Essays Life 20 Years From Now Best
1 Geopolitics: 'Rivals will take greater risks against the US'
No balance of power lasts forever. Just a century ago, London was the centre of the world. Britain bestrode the world like a colossus and only those with strong nerves (or weak judgment) dared challenge the Pax Britannica.
That, of course, is all history, but the Pax Americana that has taken shape since 1989 is just as vulnerable to historical change. In the 1910s, the rising power and wealth of Germany and America splintered the Pax Britannica; in the 2010s, east Asia will do the same to the Pax Americana.
The 21st century will see technological change on an astonishing scale. It may even transform what it means to be human. But in the short term – the next 20 years – the world will still be dominated by the doings of nation-states and the central issue will be the rise of the east.
By 2030, the world will be more complicated, divided between a broad American sphere of influence in Europe, the Middle East and south Asia, and a Chinese sphere in east Asia and Africa. Even within its own sphere, the US will face new challenges from former peripheries. The large, educated populations of Poland, Turkey, Brazil and their neighbours will come into their own and Russia will continue its revival.
Nevertheless, America will probably remain the world's major power. The critics who wrote off the US during the depression of the 1930s and the stagflation of the 1970s lived to see it bounce back to defeat the Nazis in the 1940s and the Soviets in the 1980s. America's financial problems will surely deepen through the 2010s, but the 2020s could bring another Roosevelt or Reagan.
A hundred years ago, as Britain's dominance eroded, rivals, particularly Germany, were emboldened to take ever-greater risks. The same will happen as American power erodes in the 2010s-20s. In 1999, for instance, Russia would never have dared attack a neighbour such as Georgia but in 2009 it took just such a chance.
The danger of such an adventure sparking a great power war in the 2010s is probably low; in the 2020s, it will be much greater.
The most serious threats will arise in the vortex of instability that stretches from Africa to central Asia. Most of the world's poorest people live here; climate change is wreaking its worst damage here; nuclear weapons are proliferating fastest here; and even in 2030, the great powers will still seek much of their energy here.
Here, the risk of Sino-American conflict will be greatest and here the balance of power will be decided.
Ian Morris, professor of history at Stanford University and the author of Why the West Rules – For Now (Profile Books)
2 The UK economy: 'The popular revolt against bankers will become impossible to resist'
It will be a second financial crisis in the 2010s – probably sooner than later – that will prove to be the remaking of Britain. Confronted by a second trillion-pound bank bailout in less than 10 years, it will be impossible for the City and wider banking system to resist reform. The popular revolt against bankers, their current business model in which neglect of the real economy is embedded and the scale of their bonuses – all to be underwritten by bailouts from taxpayers – will become irresistible. The consequent rebalancing of the British economy, already underway, will intensify. Britain, in thrall to finance since 1945, will break free – spearheading a second Industrial Revolution.
In 2035, there is thus a good prospect that Britain will be the most populous (our birth rate will be one the highest in Europe), dynamic and richest European country, the key state in a reconfigured EU. Our leading universities will become powerhouses of innovation, world centres in exploiting the approaching avalanche of scientific and technological breakthroughs. A reformed financial system will allow British entrepreneurs to get the committed financial backing they need, becoming the capitalist leaders in Europe. And, after a century of trying, Britain will at last build itself a system for developing apprentices and technicians that is no longer the Cinderella of the education system.
It will not be plain sailing. Massive political turbulence in China and its conflict with the US will define part of the next 25 years – and there will be a period when the world trading and financial system retreats from openness.
How far beggar-my-neighbour competitive devaluations and protection will develop is hard to predict, but protectionist trends are there for all to see. Commodity prices will go much higher and there will be shortages of key minerals, energy, water and some basic foodstuffs.
The paradox is that this will be good news for Britain. It will force the state to re-engage with the economy and to build a matrix of institutions that will support innovation and investment, rather as it did between 1931 and 1950. New Labour began this process tremulously in its last year in office; the coalition government is following through. These will be lean years for the traditional Conservative right, but whether it will be a liberal One Nation Tory party, ongoing coalition governments or the Labour party that will be the political beneficiary is not yet sure.
