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Visionary predicts high-tech not-so-distant future

Thomas Frey, DaVinci Institute futurist and executive director, discusses future technologies Thursday at the annual Business Symposium at Shenandoah University's Harry F. Byrd Jr. School of Business. Sally Voth/Daily

By Sally Voth

Society is entering a period of unprecedented opportunity that will see humanity change more in the next 20 years than in all of our previous time on the planet, a think tank futurist told a rapt audience Thursday at Shenandoah University's Harry F. Byrd School of Business.

Thomas Frey, executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute -- a nonprofit think tank in Louisville Colo. -- was the afternoon keynote speaker at the school's fifth annual Business Symposium.

Emerging innovations will include expanded usage of drones, 3D printing -- think houses, food, even skin being printed -- driverless cars, smart houses and computerized contact lenses, he said.

McDonald's USA East Division consumer and business insights officer Donald Pierce was the morning keynote speaker. Sessions on various topics, including new media marketing, federal contracting, leadership, the Affordable Care Act, fraud and patents, were held throughout the day.

Looking to the past is part of human nature, Frey said during his presentation.

"We've all personally experienced the past," he said. "All information that we come in contact with is essentially history. The past is very knowable, and yet, we're going to be spending the rest of our lives in the future."

For Frey, the future is inevitable.

"The future's constantly unfolding," he said. "It's relentless. It's going to happen whether we want it to or not."

Anticipatory computing -- where computers will analyze what the user is drawn to and provide more of it to him or her -- is emerging, he said.

He frequently uttered, "How cool is that?"

Frey said catalytic innovations create entire new industries, unlocking interesting possibilities.

"All industries have an end date," he said. "They have a start date and an end date. They're all a bell curve. Most of our industries today happen to be in the second half of the bell curve."

We are being bombarded with information. Every 60 seconds, Frey said, there are 700,000 Google searches, 168 million emails sent, 695,000 Facebook entries, 13,000 iPhone apps downloaded and 48 hours of new content uploaded to YouTube.

Researchers discovered that the average person in 2009 had 100,500 words coming at them a day, Frey said. That number goes up 2.6 percent a year.

About five years ago, the number of Internet-connected devices surpassed the world's population, Frey said. It's predicted there will be 50 billion such devices by 2020, he said.

Innovation is being parsed into smaller pieces, Frey said, and we'll see more convergence of the digital and physical worlds, such as smart homes that will be alerted to their owners' arrival and will do things such as adjust the thermostat and open the garage door.

Baby monitors could register infant temperatures and chest movement, Frey said, while coffee makers will know how you take your morning brew.

More houses will be able to go off the grid, with self-composting sewer systems, self-extracting water systems, better home offices and fewer garages, according to Frey.

There will be less need for garages as people switch to using driverless cars, a form of drone, Frey said. He likened such vehicles to the evolution of cars, which also included power steering and cruise control.

"This will be done in baby steps," Frey said.

He said he believes people will be able to enter their destination on a smart device, which will send the car to pick them up.

"It's an on-demand transportation service similar to taxis, but because there's no drivers, it will be much cheaper," Frey said.

Automakers will switch their focus from the driver's experience to the rider's experience, he said. Such vehicles also will save lives and eliminate millions of crashes a year, Frey predicted.

He said he thinks Baby Boomers' desire to maintain their freedom will start to drive the demand for driverless cars.

Frey also discussed micro skin sensors that would provide instant data on someone's condition.

He showed images of people doing 3D computer sculptures using a "bird" they manipulate rather than a computer mouse.

Clothing stores could have scanning devices that would then print properly fitting clothes and shoes; waste food could be made into the components that could go into printing nutritious food, Frey said.

"I've been predicting that somebody's going to print the first house within a year," he said. "There's a building slated to be printed in 2014 now. Once we're able to print buildings, then walls don't need to be flat anymore. Architects are going to have a heyday."

A study has shown that for every job eliminated by the Internet, 2.6 more are created in start-up companies, Frey said.

"The first way to create new jobs is to automate them out of existence," he said.

Lord Fairfax Community College student Laura Morton, who is interested in marketing, attended the symposium and Frey's presentation as a member of a mental health organization.

While Frey's predictions were interesting, they also "raise questions," for Morton. For instance, she's concerned about so many future jobs being technology based.

Then, there are privacy concerns.

"Everything will be tracked," Morton said. "There's no privacy. There's no individualism.

"There's benefits and then there's negative sides of it. It's intriguing, [but] there's reservations."

Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or svoth@nvdaily.com


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