[Editor’s Note: This post comes to us from Hutch Carpenter, the Director of Marketing for Spigit, which provides enterprise idea management software. He also writes about social software and innovation on his personal blog, and can be found on Twitter and FriendFeed.]
So says Stanford professor and technology futurist Paul Saffo.
Saffo spoke at the World Innovation Forum in New York. He backs his assertion up convincingly. Before describing his rationale, let’s quickly look at who Paul Saffo is, and why you should listen to him.
Leading Thinker about What’s Next
Saffo holds degrees from Harvard College, Cambridge University and Stanford University. He’s the founding chairman of the Samsung Science Board, a Fellow at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and a Visiting Scholar at the Stanford Media X research network.
Mostly, he’s a nerd. His words, not mine. He lives and breathes the process of looking for early trends. At his talk, someone asked him how he finds trends. His says there are a couple things:
– Inversion. When you see something opposite of what it should be, it’s a sign something is going on.
– Change clustering at the extremes. For example, in November 2007, both Google stock and gold prices were both trending higher. That was a sign that something was amiss.
Saffo has been doing this for quite some time. Here’s what Rex Hammock said about Saffo’s forecasting talents:
He’s perhaps the only person I’ve ever heard called a “futurist” where, over the course of 15 years, I’ve personally observed their predictions come true.
With that, let’s understand his robots prediction
Saffo puts a lot of his focus on the macro technology trends that define our economy. He tends to think in terms of 30 year cycles. Ten years before diffusion occurs. Ten years for diffusion to spike significantly. And ten years for maturity. His quote above is a humorous way of identifying the next trend.
Within electronics, broadly speaking, he sees the following cycle:
Microprocessors began exerting economic influence starting in the 1980s, with the rise of PCs. Lasers exerted influence in the 1990s, increasing data accessibility through laser-enabled fiber-optic bandwidth. Sensors are now taking their place in terms of driving the next technology wave. Tim O’Reilly said something similar at his recent Web 2.0 Expo talk.
Sensors are the key drivers for making robots low cost and technologically feasible. Similar to how low-cost, powerful microprocessors made computing a reality for everybody, sensors are similarly becoming low-cost and more advanced.
For Saffo, that means the development of more robot technology. Robots will take on activities that we as people have always assumed as part of our lives. He noted the early adopter enthusiasm for the Roomba, a self-controlled cleaning robot. Apparently, many Roomba owners name their little vacuums, and some even take them on vacations.
Saffo also noted the increasing success of driverless cars. One of his colleagues at Stanford predicts that by 2030, half of all miles driven will be by robots.
From this perspective, you can see the early formation of a new trend. Based on what Saffo says, we should expect robots to emerge as a key technology driver for products affecting our lives, and a source of new investment opportunities.
Let’s just hope they’re easier to control than they were for Will Smith.