We’re already living in the future. Flying cars, friendly household AI – and remember when video phones seemed like a futuristic dream?
With technological change accelerating towards lightspeed, we can only guess at what advancements we’ll see over the next 20 years. Here are some of the most educated – and exciting – guesses.
The Next Five Years:
- Wearable Devices
Wearables like Google Glasses and the Apple Watch are just the beginning. Soon flexible electronics will allow computers to be embedded in clothing. Mike Bell of Intel predicts wearables will really take off when they can work independently of a smartphone.
- Internet of Things
In five years, you could be living in a smart home where your fridge, your toaster, and even your rubbish bin are computerised and networked.
- Big Data and Machine Learning
Digitalisation will drive a data overload so big that machine learning will be vital to sift through all the data. Machine learning refers to things like the Facebook algorithm, or the algorithm your email uses to identify spam. This could be incredibly useful in medicine, where algorithms could analyse reams of patient data to suggest personalised treatments.
Cryptocurrencies, which are generated by computers rather than a central bank, are now serious business. When Bitcoin was created, one of the first users spent 10,000 bitcoin on two pizzas. That amount would be worth £45 million today.
- Driverless cars
The UK is set to make driverless cars legal this year. Despite anxieties about accidents, tests have shown that they’re much safer than human drivers. In fact, if all cars were driverless and networked, algorithms could optimise traffic flow and theoretically cut out accidents altogether. Driving could go the way of riding, becoming a niche hobby practised well away from major roads.
- 3D printing
While 3D printing isn’t new, the democratisation of it is. You can now get a decent 3D printer for about £400, and download whatever you want to make from digital libraries of printable 3D parts. Homes, cars, and even organs will be 3D printed.
- Virtual Reality
Virtual reality will go far beyond video games, enabling virtual travel and virtual hands-on learning, and connecting families across the world.
The price of DNA sequencing is falling to the point where we’ll be able to sequence the genomes of a mass population and draw who knows what conclusions from the resulting data.
The Next Ten Years
Microscopic devices will create new breakthroughs in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. They could also revolutionise manufacturing, reducing waste and carbon emissions and creating materials that construct themselves.
Vaccine worries aside, the atom-thick carbon allotrope graphene has some amazing properties. The thinnest, lightest, and strongest compound discovered, it’s also the best conductor of electricity and of heat at room temperature. It can be used to make anything from aircraft to bulletproof vests to an anti-cancer agent, and could replace silicon in electronics.
- Mars Colony
Nasa hopes to land astronauts on Mars in the 2030s, and a Martian colony is likely to follow in our lifetimes.
- Wireless Electricity
Wireless electricity has been around since Tesla, who used a magnetic field generated by huge coils to light a light bulb without wires. When this goes mainstream, we won’t need to worry about charging our phones – or our electric cars – but a massive investment in infrastructure is needed to get there.
- Nuclear Fusion
The opposite of nuclear fission, nuclear fusion doesn’t split atoms but fuse them together. It’s what powers the sun. Scientists are getting closer to producing a controlled release of fusion energy that could generate almost unlimited green electricity.The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project is building a reactor that will be hotter than the sun and could solve the world’s energy problems and help avert a climate catastrophe.
The Next 20 Years
We’re already almost-cyborgs, keeping our phones so close they might just as well be implanted. Within the next 20 years, they probably will be. As robotics develop and become more integrated into our lives, we’ll eventually implant them too.
- The uber-Uber
As we realise the lifesaving potential of networked driverless cars, they’re likely to become compulsory. This will lead to car-sharing and thence to a universal Uber network. Why not let your car earn you money as a taxi when you’re not driving it? In fact, why own a car at all when you can hop into the nearest driverless Uber?
- Affordable Energy for All
Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Coalition working on ‘miracle’ energy production and storage solutions that could dramatically reduce the price of clean energy, making it accessible to even the poorest people.