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Posted: January 09, 2012

The last of the 28 trends for 2012 and beyond

We need more forward-looking accomplishments

Thomas Frey

Here are the final seven trends for 2012 and beyond:

22.) The Drone Side of Life - Sometime over the coming months you can expect to see a version of the following help wanted ad:

"Help Wanted: Full-time aerial drone pilots needed to help manager our growing fleet of surveillance, delivery and communication drones. We are also looking for drone repair techs, drone dispatchers, and drone salesmen."

In 2010 the U.S. Military spent $4.5 billion on drones, increasing to $4.8 billion in 2011.

With this kind of focused spending, military drone technology has improved dramatically over the past decade. But as a technology, future drones will go well beyond military uses. The stage is being set for thousands of everyday uses in business and industry all over the world.

With basic drone hardware being matched up with smartphones, and the bottom-up design capabilities of app developers around the world, drones will quickly move from the realm of personal toys to functional necessities that we interact with on a daily basis.

For those of you looking to switch careers, the drone marketplace will create one of the hot new industries of the future.

23.) The Coming Transparency Wars - Can you feel the layers being lifted? Transparency is entering our lives in unusual ways and much like having individual veils lifted from a multi-veiled garment; we are now able to see the world around us with far greater clarity.

Recently, several misguided thinkers have proposed the notion that the more transparent our society becomes, the better off we'll be. Using the logic that a self-watching society will be a safer one, they advocate for radical transparency. This is simply not true. And the privacy advocates will not let it happen.

The greatest danger of too much transparency is that we will become consumed by watching each other, and somewhere along the way, we will lose sight of the big picture. Each day will be filled with constant drama as we exhaust ourselves trying to right every wrong, and solve every problem.

We are all terminally human and have very limited ability to improve who we are simply because someone else may be watching. However, drawing the correct dividing line between privacy and transparency will not come easy. This will continue to be a volatile battleground for many years to come.

24.) Dismantling the Justice System - In a country that claims to be the land of the free, the number of people under the control of the U.S. corrections system has exploded over the last 25 years to more than 7.3 million, or 1 in every 31 U.S. adults, according to a report by the Pew Center on the States. The actual number of people behind bars rose to 2.3 million, nearly five times more than the world's average.

A new study by the University of North Carolina now shows a shocking 30% of all young people get arrested at least once by age 23.

People who enter prison cannot lead productive lives. Removing too many from wage-earning positions, turning them into wards of the state, is a recipe for economic disaster.

We are seeing some experimentation and improvements around the edges but so far nothing major. Even with its massive inertia to maintain the status quo, public tolerance has reached its limit for this kind of needless expenditure and constant friction between the government and its citizens.

Look for this to become one of the long-term movements splintering away from the Occupy Wall Street crowd. Ironically, the biggest changes in this area will happen when driverless cars start eliminating the need for street cops.

25.) Going Waitless - In our highly competitive business and social environments, we have a need to be active and engaged at all times. And waiting in line, for virtually anything, becomes irritating.

For this reason, Los Angeles-based QLess Inc. has devised a text-messaging service to help eliminate the wait.

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The department of motor vehicles seems to be the epitome of mind-numbingly long wait times and Johnson County, Kansas was one of the first to implement QLess to alerts customers when it was their turn.

With this type of service, people don't have to be present as the grueling minutes click away. Many customers now go grocery shopping, while waiting in a virtual line, or come in closer to their estimated appointment time.

Since implementing the system three years ago, customers no longer camp out on the floor and spend far less time complaining.

Look for wait-less systems to spring to life in doctor offices, auto service shops, pharmacies, Disneyland, and virtually every place in society where the wait needs to dissipate.

26.) Power of 10 Interface - The distance between information and our brain is getting shorter.

Twenty years ago if you had access to a large information base, such as the Library of Congress, and someone asked you a series of questions, your task would have been to pour through the racks of books to come up with the answers. The time involved could have easily have been 10 hours per question.

Today, if we are faced with uncovering answers from a digital Library of Congress, using keyboards and computer screens, the time-to-answer process can easily be reduced to as little as 10 minutes.

