Needless to say, 2016 was a monumental year. It was difficult to turn on the TV, read the newspaper, or browse the internet without being bombarded by news about the presidential election. But the real impact of 2016 had nothing to do with either Donald or Hillary. It was the year the future arrived.
In January, Blue Origin launched and successfully re-landed all of the components of a rocket ship. Soon, inexpensive rockets will populate the atmosphere with even more satellites which, in turn, will deliver everything from hyper-accurate weather reports to better internet service.
In February, Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) computer defeated the world’s best player at Go — an ancient Chinese board game exponentially more complex than chess. AI is now quickly moving into the mainstream, where it will, among other things, be used to rapidly, accurately and affordably diagnose disease.
In March, Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors, unveiled the Model 3 sedan. Within days, a half million people had placed advance orders for the sleek, moderately priced, all-electric automobile. In a few years, millions of electric vehicles and charging stations will populate our roads and roadsides.
In April, the first “3-parent child” was born. Because the innovative procedure successfully eliminated a life-threatening disease, expect a growing number of individuals to explore how the technology can be used to prevent their diseases.
In May, a company unveiled a $30,000 computer that effectively turns existing trucks into self-driving vehicles. Soon, the most common job in America — truck driving — could go the way of yesteryear’s elevator and telephone operators.
In June, Facebook conducted a successful flight of a solar-powered drone. Soon, the social media giant will be able to use the technology to bring high-speed internet access to the most remote parts of the world. As this happens, an additional 4.5 billion people could potentially join the modern economy.
In July, Pokemon Go exploded on the scene. The game represented the first widespread use of augmented reality. In the coming years, the layering of digital information on top of the physical world could conceivably transform everything from education to shopping.
In August, it was announced that the Port of Los Angeles would be fully self-powered using its own microgrid. This advance brings distributed renewable energy one step closer to reality. As other businesses join the trend, the utility industry must change or perish.
In September, Uber unveiled its first self-driven robotic taxi in Pittsburgh. More cities will follow and, as they do, urban designers will begin to reimagine how cities are designed as people shift from owning automobiles to instead accessing them on an as-needed basis.
In October, the world’s first tidal energy farm went live off the coast of Scotland. In the coming years, harnessing the ocean’s tides will become a dominant source of renewable energy for the billions of people living close to the oceans’ coasts.
In November, Tyson, one of the world’s largest poultry companies, acquired a small stake in an artificial meat company. As advances in the field of “cultured meat” expand, agribusiness and farming may be disrupted as new “protein-based” foods grow in popularity due to their taste, affordable price and sustainable nature.
And, lastly, in December Amazon unveiled “Amazon Go” — a new store that allows people to grab an item off the shelf, pay for it with their smartphone, and walk out without ever having to stop and visit a cashier. The concept is expected to go live in Seattle in early 2017.
What does this all mean? Well, at a minimum, you can expect 2017 to be the year the future takes root. Shortly after that, the future will begin bearing some serious fruit. Don’t believe it? Just pay attention.
Jack Uldrich is a professional futurist and former director of the Minnesota Office of Strategic Planning. His latest book is “Foresight 2020: A Futurist Explores the Trends Transforming Tomorrow.”