Ten years ago, the iPhone was brand new (and still regarded primarily as a cell phone), Twitter was in its infancy and Facebook had about as many users as the population of Illinois. Today, the iPhone is the world’s most widely used camera, Twitter is a vital platform for international political dialogue, and Facebook has as many users as the population of China.

Womble Bond Dickinson closed its 2019 International Innovation Week with a presentation from futurist Michael Rogers who looked ahead at what changes the next 10 years may bring in a presentation titled “The Virtualization of the World”.

Rogers is a renowned futurist, bringing a background in investigative journalism to the exploration of how technology, economics and demographics will combine to shape the globe in decades to come. He sees two significant trends continuing and growing: digital connectivity and artificial intelligence, or AI.

“We will be surprised in 10 years at how much has shifted to the virtual world,” he said. People will be connected to the Internet 24/7 - even if they aren’t always aware of the connection, he said. Digital screen technology is getting better and cheaper every year, and Rogers said this improving technology, along with a desire to relieve traffic congestion, will result in most knowledge sector employees working remotely. The office will still exist, but as a central meeting spot, not a day-to-day workspace. To make this happen, Rogers said universal broadband “is as important - or more important - than rural electrification was.”

He said developers already have created “smart glasses” that can stream music and display images on virtual reality screens. The wearers can say simply “Where am I?” and the glasses will pull up a map. Or a motor pool manager will be able to scan a row of cars and identify which ones are fueled up and which ones need servicing. Rogers said this technology is still too expensive to be mass marketed, but as is the case with most technology, the cost will drop rapidly in the next decade.

The development of AI is relevant to law firms, as innovative firms such as Womble Bond Dickinson use AI technology to streamline such tasks as e-discovery. Rogers sees a day in which AI technology is part of every employee’s workday. For example, instead of seeing a safety sign on a factory wall, an AI sign will greet each worker with a personalized message specific to their duties.

“In 10 years, we will have to take our kids aside and explain what ‘Offline’ is,” he said.

He also said the evolution of technology will present opportunities for law firms to serve clients. As people become increasingly dependent upon being connected virtually, governments will step in to create regulations - and that, in turn, creates opportunities for lawyers.

“The rule of law is coming to the virtual world,” Rogers said.

Rogers’ presentation on March 22 was one of two keynote events held during Womble Bond Dickinson’s International Innovation Week. On March 18, mathematician and author Dr. Hannah Fry spoke on “How to be Human in the Age of the Machine”.

Around the firm, individual offices also held forward-focused International Innovation Week events.