Today’s things may be tomorrow’s trash

If a device existed to automatically translate languages - would there be a need to learn new ones? (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

WASHINGTON – Many of the things the world relies on today will likely be gone by 2030.

Members of the Bethesda-based World Future Society have put together a list of what they think are the most important of these disappearing things, and WTOP is profiling them in a series of reports.

The Society’s Patrick Tucker talked to WTOP in-depth about the list and what the future has in store.

Languages


Soon, everyone may own one.

Google is even, reportedly, working on it’s own: A universal translating device.

Anyone familiar with “Star Trek” or “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” knows such a gadget can wipe out all language barriers.

Members of the World Future Society predict the gadgets will be commonplace by 2030 – but it comes with downsides.

Instant translation might make people less willing to truly understand other cultures, leading to new conflicts.

Also, thousands of the world’s languages that are used today will, most likely, stop being spoken.

But for now, Tucker says consider learning Chinese.

“The ability to speak both Chinese and English would allow one to communicate, according to John Copper, with about half the people on the planet. And he forecasts that that figure will grow to about 60 percent or more within 15 years.”

“Many predict that China’s going to be the world’s dominant economic power or military power within two or three decades,” adds Tucker.

Jobs


Even those who love their jobs should be ready to find a new one in 10 or 20 years.

Futurist Thomas Frey predicts about half the world’s jobs, more than two billion of them, will likely disappear by 2030 and be replaced by entirely new jobs.

“He specifies that this is not intended to be sort of a doom and gloom scenario. He wants to wake people up and alert them to the new skill sets that we’ll need in the future,” said Tucker.

Technology will fuel the change. For instance, once self-driving cars hit the road as many futurists expect, buses, taxis, limos and delivery trucks won’t need drivers anymore.

Also, 3-D printers will allow many goods to be created in the same place where they are sold, eliminating the need for factories, warehouses and trucks to carry the goods from one place to another.

“Everybody in the workforce, it would serve you well to adapt a somewhat entrepreneurial mindset,” Tucker said.

“We have to become much better, much quicker at connecting people with new opportunities to both learn, to make money and to create after the dissolution of some vocation or occupation that they were previously in. And we have to help people understand the virtue of this sort of flexibility, and we have to create institutions around furthering that flexibility.”

Another prediction is that by 2030, no one will be paid by the hour anymore. Instead, everyone will be paid according to what they accomplish.

Education system


In a typical public school, kids who are about the same age sit in rows of desks. But the future of education may look very different.

“We’re going to outgrow the factory model of education that we’ve had for a very long time,” said Tucker.

Thanks to recent findings, he said segregating students by age no longer makes sense.

“Kids actually learn by teaching other people; teaching people outside of their age groups.”

In a study done in 2012, boxfuls of solar-powered tablet computers loaded with educational apps were left in two remote African villages without instructions. Fairly quickly, the young people in the villages taught themselves how to use the tablets, taught their parents how to use them and even hacked the tablets’ operating systems.

Some futurists predict that, within a decade or so, grade point averages and high school diplomas will go away.

Students will be able to learn at their own pace, earning certificates or badges for individual skills as they go.

“I think that a lot of educators or educational institutions around the world are going to be confronted by the fact that methods of educating, methods of teaching that they’ve relied on since their foundation have been rendered completely and totally obsolete,” Tucker said.


Routine doctor visits

If you dread routine trips to see the doctor, take heart.

Within 15 or 20 years, in-office checkups may be unnecessary.

In 2009, a New York woman became the first person in the world to get an Internet-connected heart monitor.

“Her heart is constantly talking to her doctor. That’s diagnostics,” said Tucker.

He and other futurists predict wearable or implanted computers that monitor our health 24-7 will become commonplace and necessary.

“America is going to be about 150,000 doctors short in the year 2030,” Tucker added.

Another health care breakthrough Tucker believes is coming soon involves surgeons.

“The capability is emerging for a doctor 4,000 miles away to conduct a remote surgery and do it successfully. Whether or not that’s medically ethical, this is a debate that we are going to have.”


Car crashes and parking searches

The arrival of the machine many drivers dream about could make a bunch of other things disappear.

Tucker and other futurists say once self-driving cars are available to the public at a reasonable price, it could mean the end of car crashes, traffic and the dreaded search for a parking space.

“It can drop you off at your house and then go and park four miles, three miles away, and as long as you know and it knows what time it needs to pick you up, you need not ever worry about parking again,” Tucker said.

Tucker believes it would also lead to more car sharing and subscription services in place of car ownership.

One company is promising to put self-driving cars on the market within seven short years.

“Nissan says that you can buy one in 2020, so I look forward to getting mine and reading on the road to work in the morning. That would be just lovely,” he said.


Smartphones

Tucker and other futurists predict a future where smartphones are obsolete, because computers will be all around.

“Computing not being something that happens when you sit at a desk, not being something that happens when you pull a device out of your pocket, but something that happens when you speak to the environment in which you are in right now,” Tucker says.

By then computers may be integrated into walls, sewn into clothes and even implanted in bodies.

Tucker also thinks the computers of 2030 will be very good at watching humans, learning their habits and giving them what they want, when they want it.

“You don’t actually have to do a lot of talking, the environment around you just does a lot of knowing,” adds Tucker.

“You are looking towards a future where we feel…less burdened by technology, we feel less in touch with technology, we just feel more in touch. That’s a future I think [is] very much worth holding onto and looking forward to.”


Road signs

Tucker tells WTOP the problem with road signs is they only offer one-way communication.

“Through technologies that…exist today like radio frequency identification, we’re already in many ways doing away with aspects of highway signs,” Tucker said.

For example, many drivers already rely on GPS to navigate, and E-ZPass to pay tolls.

Tucker says roadside sensors that communicate with cars will likely replace road signs.

“This is actually one of the things that Ford is working on a little bit: The car that knows you, that knows your habits, and how that car interacts with a more aware environment.”


Stores

Brick-and-mortar stores as they’re known today will likely disappear, Tucker said.

3-D printing and other new technologies mean many stores will be able to create items on-site, on-demand. There will be no need for factories or warehouses.

“So what used to be a factory in Beijing with 5,000 workers becomes something that can run out of a facility the size of a garage or a storage unit with 10 people. That’s the scale of change that we’re looking at,” said Tucker.

Politics and Prose in D.C. has a machine that will print a book on the spot.

“This is in many ways the bookstore of the future,” said Tucker.

He said stores will likely become nothing more than showrooms where a customer can view and touch a product before having one printed, or ordering one on the Internet.


The Society’s entire list is published in the September-October issue of magazine “The Futurist.”

Follow @WTOP on Twitter.


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