On The Digital Life this week, we chat about our tech predictions for 2017 — from AI to custom manufacturing — and look back at how well we managed with our predictions for 2016.
Jon: Welcome to episode 186 of The Digital Life, a show about our insights into the future of design and technology. I’m your host, Jon Follett, and with me is founder and co-host Dirk Knemeyer.
Dirk: Greetings, listeners.
Jon: For the podcast this week we’re going to chat about our tech predictions for 2017, as well as review how well we did with our predictions from last year, which is always an interesting exercise, Dirk. Last year our listeners may or may not recall that I put forth three predictions for 2016. We’re going to start off the episode by just seeing how well I did in terms of putting my finger in the air and seeing which way the wind was blowing. The first prediction I had for last year was that we would begin to see some real solutions from the Internet of Things that would probably get highlighted in the news and hyped to no end, but some real Internet of Things solutions that were beyond the B2B operational/internal to running industry solutions.
Dirk: To remind me, how does that prediction differ from something like Nest? Remember Nest? That was a pretty hyped consumer IoT thing a few years ago.
Jon: Right, sure. I think the Nest was certainly a step in that direction, but the impact of the Nest was for just a few people, or relatively few, who have it in their homes.
Dirk: Real mainstream you’re talking about, like your mom starts to have it in her house kind of thing.
Jon: Yes. Yeah, that was the essence of that prediction.
Jon: I will give myself, I don’t know, maybe a B- on that one, because we did see a massive Internet of Things impact on a service. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for the positive, as you would assume something like Nest would be, but rather it was for the negative, as there was a botnet that was infected by malware, so your DVRs or internet-connected cameras, other things that were all harnessed in this botnet to attack a company called Dyn and basically took down the internet on the East Coast a few months ago and had people up in arms as the Internet of Things basically turned against its masters, or worked for one specific master with ill intent. We got an impactful service, it was just a denial of service. I don’t think I got that one right, but it’s interesting that there was an impactful outcome from the IoT, just not in any way I would’ve expected.
Dirk: As you mentioned to me yourself, hackers and porn are where things happen first, so it might not be exactly what you predicted, but on the other hand maybe no surprise that it manifests this way.
Jon: Yeah. It’s kind of depressing. I think for all emerging technologies we can just say the hackers are going to get there first in terms of big impact. That was the first one. My second prediction was that we were going to see more genomics related services in our everyday health care. I will grade myself a C- or so on that, as we know that there are plenty of genetics and genomics related services that are being rolled out, especially for couples that are looking to conceive. Some of them are being rolled out now, but they’re not really prime time yet. Certainly you and I are not going to the doctor and having genomics testing as part of our regular checkup. I don’t know whether you would need that or not, probably not, but it’s not in our everyday health stream of information. C-, D maybe, on that prediction.
Dirk: I spent some time with a doctor this year, not for some of the things that you’re talking about that are the more logical manifestations of genomics in health care, but certainly dealing with health care issues that could have been looked at from a genomic perspective, and genomics was not at all on the radar of the health care professionals who I was interacting with.
Jon: Interesting. Far too sunny a prediction for that one. Then my last one here was that we were going to see more open-source software being leveraged for the enterprise. We are seeing some of that, certainly OpenStack and there’s all kinds of open security initiatives. I’ll give myself another B or so on that one. That was probably the easiest one to predict, so not a big leap there. Not a big leap of faith.
Dirk: Yeah, that’s a tough one. People have been predicting open-source being the next big thing for like 20 years now, and it never is, although it’s always making progress. How do you measure … Is the progress of this year … What’s the scale, basically? Because open-source is always this hopeful optimism about big steps forward, and it seems to always be lurching steps instead.
Jon: Right. I don’t even know if that’s worth a B, but I’ll try to escape class with that.
Dirk: I’m not grading you, brother, so you take your B. Take whatever you want to give yourself.
Jon: The self-grading is the best way to go. Are you ready now for the exciting predictions for 2017? Are you ready, Dirk?
Dirk: Oh, my goodness. I am holding my breath.
Jon: First up I’m going to say that we’re going to see augmented reality take its place alongside some of our mobile technology as an important tech and transactional technology, so enabling e-commerce. We’re going to move from the Pokémon GO that has some transactional aspects to it but not so much yet, and we’re going to find, maybe not the killer app for augmented reality, but it’s going to move into a more prominent role, whether it’s in shopping or when you’re going out to a restaurant or what have you. Augmented reality is going to move up a notch on the ladder.
Dirk: To help our listeners grade you next year, what should they be looking for? If your prediction comes true, how will that change the lives of our listeners in some way?
Jon: I think you’ll be able to have an application on your phone. You’ll walk into a store and be able to see information alongside of the products and probably be able to do some comparison shopping. All this tech is already available, it just needs to be overlaid on top of the reality portion of it. You can already go into Walmart and comparison shop on Amazon, it’s just not a nice package. I think next year the folks, whether it’s the folks who gave us Pokémon GO or a competitor, are going to start taking that technology and creating some kind of buzz around a new way to interact with both virtual information and the physical world.
Dirk: Some kind of buzz.
Jon: I just think shopping is the most likely area for that to happen, but I suppose it could be somewhere else.