The key point is that those 20 years in the middle of the 20th century witnessed great industrial creativity and an unsung economic renaissance until the country fell progressively under the stultifying grip of the City of London. My guess is that the same, against a similarly turbulent global background, is about to happen again. My caveat is if the City remains strong, in which case economic decline and social division will escalate.
Will Hutton, executive vice-chair of the Work Foundation and an Observer columnist
3 Global development: 'A vaccine will rid the world of Aids'
Within 25 years, the world will achieve many major successes in tackling the diseases of the poor.
Certainly, we will be polio-free and probably will have been for more than a decade. The fight to eradicate polio represents one of the greatest achievements in global health to date. It has mobilised millions of volunteers, staged mass immunisation campaigns and helped to strengthen the health systems of low-income countries. Today, we have eliminated 99% of the polio in the world and eradication is well within reach.
Vaccines that prevent diseases such as measles and rotavirus, currently available in rich countries, will also become affordable and readily available in developing countries. Since it was founded 10 years ago, the Gavi Alliance, a global partnership that funds expanded immunisation in poor countries, has helped prevent more than 5 million deaths. It is easy to imagine that in 25 years this work will have been expanded to save millions more lives by making life-saving vaccines available all over the world.
I also expect to see major strides in new areas. A rapid point-of-care diagnostic test – coupled with a faster-acting treatment regimen – will so fundamentally change the way we treat tuberculosis that we can begin planning an elimination campaign.
We will eradicate malaria, I believe, to the point where there are no human cases reported globally in 2035. We will also have effective means for preventing Aids infection, including a vaccine. With the encouraging results of the RV144 Aids vaccine trial in Thailand, we now know that an Aids vaccine is possible. We must build on these and promising results on other means of preventing HIV infection to help rid the world of the threat of Aids.
Tachi Yamada, president of the global health programme at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
4 Energy: 'Returning to a world that relies on muscle power is not an option'
Providing sufficient food, water and energy to allow everyone to lead decent lives is an enormous challenge. Energy is a means, not an end, but a necessary means. With 6.7 billion people on the planet, more than 50% living in large conurbations, and these numbers expected to rise to more than 9 billion and 80% later in the century, returning to a world that relies on human and animal muscle power is not an option.
The challenge is to provide sufficient energy while reducing reliance on fossil fuels, which today supply 80% of our energy (in decreasing order of importance, the rest comes from burning biomass and waste, hydro, nuclear and, finally, other renewables, which together contribute less than 1%). Reducing use of fossil fuels is necessary both to avoid serious climate change and in anticipation of a time when scarcity makes them prohibitively expensive.
It will be extremely difficult. An International Energy Agency scenario that assumes the implementation of all agreed national policies and announced commitments to save energy and reduce the use of fossil fuels projects a 35% increase in energy consumption in the next 25 years, with fossil fuels up 24%. This is almost entirely due to consumption in developing countries where living standards are, happily, rising and the population is increasing rapidly.
This scenario, which assumes major increases in nuclear, hydro and wind power, evidently does not go far enough and will break down if, as many expect, oil production (which is assumed to increase 15%) peaks in much less than 25 years. We need to go much further in reducing demand, through better design and changes in lifestyles, increasing efficiency and improving and deploying all viable alternative energy sources. It won't be cheap. And in the post-fossil-fuel era it won't be sufficient without major contributions from solar energy (necessitating cost reductions and improved energy storage and transmission) and/or nuclear fission (meaning fast breeder and/or thorium reactors when uranium eventually becomes scarce) and/or fusion (which is enormously attractive in principle but won't become a reliable source of energy until at least the middle of the century).
Disappointingly, with the present rate of investment in developing and deploying new energy sources, the world will still be powered mainly by fossil fuels in 25 years and will not be prepared to do without them.
Chris Llewellyn Smith is a former director general of Cern and chair of Iter, the world fusion project, he works on energy issues at Oxford University
5 Advertising: 'All sorts of things will just be sold in plain packages'
If I'd been writing this five years ago, it would have been all about technology: the internet, the fragmentation of media, mobile phones, social tools allowing consumers to regain power at the expense of corporations, all that sort of stuff. And all these things are important and will change how advertising works.
