5plus logoWorking in Paris in 2010, I had a chance to look to the future. I was invited to co-moderate the 5Plus Forum, designed to educate global business executives and government officials on what life would be like in 2015.

One of the keynotes was provided by Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, which today unveiled its new name – the Consumer Technology Association. CTA represents the $285 billion U.S. consumer technology industry and more than 2,200 companies. CTA also produces the International Consumer Electronics Show, which hosts 3,600 exhibiting companies and 150,000 visitors from 150 countries.

On that memorable day in Paris, Gary predicted a 2015 filled with unicorns and privacy concerns, a world with farm-to-table dining and robotic companions.

Did he get his predictions right? Did the world  keep up with him? I sat down with Gary last week to find out. Take a look and please share your views and what innovations you foresee.

garyshapiroPrediction 1. “The next multi-billion dollar technology company that will take the world by storm in 2015 has not been created yet.”

Outcome: Gary was spot on.

While Airbnb was founded in 2008 and Uber in 2009, many disruptive companies have launched not only in the last five years, but in as little as three years.

Fortune magazine has reported that we are living in the “age of unicorns”, start-ups that are valued at $1 billion or more. Here are five examples from Fortune’s unicorn list that have been founded since 2012:

• Venice, Calif.-based Snapchat, founded in 2012; worth $16 billion
• Beijing-based Didi Kouadi, “Uber’s mortal enemy”; founded in 2012; worth $15 billion
• Hong Kong-based Zhong An, China’s first online insurance seller; 2013; $8 billion
• San Francisco HR software company Zenefits, 2013; $5 billion
• Luxembourg e-commerce company Global Fashion Group, 2013; $4.5 billion

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Prediction 2. “Social media sites such as Facebook will become key education tools.”

Outcome: The jury is still out on Facebook as an educational tool, according to a global survey of articles on the topic.

Around the time Gary made his predictions and in the two years preceding, educators were beginning to debate the issue. Some offered hope, others concern.

The Guardian in 2008 reported on a government-funded study concluding, “Most schools and colleges in the UK block access to the websites but they are missing out on their potential for education.”

Stephen Carrick-Davies, the chief executive of ChildNet International, which published the study, believed in Facebook’s educational promise. “It’s vital that all of us really take the time to understand the way students are using the latest technology, the various features of these new services,” he said, “and appreciate how these new tools can aid good social interaction and learning.”

Career highlight: Experiencing 2015 in 2010
Career highlight: Experiencing 2015 in 2010

Fast forward to 2012 and to teacher Paul Barnwell in Louisville, Kentucky. In an Education Week column, he said he was open to new technologies but wasn’t convinced Facebook met his standards.

“After all, as educators we must be willing to test out, and sometimes adapt to, evolving opportunities to teach and engage students,” wrote Barnwell, an English and digital media teacher at Fern Creek Traditional School. “I’m still trying to figure out my curriculum, and will continue to test out new programs and technology applications to enhance the course. But until I’m convinced that cell phone and social media applications truly support deep thinking, my students will keep their devices in their pockets and backpacks.”

Likewise, eLearning Africa, a website focused on the continent’s development, expressed mixed reviews in 2014 about Facebook’s use at the university level.

eLearning Africa

“Educators and researchers are in two minds when it comes to the pedagogical, social and technological benefits of social media, particularly Facebook,” wrote Pauline Bugler. “Some say it can provide a platform for learning and allow students to collaborate and communicate with each other. Yet other educators say Facebook has little educational value and does not serve any academic purpose. In the worst-case scenario, it could even impact negatively on individual performance.”

Prediction 3. Gary offered several predictions concerning cyber security and privacy.

• Customization of the Internet will increase and tools such as photo identification will enhance our daily lives.
• However, this increase in capability will cause concern for some, raising more privacy debates that may not quickly be resolved.
• And as our dependency on Internet connectivity increases, we must be mindful of potential widespread outages or viruses that could cause global crisis.
• Through innovation, government security profiling will increase as intelligent algorithms focus on serious risks.

Outcome: Gary’s predictions on issues related to privacy and cyber security held up, but photo identification did not have the positive connotation he thought it might. He noted that Google removed facial ID from Google Glass due to privacy concerns. In addition to outages and viruses, we have full-on cyber-terrorism today. At the same time, U.S. surveillance programs are causing major concern among citizens and writers alike.

“Two major breaches last year of U.S. government databases holding personnel records and security-clearance files exposed sensitive information about at least 22.1 million people, including not only federal employees and contractors but their families and friends,” the Washington Post reported in July 2015, citing U.S. officials. “The breaches rank among the most potentially damaging cyber heists in U.S. government history because of the abundant detail in the files.”

The Washington Post also reported that, “China is suspected of stealing large amounts of data on Americans as part of a ‘strategic plan’ to increase its intelligence collection.”

writer's dilemma

Meanwhile, U.S. government surveillance activity leaked by Edward Snowden and similar programs in other countries are putting constraints on free expression.

before after charlie biggerFor my magazine, Creativity Is Risky: Free Speech in a Charlie Hebdo World, I reported on “Global Chilling: The Impact of Mass Surveillance on Writers,” a study published by literary human rights organization PEN America.

“What was most surprising is that writers in democratic societies are self-censoring to a degree that approaches the level of self-censorship observed in non-democratic societies,” said Katy Glenn Bass, PEN’s deputy director of Freedom of Expression programs. “Writers in democratic countries don’t necessarily believe their governments will respect their privacy.”

Of U.S. writers surveyed by PEN:

pen america logo copy• 85% said they were very or somewhat worried about government surveillance.
• 40% avoided activities on social media, or seriously considered doing so.
• 33% steered clear of certain topics in personal phone conversations or email messages, or seriously considered it.
• 27% avoided writing or speaking on a particular topic and refrained from conducting internet searches or visiting websites on topics that may be deemed controversial, or seriously considered it.

Gary has provided a lot to ponder. Indeed, the world is just as technologically advanced as he predicted and unicorns run at the speed of light. But it is also more messy and scary than any of us could have foretold. Would you like to add to the discussion, or provide examples to prove or disprove his predictions? Would you have predicted similarly? What will life be like in 2020? Please comment and share your views.

Subsequent posts will cover Gary’s predictions on video, 3D,  cars, health, robotics and food, so stay tuned for more.

Sally O’Dowd is founder and CEO of Sally On Media, a New York-based communications, content marketing and social media consultancy. You can learn more about her at http://www.sallyonmedia.net. 

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