What's the next biggest thing in technology? Depends on who you ask.
A number of industry thinkers and innovators did some crystal ball-gazing Monday at Bloomberg's Next Big Thing conference held in Half Moon Bay, California.
Here's a round-up of some of their more interesting predictions.
1. Bitcoin. Tim Draper, managing director of VC firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, initially tried to wriggle out of pinpointing one specific big thing but when pressed he said without hesitation, "Bitcoin," the digital currency platform. "I like when our government is challenged by the private sector."
2. Devices that understand who we are as people. This was one a number of speakers mentioned. The more jargon-laced term for the idea is "contextually aware systems" and it refers to devices that detect where you are and what you want next, before you need to ask. So, for example, think of your car doing more than simply getting you from point a to point b. Imagine a car that not only gives you directions but takes you through the process of parking your car by identifying the location of parking spots and then delivering you to your ultimate address by anticipating what you'll encounter along the few blocks you'll walk.
Draper, too, liked this idea--although his ideal device, he suggested, might be a wristband that detect your low blood sugar and then signals a nearby drone to drop off a pizza. "You get a pizza before you even know you want one!"
But these "devices" in the end may not be devices at all. "You shouldn't need a device to tell you if your glucose is too high," said Intel CTO Justin Rattner. "Your clothes should tell you."
3. You'll know about important news before you need to look for it. Already feel like you get too many alerts on your phone? Prepare for a few more. Michael Sippey, VP of product at Twitter, mentioned the company is testing a new service that will direct message you if suddenly a bunch of people you follow all decide to follow the same person. This sort of activity could indicate a news event that you might want to know about. So Twitter wouldn't wait for you to find about it in your newsfeed; it might just buzz your phone so that you're the first to know.
4. The sharing economy is the auto industry's next design challenge. Kevin Hunter, president of Calty Design Research at Toyota, addressed the elephant in the room-- at least in the car industry. Car-sharing start-ups like Lyft, Uber, and Zipcar have introduced a new challenge for automakers.
Never mind that these services may very well take more cars off the road; they may also change how they're designed. Up until now, cars have been personal machines designed specifically for the owner of the vehicle and, say, her family. But how do you design a car for an ever-changing group of drivers, rather than one person? What they look like, arguably, matters less, while their functionality matters a lot more. Toyota doesn't necessarily have the answer--at least not one Hunter was willing to share--but it will have to think about it soon.
5. Data privacy is key--but it doesn't have to scare people. It's not terribly surprising to go to a tech conference and find yourself swimming in a strong current of optimism. Technology folks tend to equate the future with progress and see entrepreneurs as the bearers of this progress. Even so, a handful of speakers, including SRI Ventures VP Norman Winarsky, raised the possibility of one area in particular that won't necessarily improve with time: consumers' problems with their own data and privacy may get worse.
But, not surprisingly, the optimists in the room see the situation differently. Rattner of Intel sees a "data economy" in the future. In other words, data privacy will still be very important, but "people will control their own personal data." They'll take ownership over it and even sell it to marketing companies to make a profit on the side.
What do you think? What are your predictions?