What Tech Will Make Irrelevant For The Class of 2035

22. October 2017.

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Consider, for a moment, the Class of 2035. What’s wrong with these kids of the future? Nothing, actually. Their future is just showing up all over the place — but differently than expected.

In fact, 117 years ago, roughly 72 million people were living in the United States. There were also roughly 21 million horses at the time. If the rate of growth in the horse population had kept up with that of the human population, there would be approximately 63 million horses in the United States today — or as many horses as people in the states of California and Texas combined.

Instead, the current horse population looks a lot more like the population of the fine state of Utah, which boasts a population of approximately 3 million horses. There is a reason for that. Over the last 117 or so years, horseless carriages — also known as cars — were invented and roads were built to accommodate them, meaning horses were no longer needed for transportation. Horseback riding still has its fans and devotees, of course, but horses as a mode of transportation no longer represent the way people navigate around town.

With the decline in horse use, knowing how to ride a horse became less of a required skill — something which might have seemed unthinkable back in 1900.

That got us to thinking. What normal parts of our lives today will seem rather alien to our own children and grandchildren?

Driving (And Owning A Car)

Well, driving, for one.

Today, 87 percent of American adults have a driver’s license. It is such a nearly universal rite of passage that only in rare instances does someone who wants to learn how to drive in this country find they are unable to do so. As such, it may be hard to imagine that, in a generation or two, there might be a critical mass of people who never even obtain a driver’s license.

Cars will remain an important mode of transportation, of course, but it’s possible they will no longer be regarded as something to be driven. Rather, cars may be viewed as things that simply take people to their final destinations, be it because ridesharing becomes even more mainstream then it is now, bikes become more acceptable ways to bee-bop around cities or those cars simply drive themselves.

While some of you will probably say, “Sure but everyone should just know how to drive a car,” we can also imagine someone in 1905 saying “Sure, but everyone should still learn how to ride a horse. What happens if the horseless carriage stops working?”

To that, we ask, when was the last time you hitched a saddle to a horse and started riding down 101 while the car was in the repair shop?

Necessary skills are necessary until they are not.

Handwriting

That most six-year-olds will never, ever write a check isn’t much of a surprise. And, as you know, we are on a mission to #KillTheCheck, so we hope 20 years hence no one will ever have to write or cash one again.

And, depending on where your kids go to school, they may not actually even learn how to sign their names, because cursive has been dubbed by some as an outdated practice in a world in which longhand writing is less common. We should note, however, that practices of cursive and longhand writing are considered somewhat controversial.

But, even if cursive does manage to stick it out in our schools, it is becoming increasingly unlikely it will have much of a role outside of writing sincere love letters. After all, the number of things for which anyone will be signing is dropping by the day.

Signatures on receipts, for example, will likely become a thing of the past by the time the Class of 2035 makes its first credit card purchases. Two days ago, Mastercard announced it would officially stop requiring signatures come April 2018. And, as more transactions go digital, even in physical stores, there will be less and less of a need to have signatures at all.

As the explosion of mobile order-ahead adoption demonstrates, paying with a phone allows one to skip a line and pay before picking up an order — consumers like it and merchants do, too. In fact, as you are reading this, Amazon, Walmart and Kroger are all testing out phones-as-scanners applications to allow customers to use their own mobile devices to log groceries as they shop, then check out digitally without ever stopping to wait in line or sign a receipt.

Identity

Today, the fundamental unit of identity in the U.S. is the Social Security number, a nine-digit code assigned at birth by the federal government as the official and unchangeable marker of one’s identity. If only it weren’t so easy to steal.

But, it is, and after a pretty strong 80-year-run, the conventional wisdom is that there are very few Social Security numbers (SSNs) that haven’t made their way to the Dark Web. Thanks again, Equifax.

In the face of that fact, Rob Joyce, White House cybersecurity czar, thinks it might be time to just thank the SSN for its service and then place it into retirement.

“I believe the Social Security number has outlived its usefulness,” said Joyce, while speaking at the Washington Post’s Cybersecurity Summit. “Every time we use the Social Security number, [we] put it at risk.”

Among the problems with it? The customer is stuck with it no matter what. Breached or not, that personal identifier is not changeable.

“It’s a flawed system that we can’t roll back after a breach,” Joyce said, referring to the massive Equifax hack. “The concept of a Social Security number in this environment being private and secure — I think it’s time, as a country, to think beyond that. What is a better way to identify consumers in our country in a very secure way? I think that way is something different than an SSN, a date of birth and a name.”

Joyce said that instead of what we know is not working, he would like to see the SSN supplanted with a “modern cryptographic identifier,” like public and private keys. If that comes to fruition, the children of the Class of 2035 may not have a Social Security number — or at least not one they will ever have to remember for anything.

Which is good, because we also hope remembering passwords will be a relic in 15 years’ time, as biometrics and artificial intelligence (AI) based-assessments replace the practice of having consumers remember an ever-increasing number of random letters and numbers. Yes, the days of typing [email protected]$$w02d are over, or soon will be.

“There is so much we can do, and so much more that we can build as the ecosystem collapses around more seamless security standards,” said Mark Nelsen, Visa’s senior vice president of risk and authentication products, in a recent conversation with PYMNTS’ Karen Webster.

And, in fact, there is so much we can do, and “so much more we can do” does a fair job of summing up the scale and scope of change that seems to be coming — particularly in a future that is much less distant than it seemed to be, even just a few years ago.

It will likely be filled with things that will make a lot of the skills we use today — and things we have been trained for years to do — skills we may no longer need.

Voice-activated AI and self-driving cars were science fiction until we started seeing more evidence of them just five years ago, and it now seems increasingly plausible that our children will converse with their cars regularly — and maybe never actually drive them.

And, while that may seem a little off-putting, it sure beats having to learn how to ride a horse.

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