Future of retail may include cell phones among blood cells

April 24, 2010

A shopping trip in the not-so-distant future promises to be a virtual reality version of a fully stocked store projected in 3D from eyeglasses to your retina.

“The cell phone is the gateway to everything. In 10 years it will be embedded in your belt,” said futurist Ray Kurzweil.

That was one of many predictions served up to chief marketing officers from 40 major retailers at a conference this week.

Kurzweil’s predictions go far beyond marketing:

• Artificial intelligence will be indistinguishable from human intelligence by 2029. Tiny robot computers could be injected into the bloodstream and downloaded to reprogram body functions as they wear out or need updating. Humans will realize they need implanted artificial intelligence just to keep up with the pace of change.

• The software of life — the human genome — has been mapped, so it now can be linked to the exponential pace of technological change. Kurzweil, 62, says that will help speed the rate of change in medicine by a factor of 1 million over 20 years.

• He foresees immortality as a possibility and changed to a low-carb diet to combat his Type II diabetes. He consumes 250 supplements daily and washes them down with 10 glasses of alkaline water and 10 cups of green tea.

• Manufacturing physical products at the molecular level will be a reality by 2020.

• Solar power will soon be cheap enough to replace the need for fossil fuels in 15 years, if the world has the will to make the change.

• Eventually education will be downloadable to the brain, and teacher roles will shift to mentoring and guiding students.

• Thanks to speech recognition, the Internet and translation software, anyone in the world will be able to talk to anyone else in the world anytime as soon as next year. He demonstrated it in German at the conference.

Kurzweil’s reputation gained credibility after several of his 1980s forecasts panned out in the following decade. Many of Kurzweil’s other predictions portend a far different marketplace for retailers to sell their products.

For instance, by 2025 he says medical advances and the first wave of baby boomers hitting their upper 70s will add one year every year to the average life expectancy.