Predicting the Future: Cool Tech and College Debt

“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented yet, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”  – US Secretary of Education

For my generation, when the cost of college compared to yearly income is twice that of our parents and choosing to get a degree is even more of a gamble than ever, the idea that the knowledge we are learning may not be at all relevant with the knowledge we’ll need is absolutely frightening. It’s part of why I chose a very broad engineering field (Mechanical Engineering), because I felt and still feel that too specialized of a degree is a long-term death sentence.

But this post isn’t to rant about the rising cost of college and the ever-shrinking job market. That’s been covered plenty. This post is to see, when can I do about it? How do I target areas that will be useful in the future, even if they aren’t now?

The answer lies in a report I recently stumbled across put out by the McKinsey Global Institute, titled, “Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy.” Not the sexiest name, I know, but it’s very easily digestible and if you want to get a taste of where the world is going in the next 12 years, please do yourself the favor of skipping the rest of this post and just read the whole thing. (Click here [pdf] to download it).

To get straight to it, here is their list of technologies that by 2025 will drive the economy and change the world as we know it …

  1. Mobile Internet
  2. Automation of Knowledge Work
  3. Internet of Things
  4. Cloud Technology
  5. Advanced Robotics
  6. Autonomous Vehicles
  7. Next-generation Genomics
  8. Energy Storage
  9. 3D Printing
  10. Advanced Materials
  11. Advance Oil and Gas Extraction
  12. Renewable Energy

… and further technologies that will reach maturation soon after:

  1. Next-Generation Nuclear Fission
  2. Nuclear Fusion
  3. Carbon Sequestration
  4. Advanced Water Purification
  5. Quantum Computing
  6. Private Space Flight
  7. OLED Lighting
  8. Wireless Charging
  9. Flexible Displays
  10. 3D Displays

The good news is, there’s a lot of really cool technology here. As an engineer, I’ll likely get to work on building one or more of these and it means that if I can start targeting these areas now I’ll be in very high demand. (My personal target at the moment – private space flight. Seriously, how awesome is that?) But it also means lots of money for those businessmen who are able to anticipate and leverage these new technologies, as well as good work for the lawyers who will have to craft intelligent policy to address issues that will arise.

The bad news is if you’re planning on being a secretary, truck driver, or are uneducated. The jobs for the two former are going to quickly disappear, and for the latter have already gone. The days of huge portions of the population being able to work a living wage straight out of high school are far in the past. Factory jobs are being automated and the ones that aren’t are done much more cheaply by a rising Asian middle class who is desperate for that some work. Income inequality in the US will rise higher between the those who have skills in this new economic landscape and those who do not. The whole trick here is to be on the skilled side.

For the many artists, musicians, writers, and actors I know, the good news is that this whole march of technology largely doesn’t affect your professions. For you, it is the same timeless struggle of trying to make a name for yourselves in the cutthroat and unstable environment of the entertainment industry. Best of luck guys, I don’t know how you do it.

Who is the future look brightest for? Those who instead of finding a job, make their own: innovators and entrepreneurs. These new technologies drastically reduce the cost and time investment needed to conceive, prototype, and scale up a new idea or product. The rewards for successful entrepreneurs are potentially huge, and the rising world of VC’s and angel investors makes it ever more possible. Beware, however, the current app bubble we’re in.

So there you have it, my plan for escaping the crushing debt of student loans after I graduate: Make myself useful in the planning and execution of technologies that are going to change the world. I suggest you all do the same.

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