Predictions from the IEEE Technology Time Machine Symposium

Experts look 20 years out to forecast the state of six areas of technology

9 December 2014
What will the world look like in 2035? Fabricated spare body parts like hearts will be a reality, service robots will be a common sight in hospitals and hotels, and large energy-users such as department stores will own private utility companies.

These are some of the predictions made by visionaries at the IEEE Technology Time Machine Symposium I attended on 21 and 22 October, in San Jose, Calif. The experts came from organizations such as Bell Labs/Alcatel-Lucent, Carnegie Mellon University, General Electric, Georgia Tech, IBM, Savioke, and Stanford. They were asked to forecast what the future would look like for energy, fabrication, health care, humans, networks, and processing. Here are some of their prognostications:

  • FABRICATION

    By 2035, heart transplants will be a thing of the past. Instead, one will be manufactured for you, predicts IEEE Fellow Henrik Christensen, chair of robotics at the College of Computing at Georgia Tech. He says fabrication involves using 3-D printing, smart materials, nanotechnology, open-source software, and cloud robotics. In fact, food, electronics, and manufactured parts will all be fabricated. As a result of fabrication, by 2035, supply chains will be leaner, fewer warehouses will be needed, and “green” manufacturing will be critical. Some of this is already happening with Google’s 3D Warehouse and Tesla Motor’s fabrication factory. 

    Member Steve Cousins, CEO of Savioke, which creates autonomous robot helpers for the service industry like hotels and hospitals, also foresees fabricated organs like kidneys, which will improve quality of life. He also believes service robots are the future of fabrication. Savioke, in Cupertino, Calif., launched its Aloft service bots for hotels in August. These were built with 3-D printed components, open-source software, and off-the-shelf hardware. Inexpensively built fabricated robots will be a boon to small businesses like bakeries that need to manufacture goods at low volumes and get products to the market faster, he said.

    Manufacturing will be radically different by 2035, according to Member Joseph Salvo, director of GE Global Research, in Niskayuna, N.Y. He founded and is the director of the Industrial Internet Consortium, launched in April by GE and AT&T, Cisco, IBM, and Intel. Over the next 15 years, the consortium aims to advance the manufacturing landscape, which includes idea creation, design, modeling, simulation, and production by improving the Internet’s bandwidth, reliability, predictability, and security. GE is creating an open-source digital marketplace for small- and medium-sized companies, giving them access to data, models, a simulation environment, and even physical manufacturing equipment. The software tools will be in the cloud, tying together design and test data.

  • ENERGY

    IEEE Fellow John McDonald, with GE Digital Energy, in Atlanta, predicted the Internet of Things and big-data analytics will drive the next productivity revolution for utilities. He said intelligent machines would leverage technology and communication to cost effectively connect other machines, and combine the power of big data, big analytics, and industry physics. For example, by collecting and analyzing data from blackouts, utilities will be able to record the duration of outages and even predict when they will occur. Analytics will also help power companies improve engagement with their customers by examining social media to see what users are saying. Also, by analyzing information from customers’ smart meters and smart thermostats, utilities will help consumers reduce costs.

    Life Member Arun Majumdar, a professor at Stanford who also serves on the U.S. Secretary of Energy’s advisory board, foresees grid-edge controllers being located just outside houses to compensate for the variability in power coming from renewable sources. The energy storage units allow utilities to stabilize and improve reliability of the grid and are most effective when placed at the point of consumption. Other energy storage options on the way include lithium-ion flow batteries and Zn-based batteries. He also said new business models for utilities will not all be distributed generation and, moreover, utilities will eventually be privately owned by companies like Wal-Mart.

    IEEE Fellow Marija Ilic, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, predicts that IT and communications will play a greater role in the power industry, leading to new supervisory control and data-acquisition systems. TCP/IP-like technical standards that support intelligent balancing authorities for reliable and efficient operations of utilities will be a must.

  • NETWORKS

    The consumers of 2035 will always be connected, accessing public networks with ease but also expecting their information to be secure, according to Senior Member Theodore Sizer, with Bell Laboratories/Alcatel-Lucent, in Murray Hill, N.J. This will happen through seamless communications between wired and wireless networks, with the mile into the subscriber’s home being all wireless, not 5G or 6G mobile networks. Licensed and unlicensed bands will be used, and macro and smaller cells will be located indoors, where the users are, instead of antennas placed on outdoor buildings. Unlike today, service providers will share the telecommunications infrastructure. More capacity will be available by cleverly reusing the current frequencies.

  • PROCESSING

    IEEE Fellow Robert Colwell, of R&E Colwell & Associates, in Portland, Ore., says the twilight of Moore’s Law is here and, by 2035, it will be dead. What’s after it is pretty uncertain. Replacement technologies like spintronics, quantum, and graphene are not ready to take over from CMOS, he said. Furthermore there aren’t any killer apps on the horizon. Future processors must be able to be used for personal health monitoring leading to real time auto-therapeutics, improve security and privacy, and provide instant, reliable, cheap communications anywhere, anytime.

You can view all the presentations on IEEE.tv.

Do you agree that Moore’s Law is coming to an end? Where do you think technologies are headed in 20 years?

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