Five innovation predictions for 2013
By Vivek Wadhwa,
Last year I predicted that social media would lose its sizzle. Since then, the bubble has burst for companies such as Facebook, Zynga and Groupon. The tablet computer market, on the other hand, is booming, voice recognition is becoming a standard feature in new computing devices, and there have been, as I alluded to in 2012, notable cloud-computing failures and security breaches in the past year.
I am glad to have been wrong about LinkedIn. It is a great company with a stellar management team. Also, tablet prices haven’t quite hit the $100 mark in the U.S., as I predicted they would. But I still anticipate they will, and likely very soon.
So, what else lies ahead for 2013? There is nothing as spectacular as the Facebook IPO, at least at this point, but expect gradual technology progressions of greater significance than have been seen in years past. The Post’s Hayley Tsukayama has outlined the trends in tech for the coming year — a year I believe will be one of transition for the sector.
This year, expect tech innovators to set the stage to solve global problems, since technologies in fields such as medicine, robotics, artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, 3D printing, and nanomaterials are advancing exponentially. Like the processors in our computers, they are becoming increasingly powerful while their price drops precipitously. This will enable startups to take on problems in fields such as energy, health, education, and security that only government and big research labs previously could.
Most recently, the big rewards have gone to startups developing relatively simple social media platforms and applications. In the upcoming era of exponential technologies, expect the rewards to go to players that solve big, global problems.
Here are the big innovation trends that I believe will gain traction in 2013.
Tablet explosion to computing revolution
The entry price of tablet computers will almost surely drop to under $100 in 2013 — especially if the rumored $99 Acer tablet gains traction this year, as I believe it will, or if the India Aakash tablet finally lives up to its potential. I also anticipate that the tablet price tag will keep dropping until it reaches close to zero over a 2-to-3 year period. We will reach the point where it makes sense for companies to give tablets away just as mobile carriers give phones away in exchange for plan subscriptions. More broadly, we can expect to see tablet computers almost everywhere in this decade—our kitchens, bathrooms, cars, supermarkets, schools and elevators.
Apple currently owns the high end of the market, of course, and I don’t expect cheap tablets to put any dent in the company’s sales this year. But, if Apple fails to keep innovating, the company will surely feel the pain in 2014 and beyond as Samsung continues to nip at its heels. The PC laptop vendors — Dell, HP and Lenovo, among others — should worry since tablets will continue to cannibalize their higher-priced products.
The biggest winner in this revolution will likely be Google, with its free Android operating system. Unsurprisingly, the loser will probably be Microsoft, which licenses its mobile operating system, Windows RT, for around $80 — more than the hardware will eventually cost. In the long term, expect the billions of new users that come online over the next few years to be doing Google searches and using Google’s applications.
The “quantified self” goes mainstream and creates a new regulatory battlefield
We saw a trickle of sensor-based medical devices in 2012, but these were just the start of the “quantified self” movement. As sensors become smaller, more powerful, and cheaper, we will see many new types of devices that help us monitor our health. These will be embedded in our iPhone cases, bathroom scales, toothbrushes, and even in our jewelry.
In 2013, expect to be able to purchase sophisticated new devices like the AliveCor Heart Monitor, which I have been testing and the FDA has approved for use by licensed U.S. medical professionals. If I had a device like this 10 years ago, I may have been able to avoid the heart attack that I had.
The device will cost $199 when prescribed by a physician. Today, we need physicians to analyze the data the device provides. But, given the rate at which technology is advancing, computers may be able to do a better job. Witness the way IBM’s Watson defeated Jeopardy champions. It had far more data available to it.
Eventually, I foresee cloud-based systems that have access to the latest medical knowledge and to data from hundreds of millions of people analyzing medical data. I would trust these systems more than I trust my cardiologist, and the app to access these will be available anytime and as often as I need it.
Even before we reach this stage, consumers should be allowed to purchase these devices off the shelf to see and analyze their own medical data. This is where the battle lines will increasingly be drawn between technologists and regulators.
Users will begin to demand greater control of their own data and more ways to monitor it in order to improve their lives. That means, in the coming year, one should expect to see the regulatory battles over these types of technologies become more frequent and heated.
Manufacturing jobs continue to return to the U.S.
Expect advances in robotics, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing to, as I have previously written, change the economics of manufacturing, lead to a renaissance in design and creativity, and bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. over the next year.
Manufacturing is also destined to become a technology industry. The jobs of the future will be in creating 3D designs and maintaining and operating sophisticated computer machinery. In 2013, expect to see the commercial availability of a new generation of robots like Baxter from Rethink Robotics and the grape-picking Wall-Ye.
From big baloney to big opportunity in big data
Big data was one of the most hyped concepts in the tech industry in 2012 and some are feeling let down. But there is no reason to lose hope—we are just getting started. The amount of data we are creating is increasing exponentially. That data is coming from sources such as cameras, sensors signals, social media, Web browsing trails and Google searches, e-commerce transactions, medical records, and DNA decoding. I expect that in 2013 we will see more success stories like that of Nate Silver, who was able to use big data to out-predict the pollsters. In subsequent years, we will see billion-dollar startups emerge — companies that have mastered the art of using machine-intelligence to harness big data.
Google Now, which was named Innovation of the Year by Popular Science, shows what is possible when you combine disparate pieces of information. Google claims it “tells you today’s weather before you start your day, how much traffic to expect before you leave for work, when the next train will arrive as you’re standing on the platform, or your favorite team’s score while they’re playing.”
Within a few years, expect to be able to do Google-like searches to learn what diseases those with similar genetics have had and what medications worked for them. Eventually, when researchers combine the medical records of a hundred million people with their genome data, work habits, and other information, such as weather and pollution data based on where they live, they will all but certainly be able to determine the correlation between genome, disease and lifestyle.
New user interface paradigms
I couldn’t agree more with Tsukayama on this topic. Expect the computer keyboard and mouse to become obsolete. The most promising product on the horizon is the Leap Motion controller, which senses hand and finger movements, allowing users to do sophisticated gestures similar to those in the 2002 film Minority Report. There was some buzz about the device in 2012, but this year it is expected to retail for $69. I expect similar technologies to be embedded in many computing devices.
These advances in voice and gesture recognition mean we will soon have a more natural way of using computers. When Google releases Project Glass—eyeglasses that display words and pictures — in the coming years, I predict we won’t even need the computer screens at all.
Don’t be surprised if 2013 is a a dull year for Silicon Valley bloggers looking for the next social media startup and a really exciting year for humanity.
Washington Post Co. Chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham is a member of Facebook’s board of directors.
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