Technology 20 Years From Now Essay Outline

The doctor handed me the scissors. As I pressed down the blades, snipping the umbilical cord, I looked up at my wife. She was smiling, holding our newborn son.

That was 20 years ago. Our baby is now 6 feet tall and a junior in college. When I look at him, I see all the stages of his life in one continuum, the toddling and the tantrums, the laughs and the arguments, the late nights coaxing a crying infant to sleep and waiting for a teenager to come home.

Fast Company turns 20 this month too, and the world has changed dramatically since the cover of issue No. 1 declared “Work Is Personal. Computing Is Social. Knowledge Is Power. Break the Rules.” Yet that manifesto is more relevant than ever. How we interpret those words has evolved—we did not predict an App Store or an Oculus Rift—but their spirit has become central to our culture

We celebrate birthdays to remember all that has gone before, and also what is to come. This month, with issue No. 201, we recognize Fast Company’s 20th anniversary by looking toward the future. The dynamic change of the past two decades is just a warm-up for what is still to come.

I talked recently about this with CEO Hans Vestberg of the Swedish communications company Erics­son. Because Ericsson builds products for the major telecom providers and cell-phone makers, as well as hundreds of governments around the globe, Vestberg has inside knowledge of everybody’s plans—information he cannot specifically reveal but that informs his thinking about where our world is trending.

“Today, there are 7.2 billion mobile subscriptions,” he says, “and only 2.9 billion people have broadband,” by which he means high-speed Internet access. “But as technology advances, prices will fall. By 2020, 90% of the world’s population will be covered by mobile broadband networks. Another five to 10 years further, broadband will have universal reach.”

This, Vestberg argues, will have a transformative impact. He points to a historical precedent that is now hundreds of years old: the steam engine. When first invented, its function was to remove water from mines. Only later was the technology applied to other arenas, spawning steamships and railroads and turbocharging industry. The advent of connected mobile technology is just as powerful and equally underestimated, Vestberg says. We are still in the early stages, with implications for health care, education, banking, energy, manu-facturing, and more. “Our imagination is our limitation,” he says.

Vestberg’s predictions of transformation are echoed by those on the frontier in other disciplines: genetics, alternative energy, artificial intelligence, and so on. If you travel down the likeliest development paths in each of these areas and then wrap all the advances into one future, you see that we are at a dramatic inflection point.

I have used the phrase Generation Flux to describe this era of transition. Because the changes are coming so fast, there is a rising premium on our ability to adjust, to be adaptable in new ways. This can be scary for some, but it is also undeniably exciting, and for those prepared to embrace this emerging reality, the possibilities are tantalizing.

What follows are 20 observations that we believe will hold fast in the years ahead. They are predictions and, as such, are fraught with limitation and supposition. None of them, on their own, is shocking. That is by design. In combination, though, they outline a world of tomorrow where work is still personal, computing is still social, and knowledge is still power. And where the rules for success will be ever-changing.

1. Speed Will Triumph.

The best soccer teams in the world emphasize pace of play over perfection. They recognize that keeping the ball moving quickly is better than waiting and trying to make the ideal pass. As deputy editor David Lidsky explains in the first of our “Moments That Matter,” speed emerged as a business imperative in 1995 with the meteoric rise of Netscape, and it has become even more central in the years since. Constant iteration and redefinition are central features at businesses from Amazon to Google to Netflix, and every industry is now required to embrace that pace. (The unanswered question: Which governments will learn to operate with this speed imperative?) Facebook may be the ultimate expression of iterative change, expecting new initiatives to be imperfect—and relentlessly improving them over time.

2. Mark Zuckerberg Will Lead.

When we called Zuckerberg “The Kid Who Turned Down $1 Billion” on the cover of our May 2007 issue, he was a baby-faced 22-year-old with just 19 million users. Today he’s still got that baby face, but as technology editor Harry McCracken reports in “ ‘These Things Can’t Fail’ ”, he has grown into an unparalleled leader. Now 31 years old, with nearly 1.5 billion customers across the globe, Zuckerberg is wildly successful yet still underestimated. He has relentlessly improved himself as a businessperson and continues to be focused on learning. This psychological feature, along with the fact that he has a net worth north of $30 billion and a controlling stake in a world-spanning enterprise, virtually guarantees that he will be a bedrock figure in our economic and cultural evolution for decades to come.

