just as in 2013, nobody of any real consequence will incur any meaningful penalty as a result of non-political abuses of NSAs powers.
6 3D printing will begin to come into its own, while remaining unpopular
3D printing is third to Big Data and self-driving cars in terms of real, short-term ability to change the landscape in the world. The process is poised, given some very believable increases in fidelity and decreases in cost, to change manufacturing forever and perhaps to destroy major swathes of it. That being the case, and given the enormous inroads made by the technology in 2013, just how many 3D printers have you seen in your everyday life? Unless you work at a design form or similar company, chances are youve never seen one in your life.
In 2014, the disconnect between potential and actual applications for 3D printing will have been a conversation topic for simply too long. Like solar power or the flying car, the technology world has simply cried wolf far too often; people are no longer impressed by printed chess pieces, nor by promises of a Star Trek replicator. They want to be able to plug in the design for a useful object, and to get a high-quality version of that object out quickly and cheaply. Until that functionality is in the publics hands, the public will grumble.
During 2014, 3D printing with make its first large inroads to the economy, but it will do so with respect to the manufacturing sector. It will begin to affect jobs, earning it a negative reputation in a recession-obsessed culture, but will fail to redeem itself with a cheap-enough, good-enough in-home model. The MakerBots and other household solutions will remain at least twice as expensive to buy and operate as required by the average family, and the variety and quality of objects they can make will remain unsatisfactory. As a result, 3D printing will have both a good and a bad year: objectively, it will make huge strides and the technology will progress enormously, while the public will become cynical, even predicting that the tech will never leave the factory floor.
Additional prediction: At least one electronics mega-corp (Sony, Samsung, etc) will announce, but not release, a line of 3D printers in 2014.
7 The discussion will begin to shift from creating and preserving jobs to designing a system that can succeed overall despite requiring less workers
Making society-scale predictions in tech is tricky work, both because its so easy to be wrong and because even being right on the wrong timeline can scuttle your point. For instance, were going on about decade eight of arm-flapping panic about the coming wave of advanced computers and robots poised to make human labor obsolete. Said today, this claim will elicit robust counter-arguments from even the most technologically ignorant old-timer. Its simply understood, taken for granted, that a population will need precisely the number of working-aged adults to be working, in order to provide for the needs and wants of the population as a whole. In 2014, that assumption will start to fall apart. Why will 2014 be the year this trend begins, when 1934, 1954, 1974 and 1994 all saw obsolete jobs replaced with new ones?
A number of reasons. For one, the technologies on display here actually work. Rather than saying, Someday, human callers may be replaced by advanced networks of recordings, researchers are simply testing those networks and achieving incredible success. Self driving cars have logged millions of miles on the road, NASA is 3D printing mission-ready engine parts, and the computational abilities of Big Data are making possible everything from Netflix recommendations to total government surveillance.
In 2014, trends will progress and reports will surface such that it will be impossible to totally ignore the oncoming future. Presidential addresses will likely stick to job-creation rhetoric for quite some time, but in the trenches of the news media an new conversation will begin: What do we do now?
Additional prediction: The word unemployment will become secondary to underemployment; the phrase guaranteed income will begin to become known by the general public.
8 Britain will utterly abandon their porn filter, but never admit to having made any sort of mistake
The UKs ill-advised and ill-informed crusade against internet porn has become, in an utterly predictable turn, a crusade against the internet. Whether the government is trying to block cigarette companies or sex education sites, torrent news blogs or actual porn, the ban is proving even more difficult to implement than even its harshest critics had worried. After all, those opposing the net assumed that the government implementing it would have at lest done some due diligence before unleashing it on the public but no.
Still a year is a long time to go through and individually remove any wrongly blocked sites. In 2014, the dissolution of the UK porn wall will approach mostly because of its total and complete failure to achieve its goals, not because it was too effective and caught innocent sites in its net. The simplest of browser plugins can circumvent the ban, effectively creating a worse situation than parents knew before the ban, since now they erroneously believe that their children are safe from pornography.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The UKs porn filter is a disaster because it was so poorly run, so technologically impossible, and so philosophically unwise. Even if the thing was well done, and even if that well done program could possibly achieve its goals, its goal are still wrong. Allowing the government to censor the free flow of ideas in the name of protection citizens from their own evil natures is not like the first step to fascism, it is the first step to fascism.
Additional prediction: The Cameron government will fall progressively more silent about the program as the year goes on, quietly marginalizing it so they can quietly snuff it in 2015 or 2016.
9 The news industry will be doing more total business by the end of 2014 than it was at the beginning
Theres been a lot of talk about how to fend off the NSA, how to spy-proof your ethernet jack and lock files against McCarthy-esque government operatives, but surprisingly little attention given to what might have stopped the programs from coming into existence in the first place. Possible answers to this are almost necessarily controversial, but there is one that should not surprise anyone, and which will become increasingly obvious to citizens as this year goes on: if we had spent the last decade maintaining loyal payment for the news the world would today be a safer, freer place.