But it's becoming clear that what'll really change advertising will be how we relate to it and what we're prepared to let it do. After all, when you look at advertising from the past the basic techniques haven't changed; what seems startlingly alien are the attitudes it was acceptable to portray and the products you were allowed to advertise.
In 25 years, I bet there'll be many products we'll be allowed to buy but not see advertised – the things the government will decide we shouldn't be consuming because of their impact on healthcare costs or the environment but that they can't muster the political will to ban outright. So, we'll end up with all sorts of products in plain packaging with the product name in a generic typeface – as the government is currently discussing for cigarettes.
But it won't stop there. We'll also be nudged into renegotiating the relationship between society and advertising, because over the next few years we're going to be interrupted by advertising like never before. Video screens are getting so cheap and disposable that they'll be plastered everywhere we go. And they'll have enough intelligence and connectivity that they'll see our faces, do a quick search on Facebook to find out who we are and direct a message at us based on our purchasing history.
At least, that'll be the idea. It probably won't work very well and when it does work it'll probably drive us mad. Marketing geniuses are working on this stuff right now, but not all of them recognise that being allowed to do this kind of thing depends on societal consent – push the intrusion too far and people will push back.
Society once did a deal accepting advertising because it seemed occasionally useful and interesting and because it paid for lots of journalism and entertainment. It's not necessarily going to pay for those things for much longer so we might start questioning whether we want to live in a Blade Runner world brought to us by Cillit Bang.
Russell Davies, head of planning at the advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather and a columnist for the magazines Campaign and Wired
6 Neuroscience: 'We'll be able to plug information streams directly into the cortex'
By 2030, we are likely to have developed no-frills brain-machine interfaces, allowing the paralysed to dance in their thought-controlled exoskeleton suits. I sincerely hope we will not still be interfacing with computers via keyboards, one forlorn letter at a time.
I'd like to imagine we'll have robots to do our bidding. But I predicted that 20 years ago, when I was a sanguine boy leaving Star Wars, and the smartest robot we have now is the Roomba vacuum cleaner. So I won't be surprised if I'm wrong in another 25 years. Artificial intelligence has proved itself an unexpectedly difficult problem.
Maybe we will understand what's happening when we immerse our heads into the colourful night blender of dreams. We will have cracked the secret of human memory by realising that it was never about storing things, but about the relationships between things.
Will we have reached the singularity – the point at which computers surpass human intelligence and perhaps give us our comeuppance? We'll probably be able to plug information streams directly into the cortex for those who want it badly enough to risk the surgery. There will be smart drugs to enhance learning and memory and a flourishing black market among ambitious students to obtain them.
Having lain to rest the nature-nurture dichotomy at that point, we will have a molecular understanding of the way in which cultural narratives work their way into brain tissue and of individual susceptibility to those stories.
Then there's the mystery of consciousness. Will we finally have a framework that allows us to translate the mechanical pieces and parts into private, subjective experience? As it stands now, we don't even know what such a framework could look like ("carry the two here and that equals the experience of tasting cinnamon").
That line of research will lead us to confront the question of whether we can reproduce consciousness by replicating the exact structure of the brain – say, with zeros and ones, or beer cans and tennis balls. If this theory of materialism turns out to be correct, then we will be well on our way to downloading our brains into computers, allowing us to live forever in The Matrix.
But if materialism is incorrect, that would be equally interesting: perhaps brains are more like radios that receive an as-yet-undiscovered force. The one thing we can be sure of is this: no matter how wacky the predictions we make today, they will look tame in the strange light of the future.
David Eagleman, neuroscientist and writer
7 Physics: 'Within a decade, we'll know what dark matter is'
The next 25 years will see fundamental advances in our understanding of the underlying structure of matter and of the universe. At the moment, we have successful descriptions of both, but we have open questions. For example, why do particles of matter have mass and what is the dark matter that provides most of the matter in the universe?
I am optimistic that the answer to the mass question will be found within a few years, whether or not it is the mythical Higgs boson, and believe that the answer to the dark matter question will be found within a decade.
Key roles in answering these questions will be made by experiments at Cern's Large Hadron Collider, which started operations in earnest last year and is expected to run for most of the next 20 years; others will be played by astrophysical searches for dark matter and cosmological observations such as those from the European Space Agency's Planck satellite.
