Part One, which unfurls exotically below, and Part Two - right here! - which will contain predictions based on the latest developments in consumer electronics with health tech applications, computing, AI, and robotics, as well as consumer trends in entertainment, economics, and more.
It's the only out-there guide you'll need to understand how the coming year might unfold!
PART ONE: This week, we guess whether we're inching ever-closer to a dystopian hellscape, whether we can turn it around or flee to space, the future of earthbound urban infrastructure, and what the next year has in store for four of our favorite tech giants.
Of course we aren't simply polishing a ball of quartz and pulling predictions out of thin air: MONTAG's near-future forecast is based on projections by futurist thinkers like Ray Kurzweil and Isaac Asimov, as well as reports from news outlets and tech journals, self-proclaimed Twitter prognosticators, and good old Michel de Nostredame.
It's the end of the world as we know it: Apocalypse & Climate Change
Start your 2019 off right with the most specious predictions of apocalypse, from the master harbinger Nostradamus: World War III is coming.
“In the city of God, there will be a great thunder
Two brothers torn apart by Chaos while the fortress endures
The great leader will succumb
The third big war will begin when the big city is burning”
According to one source it will start in France, and another claims Hungary; with the "great leader" in question potentially referring to the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or to the Trumpman himself, and most interpretations predict a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia. Many readings of Nostradamus' prophecies also predict the current pope will be either assassinated or leave office, another potential catalyst for world disorder.
It's tempting to believe the end of the world is upon us, because otherwise we have to ride out the effects of climate change and actually do something about it – a task made even more daunting by Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro pulling out of hosting the 25th COP, an annual event by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's most recent report for 2018 says to limit global warming to 1.5ºC will require a massive overhaul in all aspects of society, and that decisions that will shape the next 10-15 years will have to be made in the next two or three.
Both Isaac Asimov in his 1983 predictions, and Ray Kurzweil in his 1990 book The Age of Intelligent Machines, propose the creation of a new world government, united solely to prevent climate catastrophe and nuclear annihilation. While it doesn't seem likely here in January, there are two other threats to the planet that may bring us all together: a solar flare could cause $2 trillion of damage in the Western Hemisphere, or (more likely) global cyberattacks on infrastructure, critical industrial control systems, or nuclear equipment, will force the international leadership community to agree on a digital Geneva Convention.
Plan B, or planet B: Sustainable Tech & Space Travel
Of all the apocalyptic scenarios that are believable, climate change is the one that technology can do the most about in the immediate future, with sustainable, alternative energy sources. In 2019, the world's largest solar park, Benban, will complete construction in Egypt, as well as the world's largest offshore wind farm in the UK, according to Quantum Run's Future Timeline.
Asimov predicted that solar energy would be an even larger force in the world by 2019, and that it would tie in to an ambitious return to space to export industry off-planet. He describes a prototype solar power station that would be set up on the moon, and beam energy towards the Earth as microwaves. As a non-physicist, it's hard to say how feasible this technology would be today, but if we're going to be cooked like a TV dinner anyway thanks to global warming, maybe he wasn't far off the mark.
Asimov also predicted we would be back on the moon in 2019, and with China's Yutu 2 rover landing on its dark side on January 2nd, it seems the space race has resumed. Another exciting prediction about space exploration is the continued research based on the interstellar visitor Oumuamua, an elongated mystery object that streaked through our solar system in 2017. The director of Harvard's Black Hole Initiative and director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Abraham Loeb, says they are busy identifying more interstellar visitors and may attempt flyby analyses, or even landing on the next visiting asteroid.
And if they find evidence of life, 2019 could be the year we establish contact.
Smart Cities & Self-Driving Cars
In 2019, projects like Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs' outfitting of Toronto neighborhoods with smart sensors will continue to expand to neighborhoods near you. Sensors monitoring transportation flow like walking routes and shared car use, residential data such as temperature controls and building occupancy, and infrastructure like sewage systems' functionality, seek to provide a clean, comfortable, and convenient surveillance state.
Kurzweil predicted in 1999's The Age of Spiritual Machines that public places and workplaces will be ubiquitously monitored to prevent violence, and Armen Berjikly, senior director of growth at Ultimate Software, an HR tech company, has also predicted that in 2019, AI and natural language processing will be used to understand employees' emotional needs.
With so many data collection systems and sensors connected in homes and offices, cybersecurity experts also note that exploitation of the Internet of Things, creating botnets and attacks on data centers and business operations, will increasingly affect the physical world. The director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Computer Emergency Readiness Team, Amit Yoran, has been quoted saying "Unfortunately, this could be the year of the cyber wake-up call the industry has warned about for years."
