Scott Jones: A Futurist’s Vision of Technology

In his own words, the inventor of voicemail and the Carmel-based mobile search engine ChaCha describes the technological horizon.

The Internet is still in its infancy. We haven’t even reached Web 3.0 yet, so just imagine what Web 10.0 will look like. Crowdsourcing will be a huge part of what comes next. I flew back from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas recently, and I’m beginning to think there will be no more secrets. There are even shirts that say “What happens in Vegas, stays on Facebook and Twitter forever.” I just ordered a new video camera that you wear on your ear like a Bluetooth headset. It’s uploading video constantly. I think a lot of people will wear jewelry that records every minute of their lives and uploads it to the cloud.

There are actually practical applications for this. Maybe I’m having an argument with my wife over something she claims I said. I’ll be able to go to the video and say “No, I said this, and it happened in the kitchen at this moment.” And you can imagine a street corner where a robbery takes place. You will be able to dial in everyone’s video who was at that corner at 2:12 p.m. Now, not everyone will want to make their video public. So maybe there’s a market for that. If I had my wallet stolen, maybe I’m willing to bid $50 to anyone who makes their video available.

Crowdsourcing is pervasive. The way they’re doing traffic-monitoring right now is not particularly sophisticated. But every car could be monitored, feeding that information back to all the GPS systems in all the cars. And it could automatically reroute you to the fastest way to get downtown at that moment. So in real time it could be updating, via this crowdsource data. And it’s not exposing where you are; it’s just using you as a little piece of digital information.

The privacy implications of all this scare me a little, but there are other things like nanotechnology that scare me much more. You can think of all the molecules in the body as being machines. And the whole idea behind nanotech is that we will be able to build little robots that act like proteins and self-replicate. We’re not so far away from that. And weapon systems could be developed with this technology that would invade all carbon-based life systems and shut them down. Anything that’s self-replicating, if you don’t have a way to shut it off, is scary.

As for personal technology, we already have the capability of a 1960 mainframe computer in our phones today, but today’s supercomputers are likely to be what’s in your pocket just 10 years from now. And it’s absolutely possible that any of these huge technology companies—Facebook, Google—could be gone by 2050 if they make just a few strategic missteps. It’s hard to predict where the next disruptive thing will come from. In the future, I think you’ll see as much intrapreneurship as entrepreneurship. Small startups aren’t going away. But bigger companies have figured out how to reinvent themselves and eat their young. Think about Amazon and the Kindle. That’s a big company selling something that’s highly disruptive to its own business model. We’re going to see more of that.

In addition to ChaCha, I’m involved with a startup here on stem-cell technology with Keith March, a professor at IU. I would be shocked if we weren’t growing human organs in the next 20 years. If you need a new liver, you’ll be able to get one from yourself—a stem cell from fat can create every organ in your body. Growing food is another initiative of that technology. Instead of livestock taking up land and being treated poorly, we’ll be able to grow meat in a lab. We’re already doing that, and it isn’t going to take 50 years to dial it up. In 10 years, it will be on your plate.

At my own dinner table, my family dives into my business problems. My kids obviously come from a different demographic than I do—texting all the time, even to each other under the dinner table. So we have certain times when we say “Phones away.” Even in the Jones house, there’s a time to put technology in its place.

Photo by Tony Valainis

This article appeared in the March 2012 issue.