Saturday, January 1, 2011

Predictions For 2011

After revisiting my list of predictions, I realized that I didn’t have very many for 2011, due to my focus on things at least five years out. In honor of the new year, here are some of my predictions for 2011, in no particular order:

Electronic wallet? There’s an app for that. On December 16, 2010, Google and Samsung released the Nexus S, the first smartphone equipped with near-field communication. Near-field communication is an emerging technology that enables the transfer of data between devices at a range of 4 inches or less. This will eventually replace boarding passes, credit cards, and ATM cards among other things and will allow the easy transfer of money over the phone. 2011 is the year when the technology will first be useful, if not exactly mainstream yet. The places where it will take off the most quickly are developing countrieswhere credit card companies have never posed a lot of competition. Those of us in the US and Europe will probably have to wait a couple more years.

Is that a television or a computer? 2011 will be the year when the television and computer converge, just as the cell phone and computer have done in the last three years. An assortment of devices that hit the market in the last half of 2010 will serve up video content from the internet onto the television. The immediate effects will be relatively unimportant – people will be able to enjoy their favorite videos from YouTube, Netflix, Vevo, and Hulu on a much larger screen. In the longer term, this will change the way people view television and make them question if paying for channels they never use is really a good investment, especially if the same content is available online.

Human development will be widespread. Last year, all but seven countries in the world improved their score on the UN's Human Development Index (5 of those were stagnant while 2 actually lost ground). Emerging markets developed much more rapidly than wealthy nations. The long-term global trend has always been toward higher standards of living, and barring another severe economic downturn, we can expect the same from 2011. The vast majority of countries will share in economic gains, and developing countries will continue to outpace the US, Europe, and Japan.

At least one company offers genome sequencing for $1,000 or less. This one may be a bit of a reach, but I’m going to predict that 2011 will be the year that the holy grail of genomics – the $1,000 genome – is finally reached. For the last several years, the cost of genome sequencing has been following a Moore’s Law like trajectory, dropping nearly tenfold per year. A year ago, the cost of a simple genome sequencing was $6,000 and $10,000 from the two leading companies, Life Technologies and Illumina, respectively. It is therefore possible that by the end of 2011 a company will be able to do it for $1,000 which will throw open the doors to many more customers. Shortly after this milestone is reached, health insurance companies may begin covering the service, and the era of personalized medicine will dawn.

Shake-ups in the Axis of Evil. In his 2002 State of the Union address, President George Bush famously labeled Iraq, Iran, and North Korea the “Axis of Evil” and called for regime change in the three nations. During his presidency, Bush only deposed one of those regimes, but in 2011 he may get his wish in at least one more. Kim Jong-il, the supreme leader of North Korea, is believed to have suffered a stroke and has appeared very frail in his recent public appearances. He has been hastily creating a succession plan to transfer power to his 26-year-old son, Kim Jong-un, but the younger Kim has very little influence with key military officers who are necessary to sustain the regime. Wikileaks recently reported that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran has terminal leukemia. Khamenei is the glue holding the regime together; for example, he recently intervened personally to dissuade the Iranian Parliament from impeaching President Ahmadinejad. It is unclear if the Iranian regime can survive in any form without Khamenei. If either Kim or Khamenei dies, there will be a power struggle as various factions within the governments jockey for position in the power vacuum left in the deceased leader’s wake. Iran stands a real chance of serious democratic reform. North Korea does not (barring a total collapse and reunification with South Korea), but a shakeup could at least generate some Chinese-style economic reforms and perhaps an end to the bellicosity on the Korean Peninsula.

By 2011 – Near-field communication comes equipped in many new smartphones. Mobile payments become even more popular in the developing world, and makes inroads in Europe and the United States.
By 2011 – Internet-equipped televisions or add-ons will become popular.
By 2011 – At least 75% of countries improve their score on the Human Development Index compared to 2010, with the biggest improvements in developing countries.
By 2011 – At least one company offers genome sequencing for $1,000 or less.
By 2011 – There will be a major shakeup (or a total implosion) in the top leadership of North Korea and/or Iran.
By 2011 – Tablet computers continue to sell well. The market will become competitive with several new tablets seriously challenging Apple’s iPad.
By 2011 – Gaming (led by Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect) will begin to become gesture-based, rather than controller-based.
By 2011 – Voice Over IP services, such as Skype, become popular on smartphones, thus portending the eventual demise of traditional voice-telephone services.

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