Aneesh Chopra, Steve Jurvetson, Paul Saffo Debate Top Tech Trends, from Rosie the Robot to Augmented Reality

The Churchill Club, a networking group for Silicon Valley technology executives, hit the quarter-century mark in November, and for the last 13 of those 25 years, it’s organized an annual “Top 10 Tech Trends” dinner. The format is simple. A panelist or guest proposes a trend that will shape markets and define entrepreneurial opportunities over the next three years, and the other panelists either praise the idea or shoot it down. Lather, rinse, and repeat 10 times. While the content is serious, the discussion is usually raucous and no-holds-barred.

The latest Tech Trends dinner, held last night at the Santa Clara Marriott, was as contentious as ever. This year’s trends were dreamed up the by folks at Menlo Park contract research giant SRI International (which hosted Xconomy’s “Beyond Mobile: Computing in 2021” event last week) and delivered by SRI CEO Curt Carlson. Reacting to the ideas was a panel consisting of Aneesh Chopra, chief technology officer of the United States; Steve Jurvetson, managing director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson; futurist Paul Saffo, managing director of foresight at Discern Analytics; and Ajay Royan, managing director at Clarium Capital, the venture firm founded by Peter Thiel. AlwaysOn founder and Churchill Club co-founder Tony Perkins moderated, and the audience got to participate via electronic voting pads.

I found myself agreeing with most of Carlson’s proposals. Whether all of SRI’s trends will materialize within the specified three-year time frame is another question (and one that consistently tripped up the panelists), but they all make excellent food for thought, even echoing in many cases the scenarios that we discussed last week at “Beyond Mobile.” So I’m going to outline them briefly here, along with the audience reaction on a 1-to-10 scale (1 indicating total disagreement, 10 indicating total agreement).

These aren’t verbatim quotes but rather my own boiled-down summaries of SRI’s ideas and the panelists’ reactions. If you have your own opinion about whether these trends will have a big impact in the near future—or the distant future, for that matter—let us know in the comment section.

1. Age Before Beauty

The trend: Baby boomers will dictate consumer product trends as designers pay more attention to their tastes and needs. We’ll see more products on the market such as GreatCall’s Jitterbug cell phones, with their very large keys.

The panel reaction: Thumbs down. The over-65 crowd is a huge and growing market, but won’t set trends; good design is universal and great products will speak to many demographic groups. (“Boomers will be as excited about phones with big buttons as toddlers are about training diapers,” Saffo quipped. “Or maybe it’s the other way around,” replied Perkins.)

Audience rating: 4.4

2. The Doctor Is In

The trend: For the diagnosis of many types of health problems, virtual assistants, low-cost sensors and remote, automated imaging technology will replace face-to-face visits with physicians.

The panel reaction: In the near term, only “health hobbyists” and the “worried well” will invest in such technologies. More likely, government incentives will lead to the adoption of technologies that enhance decision-making and reduce operating costs in actual medical clinics.

Audience rating: 4.0

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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