From artificial intelligence to sensors everywhere, members of the Metro North Chamber of Commerce got a look at technological trends that will upend our economy and shape our lives in the future.
Futurist Thomas Frey of the Westminster-based DaVinci Institute outlined cutting edge technologies and how they will interact. It was part of the chamber’s annual economic forecast Feb. 16 at the Denver Marriott Westminster.
The future creates the present, Frey said.
“Most people think that what we are doing today is going to somehow create the future,” Frey said. “But from a little different perspective, it’s easy to see that the images we hold in our head determine our actions today.”
His goal, he said, was to change the way people see the future.
“Here’s the key: If we change someone’s vision of the future we change the way they make decisions today,” he said.
It’s important to consider, Frey said, because those changes can turn out well or badly.
“We are entering a period of unprecedented opportunity,” he said. “Humanity is going to change more in the next 20 years than in all of history but at the same time risk factors will increase exponentially and lots of things can go wrong. Our children’s children, who have not even been born yet, are counting on the people in this room to make great decisions.”
State of the state
University of Colorado Leeds School of Business professor Richard Wobbekind began the session with a look at national and state economic trends so far. Overall the national economy looks to grow, he said.
“This is good news, and of course it all filters down to what is going to happen in Colorado,” Wobbekind said. “We have a national backdrop going on that’s quite positive.”
Wealth is rising nationally overall, but it appears to be largely from prior investments, Wobbekind said, and not new savings. People are confident that they do not need to save as much as they did before the 2008 recession — a trend he disagrees with.
“We got hit with a baseball bat, but I guess it wasn’t hard enough,” Wobbekind said.
He painted a generally positive picture of the state economy with wages growing slowly, job growth slowing slightly and consumer confidence high.
On the other hand, housing costs are expected to continue outstripping wage growth.
Tech erases jobs, creates jobs
Frey centered his presentation on jobs in the future built around nine burgeoning technologies: ubiquitous sensors in clothing, walls and everything else; Internet connectivity in furniture, clothing and appliances; crypto currencies like Bitcoin; drones; driverless cars; 3D printing; virtual and augmented realities; and artificial intelligence.
Independently, they will create new industries, inspire new companies, eliminate old jobs and create new ones.
Driverless cars, for example, will replace taxi and Uber drivers as well as long distance trucking and deliveries. But it would also reduce the need for car ownership, gutting the car sales industry. It would reduce traffic accidents, cutting the need for police and municipal revenues from traffic fines.
The nation’s construction industry would see jobs replaced with 3D printing on large scale that will allow buildings to be created from the ground up with plumbing, electrical wires and other fixtures built right in.
“Every wall can become an artistic centerpiece,” he said. “Architects are going to go crazy with this because they can create these free-form structures unlike anything they can do today. Our very definition of what a house is will start to change with these newfound capabilities.”
On smaller scale, 3D printing will revolutionize medicine, letting doctors prescribe dosages exact down the miligram.
Virtual reality and artificial intelligence will help solve the global teacher shortage, bringing education to rural and poor areas.
Those changes can’t help but change the economy, he said. He pointed to a simple smart phone bubble level app that uses the phone’s technology to determine if a picture or a shelf is even, like a construction bubble level.
“Once we download the level app on our smart phone, we don’t have to buy that tool,” he said. “That means we don’t have to make as many aluminum frames, we don’t have to make as many glass bulbs. We don’t have to have as many people doing the assembly work and the shipping and receiving or the retail store where we would buy it. Every time we download a mobile app, we eliminate a little piece of a job.”