Top 10 Things in 2014 that made me optimistic for the future

In 2014, we witnessed many tragic events, from Ebola deaths to the attacks on schools in Nigeria and Pakistan, but there were also glimmers of hope for the future. Some of the events that spelled the most promise for the future were the following:
  1. Medical 3D-printing – With the breakthroughs in the use of 3D-printing for medical purposes, the potential for breakthroughs in healthcare is huge, and could radically lower healthcare costs over time.
  2. Rosetta’s Philae comet landing – The landing of the small Philae probe on its moving target, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, was a nice step forward for space exploration, and gave us some much needed hope in terms of how we can start to explore space again.
  3. Big data silver lining in Ebola outbreak – With all the terrible news coming out of the Ebola-affected countries, it was nice to see at least a little bit of silver lining from this outbreak – a number of organizations were able to use big data from e.g. mobiles to help map the outbreak. This kind of use case will hopefully help stem future outbreaks.
  4. VR Tech – After decades of false promises, the advent this year of Oculus Rift and Magic Leap seems to suggest that we are finally seeing breakthroughs in the field of virtual reality. Having tested the first version of Oculus Rift, it’s easy to see why Mark Zuckerberg was so excited about non-gaming uses of Oculus for all kinds of purposes, from social interactions, to travel and medicine.
  5. Modi – The election of Narendra Modi this year has potentially the highest multiplier effect of any elected politician. Given the enormous population of India and the large percentage of them that live in extreme poverty, if Modi can change their lives just with a sliver, the resulting effect would be the largest upgrade of human quality of living since the early days of China’s rise under Deng Xiaoping.
  6. Climate deals – Recently emboldened President Obama’s climate deal with China, and the global deal that it facilitated are reasons to cheer. They are not enough, but it is still a huge step forward for the world to have a global deal in place. Although it is not enough to prevent temperature rises that will affect millions of people, the fact that there is a framework in place gives me hope that it can be built upon, and have measures added to it, both for climate change prevention, and climate change reversal.
  7. Google’s self-driving cars – With the success of Google’s experiments with autonomous vehicles, and those of other car manufacturers joining the fray, such as Sweden’s Volvo, a future where we can read books while being driven to our location of choice seems just a matter of time.
  8. Tesla – The huge success of Tesla this year gives me hope that electric cars can become mainstream, they just need the right branding and performance. Hopefully the new battery factory can help spread the revolution.
  9. Disruptive technology in the universe of atoms as well as bits – For most of the digital revolution, disruption has happened in the universe of bits only, i.e. it has been only digital functions that have seen change. Now, however, we are increasingly seeing the application of data in real life, changing the functions of analogue, tangible functions. For example, Waze is revolutionizing how we navigate traffic, based on vast amounts of data and payments are becoming digitized with Bitcoin and Apple Pay. This will change our lives to an even greater degree than the bits disruptions.
  10. Sleep Science – More and more studies from sleep scientists are coming out that show that the circadian rhythms of most people would be better suited for a workday that starts and ends later. I don’t expect to see a change soon, but these kinds of recommendations, long seen as mumbo jumbo, are finally getting  some traction. Perhaps we can all soon sleep in just a little bit longer, which would add tremendously to our cumulative world happiness.

Latest interesting uses of 3D printing technology

3D printer
By Tiia Monto (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

3D printing is an area where usage has just exploded over the last year. There seems to be no limits to the awesome and industry-flipping use cases that are being presented. I wrote about some interesting of the industries that are at risk of being flipped by 3D-printing a while ago. What we’re seeing is an interesting example of a technology being adoped rapidly both by consumers and companies.

As companies like UPS are going into the future, and envisioning a world where logistics has been replaced by printing your own products, individual enthusiasts are going into the past, and using 3D-printing to bring back forgotten products. A pair of Swiss architects have 3D-printed a whole room, and many companies see huge potential in combining 3D-printing with traditional manufacturing techniques.

Bioprinting, for medical uses, is one of the most promising, China just printed human liver cells, but also one of the areas where tangible, usable results are the furtherest away. A San Diego lab is dreaming of printing cartilages.

The area which is closest to my heart is education, using 3D-printing to inspire kids to create and innovate. At a recent TED event I attended, the 3D-printer booth was by far the most crowded. MIT‘s Center for Bits and Atoms has over the last years been setting up Fab Labs all over the world (Neil Gershenfeld‘s TED talk from a few years ago here) and with 3d printers coming down in price, they are now teaching kids do hands-on science and create almost everything.

Of course, as with any new technology, things can still go wrong. Fast Company recently highlighted this fun collection of 3D-printing gone rogue and all over the place.

Industries at risk of being flipped by 3D (and 4D!) printing

3D printing is one of the technologies with the largest transformative power and therefore the highest potential of flipping and disrupting several industries among the technologies to appear in the last couple of years. Given its democratizing nature, with radically decreasing the costs to consumers and providing them previously unprecedented value, it is such a clear blue ocean strategy enabler (a technology that underlies the creation of many blue ocean strategies). Gabor George Burt wrote about this also recently.
An Economist special report last year described how it will change manufacturing, which is of course the most obvious effect. However, over the last year, while the technology is still far from reaching customers in any meaningful way (even if I’m of course keen on getting a makerbot!), we’re already seeing more and more examples of industries that might be flipped. It remains to be seen how changed these industries will be. Some recent interesting examples include:

1. Architecture. A recent Click podcast discussed how we might soon have printable houses, or at least part of houses. Eventually, we should only need star architects who take the profession further, and the run-of-the-mill houses we can just download and print ourselves. If we could couple this with recyclable architecture and pop-up architecture, things could get really interesting. On a related topic, btw, I was really interested to see that IKEA is partnering with the UN to build refugee shelters. Just don’t call them Björn.

2. Tourism. Another recent Click podcast talked about digital tourism, which suggests that digital technologies probably hold more upside than downside to the tourism industry (smartphone apps making travel easier, like triposo and tripwolf, should be a larger effect than people staying at home and taking staycations watching underwater Google Streetview, for example). A fun example of a potentially severe threat to tourism was given in this Big Think article, though – printing famous sculptures at home. Couple this with art museums Google Streetview, and you have soon eliminated the need to travel!

3. Medicine. With 4D printing, 3D-printed structures can adapt to their surroundings with time being the fourth dimension, as detailed in this Guardian article with a link to a TED speech on the topic. As we get closer to the DNA scale with these technologies, the possibilities seem endless.