MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito started making predictions at the beginning of 2012, admitting he wanted to see entrepreneurs experimenting more with open hardware. When asked by Think with Google what he predicts the trends will be in 2013, “Hardware as Software” ranked supreme, taking the top spot on his must-watch list.
Ito explained by saying:
What’s new this year is that supply chain provider companies are making the cost of manufacturing and risk really, really small. So hardware startups are looking like the software startups of the previous digital age.
He name-dropped a few MIT Media Lab spin-outs, including Twine, a wireless device equipped with sensors and an accompanying web app that allows users to hook up their inanimate objects to the Internet, so they can communicate with them. Just imagine receiving a text from your washing machine when your laundry is done. Magic, we know—and that’s only the beginning of where Ito sees hardware going.
He breaks his other three predictions down into categories: gene printing, lifelong learning and “survival of the quickest.” Below are excerpts from Think on each.
On Gene Printing
Another trend to watch is in biotech, where Ito is expecting major advances in our ability to print genes. “In biology, we have sequenced a lot of genes but when we try to actually print them we tend to get errors,” he explains. At some gene-printing factories in China, for instance, the error rate is one in every 100 base pairs. But now, Media Lab boffins like Joe Jacobson are bio-fabricating genes using something called a ‘CMOS’ chip, which basically allows him to print genes using machines instead of people, bringing the error rate down to one in every 10,000 base pairs. “This means that gene fabrication capacity is going to go up tremendously, which will unleash the ability to design and innovate biological devices.”
On Lifelong Learning
“It has always been my opinion that ‘education’ is something people do to you, whereas ‘learning’ is something you do for yourself,” he says. “Consequently, the only thing I learned in school was typing. In the old days, people like me who don’t have college degrees had a hard time thriving in society. But today, the ability to learn on your own or from your peers has become really easy. I think this change is leading to a fundamental disruption in education. Independent and lifelong learning are really starting to peak – there is an inflection point coming around how people learn.”
On Survival of the Quickest
“I don’t believe in futurists that much anymore – they are usually wrong,” he says, responding to a label that is often applied to him. “I’m calling myself a ‘nowist,’ and I’m trying to figure out how to build up the ability to react to anything. In other words, I want to create a certain agility. The biggest liability for companies now is having too many assets; you need to learn how to be fluid and agile.
‘It’s kind of a spiritual thing,” he continues. “You want to have your peripherals wide open and adapt as quickly as you can. I think that will be an important survival trait of people and companies in the future.”
After all the excitement that accompanied edX earlier this year, “lifelong learning” is hard to dispute. Harvard and MIT announced an open-source technology platform that only reinforced the endless, life-changing opportunities opening up for learners around the world. Fellow education platforms, such as Khan Academy, Coursera and Treehouse, will now continue evolving to keep up, and an abundance of tools are certainly in the making.
As Ito points out, however, the ones who adapt more quickly will be the ones who survive. Here’s to hoping you added “becoming more agile” to your lengthy list of New Year’s resolutions.