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Expert predictions: What the future, maybe, has in store

Futurology, the study of present trends within society and how they may develop in the years and decades to come, could bring huge changes to Northern Ireland in the decades to come. Here, expert Dr Ian Pearson — who studied at Queen’s — gives his predictions for how our lives could change in the future

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Will humankind in the future be living in cities like the one depicted in sci-fi epic Blade Runner 2049? Dr Pearson thinks so

Will humankind in the future be living in cities like the one depicted in sci-fi epic Blade Runner 2049? Dr Pearson thinks so

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Dr Ian Pearson

Dr Ian Pearson

Self drive cars could improve

Self drive cars could improve

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AI pets cod relieve loneliness

AI pets cod relieve loneliness

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Augmented reality technology

Augmented reality technology

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Will humankind in the future be living in cities like the one depicted in sci-fi epic Blade Runner 2049? Dr Pearson thinks so

Renowned 20th century physicist Denis Garbor declared the future “cannot be predicted, but the future can be invented”. It’s a motto that futurologist Dr Ian Pearson, who lived in Belfast for nearly two decades and graduated from Queen’s University, can probably appreciate. The leading expert tells Weekend what technological strides will shape our lives in 2022 and beyond.

Metaverse and Virtual reality (VR)

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Augmented reality technology

Augmented reality technology

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Augmented reality technology

It has been launched in the past a few times and failed. Like 3DTV, I think there’s enough critical mass this time to see it take off this year.

And that’ll lead on to augmented reality, where you overlay VR onto the environment around you — like walking through Belfast and seeing offers pop up — marketing information overlaid onto reality — as you walk by shops. That’s easy to do.

This also has a negative side and could be seen as a gross invasion of privacy if it isn’t regulated properly, because face recognition technology is obviously capable of identifying a person.

Theoretically you could walk through town and see people’s phone numbers, names overlaid on their avatars, gained through information available on social media.

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Generally, most of the applications coming out of VR are positive; upgrades to Zooms where you can meet people in 3D, albeit using avatars with smart glasses.

In the next few years we might see contact lenses with 3D overlays in the real world. This year we might see a prototype for that.

Tissue-cultured meat substitutes

We’ve known for many years that it’s only a matter of time before you can start culturing meat cells in chemical plants and vats, rather than using cows and sheep walking around a field.

This means that you will be actually eating meat tissue. So people who are vegetarian or vegan can get animal protein without the cow or sheep being killed for its meat. Some people who fall into this category may switch and start eating meat again.

This has been coming for a while, but it’s now starting to arrive in the shops, roughly at the right prices as well.

Cultured-tissue chicken is now started to be made. We’re now at a breakthrough point in the next few years, because there’s already quite a bit of momentum and that would capture that trend quite nicely.

Electronic pets

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AI pets cod relieve loneliness

AI pets cod relieve loneliness

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AI pets cod relieve loneliness

We’ve seen these in the past — electronic dogs — 15, 20 years ago, and even before that I had an electronic cat back in the 1990s.

They’ve been around a long time but we’re now seeing more of those because of the advances of AI (Artificial Intelligence). There’s new chatbots to talk to about various subjects; sometimes they appear on a screen as an avatar. It’s just as easy to put those into a robotic doll or pet that moves around a floor. Especially given lockdown and a lot of people feeling lonely.

I think it has reached a market point where it’s very useful — it’s companionship for people.

Some research has shown that they are really good for older people and people form good bonds with electronic pets.

It’s very good for alleviating loneliness, but it’s not a substitute for a human being. It’s a good second best.

Digital décor

A few years ago cruise ships started doing virtual windows in some of the windows because not everybody has a balcony.

If you haven’t got a balcony and you’re looking inside a cabin, there’s no reason why you couldn’t have a whopping big plasma screen on the wall which looks like a window, looking out onto a nice beach or showing you what the view would be if you had an outside one.

Of course, screens have got better, thinner and illusions are becoming better each year at a good economic price. Windows in cruise ships have led the way.

It’s quite likely it will start happening in people’s homes — some people can buy a second TV and use it as a ‘window’. So they can have a nice view of a Caribbean beach instead of looking out at the drizzle from your Belfast flat.

Of course, you can have any view you like, and this goes along with the trend in virtual reality where we get used to going around the world virtually.

People might welcome having a view looking out at whatever views they want for the day — New York City, the Grand Canyon.

One of the major television brands has brought out a high-quality projector that is designed specifically as a decor substitute.

The purpose of which is to project on a surface so that you could transform your room into an art gallery, or a ‘window’ — or just change the colours of the room.

It’s below the £400 mark and I think it is something that could take off this year or next.

Electric cars and self-drive vehicles

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Self drive cars could improve

Self drive cars could improve

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Self drive cars could improve

Every week there’s a new development that makes the battery last a bit longer, or cheaper, or less pollution when they’re made.

The thing I find interesting about electric cars, is that is couples quite nicely with self-driving cars. With the AI right now, it’s really quite difficult to get cars that can self-drive all day without accidents in the real environment. It’s very easy to get right in test tracks.

Lately, we’ve seen seeing a lot of problems with people hacking into software for self-driving cars which is a potential danger.

There’s two ways of doing self-driving cars; you can either have a lot of AI and a lot of sensors, which is extremely expensive and a lot of high tech.

The alternative, which you don’t hear much about, is the idea of ‘pod’ systems — electric pods which go around and pick people up.

Fibre-glass shells could be used which are cheaper, and these could be used for public transport in cities, picking people up and dropping them off where they need to go, using the current road surface and guided by electronic maps.

It would be more environmentally friendly and cheaper for the consumer if they could buy their own ‘pods’.

Digital afterlife

By 2050 or thereabouts the links to the brain will be so good, a lot of our thinking will take place in ‘server phones’ inside your head.

Think of it as an extension to your brain, one that operates faster and has more memory and allows you connect directly to the internet.

Just think of it that its still you, with your brain, but you have an extension to it in the servers, which can be anywhere in the world.

One day when you die, or your body dies, 99% of your thinking will be taking place in the ‘cloud’, so you might barely notice that your body has died — your mind is still carrying on.

By 2060, it will become cheaper, and by a decade later, everyone will be able to have this. Those born now, who will live naturally to the age of 70, probably will find that they won’t ‘die’ because they’ll essentially live on digitally.

Androids will replace their body, while their mind will be in the ‘cloud’. It’s really a question of extending your mind, not uploading.

The mind lives more and more in the cloud.


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