The wired world in 2013

Image representing Wired Magazine as depicted ...

Image via CrunchBase

Just finished reading a fascinating end of year publication from the “Wired” stable about what to expect in 2013. Although this publication is sometimes annoying in style and somewhat fixated on start-ups, much of the editorial is top-notch. In this special issue, there are contributions from James Dyson and Richard Branson among other innovation luminaries.

Mr Dyson is somewhat disparaging about some of the innovations under the banner of green engineering. As he rightly points out, an invention that shaves a percentage point or two off the fuel consumption of a widely used aircraft dwarfs the effect of eliminating plastic carrier bags. He predicts that more information about the origin and impact of goods and services will become available in the year to come.

As I have previously written, I remain unimpressed with individual robots at the current level of technology. As James McLurkin (a renowned roboticist) points out – they are best at tasks which are dangerous, dirty or dull. When you get a large number of robots together though, they become a lot more interesting. The technology for “swarming robots” is already there and searching for an application and maybe 2013 is their year.

Optical networking (or li-fi) will come to the fore for short-range communication. Nanotechnology will reach the point of self replication. An unbelievable 200 million people will use the internet for the very first time and radar will become much more widespread. The technology will be used for everything from measuring blood pressure to providing images of internal organs without harmful radiation.

Need Wired Magazine 13.07

Need Wired Magazine 13.07 (Photo credit: Browserd (Pedro Rebelo))

Innovation has typically radiated from richer economies outwards, but Ravi Ramamurti (a distinguished professor of international business) believes that we are reaching the point where innovations are starting to flow the other way. Poorer economies through necessity have much more of an idea of efficiency. Third world countries are teaching their richer counterparts (who by far have a greater need) how to perform low-cost medical procedures for example.

Education will become free, lab grown organs may become a reality and the world will start to recover from its economic malaise. Will we finally see the much vaunted Apple TV? – who knows, but they certainly need a big success. A huge amount of their net value comes from products invented in the last 5 years and many people are starting to lose faith due to the mishaps since Jobs left this mortal coil.

All in all – a fascinating publication and if only 10% of their predictions come true, it’s going to be an exciting year!

Where would you like to go today?

English: Hong Kong SAR passport stamps

English: Hong Kong SAR passport stamps (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before I started work, I had never been up in an aeroplane (unless you count a brief flight over Dunstable downs in a glider). As kids, holidays consisted of a couple of weeks in a holiday camp or caravan park. I think the furthest we ever went was Minehead in Somerset. The entertainment was a mixture of bingo and the odd knobbly knee competition.

When my employer said that they wanted me over in Zurich for a few days, it was a cue to my fellow employees to start winding me up about how scary flying was. Although I had grown up on a diet of 1970s aircraft disaster movies, I took no notice and as the thrust of the aircraft’s engines pushed me back in my seat, an involuntary smile lit up my face. I loved the sensation of speed and the feeling of lift as the aircraft took off. The view through the window of the verdant English countryside slowly shrinking away was sublime. After hundreds of subsequent flights, the appeal has somewhat diminished.

At the time, the only people who flew were either on business or a package holiday. Air travel was expensive and usually booked through travel agents. 30 years ago, budget airlines such as Ryanair and Easyjet didn’t even exist. Today, they fly the best part of 130 million customers per year on a combined fleet of over 600 aircraft. It’s fair to say that they revolutionised the way we book, pay for and undertake our international travel. They were among the first to offer direct internet booking and their variable prices per seat tended to significantly undercut the prices of the traditional operators. The other airlines eventually followed suit and air travel is probably cheaper than it has ever been, opening up ideas like commuting to another country or just nipping over to see the Geneva motor show for the day.

Cruise ships also used to be way out of reach for most travellers being solely the reserve of the rich and famous. Most cruise ships up to the 1960s were converted liners rather than purpose built. Over the past few decades, there has been an explosion in the number of companies offering cruises. Both the number and size of cruise ships have ballooned. Coupled with the cost reduction in air travel, prices have tumbled in real terms. Not only that, but today’s cruise ships have gone to great lengths to outdo each other in terms of the entertainment offered on board. On some ships you can play golf in the morning, go surfing in the afternoon and go climbing in the evening.

A NASA astronaut jokingly advertises a recover...

A NASA astronaut jokingly advertises a recovered defective satellite for sale during a space walk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the whole, people have become much more adventurous about where they go on holiday although it varies from country to country (roughly 38% of people in the USA own a passport compared with 80% in the UK).  It wasn’t so very long ago that travellers heading to Africa would probably go on a steamship and be accompanied by a big game hunter in a pith helmet. Nowadays, many people go on safari for their honeymoon.

What will tourism look like 30 years from now? There is no doubt that for many of us, spaceflight tourism will become commonplace. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic venture has all but sold out of the first 500 seats at $200k a throw. You can even charter a spaceship from him for a million dollars. The American government have even come up with a set of procedures for space travellers. Will I be partaking? Well, no, not at that price. Even if it was cheaper, it all sounds a little bit dangerous with roughly 1 flight in 50 resulting in fatalities.

I wonder how long it will be before we get an “Easyrocket” or “Ryanspace”