Forrester, an American market research company, also warns of attacks on the Internet of Things in their 2019 predictions for the tech world, as reported by Tech Republic: "Between smart lighting, traffic controls, and public transportation, smart cities are bringing in a whole new family of threat vectors. In 2019, the report predicts an increase in targeted smart city ransomware attacks, which would cause major disruptions to citizen services. Smart cities need to take precautions and start preparing now."
On the roads of these smart cities, expect to see far fewer gas-guzzling SUVs, as world sales of electric vehicles are expected to reach 5.9 million. Even Harley-Davidson is releasing an electric model of their iconic motorcycle in 2019, the LiveWire. In transportation predictions, also from The Age of Spiritual Machines, Kurzweil expected that roads would have embedded networks of monitoring and communication devices that allow computer-controlled cars to navigate safely and efficiently, and that computers would do most of the driving, going as far as prohibiting humans from driving on highways and overriding human controls in the case of reckless driving.
Although autonomous driving systems have been tested by Tesla, Waymo, Uber, and many other car manufacturers, including GM and Ford, none have yet to reach mainstream adoption and Waymo is currently facing a backlash in which Arizona residents are slashing tires, throwing rocks, threatening the cars' human overseers with PVC pipes and guns, as well as trying to run them off the road with their own cars.
2019 in tech giants: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google
By 2019, millionaires are expected to control almost half of the entire world's wealth, and much of that will be in the hands of these four tech companies: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google.
Amazon's expansion factored high on many 2019 prediction lists. Fortune expects them to double their representation in the online advertising market (from 4.2%, compared to Facebook and Google's 58%), and to expand in e-commerce and brick and mortar retail through the acquisition of dozens of Sears and Kmart locations. Amazon is also poised to acquire Target, according to InvestorPlace, as it shares much of the same market demographic as Whole Foods and Amazon Prime, and could juice up their slowed e-commerce growth.
Amit Sharma, the founder and CEO of Narvar, a customer-engagement platform used by over 500 retailers, guesses that Amazon's next move will be in the hospitality and travel markets, hot on the heels of Airbnb, while Christina Farr, a health tech reporter for CNBC, points to its interest in internet pharmacy PillPack and discounts for Medicaid recipients with J. P. Morgan as evidence that Amazon could also become a health insurance provider.
In a popular article published at the tail end of 2018, "Why It's Hard To Escape Amazon's Long Reach," Wired reporters point out the multiplicity of industries Amazon has infiltrated: cloud computing, home security, fashion design, advertising, television and movie production, publishing, gig economy labor, drone delivery, as well as hardware and software development for virtual reality, semiconductors, and facial recognition – it owns Audible, IMDb, Twitch, Zappos, and the 10,000 Year Clock – so literally, anything is possible.
Both Apple and Elon Musk appeared to be struggling at the end of 2018, and a couple of sources (Saxo, a Danish investment bank, and InvestorPlace) predicted that Apple may buy Tesla. The cheaper version of the Tesla Model 3, priced around $35,000, should ship to a few lucky customers this year, and it seems like a win-win: Apple could boost their sinking revenue, and Elon could restore his reputation after a series of public meltdowns last year.
For Facebook and Google, the watchword is privacy legislation. J. M. Porup of CSO Online says, "The EU will break some fingers with the GDPR... Enforcement is going to be harsh beginning in the first half of 2019. Companies engaged in surveillance capitalism, like Google and Facebook, are in for a rough few years." Facebook is facing backlash for potentially meddling in the 2016 election in the U.S., and with consumers' growing awareness of the value of their personal data, users are expected to "vote with their feet," and abandon the social network.
While rumors of a Facebook dating app in the near future sparked power struggles with Bumble and Match group (owners of Tinder, Match.com, and OKCupid) in 2018, InvestorPlace predicts Match could spawn a Facebook alternative.
Another tech prediction weighing heavily on Facebook and Google's privacy concerns is onboard AI for apps that would eliminate the need for consolidated data collection. Users would experience the same level of customization and personalization, without transferring data to be sold to advertisers. TechSpot notes that Apple was ahead of the curve on this, storing facial recognition scans and personal data only on individual devices.
Combining privacy and artificial intelligence looks to be a smart move for the other tech giants in 2019.
To be continued...
Go on, go on, go on... Don't miss Part Two of our 2019 predictions, narrowing down on tech innovations in the health sector, smartphones and computing, entertainment and consumer trends (did you know orange wine is supposedly the next rosé??) and all of the other miscellany that bubbled up to the surface of the MONTAG crystal ball. 🔮
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