Meetings (and Society) Forty Years from Now.
By Corbin Ball
Tuesday, 7th August 2007
What will meetings, events and tradeshows be like in forty years?

The rate of technology change is accelerating – half of all the scientists that have ever lived are alive today and they are far better connected than ever.

There is a renaissance of discovery in science, technology, and medicine and the web is transforming nearly every business process from farming to pharmacology.

In short, a web year is like a dog year.

On the other hand, we will see very substantial problems with fossil fuel availability, especially oil. Forty years will see a huge amount of change and much of it will be difficult to foresee.

Looking into the crystal ball, here is what I see in forty years:

Societal Trends: 
  • Society will change more in the next ten to fifteen years than it has in the past forty.  We are in the midst of an information (digital) revolution that will be as profound as the industrial revolution or the agrarian revolution before that. This will affect how we conduct business, learn, buy, entertain, inform, and most every other aspect of our live. If this revolution were a ten-step process, we are now on Step 2 (or at best Step 3). The next ten to fifteen years will get us to Step 9 or 10.
  • This explosion in technology, however, will be offset substantially by significant declines in fossil fuels. We are nearing or at the peak of global oil production -- the point at which half of all fossil fuels available have been used and we are using it faster than ever. The first half was the easy half. The next half will be much harder and more expensive to access.
  • By 2046, all information will be digitized. Every book, manuscript, song, television program, film, piece of art, map, aerial photo of every spot on earth, open science research project, unique content of all libraries, etc., etc., will be easily accessible (some for a automatic fee based on demand).  We are well on this path right now and this will be a reality in large part long before 2046.
  • The Star Trek phone will be a reality – you will be immediately accessible to those who mutually wish to connect with a tap of a finger. This phone, however, will be substantially more capable than today's super computers. Just a few features will be that it will be able to project realistic holograms and act as an intelligent agent with the ability to manage your daily activities based on your preferences.
  • Real-time voice recognition and translation capabilities (using your Star Trek phone) will allow you to carry on a conversation with anyone speaking any language anywhere in the world.
  • The Star Trek holodeck will be a reality. The Society of Information Display (SID) estimates at the current rate of progress, that display technology will be able to replicate the acuity of the human eye by 2022. You will be able to create a virtual reality display that is indistinguishable from reality.
  • Data storage will become incredibly large and cheap. Data the size of today's largest libraries will be contained in the space of a sugar cube using quantum storage technologies.
  • Computers and ultra-high speed internet access will have long ago blended into the background and will be thought as simply another utility such as water or electricity.  Intelligent agent software programs will manage secretarial functions for you based on your preferences.
  • Artificial intelligence will advance to the state where it will be very difficult to tell the difference between a human and a "virtual human" in many situations.
Meeting Industry Trends:

  • Meetings will continue to be a viable medium. We are social animals and we like to get together in groups. We have biological imperatives such as sex, child rearing, hunger and thirst (as well as other "needs" such as curiosity, laughter, and companionship) that will always bring people together. We will always have dinner parties, entertain in groups, exchange ideas, brainstorm, and nurture friends, lovers and business relationships. Meetings of some sort will always be with us.
  • However, oil and all forms of energy will be much more expensive that it is today – reducing our ability to travel easily. We won't be able to fly planes on solar or nuclear energy. In many ways, the world will become a larger place again. This will make meetings much more locally oriented.
  • Additionally, virtual meetings, with the ability to eliminate travel costs will play a huge role in bringing us together. Although the Star Trek teleporter is unlikely in the foreseeable future (we won't physically beamed anywhere), a remote sensing unit that projects a high-resolution holographic image of you and sends back a "holodeck-like" image of what it senses is entirely possible by 2046. If you want to attend an event, simply rent a projection/sensing unit (an avatar) to go to the event, strap on your 3-D goggles/earphones, and control your avatar to interact with others as if your were there.
  • Associations (and the meetings and tradeshows they hold) will likely change drastically with increasing emphasis on social and relationship building.  Association meetings will tend to be locally and regionally oriented. Other components such as providing group specific content will largely be online.
  • Tradeshows will also likely change drastically. Those shows that deal with commodities will probably have long ago been disintermediated – the commodities will be promoted and purchased automatically "online." However, humans will still need service industries. To the extent that the efficiencies of consolidating service vendors in one spot to relationship-build with potential buyers work, then tradeshows will still be viable.
  • Education (both in schools and as adults attending meetings) will be supplemented substantially with virtual tutors. These tutors will be able to interact with you like a human (but far more patiently and tirelessly adjusting to your capabilities, interest levels, motivators, needs, etc.).
  • Information will be an inexpensive commodity – widely available at very low cost. Wisdom, Innovation and creativity (using the information in novel and productive ways) will be the key crucial currencies and value to the business proposition.
  • Leaders and speakers who can stimulate this innovation and creativity (and do so in an entertaining manner) will be in demand.
We are living simultaneously in the most exciting time (due to the changes in technology) and likely the most precarious time (due to disruption if fuel resources) in human existence. The one certainty is that things will change dramatically in the next forty years.

Hopefully, technology will be used to help bring people together globally… to improve the human situation… to bring out the better side rather than the dark side of human nature.

©2007 Corbin Ball Associates

Corbin Ball, CMP, CSP is a professional speaker and consultant focusing on meetings technology. With 20 years of experience running international citywide technology meetings, he now helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity He can be contacted at his extensive web site: www.corbinball.com
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