Throughout history people have been burdened by all the things they’ve had to carry with them, typically in their pockets, wallets, or purses.
In the past, leaving the house was a checklist exercise for remembering all the things to take along, and yes, most of us had our pockets and purses filled with just-in-case stuff. But the true burden was complying with the increasing demands of business and government. We lived in constant fear of losing out for not having the right items in the right place at the right time.
Fifty years ago, every train, ship, and airline required a paper ticket. Every concert, movie theater, and Broadway show required the same type of paper tickets.
If a cop pulled us over we needed a drivers license, proof of insurance, car registration, and perhaps a few random things that the police officer felt necessary to take a look at.
Most guys carried a pliers, pocketknife, and keys. The plier was to fix things. The pocketknife was for security, but became much more of a tool than a source of protection. Keys were for opening doors or anything with a lock on it.
Various types of wallets and purses became the natural storage place for everything important like IDs, money, credit cards, makeup, and kids photos.
More recently, the most important item of all has become our smartphones.
Our phones have replaced the need for most of these items, but very few of us have taken it to the logical extreme of replacing all of our other items.
Which items will disappear next?
Which item do you carry that you’re anxious to get rid of?
Most of us have some combination of cash, keys, and wallet/purse near us at all times. I don’t see the purse going away anytime soon because it serves more as a fashion accessory than a useful tool, but wallets are not nearly as indispensable as they once were.
Phones are replacing cash, but not in all situations. Putting money in collection plates, gifts to charities, street performers, or homeless people are all challenging situations that don’t have obvious solutions, yet.
That said, China has been leading the world with its effort to eliminate cash, instead using Alipay and Tencent’s WeChat Pay. In major cities, tip jars, donation plates, and gratuity hats used to collect money for street buskers have been replaced with easy-to-use QR codes where simply aiming a phone and clicking a button will remit payment.
When it comes to keys, we’re seeing key fobs and digital keypads replace many of the traditional key locks on our homes, offices, and cars. In fact, it’s hard to come up with a compelling reason why any of us should still be using keys 10 years from now.
The locksmith industry has been quick to adapt to the ever-changing demands of the marketplace, yet there has been no overarching urgency for businesses to make the change.
Our need to lock and secure cars, doors, houses, and offices is not going away, but the way we lock something, either by waving a hand, biometric scan, or voice command, is transitioning to interactive systems that don’t require keys.
Going from Physical to Digital IDs
One of the mainstays of our wallet or purse has always been some form of required identification. This often takes the form of a driver’s license, passport, or ID card.
However, we are quickly moving past the era of showing some form of physical proof of who we are. With rapidly improving biometrics, voice recognition, and even body movement analyzers, the need to produce an ID is falling by the wayside.
The emerging digital identity industry is based on the belief that every individual is unique and different. As Dr. Seuss so aptly put it, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
Naturally, all of the sites that store personal biometric data will need to be accessible around the world, and permissions for country-to-country access still need to be worked out, but it’s very doable and this type of the technology is already being implemented.
We are only a few years from automating every border entry, custom station, airport TSA, and military checkpoint.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to this is the sheer number of jobs that will be eliminated. Countless millions around the world earn a living staring thoughtlessly at one ID after another, and even though it’s the epitome of meaningless work, it’s still a paycheck.
In my view, our ability to advance the human race is being needlessly throttled by mind numbing jobs like this that hold little importance.
The Invisible Smartphone
As we work our way down the list, it’s easy to see how smartphones start replacing the last few items we still carry with us. But is it possible to automate the smartphone itself out of existence?
Before the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, phones had been getting smaller and several startups had introduced wearable phones in the form of jewelry, gloves, and even imbedded tattoos.
However, the iPhone added a huge number of tools and capabilities that couldn’t be duplicated in phone-only technology.
Adding cameras, videos, music, GPS, email, texting, social networking, mobile apps, and impressive amounts of storage had a way of rewriting how we interacted with these devices, and our expectations changed, again, and again, and again.
While we will invariably see the smartphone evolve in many ways, I have a hard time imagining a way to completely dematerialize the smartphone into something without any physical form.
One by one, the physical items we carry with us are beginning to disappear.
Once we say goodbye to our cash, keys, and IDs we will begin to get a taste of the true nature of technological freedom.
If we truly desire a life free of any physical encumbrances, I’d like to retell my now-infamous swarmbot scenario:
“Imagine stepping out of the shower in the morning, and rather than reaching for a towel, a swarm of ten thousand flying micro drones will surround you and begin to dry you off.
A few seconds after drying your skin, the same swarm will begin to attend to other morning prep duties such as shaving, applying makeup, drying and fixing your hair, adding lotions, deodorant, and powder where necessary, and completing everything in mere seconds.
Once the face-prep is finished, the swarm will assemble itself as your clothing, rearranging itself into the color, style, and fashion most appropriate for your mood and the day ahead.
The swarm will be in constant communication with you, anticipating your needs, responding to voice commands, replying when necessary through your-ears-only voices or your-eyes-only projections.
The swarm will handle many duties, simultaneously serving as body armor to protect you from injury, adjusting temperatures to keep you warm or cool, constantly communicating with the rest of the world-wide swarm network, attending to every bodily function, keeping you fit and trim in the process.
Downloadable swarm apps will give you as many capabilities as you desire, with brilliant new competencies added on a daily basis.
These same bots will also serve as your short-range transportation system. Much like a scene from a Superman comic book, the swarm will physically lift your body and fly you to where ever you want to go.
If this sounds like science fiction, it’s because the scenario leapfrogged 10-15 generations of swarm development. At the same time, we are quickly moving into unchartered territory, and swarmbots like this will soon have capabilities far beyond anything we can imagine.”
As with all technology, there will be unintended consequences, and people with devious minds will figure out ways to use this kind of tech for evil purposes.
Yes, on some level we will have bad swarms fighting good swarms, and swarm hackers plotting to corrupt even our most advanced technologies. But still, on balance, the forces of those with good intentions will outweigh those with criminal intent.
As always, I remain optimistic about the amazing future unfolding around us. Personally I can’t wait to have my own personal swarm, and the empty pockets that epitomize this level of advancement.
Thomas Frey is the Executive Director and Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute, a Certified Speaking Professional, and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker. He works closely with his Board of Visionaries to develop original research studies, which enables him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities.
As part of the celebrity speaking circuit, Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come. His keynote talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level government officials to executives in Fortune 100 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Capital One, Bell Canada, Visa, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, International Council of Shopping Centers, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, Times of India, and many more.