My mother in law remembers the days before her household had electricity connected to the house. In fact her father had a generator on a waterwheel on the farm. She lived just a few miles from Sherborne, Dorset, so hardly in the wilds. Her generation witnessed the birth of the television, radar and penicillin.
For we baby boomers inventions that have had the most impact are the transistor, leading to the silicone chip, microprocessor, personal computing and the telecommunications boom including the mobile telephone and the Internet, the birth control pill with a substantial impact on women’s health, family roles and sexual practices and the jet airliner, ushering in the era of accessible mass air travel and the first steps into space.
So what is identifiably over the horizon that will most impact the young of today?
The up and coming generations will have to continue to grapple with the Internet revolution; it is still early on the development curve. The ability to harness more powerful communications and processing power are just starting to see the birth of a range of new technologies, amongst them autonomous vehicles. These are likely drive a decline in individual car ownership and dramatic change in cities and urban spaces with public transport and freight haulage undergoing evolutionary redesign.
Processing power will also enable artificial (or augmented) intelligence allowing change in fields such as medical diagnosis. We are already seeing the beginning of machines taking the place of humans for triage. Coupled with bio technology we can expect to see real steps in the provision of brain control of functional limbs immensely benefitting the disabled.
3D printing and smart materials are already in use to provide spare parts for machines and (just) people. It will (hopefully) mean the ability to repair more and scrap less although as a society we are increasingly creating and treating more items as disposable, creating a recycling and waster problem which will have to be tackled.
Robotics will probably move past the early development stage. Robots in manufacture have replaced many mundane jobs but with increased processing power making artificial intelligence really feasible many of todays jobs and more mechanical tasks will see a move to many of todays jobs being undertaken by machines.
Changes are never ‘big bang’ but evolutionary. However with increased ability to communicate over widening channels the rate of evolution increases. How many of todays young could envisage life without technology driven social networking? It is phenomenon that is less than 40 years old (if one believes it started with email back in the 1970’s) but has developed substantially using the Internet since the early 1990’s. How we will communicate with each other in 20 years time is very much an open question.