I'm not really big into making predictions but there are several technology forces all coming together that will lead to significant changes in our society in the next few years.
1. Robotics - Take Apple's Siri and Honda's Asimo and you could have a really useful robot assistant around the house or office. You will talk to it in very natural language and it will respond in very natural movements. In five years (say about 2017) it will not be unheard of to know someone with a robot assistant in their house. The time is right for an energetic individual to introduce robots to the common citizen. It is like 1978 for the microcomputer market. Most people can't imagine what it is all about and it sounds ridiculous. However, all the individual components and technologies are available, they just need to be brought together in a satisfying way and showed to solve some real problems.
2. Virtual Reality Work Force - Take the budget crises and the need for businesses to save even more money and it makes sense for them to reduce their office space and have even more workers work from home. We are now just in the beginning of virtual working, the interfaces are crude, the keyboard, the mouse, the 2D display are all tools from the previous generation that are being used for the next 3D generation. The new tools are on the way. We will have 3D virtual technology that we cannot or at least barely distinguish from the real thing. Technology has caught up with our senses and will be able to trick them anytime we want. I say in five years (2017) it will be more common to work from home or other remote location not owned by the business than going to work in a company owned office environment. What will this do to the auto industry? Could your family live with just one car?
3. Virtual Reality Classrooms - All the same forces are working here. Budgets are being cut, schools have difficultly keeping the kids safe, the best teachers are not always available in the cities where they need to be. The forces are quickly moving to virtual classrooms. Students will log in from home or a remote class location and join their friends and teachers in a virtual classroom. Teaching tools will be unbelievable by todays standards. There are lots of security, safety and social issues that will become apparent, but they won't matter, the lack of dollars will drive public and private schools into the virtual worlds by 2017. This also applies to colleges and universities too. In the not to distant past it was a poor choice to have a degree from an on-line college, today it is very acceptable, in the near future it will be the norm. The best universities in the world are already moving in this direction.
4. Personal Manufacturing - The technology is moving very fast here. Today you can buy a 3D printer that can create objects to display or use around your home and office. These objects can be very complex in shape and be printed in any color you can imagine. The home furnishings industry is about to be overwhelmed. An artist or designer can design the item in a 3D environment on their computer. That file can then be sent via email, website or any other way electronic documents can be transferred. The person on the end will just open the file and select print, just like an email today. The end result is a printed object that can be used anywhere. But this is just the beginning, all manufacturing will be done like this soon. The concept of large production runs to reduce costs will be a thing of the past. By 2017, just five years from now it will be common for anything you want to be created locally at a local print shop. Look for them to start showing up in your retail areas soon. Even better, you will be able to design your own items on-line, get the size, the look, the color, the feel of exactly what you want and send it to the printer.
5. There will be a huge spike in demand for artists and creative people. The first phase of technology is created by the engineers. These are people that can solve the problems, but they have very little creative style, taste or design. The rise of the creative types is quickly approaching. Apple has already proven that old engineering based designs are not what the consumers are looking for. These online virtual worlds will need to be human friendly, we will need nice environments to live in, to work in, to play in. We will all spend time with our coworkers, friends and families on-line, we will want to hang out in the prettiest most beautiful places on earth, or any other world for that matter. The 3D objects will need to be designed, the old school companies will not want to share their designs, just like the movie studios are trying to keep their old business model alive by getting new laws passed. The opportunities for open on-line markets for beautiful digital items will be huge and very profitable with the right business model.
Sounds crazy doesn't it? Who can imagine today what it will be like, but the forces are all in action right now. There is very little stopping it. Be prepared, the tools you are using today will be changing. The days of sitting at an office desk are on the way out. The social impact alone will be a huge blow to anyone over 10 years old. Your children's education and work environments will not be like yours. That I guarantee.