If you thought your parents or grandparents lived through an era of rapid technological change, wait till you see what’s coming your way in the next decade. Experts say the tech revolution is just getting started.
“It’s a whole different kind of world that’s waiting for us,” says Dr. James Canton, CEO of the Institute of Global Futures, a San Francisco-based think tank that forecasts technology innovations and trends.
As we welcome new technologies and new products into our lives, we’ll also be saying goodbye to some things that have long been part of our day-to-day existence. Here’s a list of items that Canton and other experts consulted by NBC News MACH say are likely to go the way of typewriters and cassette tapes.
Metal locks and keys have been the mainstay of home security since ancient Roman times. But not for much longer, Canton says. Newer, more secure security systems will use a fingerprint, the iris of your eye, or your DNA.
Biometric security is already used in corporate and government settings. Within the next five years, they’ll be widely used to lock our cars and homes, rendering those jangly metal keys largely a relic of our pre-technological past. Even that snazzy electronic fob that lets you start your car while it’s tucked in your pocket will be obsolete.
Forget about digging change out of your pockets or watching the clock so you can feed the meter in time. Cars of the future will communicate directly with your parking spot and charge you accordingly, Marianne Johnson, senior vice president of product and innovation at the e-commerce technology company First Data, told NBC News MACH in an email.
So long to the invention that introduced Americans to the idea of paying for parking more than 80 years ago.
“Payments will be embedded into cars as they become more connected with the things around us, making it a seamless experience for drivers,” Johnson says, adding that Ford and other automakers are already developing this type of technology.
Money isn’t going anywhere, that’s for sure. “But its physical version is certainly under threat,” says Dr. Carlo Ratti, director of the Senseable City Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Expect coins and paper notes to be replaced by newer forms of money within the next decade, he says.
Apple Pay is only the beginning. Credit cards and online banking have already led Sweden to phase out cash nearly entirely. Other mobile payment tools make it easier than ever to make purchases with just a few taps on a smartphone. In China, more than half the users of the messaging service WeChat have their bankcards linked to their accounts, which means that the mobile app can be used to buy everything from taxi rides to dumplings to vacations, The Economist reported last year.
In the U.S., the popularity and convenience of mobile payments, e-commerce, and credit card transactions will be the main forces that drive cash out of use, Ratti says. And in the slightly more distant future, he says, don’t underestimate the potential of digital currencies like Bitcoin. Wall Street and Bitcoin's millions of users certainly haven’t.
ATMs and Banks
In our cashless future, the now-ubiquitous ATM machine will seem as anachronistic as payphones and jukeboxes. Virtual banking is our future, and it’s coming fast, says Dr. Ayanna Howard, a Georgia Institute of Technology bioengineering professor whose research focuses on human-robot interactions and human augmentation.
Direct deposit, making payments or transferring money online, and mobile pay apps like Venmo are more convenient than going to an ATM. Once cash goes away, Howard says, the automated teller machine — a bastion of modern banking since the 1970s — will have no real purpose. Howard predicts that brick-and-mortar banks will eventually disappear as virtual banking substitutes get better and better.
You watched as they shrank and flattened into laptops, and soon desktop computers as we know them will disappear, says Scott Shadley, a technologist at the semiconductor technology company Micron Technology. One reason: the hard drives that have been a primary memory storage technology for desktops are giving way to flash storage, which is far more compact.
Within the next decade, Shadley predicts, laptops and tablets will be able to do everything we’ve long depended on desktops for.
In the future, you won’t need a clunky TV to watch a movie. And by “clunky,” we mean that sleek, ultra-thin plasma screen that now hangs on your wall like a picture frame. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology will make for vastly more interesting viewing experiences than looking at a flat screen — and all you’ll need is a pair of special glasses or contact lenses, says Marcus Shingles, CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation, the Culver City, California-based non-profit that sponsors science and technology competitions.
This technology exists today, though it’s still too cumbersome and costly to pose a real threat to television. But 10 years from now, AR and VR are going to be everywhere, Shingles says. Apple and other tech giants are investing big dollars in developing this product category.
Get ready for even more seamless communication. In the not-too-distant future, we’ll speak to our devices, and they’ll connect us with the people we want to talk to, says Jeremy Ashley, a vice president at Oracle, the Redwood Shores, California-based tech company. And we’re not just talking about Siri being able to dial a friend.
Depending on our proximity and the settings we decide on, our devices will figure out the best way to contact whomever we want to get in touch with — whether it’s via video or audio call. We won’t need telephones because communications capabilities will be built into all the other devices we use — our cars, our computers, and our home entertainment systems, Ashley says.
“The concepts of assigned phone numbers or email addresses are compromises we made with the mechanical system,” Ashley explains. “In the future, these systems won’t require people to learn an extra artificial layer in order to communicate. The telephone as we know it — built around the system of a set number and connection — will cease.”