Many theoretical proposals for answering these questions invoke new principles in physics, such as the existence of additional dimensions of space or a "supersymmetry" between the constituents of matter and the forces between them, and we will discover whether these ideas are useful for physics. Both these ideas play roles in string theory, the best guess we have for a complete theory of all the fundamental forces including gravity.
Will string theory be pinned down within 20 years? My crystal ball is cloudy on this point, but I am sure that we physicists will have an exciting time trying to find out.
John Ellis, theoretical physicist at Cern and King's College London
8 Food: 'Russia will become a global food superpower'
When experts talk about the coming food security crisis, the date they fixate upon is 2030. By then, our numbers will be nudging 9 billion and we will need to be producing 50% more food than we are now.
By the middle of that decade, therefore, we will either all be starving, and fighting wars over resources, or our global food supply will have changed radically. The bitter reality is that it will probably be a mixture of both.
Developed countries such as the UK are likely, for the most part, to have attempted to pull up the drawbridge, increasing national production and reducing our reliance on imports.
In response to increasing prices, some of us may well have reduced our consumption of meat, the raising of which is a notoriously inefficient use of grain. This will probably create a food underclass, surviving on a carb- and fat-heavy diet, while those with money scarf the protein.
The developing world, meanwhile, will work to bridge the food gap by embracing the promise of biotechnology which the middle classes in the developed world will have assumed that they had the luxury to reject.
In truth, any of the imported grain that we do consume will come from genetically modified crops. As climate change lays waste to the productive fields of southern Europe and north Africa, more water-efficient strains of corn, wheat and barley will be pressed into service; likewise, to the north, Russia will become a global food superpower as the same climate change opens up the once frozen and massive Siberian prairie to food production.
The consensus now is that the planet does have the wherewithal to feed that huge number of people. It's just that some people in the west may find the methods used to do so unappetising.
Jay Rayner, TV presenter and the Observer's food critic
9 Nanotechnology: 'Privacy will be a quaint obsession'
Twenty years ago, Don Eigler, a scientist working for IBM in California, wrote out the logo of his employer in letters made of individual atoms. This feat was a graphic symbol of the potential of the new field of nanotechnology, which promises to rebuild matter atom by atom, molecule by molecule, and to give us unprecedented power over the material world.
Some, like the futurist Ray Kurzweil, predict that nanotechnology will lead to a revolution, allowing us to make any kind of product for virtually nothing; to have computers so powerful that they will surpass human intelligence; and to lead to a new kind of medicine on a sub-cellular level that will allow us to abolish ageing and death.
I don't think that Kurzweil's "technological singularity" – a dream of scientific transcendence that echoes older visions of religious apocalypse – will happen. Some stubborn physics stands between us and "the rapture of the nerds". But nanotechnology will lead to some genuinely transformative applications.
New ways of making solar cells very cheaply on a very large scale offer us the best hope we have for providing low-carbon energy on a big enough scale to satisfy the needs of a growing world population aspiring to the prosperity we're used to in the developed world.
We'll learn more about intervening in our biology at the sub-cellular level and this nano-medicine will give us new hope of overcoming really difficult and intractable diseases, such as Alzheimer's, that will increasingly afflict our population as it ages.
The information technology that drives your mobile phone or laptop is already operating at the nanoscale. Another 25 years of development will lead us to a new world of cheap and ubiquitous computing, in which privacy will be a quaint obsession of our grandparents.
Nanotechnology is a different type of science, respecting none of the conventional boundaries between disciplines and unashamedly focused on applications rather than fundamental understanding.
Given the huge resources being directed towards nanotechnology in China and its neighbours, this may also be the first major technology of the modern era that is predominantly developed outside the US and Europe.
Richard Jones, pro-vice-chancellor for research and innovation at the University of Sheffield
10 Gaming: 'We'll play games to solve problems'
In the last decade, in the US and Europe but particularly in south-east Asia, we have witnessed a flight into virtual worlds, with people playing games such as Second Life. But over the course of the next 25 years, that flight will be successfully reversed, not because we're going to spend less time playing games, but because games and virtual worlds are going to become more closely connected to reality.
