By Kat Riddler, Editor-In-Chief


Somedays it seems like the future is hurtling toward us faster than our ability to adapt. Peering into that future can be frightening, but it may also be the best way to cope with what is to come.

The future was on full display this past week at the Midwest Digital Marketing Conference (MDMC) produced by the University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Business and presented by Charter Spectrum at Union Station on April 12 and 13. It brought together over 1,300 social and digital marketing wizards from a host of industries and startups to learn and connect with the latest trends, innovations, and ideas.

Among the many notable presenters and keynote speakers was James Whittaker, Ph.D., the self-described “technical evangelist” at Microsoft. His presentation was entitled simply, “A Brief Introduction to the Future” and the vision he shared was of a world to come that is profoundly different than the one we know now.

Whittaker laid out for the packed audience three great disruptions of the past 30 years. It began with the mainframe computers that revolutionized mankind’s ability to stretch the reach of our own minds. He said that mainframes “ruled the world,” that is, “until they didn’t.”

Like Prometheus stealing fire from the Greek gods and giving it to man, PCs took the power of those mainframes, which had been tethered in large corporate facilities, and gave it to the homes and offices of everyone. That was the second disruption.

The third was the creation of the world wide web, connecting people around the globe. Suddenly one did not have to go to a brick-and-mortar store to buy software, movies, or music. eBay, Facebook, YouTube, Amazon, and even dating sites emerged. Another presenter noted that the first clickable advertisement appeared on computers on October 27, 1994, from AT&T.

Whittaker said we were currently in a fourth disruption: the advent of smart phones and mobile devices. Just as it is hard to imagine what it was like for our parents to have grown up in a time before cell phones, so it will be difficult to remember a time before smart phones and tablets. Suddenly maps went the way of the dinosaurs with the advent of electronic driving directions and users had new distractions like Pokémon Go. There are apps for almost any chore, such as ordering your own pizza.

The Cloud replaced the Web. It is not as noticeable since the cloud kept up the www addresses, but there is no web of connecting one server to another as in the beginning. Massive data collection is now possible. Some estimates claim that 90% of all the electronic data and content ever created has been done in the last two years (source: Science Daily).

Whitaker observed that the world we know is being reduced to data, data that machines will be able to use to radically change our world. The image of everyone looking down at his or her smart phone and scrolling will become passé. In the future, according to Whittaker, one will not need to do all that work of scrolling; the machines will simply sort out what you want or perhaps need to know. There will no longer be screens because the images will simply be beamed into your visual cortex. Virtual reality may become the new reality for gaming and entertainment.

He also cited the self-driving cars and speculated that, as the machines would be able to drive our cars much more safely than humans, one day the operating of a vehicle by a human might be outlawed as too dangerous to others. Machines will start to anticipate our needs and the interactive voice assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home will simply know what to do. It will be the age of autonomous machines. We already have refrigerators that scan their own contents and can order what you need.

Autonomous machines will, according to Whittaker, replace most blue collar and services jobs. He warned, however, that many traditional white collar jobs would not be spared. He cited that investment consultants are just there to make you feel good and that computers are doing all investments in the stock market and commodities. He said that some apps would soon be doing a better job of finding loopholes in the law and handling parking and speeding tickets than traditional lawyers.

Each of the previous disruptions Whittaker spoke of took about ten years to catch hold and replace our previous view of the world—which means the future is upon us.