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(TIME) -- Speculating on how we're going to be living in 2020 is best left to the futurists and to science fiction; instead, TIME's "What's Next?" feature offers a sneak peak at the technologies that are just around the corner, and at the trends, events and people that will matter in 2006. And it explores how some of America's finest minds contemplate and plan for the immediate future.
If one piece of personal technology has defined the past year or two, it has been Apple's portable MP3 player, the i-Pod, that has joined Xerox, Walkman and Windsurfer in the annals of brand-names that have become synonymous with products. "What's Next?" goes inside America's most creative company to discover how Apple CEO Steve Jobs coaxes new innovations from his staff, and also to try sneak a peek at what's currently on their drawing boards.
To scout the important trends and ideas of the coming year in business, technology and society, we seated some of America's most enthralling out-of-the-box thinkers around a table. Author Malcolm Gladwell, who has made an art-form of unpacking and reassembling the conventional wisdoms of different scientific disciplines; electronic music maven Moby; computer oracle Tim O'Reilly; and pioneering Internet entrepreneur Esther Dyson concocted a volatile, yet fascinating cocktail of ideas and predictions.
We also went to Japan's current Expo to ask some of those most-obsessed with next-big-thing technologies to envision a world of the future.
In the sphere of medical science, we explore brainmapping, a new technology that gives doctors and scientists new insights into the workings of the brain, particularly when things go wrong. We also examine artificial bone technology that has opened new possibilities in medicine, as well as the debate over the growing ubiquity of Radio Frequency Identifier chips used in everything from automatic toll booths to tagging humans.
And, then, of course, there are the gadgets; five innovations that we expect will blow your mind in 2006. Well, gadget may not be quite the right term for the Boeing 787, the company's first mid-size plane since the mid-1980s, but features ranging from enhanced fuel efficiency to new passenger comforts promise to improve your flying experience. Then, there's IBM's Multilingual Automatic Speech-to-Speech Translator, in which real-world technology finally catches up with Star Trek gadgetry by allowing instant, audible, bidirectional translation of a conversation conducted in two languages.
A gooey protein film developed by Proteus Industries may not sound especially appetizing, but it promises to allow you to enjoy your favorite fried foods without nearly as much fat content by sealing out the frying oil and allowing it to run off. And while you're sampling healthier fried chicken nuggets with one hand, Nintendo's new Revolution controller will allow you to play video games with the other. The one-handed controller for a game console to be launched next fall is a grip whose motion sensors allow you to direct on-screen movement with real-world actions such as slashing and shooting instead of pressing buttons with your thumbs.
And then, the inevitable meeting point of two of the most popular personal technologies around, we preview the forthcoming direct-to-phone music download services being planned by the biggest cell phone carriers. Why settle for the ring-tone when you can have the whole song?
Our focus in sports is on women who're changing the way their games are played: Candace Parker, the college basketball star who routinely beats men in slam-dunk contests, the prodigy known as "the Anna Kournikova of table tennis," and others. "What's Next?" also explores the year ahead in the arts, with, among other things, a first look at Clint Eastwood's forthcoming World War II feature about the U.S. invasion Iwo Jima, a risqué TV feature slated for next year about polygamy, and the street art that is making its way into major galleries.
"What's Next?" won't offer you a crystal ball, but it does provide a cool appraisal of some very cool innovations that could soon be part of your everyday life.
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