Being a rabid fan of science fiction, the future has always held a mystical appeal for me. As a child, I used to subscribe wholeheartedly to the views of the future presented in movies such as Star Wars, Back to the Future and even The Terminator. But age and a better perspective of the tech world have since quelled my naivety. Now, I think of the future as an extrapolation of the present, and we are heading towards a highly consumer-focused future, as consumer tech companies such as Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and their ilk gain more and more power. I believe that the picture of what is to come in the next 50 years shall be shaped in a major part by the innovation brought forward by these consumer tech companies, and it may not be anything like we’ve ever imagined.
Our ideal future
We are in the cusp of a technological revolution. There are many technologies increasingly becoming commonplace, which would have seemed impossible just 10 years ago. A few such as cloud computing and personal voice assistants such as Siri seem like heralds of the future. Owing to advancements in cloud computing, it is not hard to imagine a completely connected future, where every device you have could act as a portal to access all your data stored on a server somewhere. Take it one step further and that server would do the processing for you as well, with little processing actually happening on the device you’re using. Your laptop, tablet, smartphone, TV, fridge, washing machine, oven, maybe your whole house, daisy chained together through the magic of the Internet, seamlessly working together.
Also, capacitive touch technology has started to run into limitations, especially where text input is required, and every company in the tech space has started to look at alternatives such as voice recognition, gesture controls and the like. They’re all in a fairly limited state right now, but it's not hard to see that alternative means of control will soon define our lives. As will alternative methods of payment. Maybe, one day we could just walk in to a store, pick the items we want, and walk out while the payment is automatically deducted from our accounts digitally. The possibilities are endless.
That vision of the future seemed too good to be true. And it very well may be. The fact is, consumer tech has never played as big a role in the society in the past. Hence, we’ve got used to a few luxuries that may not be possible in such a future. The major snafu with these companies is that they’re all out to build their own brand, instead of making an open platform for the society at large to use. And that’s all fine and dandy when it comes to just using your smartphone or your laptop, but when that gets integrated into your whole life, it may cause problems akin to which we’ve never seen before.
Imagine not being able to shop at a particular store because that store only recognises Apple payment techniques while your whole system revolves around Microsoft. Because your life would be so integrally connected to your tech, I imagine that it would become near impossible to ascribe to different gadgets by different companies. For your house, your bank account, your gadgets to work together perfectly, you’d have to lock yourself down to one company, which would restrict you from getting the most out of the technology around you.
All of this would lead to a mess of incompatible services in both the digital and the physical world. We would have to change our lifestyle accordingly and completely invest all our lives in one camp or the other, without looking back. This is becoming more and more apparent, as companies that used to be the paradigms for openness are taking steps to become more vertically integrated. Both Microsoft and Google have entered the hardware space in a big way recently — Microsoft with its Xbox and Surface offerings, and Google with Nexus Q and Google Fibre, which may seem insignificant but shows that Google has the capability to venture into hardware at a moment’s notice.
Such competition may not be a bad thing; it would lead to companies perpetually trying to one-up each other, and advancing technology at a rapid rate. The catch is that nothing may function like anything we’ve ever imagined. Movies and novels have never shown us the impact that brand differentiation of consumer tech companies has on our future. Nor can I predict the complete extent of it. I can only act as a harbinger of the fact that the future might not be all that we’ve made it out to be.