34. Technology increasingly dominates both the economy and society.
New technologies are surpassing the previous state of the art in all fields. Laptop computers and Internet-equipped cell phones provide 24/7 access to e-mail and Web sites. Flexible, general-service personal robots will appear in the home by 2015, expanding on the capabilities robotic vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers. New materials are bringing stronger, lighter structures that can monitor their own wear. By 2015, artificial intelligence (AI), data mining, and virtual reality will help most organizations to assimilate data and solve problems beyond the range of today’s computers. The promise of nanotechnology is just being explored, but real possibilities range from high-powered super-batteries to cell-sized health monitors. Ultimately, speculations that we are approaching the “singularity,” the time when our artifacts become so intelligent that they can design themselves and we cannot understand how they work, may prove correct. At that point, humanity will be largely a passenger in its own evolution as a technological species.
Assessment: Technologically related changes in society and business seen over the last 20 years are just the beginning of a trend that will accelerate at least through this century.
Implications: New technologies should continue to improve the efficiency of many industries, helping to keep costs under control.
However, this increased productivity has retarded United States job creation since at least 2002. Other developed countries are likely to feel the same effect in the future.
Technology made international outsourcing possible. It will continue to promote outsourcing to the benefit of the recipient countries, but to cause painful job losses in the donor lands.
New technologies often require a higher level of education and training to use them effectively. They also provide many new opportunities to create businesses and jobs.
Automation will continue to cut the cost of many services and products, making it possible to reduce prices while still improving profits. This will be critical to business survival as the Internet continues to push the price of many products to the commodity level.
New technology also will make it easier for industry to minimize and capture its effluent. This will be a crucial ability in the environmentally conscious future.
In 1999, a team at the technology organization Battelle compiled a list of the ten most strategic technological trends for the next 20 years. The list is available at the Battelle Web site at http://www.battelle. org/SPOTLIGHT/tech_forecast/ technology2020.aspx. Key technologies for 2020, as forecast by Battelle:
• Gene-based medical care, from custom-tailored pharmaceuticals to cloned organs for transplantation;