What will the world look like in five to 10 years, and how will technology evolve? Just ask Richard Watson, he’s a futurist who advises organizations on the future, trends and scenario planning.
Although he doesn’t have a crystal ball to seek answers from, this London, U.K.-based futurist has been doing this for the past six years. He credits his ability to forecast trends and predictions based on what he reads, sees and hears. He has worked with many companies around the world including Coca-Cola, IBM, P&G, Samsung and others.
In addition to this work, Watson also owns What’s Next, an online publishing business and is the author of Future Files, a book that forecasts how the world may change in the next 50 years.
CDN had the opportunity to speak with Watson about how he got started in his career and to hear where he sees the future of technology headed.
Below is an edited transcript of the conversation.
CDN: How’d you become a futurist and how long have you been doing this for?
Richard Watson: I’ve been involved with product innovation for a long time and I’ve also been involved in design from a retail and industrial standpoint. I later moved to Australia and set up a publishing company, which is called What’s Next, where I wrote about innovation. From there, I got interested in trends and one day I received an e-mail out of the blue from a publisher in Australia to write a book about the future. This book was called Future Files. I have a new book coming out called Future Minds: How the digital age is changing our minds, why this matters and what we can do about it. I’ve been a futurist for the past six years. At first when I was labeled as a futurist, I used to squirm at the term, but I’ve grown into it and have now become comfortable with it.
CDN: How do you come up with your future predictions?
R.W.: I just read a lot of stuff – magazines, newspapers and reviews. I also talk to as many people as possible and I travel quite a bit to see things from different perspectives. With all of this combined, you tend to get a good view of what’s coming.
CDN: How far ahead can you look into the future?
R.W.: I’m most interested in and the sweet spot for me is the next five to 10 years. Minute you go much over 10, it becomes extremely difficult.
CDN: What are your thoughts on mobile computing?
R.W.: Smart cell phones will likely become a primary interface with the Internet. The cell phone is possibly the most significant invention of this century, almost like the automobile was in the last century. Cell phones will change how we live and think. I think we’ll start to see more of what’s happening in Japan and Korea, where mobile phones will replace our wallets and we’ll be a cashless society. We’d be able to pay for things by simply waving our phones in front of a payment terminal. From a location perspective, phones are getting smarter in knowing where we are, so we may move into a future where we use our phones to shop.
CDN: Where is the future of the Internet headed?
R.W.: I think the Internet and computers will have more information about themselves and they’ll get to a point where they understand what you’ve asked (searched for), and also they’ll understand the content to some extent. If you do a Google search in 10 years time, I think there’s a good chance you won’t need to type it in. You can ask a question and it’ll speak back to you. I think we’ll also see emotionally-aware machines that will be aware of what mood you’re in, for instance, how hard are you typing on the keys, are you shouting? When it recognizes these emotions, e-mails can be delayed to your inbox if your computer senses you’re under pressure. Also, the machine will know what the e-mail’s about and will decide if it’s a good time to send it to you. In the past, machinery was dumb and we had to program it to meet our requirements. In the future, these machines will program themselves according to our requirements.
Find out more about the future of the keyboard and mouse on the next page.
CDN: What else are you predicting?
R.W.: Ten years is a long time in technology, so artificial intelligence will become increasingly more significant. Google Instant is the beginning of this, where it’ll try to anticipate what people want. This same process can also be used to predict what people want at (fast food) drive thrus. Based on your car, the restaurant will have a ton of data of what people ordered most based on what car they were driving. If it’s a Volvo station wagon for example, it’s probably a mom and she’s ordering a happy meal for her kid.
CDN: What can you tell me about the future of the PC and is the mouse dying?
R.W.: My view is as an innocent to this space because I’m no subject matter expert here, would be that clearly the trend is towards smaller mobile devices. I think the mouse and the keyboard will both be dead and interaction could be made through voice or by projecting keyboards on your table. We could also use mind control and move things by thinking about it.
CDN: What’s your take on 3D TVs?
R.W.: I think 3D TVs are a fad. I think in the future, more and more things that are flat surfaces will become screens and have more intelligence. For example, we could have seat back menus and order (items) off the screen. We could also have interactive tables or giant walls that can become screens. If every flat surface becomes a screen, than the entire world’s your interface.
Any other thoughts?
The digital era with computers, phones and the Internet will change peoples’ attitudes and behaviours and how they interact with each other. There are some dangers there with a possible erosion of empathy because everyone’s in their own cocoon and less aware of the outside world. If you look at people walking around today, a lot of them aren’t sitting around and thinking, but instead they’re looking down at some sort of device. I think we may become too connected if we never switch off on these devices. From a culture perspective, there seems to be an over reliance on technology.
Follow Maxine Cheung on Twitter: @MaxineCheungCDN.