13 Things That Will Become The ‘Next Big Thing’ In The World Of Technology


Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What’s the next big thing going to be in the next 5 to 10 years? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.

There’s nothing I love more than thinking, talking & writing about the future. Here’s a list of some things I’m excited to see develop in the near future & over the longer-term, along with my predictions for when each will start to happen.

Next 2-5 years:

  • Augmented Reality: I’ll start here because it’s the obvious choice. Google Glass, mobile apps, etc. A ton of chatter, but certainly also a ton of opportunity.
  • Internet of Things: This is an old idea but it’s gained a lot of traction recently, because it’s a good one. Connecting & linking not just computers, phones and tablets, but all of our devices through the cloud. Fridges, remote-locking mechanisms, coffee-makers, etc. Most consumer products can be Internet-enabled for less than $20. The only thing holding it back is the fact that the management infrastructure is not in place yet. We’ll need ways to manage and utilize these networks of smart devices and objects that are in our homes and lives. This is an area that is very fragmented – yet any widely utilized application or platform will need to work across many different devices, platforms and suppliers. Many companies in the cloud storage/data management space are in a good position here.
  • Wireless Power: We still have way too many cords, cables, and electronic devices that need to be physically plugged in or connected. This doesn’t need to be the case, and is a big enough pain in the ass that the market should step in soon. The technology already exists. I don’t know all the ins & outs, but this seems like a big opportunity not many people are talking about.
  • Online Media Publication Aggregation: As we all know many traditional & new media companies are struggling to turn online eyeballs into substantial revenue. People aren’t willing to pay for enough content in large enough numbers, and the paywall model has a ton of cons. So it wouldn’t be surprising to see a company come in and do a distribution deal with lets say 100 top newspapers/magazines, buy the rights to distribute their content for pennies on the dollar, and turn around and give customers the opportunity to access all 100 of those publications’ online content for a small annual fee, which would be a fraction of the true cost. So maybe $99 for an Access Pass & iTunes-style dashboard, which gets you access to all online content from all of these publishers. Or possibly a rev share model that splits cash between the aggregator and the publishers. This is more of a business idea than a prediction, but it’s been done before in media (remember BMG Music Club?) and could solve the online publication revenue woes.

~5-7 years:

  • Graphene: No nano-material is thinner or stronger than this stuff. We just need to figure out how to affix it to other materials and an entire new world opens right up.
  • Mobile Payments: I still can’t believe this hasn’t taken off in the US. With rapid evolution of mobile phones, there is such a big opportunity for replacing money transactions with either an existing, or a new form of electronic currency on a very wide basis. Of course there are lots of examples of both alternative currencies and mobile payment systems today – but they are all still based around credit cards, bank accounts, etc. What we need is a whole new protocol. No one seems to have hit upon a business model that is universal and popular enough to displace physical money. And whatever emerges could replace a lot of conventional advertising as well.
  • Accreditation of MOOCs & other Collaborative Online Education Institutions: Waiting to pop. The education sector and the systems that support and enhance public learning are so ripe for disruption it’s like an autumn farmer’s market. The wheels have already been set in motion here, it’s just a matter of time until this kicks into high gear. And I for one cannot wait. Not only will a more efficient and more cost-effective system save people an insane amount of time and money, but it is also a huge catalyst for improving national security. Let’s just hope we can couple this natural evolution  into online learning with a national effort to get everyone in the country, including our poorest regions, onto a high-speed broadband network.

~7-10 years:

  • Commercial Shipping to Space: Right now, when you want to send something into space, you have to book 6 years in advance, and the cost is extremely prohibitive. As the amount of stuff going into space rises with commercial space flight, increased satellites, etc. the next 5-10 years should see a reduction in processing time & cost, and the rise of “Space Shipping” companies.
  • Outer-Space Asset Management & Regulation: The airspace above our heads is regulated up to about 20 miles or so. Above that, it’s the wild west right now. Who keeps track of all the stuff in space? It’s up to each country to manage their own assets. Only the JSpOC, headquartered at nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA. provides 24-hour command and control of all US space assets, and monitors all international assets. But they have limited jurisdiction and power in international matters. So basically, let’s say two satellites are a few weeks away from hitting each other. That pops up on JSpOC’s radar, at which point someone there literally calls both countries involved to inform them & help coordinate new direction. That’s fine when this happens once every few months or so. But what happens when this starts happening 3, 4 times per week? Space is huge, sure. But given the amount of junk we’re starting to send up there, we need to have an international regulatory body to help avoid collisions & manage it all.
  • Driverless Cars: Plenty has been said about this already. The technology is already here, but it will take time to let the legislation/infrastructure/free market catch up.
  • Pre-emptive Diagnosing, and a Massive Reduction in Genome Mapping Costs: People in the future are going to be shocked at how humans went to the doctor only once we started seeing symptoms. In the future we’ll be able to diagnose our bodies like we diagnose our machines, and fix problems before they become problems. Which would be absolutely fantastic. But the in-between period won’t be pretty, because we’ll no doubt have to rifle through millions of different false-positives until we learn what is truly a problem, vs what is something that only seems like it could be a problem. For example, we all may have hundreds or even thousands of “cancers” in our body right now; most of which will turn out to be nothing at all. But investigating and treating all of the false positives which turn out to be nothing during this “over-diagnosing period” could be frustrating and almost certainly very expensive for everyone involved.

This comment originally appeared at Quora.