At Microsoft event, Dutch trendwatcher talks about converging technologies
Dutch trendwatcher Rob Creemers held an interesting presentation today at the Microsoft Developer & IT Pro Days in the Belgian city of Gent. Rob operates through his company Technotrends and focuses on the social and economic impact of technological evolution. "The Networked Society", as his presentation was called, was enthousiastic, fast-paced, and full of quotes, pictures and videos. He started off with the Danish cartoon row, "all due to techology", because information, as well as misinformation and disinformation, spreads incredibly fast through text messaging (called "SMS" in Europe) and the internet. Some employees say that technology makes their work harder, not easier.
But the technological evolution continues. Barcodes will be replaced by RFID chips. Soon, those chips will be present in the crust of the cheese you're eating and in the cork of the wine you're drinking. By 2015, about 900 billion food items will be RFID tagged, and 824 million livestock will have more sophisticated, expensive tags attached to their ear or implanted in them. Tiny IP-enabled devices will be everywhere. This "smart dust" will track everything, from cars on the road to fish in the ocean. Forget hardware and software: the new kid in town is called "everyware". Nanotechnology will take this one step further, like in preventing bacteria growth in refrigerator coating. We will soon see a nanotechnology revolution, like we saw a plastics revolution in the 1930s. Information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology will converge. Our homes will become fully digital, with broadband providing for audio, video, TV and internet. The internet protocol will swallow everything, as AT&T's Hossein Eslambolchi predicts. Intelligent, "ambient" devices will be everywhere. And with broadband everywhere, companies will have to rethink the role of face-to-face meetings.
Web 2.0 will be big. Dan Bricklin, creator of the first spreadsheet Visicalc, has launched wikiCalc, a Web 2.0 spreadsheet application. The next web phase will be focused on collaboration, "mass cooperation across time and space". These Web 2.0 applications will be the Lego bricks, creating mashups that present existing information in totally new ways. Together with mobile devices, the new web will show you where your friends are, anytime, any place. Wal-Mart recently enlisted bloggers in their PR campaign. But do you know which company Wal-Mart is really afraid of? Google! With its technology, Google will soon be able to tell shoppers people through their java-enabled phones where to find the best bargains and the cheapest shops nearby. The big internet companies are speeding up their spending, with Amazon doubling its outlays in 2005 compared to 2004, and Google almost tripling: there's a big race going on for market domination and for being the first in new technologies.
But our world is facing two big problems: ageing and globalization. Europe is ageing fast. Between now and 2050, the total population of the European continent will decrease by about 100 million. Africa's population over the same period will double from 800 million to a projected 1.7 billion. In Finland, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, the number of women in their early forties who are childless approaches 20 percent. In The Washington Post, Robert J. Samuelson announced "The End of Europe". It's hard to be a great power when your population is shriveling. By the middle of the 21st century, every highly developed industrial society in the world will be a health care economy.
Globalization is not new. In the nineteenth century, the railroad and the telegraph were a globalizing force. We shrank the world and we are still shrinking the world. But by thinking globally, we can act locally. Microsoft Office is available in 14 local languages in India. Globalization brings increased competition. Is your job at risk? Not if it can't be done over a wire, like if you're a plumber or a carpenter. But some 100,000 Italian shoemakers could lose their jobs this year as a result of a Chinese import boom in cheap shoes. You can buy a microwave oven for 29 euros today, thanks to cheap Chinese labor. We have to look at those import figures carefully. iPods are made in China, but designed and marketed in the US. Most of the profits stay with Apple in the US. The same is true for barbie dolls, sold for $20 in the US: it costs 35 cents to make them in China, but the profits go to US companies. But the Chinese import boom and the Indian outsourcing wave go on. In five years, 40% of all car parts will be manufactured in China. Intel is building new plants in Vietnam. China eats the world, India is spreading its brainpower around the world. Brains are fleeing from Europe to the US because of the high taxes in Europe. In 20 years, the average US citizen will be twice as wealthy as the average European. But our biggest short term problem will be fossil fuels. If Al Qaeda terrorists had succeeded in blowing up the big Saudi oil plant of Abqaiq, we would not be sitting here today, Creemers concluded. Oil prices would shoot through the roof and the result would be devastating.