I love houseplants. They are calming, green and lend an air of style to any space. But will they be able to store data and monitor pollution levels in the future? Maybe.
From dating to dogs and houseplants to cheeseburgers, The Future Of, a new docu-series now streaming on Netflix, explores what the future might hold for things around us when they are impacted by emerging technologies.
The Future Of is created by the same people who came out with the docu-series Explained —The Verge and 21 Laps Production. Many of the things you will see in this 12-episode series—each around 20 minutes long—are predictions. But they are, funnily enough, believable ones.
For instance, could houseplants become a more functional part of our homes—like technological assistants and living appliances? Futurologists, botanists and scientists imagine a future where plants could grow on walls—almost like living wallpaper—and alert you to your home’s air quality by changing colour. You might not need an Amazon Alexa or a Google Assistant to remind you to switch on the air purifier any more.
That’s not all. Botanists are even working on making bioluminescent plants that could become a sustainable source of light —trees and glowing plants could become our lamp posts as we walk on the streets at night.
Need something more realistic? In the not-so-distant future, plants could monitor your vitals when you sleep and help you sleep better. If you have a nightmare, your houseplants could sense it and release soothing aromas to calm you. All this could be possible through CRISPR and genome editing.
This futuristic dialogue continues with two more things that are close to most hearts: dogs and dating. A dog’s wagging tail is just one sign pet parents watch out for to understand what the animal is trying to communicate. In the next decade or so, Artificial Intelligence (AI) could use software to translate dog language. Pet translators could tell us exactly what a dog is feeling. All you would have to do is record your dog’s behaviour on a smartphone app. The AI models in the cloud would do the rest by processing the recorded content and relaying the information back to you on the app.
It’s possible. In 2017, researchers at the University of Cambridge developed an AI system which uses five different facial expressions to recognise whether a sheep is in pain. Startups like Zoolingua, mentioned in The Future Of Dogs episode, are also working in this space.
Researchers are even exploring the idea of a dog internet: Imagine your pet meeting another pet for a hologram play date. Or, indulging in a virtual tug of war. These are just some of the ideas that Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow and a specialist in animal-computer interaction, is researching.
In November 2021, Hirskyj-Douglas even presented the idea of a “DogPhone”, a system that could allow animals to use the internet to contact their owners. In the future, such a system could help address the separation anxiety of pets who have grown used to having people at home during the covid-19 pandemic.
If you think this is too much, wait till you get to the future of dating, where an AI dating coach, wearables and biometrics and smarter dating app algorithms could help you find the perfect match or avoid a person you might not be compatible with—even if you think you like them. Dating apps may go even further. They could detect your biometrics, scan your daily schedule and use the information to help you meet a match in a more organic way—like bumping into someone at a bar. Technologists imagine dating apps taking on a gamified form in the far future for this “meet-cute” scenario.
As with everything that involves science, technology and AI, the debate must remain balanced. In that sense, The Future Of has plenty of voices and industry experts who share their views on these predictions and whether or not they will actually become a reality. For instance, in the context of pet translators, would we even want to know what exactly our dogs are thinking? Would that spoil the bond many of us have with our pets? Is it too dystopian for some of us to communicate with dogs in the same way that we speak to each other?
Overall, the tone of the episodes is light and conversational, with Emmy nominee Jurnee Smollett lending her voice as the series narrator. You will also like the transitory sequences in every episode where scenarios “in the near future” and “in the far future” are depicted through graphics and some really clever animation.
The Future Of may leave you with more questions than answers about how our future might shape up with technology. But it does make you think—and for now, that is enough.