3. Malala Will Build.

After you’ve won a Nobel Peace Prize as a teenager, what’s next? Malala Yousafzai is answering that question by leveraging her global public image not simply to raise awareness of the educational needs of girls in the developing world, but also to orchestrate on-the-ground programs that will have tangible impact. What her nascent Malala Fund represents, she explains to contributing writer Karen Valby in “ ‘It’s No Longer Just My Voice. It’s the Voice of the People’ ”, is an ongoing effort to change societal expectations. Malala herself represents the leading edge of a cohort that is only just being unleashed: young talent growing up in obscure corners of the globe. This generation will increasingly have the tools and opportunity to redefine our world. Malala is just the beginning.

4. Elon Musk Will Inspire.

Whether Musk is the real-life incarnation of Tony Stark is not the point. Nor is the ultimate success of his enterprises: Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity (though we wouldn’t advise betting against them). What matters is that Musk’s ideas, and his example, are a catalyzing force for progress on one of the most devilishly complicated issues of our time: climate change. As the world’s population grows and the standard of living improves, we will produce more greenhouse gases, more pollution. Concerted, high-impact government action will not materialize unless there is a crisis. What remains, then, is a market-based solution, which is precisely what Musk is dedicated to instigating. In outlining his most audacious plans yet, Musk tells contributing writer Max Chafkin, “ ‘The Issue With Existing Batteries Is That They Suck’ ”. By exploiting that seemingly modest deficiency, Musk not only wants to build a bigger business, but also inspire us to address our biggest challenges.

5. Technology Will Improve the Human Condition.

Science fiction often depicts a dystopian tomorrow. But if you consider the long lens of history, technological advances have consistently improved people’s lives. We cannot forget the often cruel and rapacious things that have been perpetrated in the name of progress. Nor do we expect an end to the tragedies of natural disaster or disease outbreak, of war or terrorism. Whether by accident or overt design, nuclear, chemical, and bio­logical threats remain constant. But it is also worthwhile to remind ourselves that fears of tomorrow have often been overblown. Perhaps the most telling statistic: Global life expectancy has climbed consistently over the centuries and in the past decade has improved for all regions of the world. That advance will continue unabated.

6. Digital Tools Will Unlock Opportunity.

Inequality remains rampant across the United States and around the world. The digital divide has often served to heighten the gap between the haves and have-nots. But rising mobile penetration offers the potential to shift that dynamic. When broadband smartphones achieve global ubiquity (as Ericsson’s Vestberg predicts), digital learning tools offered by Khan Academy, Duo­lingo, and others will transform opportunity in the developing world. The teachers and students of tomorrow will not be confined to classrooms, nor to the countries and cities that can afford them.

7. Democracy Will Be Digital.

Naysayers have given many explanations for why voting in the United States does not take place via the Internet: identity authentication, security, reliability. These concerns have all been overcome by businesses such as banks and retailers, and before long government will solve them as well. As a new generation of voters comes to the polls—a group raised on one-click purchases and instant access via apps—the traditional voting process will become untenable. New candidates will establish their credibility by extolling their technological sophistication,and e-voting will be everywhere.

8. Diversity Will Deepen.

Those controlling the halls of power in business and government in the United States remain predominantly male and white. This will not persist as our population becomes more heterogeneous. An increasingly diverse leadership will be more successful too: As the pace of change accelerates, we will face knottily complex problems, and the greater the variety of approaches and experiences available to tackle them, the better the likelihood of success.

9. Mission Will Trump Money.

Economists have long stressed the power of financial incentives. What’s measured is what matters; competition breeds excellence; you get what you pay for. It is all logical, yet in many circumstances it is coming up short. Recent real-world studies have shown that having a purpose associated with work produces better performance than pure financial reward. The next generation of workers will expect to be engaged in their jobs through more than just financial means.

10. DNA Will Be Unstoppable.

The decoding of the human genome has launched a wave of new treatments and approaches, as highlighted in “Our Body of Knowledge Expands”. Inspiring as these examples are, though, the impact of genetic data is in its infancy.

