My first job – in 1997 – was as a junior account executive in a graphic design company. In non-marketing speak, this meant that I was the dogsbody.
The tasks I had to do were wide and varied but included getting colour prints of our work done for client presentation. The company – a start-up – didn’t have its own high-resolution inkjet printer so we had to get prints done at a specialist supplier. The supplier happened to be on the other side of town. As this was the late 1990s, it wasn’t yet possible to email the file, so I did what any good dogsbody would do. I’d get the files on a floppy disk, stick it in my sweaty palm and drive through the thick mid-afternoon traffic. One time, the floppy disk corrupted on the way and I had to make the journey twice.
Writing this now, all of the above sounds like a technologically redundant waste of time. But it got me thinking. As the rate of technological change gets faster and faster, which business technologies we use today will look quaint and outdated in the future? Here are my predictions:
CDs & DVDs
They’re just holding on by the skin of their teeth, but silver disks of data are already surplus to requirements. As file transfer solutions such as Dropbox or WeTransfer get slicker and more integrated and bandwidth speed increases, there will just be no need for these scratchable, loseable, burnable file storage solutions. In the future, when you exchange data, you’ll simply tell your cloud storage service to allow access to that data from the other person’s service.
I am sure the back of your desk, like mine, is a vipers-nest of cables of all shapes and sizes. They look a mess and they’re a pain to disentangle. High-speed wireless internet will remove the need for so many cables, as will rechargeable contact pads for laptops, phones and tablets. Improvements in battery technology will make lugging around your chargers a thing of the past, as usage will last for several days.
The desk phone
I have a smartphone. I have Skype on that smartphone and Skype on my laptop. I can use FaceTime. And I can have a Google Hangout or any number of web-based voice conversations. Why, therefore, do I need this bulky thing on my desk that only recruitment consultants call me on?
Computer hard disks
Why do you need a multiple-terabyte hard disk when storage is moving to the cloud and access speeds are hitting 5G levels? When you can access your documents, create and stream your presentations and consume entertainment at high speed from anywhere, your device just needs to be a well-designed window into your digital world, not a storage platform.
Being ‘out’ of the office
When people say that they are ‘out of the office’ and can’t get back to me on something, I think, why? How can that be possible today? No-one should ever be ‘out’. Your IT structures should allow you to be able to access anything at any time, whether in the office you lease and sit in with colleagues, the train or the pub. With 1,000 to 5,000 times the bandwidth capacity of 3G planned for 2022, there will be no excuse for being ‘out’ ever again.
We hate it but we need it. It works but it’s a pain. Thankfully, social networks such as Yammer or the more recent collaboration app start-up Slack will replace email with live feeds of information you can interact with, linking directly with other cloud applications such as Dropbox or Google Docs. Email will become an outmoded messaging service, like a landline phone seems when you use a mobile phone.
I know travel isn’t strictly a technology but our relationship with trains, planes and automobiles will be radically affected by the introduction of immersive virtual reality technologies such as Oculus Rift. Why travel when you can don a headset and virtually sit next to the person you need to meet? Cross-border collaboration will become as simple as sitting at the next desk. As large-scale screen and 3D projection technology drops in price there will be no reason why cine 360-style video-conferencing, integrated with 3D-immersive surround sound, will not become mainstream. Remote teams will feel more emotionally connected and shared business experiences easier to create.
Already becoming commonplace in Silicon Valley, the telepresence robot had its big moment in March when NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden used one to appear in robot form on stage at a TED Talk. Telepresence devices are already commercially available, and the ability to manage one’s working life from behind the controls of a mechanised avatar is not only extremely cool but also removes the energy-sapping inefficiencies of travel.
Of course, we will still need to do the face-to-face or take clients for a drink, but rail travel may be replaced by self-driving car networks which pick you up and drop you off like a taxi yet chain together on motorways for efficiency.
Printer ink costs more than gold. Think about that. And it’s not only expensive, it’s wasteful of resources and always runs out when you really need to print something. As e-ink technology progresses and digital paper becomes more like paper, it will seem crazy to expensively print things for them only to get binned – or hopefully recycled.
I don’t have a PA but in the future I will – and he or she will be an AI robot. IBM’s Watson supercomputer became world famous after successfully performing in US TV show Jeopardy. The press is already predicting that GPs will be replaced by health monitoring and AI diagnostic tools. So if your health can be diagnosed by a computer, it can sort my travel arrangements and restaurant bookings too.
Like all predictions, these are cast-iron guaranteed. Just check back in 50 years: I’ll be sat here smugly with my robot pals.