Thats a big claim, but consider that fact that, when the existence and extent of PRISM were first revealed to the public, most Americans were aghast at even the possibility of its creation. Theres no reason that a program employing so many thousands of people, spending so many billions of dollars, should have remained hidden for so long. A strong news media couldnt have reported on governments secret votes, but it could have given citizens enough ancillary information to provide some sort of existential check on government power.
In general, all but one of societys pillars was put under the custodianship of the government; thats what government is. The last remaining pillar is the media and due to its role as a supervisor of government conduct, maintenance of that one fell to us. One pillar, guys, and we couldnt manage it. In 2014, it will become categorically impossible to deny the direct relationship between widespread ignorance of the system and chaos within that system. People will seek out deluxe purveyors or news under the (only partially false) assumption that their product is more intellectually nutritious. They will remember that the news is a service, not a product. They will invest in their own futures.
Additional prediction: The strength of cable subscription numbers due to dirt-cheap packages will finally crack under the weight of reality, causing a huge drop in telecom stocks for at least two major providers.
10 Microsoft will begin its long, slow decline in earnest
It took far, far too long, but Steve Ballmer is out and Microsoft seems aware that it needs to make big changes if it wants to remain in any way dominant. Merely boasting fat pockets is no longer good enough in the modern day, when game-changing technologies can come from Google-bought start-ups or even humble Kickstarter entrepreneurs. The quintessential hulking corporate bureaucracy has come to define the concept of financial success to a generation but name a big, modern success for Microsoft. Phones? No. Tablets? No. Windows? Hell no. Its main pieces of productivity software are now almost perfectly emulated by free, web-based alternatives. It has effectively ceded PC gaming to Valve without a fight and even the mighty Xbox One managed to squander a good portion of the positive buzz it had, though its obviously too soon to make any statements about the consoles future chances.
In all, things do not look good for Microsoft, which seems to be doing little beyond playing catch-up and building sub-par versions of their competitors exciting ideas. Windows is under attack from everything from OSX to ChromeOS to Linux and the SteamBox. The companys stocks have avoided a huge dip mostly thanks to the companys almost unbelievable diversity, but as the lifespan of its core products comes to a close, Microsoft needs some solutions, and fast. It cannot continue to coast on the successes of its past products, nor on the basic stability of its portfolio. Microsoft needs a winner, now, and unless they are being uncharacteristically savvy with the secret-keeping, it has so such coup in the works for 2014.
Additional prediction: Microsoft will show off Windows 9, which will be highly polished and basically be what Windows 8 should have been, but it will be overshadowed by more exciting news from competitors.
Super awesome bonus prediction:
Half-Life 3 will be released in 2014 and it will be called Half-Life 2: Episode 3.
The leader of that industry, 3D Systems, just hired "will.i.am" in some odd capacity to promote its products.
If 3D Systems is a serious scientific company, they would not have hired an entertainer to represent them.
This indicates IMHO that 3D Systems seeks to become a consumer driven company...and not an industrial company.
Buh bye serious markets...hello tweeters and chia pets.
Political power grows out of the nozzle of a 3-D Printer.
Nut-job Conspiracy Theory Ping!
To get onto The Nut-job Conspiracy Theory Ping List you must threaten to report me to the Mods if I don't add you to the list...
And even if it could...they would demand dinner and champagne before considering anything more.
And who can blame them.
Men are stuck with their erotic urges.
They might be better off understanding them than simply giving in to them.
Not to sound flat...but ask Jesus/Yeshua for the answer here.
There is more truth here than you might imagine...
Oh crystal ball...
Me? I just say "oooh" and "ahhh" as the miracles of future tech enter my life.
I gave up on really keeping up with technology when I was out with the flu for 2 weeks in 1992. I'll never catch back up.
An oldie but a goodie, from one of our finest hours.
What a unique, novel concept. I seem to remember having heard this somewhere before. Some dead Greek guy from a long time ago or something. Too bad liberals have never picked up on this concept.
Its (Microsoft's) main pieces of productivity software are now almost perfectly emulated by free, web-based alternatives.
And you can't use them if you work in modern corporate America.
My money is on prediction 5. I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that Obama and the DC used the NSA to spy on political opponents.
I will make a prediction.
When a high-fidelity programmable female robot becomes available, society will collapse within 10 years.
When I can have a 3D printer in my basement (even if it runs on 220) that prints in reasonably durable metal with 0.001” resolution, then I will say that 3D printing is real. What this world does not need is a machine that produces more plastic crap.
I saw a fairly interesting idea (maybe from University of Michigan) where they put a MIG welder head on a 3-D printer. Great idea, until you figure out what the cost of the power and welding wire might be to make an object of substantial size.
we'll all be Thoreaus' when this thing is over....
Si vis pacem, para bellum...
One can make lost wax (or lost PLA) mold masters on a cheap 3-D printer.
My sub $300 printer should arrive in a couple months...
Dr. Malcolm, "Oooh, ahhh, that's how it always starts. Then later there's running and screaming."
Nothing that a frying pan and garlic butter wouldn’t fix...
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