11. Medical Training Will Be Rewritten.

Modern doctoring begins with a boot-camp experience: endless days of unending shifts, as young interns are forced to ingest—and deliver—diagnoses with reflexlike expertise. As our library of medical knowledge expands beyond any doctor’s ability to retain all that information, the doctors of the future will have to become data interpreters, tapping into Watson-like technical tools to both diagnose conditions and optimize treatments. This transition promises to make health care more effective and, ideally, will allow doctors to focus even more on the important task of patient service.

12. Human Empathy Will Be Central.

It’s not just doctors who can improve their bedside manner. We can all stand to listen and respond with more sensitivity. In fact, as machine learning and artificial intelligence insinuate themselves more deeply into manufacturing and the workplace, the one arena that will never be usurped by technology is human-to-human communication.

13. Entrepreneurship Will Not Be for Everyone.

The ubiquity of ABC’s Shark Tank underscores just how appealing the entrepreneur has become in global culture. Everyone wants to start their own business, to launch their own Zuckerbergian success. Government leaders extol the virtue of the startup world, and more and more young people hope for a future where they can be their own bosses. There’s only one problem: Entrepreneurship is hard work that requires both high-intensity risk taking and a steel-stomach capacity for absorbing disappointment. Some people are psychologically suited for this roller coaster; many of us are not.

14. Bubbles Will Burst.

Is there a tech bubble? Can all those billion-dollar “unicorn” startups really be worth so much? Will investors who believe the hype ultimately end up getting burned? The answer to all three of those questions is “yes.” Yes, there is a tech bubble in some places. Truth is, there is always a bubble somewhere. Some of those unicorns are really worth billions—and some are not. Some investors will get burned; others will get rich. Which is which? We’ll know once it happens. Talk of bubble versus no bubble is a distraction for most of us, a parlor game. When major bubbles burst, almost everyone is taken by surprise and even those who aren’t are generally upended nearly as much as the rest of us. What’s most important, once again, is remaining adaptable: If the arena you’re involved in turns out to be a bubble, it will be time to change arenas.

15. Simple Will Be More Difficult.

New technologies often rise on the promise of making everything simpler, better, and cheaper. Over time, we learn that they often do make things better—and even cheaper—but rarely do things remain simple for long. Consider the advertising marketplace, which once seemed pretty straightforward (network TV ads for all!), but marketers had limited knowledge of who saw their ads and how those prospects responded. Marketers can now target specific pools of customers and track their activity. Yet nothing about the modern ad world is simple: There are more avenues for reaching customers than ever, and managing a variety of social, web, and mobile programs makes the old days of TV’s hegemony seem quaintly appealing. Companies like Google contend that things will get easier, thanks to new analytics and programmatic marketplaces. More likely: The industry will become more effective at targeting the right message to the right person in the right way, but it will also be more complex.

16. Cybersecurity Will Be Costly.

Every company is a “tech company” today because we all use tech­nology to operate (in the same way that we are all “electric” companies because we tap into that grid). The necessary corollary to this fact: We are all vulnerable to cyber­disruption, whether from hackers or our own or others’ incompetence. That doesn’t mean we will all be disrupted, but it does mean that every enterprise will need cyber­protection in ways that haven’t historically been budgeted for. Costs will rise. Count on it.

17. China and India Will Dominate.

Pundits have long predicted that the “sleeping giants” China and India would awake to challenge U.S. and European economic dominance. In the past 20 years, the progression down this path has not been a straight line—but it has been un­deniable. The manifestations have been counterintuitive too: Apple is effectively a China-centered manufacturing giant with an American design and marketing arm; its Chinese rival, Xiaomi, is expanding into India following an analogous strategy. The impact of these rising economies will continue to deepen.

18. Food Will Be Healthier.

No high-fructose corn syrup. No trans fats. Less salt, sugar, and fat. The supermarket aisles burst with assertions of healthier foods, and it is undoubtedly true that we are more aware of what we are putting into our bodies than ever. Chipotle’s and Whole Foods’ success illustrate that consumers are willing to pay for higher-quality products and, even more, to demand them. What once was luxury will, over time, become table stakes.

19. Cash Will Disappear.

Carrying a little emergency money around with you has always made sense, even if you ended up tapping that resource for something less than essential. But that need is rapidly dissipating. First there were ATMs (why carry cash around when you can grab it when you need it?), but electronic payments via phones and chips are the wave that will wash away the need for cash entirely. Penny for your thoughts? What’s a penny?

