General Electric links back 50 years to an article by Isaac Asimov to promote the technologies its betting on for the future.
Writing after a visit to the 1964 “World’s Fair” Asimov speculated in the New York Times, what technologies would be around in 2014. [World Fairs didn't survive that long, but Expo's have taken their place - Milan is hosting one next year]. You can read Asimov’s piece and note both things that he predicted fairly well (such as mini computers powering robot brains, autonomous vehicles, internet-like communication) and things he didn’t (underground cities with artificially lit vegetable gardens, levitating vehicles, experimental fusion reactors, moon colonies)
Serendipitously, Arthur C. Clarke was also visiting the World’s Fair and making predictions in 1964.
Their List has six technology areas that they have an interest in:
Technologies will perform in any situation and any place, no matter how severe.
What used to be heavy will be the lightest and strongest it’s ever been.
Machines will help us make smarter decisions by talking with us and each other. We will be able to plan downtime, redirect resources and make entire industries from healthcare to power generation more efficient.
We will see and understand the brain better than ever. As a result, severe neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s will become manageable.
The next industrial revolution will bring unseen level of productivity. With the cloud’s help, we will 3D-print any part, anytime, anywhere.
New forms of reliable power will reach places far off the grid.
No surprises there for future watchers – better, faster, stronger, lighter, connected.
The “mapped minds” item acknowledges their involvement in medical imaging. The term “brilliant factories” relates to having a “feedback loop from design to product engineering to manufacturing engineering to manufacturing and supply chain operation to services and back” so development and production occur more quickly, and smoothly.
In a companion paper on “The future or work” [Pdf] GE also discuss what they call brilliant machines, which are “predictive, reactive and social”. They note, in passing, that some human jobs will go, but that they say just provides opportunities to shift to more creative and fulfilling jobs.
All is ultimately good:
… it will reshuffle the competitive landscape for both companies and countries, and it will fundamentally change—for the better—the way we work and the way we live.
That’s a bit too glib, but of course they wouldn’t be saying otherwise. Its mostly about technology push, as you’d expect from a manufacturer. But as Asimov’s article 50 years ago shows, not everything will happen how or when you expect it to.
Meanwhile over at MIT’s media lab they are attempting to teach ethics to engineers via science fiction. That’s a start, but it would be useful to involve real ethicists and other humanities professors in their courses (if they don’t already) so the students get a proper academic grounding. Would an arts department put Arthur C. Clarke & Isaac Asimov on their reading lists to teach students about space ship design principles?