The future is ours to make

April 18, 2001 11:00 pm
Personal assistant knobots will be common household necessities by the year 2010. This model, already being marketed, is called Maya. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).
Personal assistant knobots will be common household necessities by the year 2010. This model, already being marketed, is called Maya. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).

By MIKE FERGUSON

Of the Baker City Herald

The seeds of the future are everywhere, futurist Dr. Thomas Jones told a Baker City crowd Wednesday. Were just too busy living to see how theyre being planted.

Jones spent most of the time during his two-hour talk pointing out where he thought the most fertile soil was for those seeds to germinate:

o In the coming decade or two, our biometric beds will intuitively know us. Theyll evaluate our vital signs and our sleep patterns to predict how well well perform at work that day. The question becomes, Jones said, whether we want our boss to have that information. He might dock our pay.

o In the next 10 years, paper money will disappear altogether, replaced by e-money. That wont seem too unusual, since 85 cents of every dollar now moves electronically.

o Soon well all have our own intelligent software agent, called a knobot. These electronic personal assistants are already being marketed by Motorola. (Say hiya to Maya, the companys ad urges)

o By 2011, companies will offer us personalized products using a technique called mass customization, targeted for a market of one. Already we can order dolls that look like our children. To show the adaptive technology already exists, Toyota recently invited a Tokyo student to design his own car model. The company built and delivered it to him in five days. Now there are about 650 models of cars, Jones said. Soon there will be millions.

Jones, a small business management instructor at Clackamas Community College, painted a picture of the not-too-distant future that will be accessible to nearly everyone, thanks to the lower cost of new technology. Pharmaceutical companies will be transformed to genetaceutical companies theyll sell us medicine that incorporates our personal genetic material to make the medicine more effective.

Also in demand will be weight control and anti-aging products, he said, to help serve the nations 10,000 baby boomers who now turn 50 every day.

Another trend in retail will be never-owned products. Many goods will instead be leased, recycled and replaced. Thats already the case, Jones said, with most carpeting laid in office buildings.

Computers chips will be everywhere especially outside of computers. Theyll be painted on the walls, so that rooms in houses can be heated or cooled to different temperatures. Theyll be imbedded in boxes so that shipping companies can track packages more easily.

Time itself will compress. The sum of human knowing, which now doubles every four years, will double about every month by the year 2010. Everything that the most educated person in the world learned in a lifetime 150 years ago would now fit into a typical edition of todays New York Times, Jones said.

Tomorrows workplace will be far different. For one thing, it will be smaller. Emerging technologies already eliminate about 2,700 jobs every day. One futurist thinks General Motors will be the largest company in America by 2015 but it will employ just 15,000 people.

Today the company has more than 50,000 middle managers.

Half of todays retail stores will close by 2010. Only two kinds of stores will endure: those that offer convenience, like grocery stores; and those that provide a shopping experience one couldnt have elsewhere, such as Baker Citys historic downtown retail area.

Consumers will do the bulk of their shopping electronically. Already, e-commerce accounts for almost 10 percent of the nations $7 trillion economy.

National governments will probably be a thing of the past by 2050, Jones believes, as states realign themselves into regional centers of common interest. Oregon will probably be part of greater Columbia, a Northwest community of common interests that will include British Columbia. California, already the worlds fifth-largest economy, will be independent, Jones predicted.

Students of today will need to earn their academic credentials to make their way in a world that cant even imagine what theyll be doing for a living even 10 years from now. A robust economy has created nearly half a million high-tech, high-wage jobs that are currently unfilled. One in 10 of them had no applicants, Jones said, for jobs that are not place dependent. They could be filled by a Baker City resident or a New Yorker.

Oregon, he said, has the highest success rate for entrepreneurship in the nation. More than 70 percent of start-ups reach their fifth birthday. The high failure rate many of us read about has more to do with the industrial jobs traditionally located in Northeastern Rust Belt states.

Even local physicians may have to re-invent themselves. Surgeons are already experimenting with virtual operations, using video cameras and robotic scalpels to operate on patients in the next room. Soon the finest surgeons in the world will be able to operate all over the world from home, which for the highly skilled will become a television studio.

Jones brought one impeccable credential to his talk. Hes been delivering his speech since 1993, and hes still using about 80 percent of his material. That means most of what hes predicted has either come about or is down the foreseeable pike.

Since hes a self-described happy futurist, Jones left his audience with a quote from the comedian George Carlin, who suggested a new take on an old metaphor.

Some people say the glass is half empty, and other think its half full, Carlin said. I say the glass is the wrong size!

The future is a blank page that all of us can author, Jones said. Pessimists are more often right, but optimists accomplish more.