20. We Will All Be Family.

Phones, planes, and televisions have all served to make the world smaller, and the ongoing wave of technological change will only draw us into closer proximity. We will have less license to ignore the troubles (and challenges) in other parts of the globe, and we’ll have a vested interest in maintaining familial peace. Nobody knows how to criticize you quite like your kin—they know your vulnerabilities well—but no one is better at coming to your aid, either. Of these 20 items, this is the one with the largest measure of hope: that our increasing knowledge of and intimacy with one another leads to greater understanding and opportunity for all.

Related: What’s The Future Of Innovation?

4. Buildings with phone numbers
Yes, you really did have to call a building to ask whether the person you wanted to speak to was there or not. Buildings had phone numbers, not people. Now, almost everyone has a mobile phone and the concept of trying to guess where someone might be before you call them is almost entirely redundant. At some point people will probably be issued with phone numbers at birth.

5. Glasses to correct vision
Wearing glasses to correct vision problems is still a social norm but with laser eye surgery and contact lenses, it's not hard to imagine a point in the near future when they become obsolete. However, the concept of hanging lenses in front of your face has been around for centuries and is still pretty useful. Sunglasses will be around for a while and your children may start wearing glasses to take advantage of augmented reality services, for example for navigation.

6. Video and audio tape
Tape is already a thing of the past in most homes. There's no need to remember to rewind a rental video before you return it and no need to spool back and forth to hear your favourite song on an album. The language remains, however, and your children may wonder why you talk about "taping" a TV show when what you're actually doing is saving it to a hard drive on a 'personal video recorder' (PVR). Your PVR lists each programme you've saved and even lets you start watching at a specific point. If you explain to your children that you used to have to fast-forward through your video cassette to see whether you taped Only Fools and Horses before or after last week's Question Time, they'll think you're having them on.

7. Photo processing
The comedian Demetri Martin says that he loves digital cameras because they allow him "to reminisce instantly". The idea that you'd have to shoot a whole roll of film holding, if you are lucky, 36 pictures, before you can see whether any of them were any good sounds odd to the digital camera generation. Stranger still is the idea of taking your film to the chemist - after snapping three pointless shots of your cat to finish the film - and then waiting an hour while they processed them. On top of that, a quarter of your snaps would have stickers on telling you off for taking blurry pictures.

8. Watches
You spend most of your time sitting in front of a computer that shows the time in the corner of the screen. When you're at home you can see the time on your DVD player and your oven. And when you're out and about you're carrying a mobile phone that displays the time. Admit it, your watch is just a piece of jewellery now, isn't it?

9. Keyboards
Many touchscreen devices still make a clicking noise when you type on them but there's no real reason to. Modern keyboards are very quiet - nothing like the thump of old typewriters or the clacking of keyboards from the 80s. But the keyboard itself may not last much longer. They take up space, adding to the bulk of portable devices, and they suffer from being fixed: a British keyboard cannot transform into a Russian one but a touchscreen can. Though touchscreens take some getting used to for those who have learned keyboards it's unlikely that those who grow up with them will have the same problem.

10. CDs, DVDs and Minidiscs
Physical media are constantly being replaced. The path from records to eight track cartridges to cassettes to CDs to minidiscs to MP3 players is littered with defunct stereo equipment. Along the way are cul de sacs such as laser discs, digital audio tapes and HD-DVDs. They take up space, require specialist equipment and are ultimately all going to be replaced by wireless downloads to your watching or listening device. Your CD collection is already as outdated as your grandfather's library of 78s.

11. TV weather maps
Remember when weather forecasters had to stick little lightning-spurting clouds to a cardboard map? Do you think today's flash graphics, in which forecasters swoop across the country like, well, flying weather forecasters, are going to look any better in 20 years?

12. Paper-based voting
You get a slip of paper weeks before polling day. You store it somewhere safe or, if you're me, lose it entirely. Then on polling day you go to a rickety cabin in the playground of the local school, hand the card to a person with a long list and then go into a booth and tick a box. That's ripe for technological improvement, surely? Future generations will, at birth, have a voting chip implanted into their brains - right before they're given their lifelong phone numbers. (Probably.)

