David Rowan: Welcome to 2012

The Editor of Wired Offers a Glimpse Into Our Hyper-Networked Tomorrow

From social design to person-to-person networking, UK Wired’s David Rowan reveals the big ideas and tech-trends that will define our lives in 2012. With the discovery of the Earth-like planet Kepler-22b, faster-than-light neutrinos, and claims of cold fusion being achieved, a science fiction-esque world of tomorrow has never felt so close. "Wired is about the people and ideas that will be defining what life will be like for the rest of us in six months time," explains Rowan of the magazine, whose recent cover stars have include tech icons Mark Zuckerberg, James Dyson and the late, lauded Steve Jobs. “The best way to predict the future is to hang out with some of the outliers already living it. We don’t make ‘predictions,’ but instead tell stories about the people and products that are exciting us before they’ve gone mainstream.” The impending mobile internet explosion in Africa, vastly ambitious revolutions in healthcare, and privatized space travel excite Rowan equally, although "getting the tube to run on time" would be his top discovery for 2012, he jokes. Currently working on a sequel to Wired's inaugural conference in October 2011 and some exciting guest editorships, here Rowan unveils how social technology will re-define our lives in 2012.

Social design
The big push at Facebook right now is to find ways to let businesses build transactions via the social graph [the global mapping of everybody and how they're related], from discovering your friends' music through Spotify to planning travel through connected sites like Trippy. If you're hiring for a job, buying ski gear, or choosing a university, why be swayed by general websites when you will have far greater trust for recommendations through friends, or friends of friends?

Naturalized interfaces
Forget having to get to grips with technology: there's a big trend towards tech that responds to your normal bodily movements and your voice. It's called the “natural user interface,” and Microsoft's Kinect is a great example: a 3D depth-sensing camera that puts you in a computer game without your needing a joystick. Already there are companies like Tobii in Stockholm that are designing laptops with embedded eye-tracking cameras that let you navigate through folders using your eyes; and face-recognition services like Face.com that let you find your friends just by their facial patterns—which you may think is a bit spooky.

3D printing
What's happened to digital “bits” is now happening to physical atoms: manufacturing processes are being democratized. This is thanks to the rise of the 3D printer, which can print out your designs layer by layer using steel, titanium, plastics, even chocolate. It will challenge existing notions of copyright: if you can print out someone else's product design, and maybe alter it to your tastes, will that designer lose all control?

Person to person everything

The internet is empowering a whole range of new businesses that tap into peer-to-peer sharing of resources, for the greater good. For instance, there are foreign-currency services like Transferwise that connect people with dollars to sell with people who want euros for their dollars. Rather than pay bank commissions, you pay a token fee and both buyer and seller get a good deal. There's also a growing trend for websites that let people rent out their car for hours or days at a time, helping you make money on a resource that's just lying there. Yet again the internet challenges existing vested interests like the car-rental firms.

Network tracking
We're heading for an era where there are sensors everywhere––on your skin, in the streets, in your electronic devices, all talking to the network in real time. The good news is the sensors will track your body's output, alerting you to potential health risks or reminding you to get more sleep. The scarier news is that the network will know ever more about you, where you are, what you're feeling and where you've been.

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