Dirk: That’s good. Let’s keep poking at what that means, because there are already those kind of shopping apps. I wouldn’t know what the retailers are. It’s probably not Bloomingdale’s, but there are retailers such as Bloomingdale’s that already have that kind of thing going on. What’s different? What constitutes that buzz? What’s the change going to be? Is there going to be one app where you walk into any store, that it’s not retailer-specific? I want our listeners to experience this and say, “Goddamn, Jon was right on the money.” Let’s make this really wicked clear what it is you’re saying is going to happen.
Jon: I think there will be an application that takes a stab at being the Amazon.com of augmented reality. It could very well be Amazon that does it. All of the tech is there. You can see how this could be incorporated if you think of the way that people use Pokémon GO to attract players to their locations. Now you can go to the Sprint store and Sprint has worked with Pokémon GO and now those are gyms or PokéStops. You can see how much power there is for … Someone needs to figure this out and soon, because all of the tech is there. The information’s there. What you need is that application that ties it all together. I think we’ll see the first part of that next year, and I suspect someone’s working on that right now, but I have no inside information.
Dirk: Awesome. That’s a really clear prediction. I look forward to seeing what happens.
Jon: Yeah. It’s tossing a coin in the air, but I think it’s fully possible, so I’ll go out on a limb there. The next prediction I’m going to make has to do with the maker movement. We all know the maker movement for creating and prototyping all sorts of cool things, whether it be in a more analog environment or digital. You have all your Arduino hackers and you have folks who are creating all sorts of cool stuff with 3D printing. I see a change in the maker movement where the evolution into a micro-factory movement. What I mean by that is there’s a number of technologies that are now becoming available, whether they’re form molding or laser cutting or what have you, that allows small companies to start scaling manufacturing very inexpensively, some combination of these tools and 3D printing.
You’re going to begin to see this custom creation of objects that you can create some kind of scale with, so small companies that are going to become small manufacturing hubs and that are going to be driven by this technology that basically turns your desktop into a factory. No longer are you going to need tons of square footage to start producing things for your custom products. You’re going to be able to rent a small space and bang your product out right here in the US. I think that’s going to line up nicely with the “buy American” vibe that’s starting to percolate. I do think we’re going to see some of that.
Dirk: Interesting. How does this differ from … There’s different communities. Like when I was in Columbus, Ohio they created something, I’m not going to remember what it was called, but let’s pretend it was called the Idea Foundry, that had all of these different bits of equipment, 3D printers and different manufacturing bits, essentially. It was this one giant place. You pay a monthly fee. People are going in. It’s a much-hyped emerging tech way for people to do their thing in this big catchall place. Tell me, your idea, how is it different than that kind of a space?
Jon: I think you’re talking about a space not dissimilar from … Like we have Artisan’s Asylum here in Boston, and they have lots of different kinds of tools that you can use. A lot of those tools are not really affordable by single individuals, which is why you have that big space and why you have membership in these spaces and why you have to collect all these tools that are partially owned by everybody or leased or what have you. With this, what I’m talking about is the difference between having a copy shop versus having a printer in your house. When you can go to the copy shop you can certainly make all kinds of things at the copy shop, but it’s a little expensive. You wouldn’t want to go to Kinko’s to produce your magazine.
Imagine you had a magazine printer in your house where you could bang out 500 copies that really looked good just using some really high-end printers on your desktop and a binding machine. You longer had to outlay a huge amount of capital and you could get up and running. I’m just picking a magazine because of this analogy with a printing shop. I think it’s the difference between the print shop, which is something for a community or a group of people to be involved in, versus a desktop-based printer that bangs out high-quality things at scale. That’s what I’m poking at there.
Dirk: Cool. That makes a lot of sense.
Jon: Yeah. We’ll see if that happens, but the tools are definitely there. I have some really incredible small, desktop size manufacturing tools that are available. I really think that’s going to be the beginning of at least a very interesting wave of American manufacturing. I’m looking forward to that. My final prediction is that we are going to see artificial intelligence invade our personal space in new and disturbing ways.
Dirk: Invade? Oh, dear
Jon: Yes, invade. What I mean by that is artificial intelligence is being built into a lot of software now and part of the chat bots that are popping up everywhere. I think in 2017 it starts to get intrusive, and because the design of these bots is certainly not going to be worked out yet, you’re going to have some really irritating instances of interacting with AI and hope for the day when it gets better. I think that’s going to happen.
Jon: Those are our predictions or my predictions for 2017. We can see that I did okay with the ones for 2016, certainly not A+ work, but in the general direction. We hope you enjoyed those, and we will circle back next year to see how well these predictions hold up in 2017.
Dirk: I’m rooting for you, Jon.
Jon: Listeners, remember that while you’re listening to the show, you can follow along with the things that we’re mentioning here in real time. Just head over to thedigitalife.com. That’s just one “L” in thedigitalife, and go to the page for this episode. We’ve included links to pretty much everything mentioned by everybody. So, it’s a rich information resource to take advantage of while listening, or afterward if you’re trying to remember something that you liked. You can find The Digital Life on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, PlayerFM, and Google Play. If you want to follow us outside of the show, you can follow me on Twitter @jonfollett that’s j-o-n f-o-l-l-e-t-t. Of course the whole show is brought to you by Involution Studios, which you can check out at goinvo.com. That’s g-o-i-n-v-o dot com. Dirk?
Dirk: You can follow me on Twitter @dknemeyer that’s @d-k-n-e-m-e-y-e-r. Thank you so much for listening.
Jon: That’s it for episode 186 of The Digital Life. For Dirk Knemeyer, I’m Jon Follett, and we’ll see you next time.