13. Pagers
Having your name called over the tannoy in a busy hotel or airport is undoubtedly cool. Being paged says 'I'm important'. Or perhaps 'I have a name that sounds silly when read out over a tannoy'. Either way, it's cool. But the pager - which requires someone to call a number so that a message can be sent to you to ask you to call them back - is a nonsense. Don't even try to explain it to your children. It makes no sense. Get a mobile phone and use text messages.

14. The map and compass
Maps and compasses aren't likely to disappear anytime soon. We all need to find our way to places. But the time of the paper map and physical compass has already passed. Having a map in a device, such as a mobile phone, means that it can be updated when necessary and can be made interactive by removing unnecessary elements or overlaying directions. Build the compass into the device too and you're all set.

15. Black & white film and TV
The world used to be in black and white, at least that's how it appears to children.

16. Letters
The art of letter writing was covered by Matthew Moore in his list of things being killed by the internet. However, it's not just the art but the technology of letters that has been usurped. The idea of writing something, putting it in the post, waiting for it to arrive and then waiting even longer for a reply seems bizarre in our world of always-on communications. Plane tickets, bank statements and bills are already paperless for most people.

17. Business cards
We still hand each other little pieces of card at meetings so that we can get in touch afterwards or even just remember who we met. Then we file these pieces of card or transcribe the information into a contacts book or onto a computer. Or just lose them. It's a pointless system that, we can only hope, our children will not have to go through. We can exchange data wirelessly now, you know.

18. Fax machines
Every now and again a piece of paper can't be emailed to someone and, as discussed above, the post is just too slow. So we have to dust off the fax machine in the corner. This technology dates back to the 1970s and its slightly magical properties - "it's the letter I just printed! sent over the phone! in seconds!" - were never quite trusted. Many people still phone after sending a fax to check that the magic has worked. The process involved in sending a fax thus becomes: write letter on computer; print it on headed paper; fax it; phone to check the fax has been received.

19. Email
As we've seen already, email has replaced letters and offers a pleasant alternative to the horrors of the fax machine. But don't think being email-friendly means you can escape the mockery of your juniors. Teenagers these days eschew email in favour of instant messenger for direct communication and prefer social networks for longer messages. Even that is likely to be swept away by collaboration tools such as Google Wave, which combines aspects of instant messenger, email, filesharing and the web into a real-time tool.

20. Petrol-powered vehicles
Our children may be slightly perplexed to hear that we used to pump liquid into our cars to keep them running. They may well be plugging theirs in instead. They certainly won't miss the fume-filled streets that fossil fuel-powered cars create.

21. Games consoles
Mobile phones are games consoles these days. A games console has considerably greater computing power than a phone but it's not hard to imagine a future in which the computing is done by your television or your PVR and the game is streamed from the internet, instead of being delivered on a disk. In fact, with a more powerful phone, the computing could be done in your pocket and the game streamed to the TV. Oh, and games controllers will be a thing of the past too.

22. Phone boxes
The trouble with attaching phone numbers to buildings (see item 4) is that there's no way to phone people when you're out. So we left phones lying around the country, in giant red boxes with unfeasibly heavy doors and used those instead. Whenever someone wanted to use one of these phones they had to pay, which meant needing to have change on you. And then you phoned a building a found that the person you wanted wasn't there, wasting your money and requiring you to find another phone box later so you could try again.

23. Multiple remote controls
We used to have to walk across the room to change the channel on the television. That wasn't a big problem - for ages we had only three channels anyway. But eventually we got remote controls and then we got more boxes - videos, satellite tuners and so on - and with those came more remote controls. Eventually, faced with the prospect of not being able to get into the living room because of the pile of remotes, the human race developed universal remotes that, in a rather clunky fashion, emulated multiple remotes. In future, your mobile phone will probably double as a remote for whatever it is you're trying to operate. (These mobile phones of the future are doing a lot, aren't they?)

24. Postcodes on street signs
The quaint habit of printing postcodes on street signs in Britain's major cities is surely unnecessary once we all have maps and compasses on the mobile devices that we carry around with us? (See item 14.)