The next iteration of our information-to-brain interface will give us the power to find answers in as little as 10 seconds. Look for major advancements in "smart contacts" in the coming months to help close the gap towards the 10-second goal.

27.) Emergence of Food Printers - 3D printing is a form of object creation technology where the shape of the objects are formed through a process of building up layers of material until all of the details are in place - a relatively slow process often requiring hours to complete.

Three-dimensional printing makes it as cheap to create single items as it is to produce thousands of items and thus undermines traditional economies of scale. It may have as profound an impact on the world as the coming of the factory did during the Henry Ford era.

Marcelo Coelho and Amit Zoran, a couple ingenious minds at MIT working on the Cornucopias Project, have created a very visual way for us to imagine next generation food that will come from similar 3D printers. Each of their designs proposes an advanced way of mixing ingredients, forming new compounds, and building a layer-by-layer aesthetically pleasing menu item with perfect texture and shape.

Look for continuing progress in the area of 3D food printers, even though the Jetson's style food synthesizers may still be a few years off.

28.) The Self-Health Movement - No one cares more about your health than you do. So it was only a matter of time until someone invented the self-diagnostic tools, self-monitoring devices, and self-analysis systems to put "self" into the center of the healthcare equation.

Apple's App Store currently offers 9,000 mobile health apps, along with 1,500 cardio fitness apps, over 1,300 diet apps, more than 1,000 stress and relaxation apps and over 650 women's health apps.

But apps are only part of the equation. Peripheral devices are setting the stage for the true self-revolution:

•All Apples stores now carry the Withings' Blood Pressure Monitor, a peripheral device that plugs into the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch and takes the user's blood pressure. Data can be sent directly to a doctor or saved (confidentially) to the cloud.
•Lifelens has created a smartphone app to diagnose malaria. The app can magnify a drop of blood (captured via a simple finger prick) and identify whether malarial parasites are present.
•In October 2011, Ford demonstrated three SYNC apps offering in-car health monitoring for drivers to track chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma and hay fever.
•Also in October 2011, AT&T announced it will begin selling clothes embedded with health monitors, able to track the wearer's vital signs - heart rate and body temperature - and upload them to a dedicated website.
•The X Prize Foundation is co-sponsoring a $10 million prize for the best mobile device allowing consumers to diagnose their own diseases.
Every new peripheral device will create a market for hundreds of new apps, and we haven't even scratched the surface of what will seem like a massive influx of brilliant new peripherals over the coming months. Healthcare industry execs should be nervous.

Final Thoughts

I will end with a few comments about the new systems that will be needed to tie all of these trends together.

We are currently out of balance between backward-looking problem-solving and forward-looking accomplishments. Forward accomplishments help erase past problems. They solve problems in a different way. We need more forward-looking accomplishments, and our greatest undertakings in the future will come in this area.

This need for future accomplishments will also dictate a need for new and better systems to regulate, manage and leverage the activities surrounding them. These systems will need to be global in nature, and over time, a few will emerge to challenge the power of nations. National systems are already putting the brakes on emerging global systems, but it will only serve as a short-term delay of the inevitable.

The era of global systems is coming very soon.

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Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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Readers Respond

America incarcerates a higher percentage of its citizens than even most dictatorships. With the simplistic, linear thinking that goes on in many circles, this trend, I think, will continue. The first bit of simplistic thinking is "zero tolerance" policies. "Zero tolerance" is absurd and useless, AND it is being misapplied. It is part of the desire by those of a certain political persuasion to control everyone and everything, and to "crack down" on "non-compliant" behavior. (That word "non-compliant" says it all, doesn't it?) The second trend is toward the privatization of prison systems. There have been numerous abuses and illegal partnerships with judges to fill these private prisons, as well as numerous civil rights violations. Some things just shouldn't be done by a private company. There is too much conflict of interest. The third trend is toward incarcerating for non-violent and pretty harmless "crimes." One guy got prison time for ACCIDENTLY importing an orchid that was on some endangered species list. Ooooh! An armed and dangerous florist! Finally, there is the trend of criminalizing everything. Something that, in the past, would have had people shake their heads, now has them screaming for prison. These are marks of a growing American police state. We, as citizens, need to reverse these trends if we want to maintain our freedoms. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2012 01 09

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