As a tech industry participant, wanna-be geek and scifi guy, I’ve always been interested to see what’s coming next. What’s the new cool technology? Part of my education in this was working for Apple. Steve Jobs and his designers almost always saw what the public wanted before the public, or competitors. After reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, my thoughts about why that was the case solidified. Of course, for years it was obvious that Jobs and company made products more human-friendly. User friendly isn’t a great phrase, really. In many ways, they didn’t come up with the newest invention. Rather, they made the new inventions accessible, easily, to human beings on a massive scale. Mac wasn’t the first computer – but it was the easiest to get something done with for an average person. iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player, but it wasn’t confusing and gave people what they wanted. It gave them easy access to their songs when they wanted them. And the rest of the story is easy enough to understand.

But this isn’t an article about Apple. This is an article about how to predict the future. The Best Future, as the site name states. So let’s think about how to extend the principle of using technology to make people’s lives easier and more meaningful. Getting rid of hurdles to live life to the fullest.

With those ideas in mind, it seems to me that three major areas will see great growth in the near to mid term future. First, wearable technology. Second, robotics. Third, voice recognition and response.

Wearable technology, in the best case scenario, will give a person access to whatever information in whatever form they need in the most non-intrusive way possible. In the best¬†world, a person could walk around with no devices and no equipment attached but still have access to anything they want, from news to music to entertainment to other people. In this world, the person is wearing only that which makes them comfortable both physically and aesthetically. Further, they don’t need to do much more than think about what they want to access it. No complicated movements, buttons or commands. Additionally, what they wear or have as a natural, comfortable part of the daily life would perform additional functions to keep them safe and comfortable, as measured by environmental factors around them such as light, heat, smell and sound. Or even touch. It be so much a part of their life that they didn’t need to make any special accommodation for it, such as charging or syncing. It would be with them all them time and be utterly dependable.

The above technology is, I believe, out of reach for the time being. But the vision provides a picture of what such wearable, or eventually embedded, technology will hopefully develop into. Imagine if all of your clothes had a mesh of microtechnology woven in. Imagine that it was connected to the internet, using robust security, and was an extension of your home network. Perhaps it would be solar powered, or heat powered using ambient environmental heat or even the body’s excess heat. In some fashion, it would interact with all five senses to provide the information and stimulus you want at the time. An elegant system would use the most minimalist interface possible, eventually being voice activated. Perhaps in some distant scifi future, it would be thought responsive. But that last piece isn’t close, as far as I know. The rest of it isn’t far off.

Such an easy to use, wearable or embedded system, would make the relationship between information and the five senses vastly more efficient. It would free cognitive energy from task performance to acquire information – which we all spend vast amounts of time on every day – to more creative and productive uses. In short, we’d be able to get more out of the limited time we have on earth. Of course, that’s always been the promise of technology. It was the big promise of computers in the 1970s and 1980s. Computers will do the menial tasks freeing up humans to do other things. While that was and is largely true, it hasn’t given us more free time. Computers have raised the expectations for what a given human can, and should, do every day. The 1940s Clerk that manually writes down 50 transactions a day in a lined journal is vastly less productive than the data entry person who can do multiples of that work in a fraction of the time. But that has raised the expectation of how much we do. The reason so many missed this inevitable outcome is simply that they applied an existing expectation to a world with more possibilities. As possibilities increase, expectations also morph and adjust in ways that we may or may not expect. This will no doubt be the case with wearable and embedded technologies. New horizons of human to human and human to world interaction will open up. What will it mean?

Another extension of these principles is found in robotics. Robotics is on the verge of the mainstream. From self-driving cars, which are essentially just robots that take us places, to smart appliances, robots are and will be much more than a walking, talking automaton. In reality, I expect that in the near term, we will find vastly more speciality use robots in use in modern households. Instead of Rosie, the robotic maid from the Jetsons, we will likely have a toaster than knows how I like my toast and which bread is my favorite and then perhaps what kind of peanut butter and jam I want. People have long discussed the Refrigerator that has a relationship with the local grocery store and the bank and keeps itself stocked with our favorite stuff, assuming that the family’s finances are up to the task. I expect all of these devices, many of which are available in one form or another now, to communicate with each other in the background according to how we wish to prioritize our life. Of course, the walking, talking robot is certainly coming as well. The only question is how many “robot” themed movies will produced before it’s a mainstream appliance.

For the above technologies to be truly meaningful, we must be able to communicate with them in the most convenient way possible; speech. Today we have rudimentary versions of that with Siri and other machine/verbal interfaces. And to be sure, this technology has advanced dramatically. But it will need an additional evolutionary leap to really make the above technologies fully practical. This gets us into the area of artificial intelligence. It need not be Hal 2000 level, but likely will initially be numerous small AIs capable of understanding speech related to a limited number of tasks. The Refrigerator need not be familiar with Greek philosophy. But it should know how long to get milk delivered from the store and how much is likely to be needed for breakfast tomorrow.