25. Floppy discs
Storage media come and go (see item 10) but floppy disks were commonplace between 1969, when they first appeared in their eight-inch format, and the mid-1990s, by which time they had shrunk to three-and-a-half inches and were in a plastic, decidedly un-floppy case. Your children are bound to see them in films and will be amazed to learn that at their best, they held up to 240MB. That's roughly equivalent to an eighth of the capacity of the latest iPod Shuffle.

26. Telephone directories
Back to phones again. Having stuck one in most buildings (see item 4) and left a few in the street (see item 22) we then had the problem of how anyone would find the number they needed. So we printed every phone number we thought would be relevant into a huge book which we delivered to every household in the country. Seriously. Then people started asking to be left out of the directory, rendering them largely useless.

27. Dial-up internet access
It will seem odd to future generations that we used to turn our internet access on for short periods of the day. It's rather like turning the water on at the mains every time you want to run a bath. Part of the reason for these short bursts of web activity - during which you couldn't use your phone - was that you were charged by the minute for access. And the minutes soon added up at dial-up speeds, as anyone who has ever watched a picture appear on their screen one line at a time will confirm.

28. Wiring-up a wireless network
Remember when you wired up your house to the national grid? No? How about when you fitted a water pipe and hooked yourself up to the sewer system? No? Well you've almost certainly connected yourself to the internet by now and you've probably had a go at creating a wireless network. Just how many wires does a 'wireless' network need, anyway? In future, when the wireless cloud surrounds us, our children will marvel at our stories of routers and switches and RJ45 cables.

29. Computers in boxes
The big beige box on your desk received its death sentence with the launch of the iMac in 1998. Now, only the budget end of the desktop market and very high-powered machines need their own tower away from the monitor. As components get smaller still and more computing power is transferred to the cloud, cutting the need for local resources, the need for a box will be eliminated altogether.

30. Visiting the supermarket
Unless you really like wandering aisles filled with washing powder or shower gel be thankful for supermarket home delivery. By the time your children are grown up, all of those boring products will be ordered online and delivered to save you the trouble of going to the shop and getting them. Your supermarket will instead be a giant farmers' market filled with fresh fruit and veg, exotic meats, cakes and the kind of products you would like to spend some time browsing. Either that or it will be turned into a big Poundstretcher. Sorry.

31. Local data storage
That 512Mb of hard disk plugged into your WiFi router might look like a pretty slick piece of engineering right now but your kids, with access to unlimited amounts of super-cheap online backup for a few pennies, will wonder what all the fuss was about.

32. ‘Owning’ music, books and film
The idea of 'collections' of media has been central for as long as there have been books, films and music. But once data can be stored in the cloud and accessed by your device whenever you need it, the idea of 'owning' something starts to seem strange. If you buy more than one album per month, you might be better off putting that money into a subscription service and listening to the album you would have bought and any other album that takes your fancy. Availability and portability issues are holding these services back at the moment, along with the nagging fear that the service could just disappear, taking your 'collection' with it. It's changing fast though: your children won't collect albums, they'll have every album at their fingertips all the time.

33. Cords and cables
That spaghetti-like jumble of plastic clogging up the space behind your desk has to go. Wires are messy, difficult to plug in, always too short and prone to loose connections. Wireless data transfer, battery-powered devices and cordless charging mats will make the knot of dusty copper in every office look as dated as the Sweeney's Ford Granada.

34. 35mm cameras
Digital cameras take away the rigmarole of getting photos developed (see item 7) and they also don't require you to carry rolls of film with you and then fiddle around in the back of the camera every time you want to change a film.

35. TVs and radios that need tuning
People on television and radio still occasionally say "stay tuned" when they are really asking you not to switch off or change the channel. The phrase lost its original meaning and your children will never guess that you used to turn a tiny dial like a safe cracker in an effort to get your TV tuned to the correct channel. Not content with the fiddliness of this process, some television manufacturers supplied their sets with a tiny plastic stick that had to be inserted into the tuner so you could find your channel. If you lost your tiny stick, the entire set was rendered useless.

36. Low-res digital pics and video
Concepts like 'low bandwidth', 'limited storage space' and 'two megapixel sensor' will soon be as laughable as the 16K Ram-pack attached to the back of a ZX81. High definition cameras will be fitted as standard to mobile phones and computer screens (and spectacles, headlights and foreheads, for all we know) and YouTube's successors will deliver crystal-clear pictures with hifi-quality sound, driving the video piracy watchdogs of the future round the bend.

37. The mouse
Since 1968 our hands and fingers have been reduced to crude pointing devices, capable only of pointing to one set of co-ordinates on a screen and then stabbing at it. Multi-touch interfaces mean we can use all of our ten fingers to move, zoom, select, dismiss, manipulate and edit. Touchpads will unite the mouse and keyboard, removing one more device from our desktops.

38. Phones with aerials
There were few better ways to make yourself look important in the late 80s and early 90s than by taking a phone the size of a minibus out of your briefcase, extending an aerial six feet long and having a shouty conversation about share prices. Stockbrokers of the future will have to have shouty conversations into invisible, tiny earpieces, which at least has the virtue of making them look sillier.

39. Desktop software
Most software has now moved from disks to downloads and the next step is to remove the software from your desktop entirely. There are already online office packages that offer a full feature set without needing to be installed on your hard drive. Expect software of the future to be run entirely in the cloud - another blow to the notion of media 'ownership'.

40. ADSL
Your ADSL broadband connection might feel fast now but try downloading HD-quality video while someone else plays an online video game and a third person streams internet radio. The connection speeds of the future are already available in many parts of the world. Assuming the Government and ISPs get their act together, your kids won't be stuck with 8MB speeds in 20 years time.

41. Single-use batteries
You probably don't have very much that's battery-powered these days. Mobile phones, laptops and MP3 players mostly use rechargeable batteries. The idea that you used to have to throw batteries away and then go and buy some new ones already seems quite strange.

42. Wifi hotspots
'Gather round, children, and I'll tell you a story of mysterious areas of the country where no wireless transfer of data was possible, and only workarounds involving mobile phones and something called '"tethering" would let you check your email or look things up online. Ah, can you imagine the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments that would result, or the long, dreary trudging of the streets when we had to find an invisible place where someone would charge us many pounds for a few minutes of connectivity?'

43. Fillings in teeth
It's good to know that in the near future all that business with injections, numb mouths and metal amalgams will be over and old, damaged teeth will be removed and replaced with shiny news ones, grown from stem cells to order. The last generation to know the special fear that comes with the rising whine of the drill is already brushing its own teeth.

44. Passports
You rarely have to rush back home from the airport in a taxi having forgotten to bring your retinas or thumbprints, but still we persist in carrying around little faux-leather bound pages of documents as though we're bearers of Her Majesty's seal.

45. Cheques
You probably laugh at these already, and your children will be laughing right along with you. Imagine: a booklet of pre-printed IOUs that you use instead of money. You have to write 'only' at the end of the amount for some reason, and you hand out details that would allow the recipient to set up direct debits on your account with every payment. They are secured only by your signature, which the person processing the cheque has as much chance of recognising as they have passing on the payment in less than three working (that's what they used to call monday to friday, kids) days.

46. Road signs
Universal sat-nav will mean that the local council can save money by tearing down those hulking sheets of metal at the side of the road and insisting that your car informs you that it's five miles to the town centre or that road works will be disrupting traffic until July 2035. Those same devices will also keep an eye on your speed and report your movements to the traffic police, so there will be no need for fleets of Gatso cameras either.

47. Teletext and Minitel
The funny colours, the tiny amount of text on the screen, the need to remember numerous page numbers - Teletext was a rubbish internet really, wasn't it? It's taken a while for the internet to make it to the television but your children can now watch minute-by-minute commentary of the football instead of watching a loop of latest scores on teletext.

48. Paper timetables
The trouble with transport timetables is that they tell you only what is supposed to happen. The reality is often different. These days, GPS and the internet mean that you can find out exactly where your train is right now and what time it's going to arrive at your station.

49. Recipe books
In the house of the future, intelligent appliances will mean no more head scratching over what to cook for dinner. Instead, your fridge will know exactly what food items it contains, and what meals you can make with those ingredients, while video panels embedded within the work surfaces will guide you through every stage of the cooking process.

50. Walkie talkies
Children always used to want walkie talkies. They would allow you to hear unintelligible messages from your friends, just so long as you didn't go more than a garden's-length away from each other. Nowadays children would rather have a mobile phone so that they can call any of their friends without having to give them a walkie talkie first.


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