There will be games where the action is influenced by what happens in reality; and there will be games that use sensors so that we can play them out in the real world – a game in which your avatar is your dog, which wears a game collar that measures how fast it's running and whether or not it's wagging its tail, for example, where you play with your dog to advance the narrative, as opposed to playing with a virtual character. I can imagine more physical activity games, too, and these might be used to harness energy – peripherals like a dance pad that actually captures energy from your dancing on top of it.
Then there will be problem-solving games: there are already a lot of games in which scientists try to teach gamers real science – how to build proteins to cure cancer, for example. One surprising trend in gaming is that gamers today prefer, on average, three to one to play co-operative games rather than competitive games. Now, this is really interesting; if you think about the history of games, there really weren't co-operative games until this latest generation of video games. In every game you can think of – card games, chess, sport – everybody plays to win. But now we'll see increasing collaboration, people playing games together to solve problems while they're enjoying themselves.
There are also studies on how games work on our minds and our cognitive capabilities, and a lot of science suggests you can use games to treat depression, anxiety and attention-deficit disorder. Making games that are both fun and serve a social purpose isn't easy – a lot of innovation will be required – but gaming will become increasingly integrated into society.
Jane McGonigal, director of games research & development at the Institute for the Future in California and author of Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Happy and How They Can Help Us Change the World (Penguin)
11 Web/internet: 'Quantum computing is the future'
The open web created by idealist geeks, hippies and academics, who believed in the free and generative flow of knowledge, is being overrun by a web that is safer, more controlled and commercial, created by problem-solving pragmatists.
Henry Ford worked out how to make money by making products people wanted to own and buy for themselves. Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs are working out how to make money from allowing people to share, on their terms.
Facebook and Apple are spawning cloud capitalism, in which consumers allow companies to manage information, media, ideas, money, software, tools and preferences on their behalf, holding everything in vast, floating clouds of shared data. We will be invited to trade invasions into our privacy – companies knowing ever more about our lives – for a more personalised service. We will be able to share, but on their terms.
Julian Assange and the movement that has been ignited by WikiLeaks is the most radical version of the alternative: a free, egalitarian, open and public web. The fate of this movement will be a sign of things to come. If it can command broad support, then the open web has a chance to remain a mainstream force. If, however, it becomes little more than a guerrilla campaign, then the open web could be pushed to the margins, along with national public radio.
By 2035, the web, as a single space largely made up of webpages accessed on computers, will be long gone.
As the web goes mobile, those who pay more will get faster access. We will be sharing videos, simulations, experiences and environments, on a multiplicity of devices to which we'll pay as much attention as a light switch.
Yet, many of the big changes of the next 25 years will come from unknowns working in their bedrooms and garages. And by 2035 we will be talking about the coming of quantum computing, which will take us beyond the world of binary, digital computing, on and off, black and white, 0s and 1s.
The small town of Waterloo, Ontario, which is home to the Perimeter Institute, funded by the founder of BlackBerry, currently houses the largest collection of theoretical physicists in the world.
The bedrooms of Waterloo are where the next web may well be made.
Charles Leadbeater, author and social entrepreneur
12 Fashion: 'Technology creates smarter clothes'
Fashion is such an important part of the way in which we communicate our identity to others, and for a very long time it's meant dress: the textile garments on our body. But in the coming decades, I think there'll be much more emphasis on other manifestations of fashion and different ways of communicating with each other, different ways of creating a sense of belonging and of making us feel great about ourselves.
We're already designing our identities online – manipulating imagery to tell a story about ourselves. Instead of meeting in the street or in a bar and having a conversation and looking at what each other is wearing, we're communicating in some depth through these new channels. With clothing, I think it's possible that we'll see a polarisation between items that are very practical and those that are very much about display – and maybe these are not things that you own but that you borrow or share.
Technology is already being used to create clothing that fits better and is smarter; it is able to transmit a degree of information back to you. This is partly driven by customer demand and the desire to know where clothing comes from – so we'll see tags on garments that tell you where every part of it was made, and some of this, I suspect, will be legislation-driven, too, for similar reasons, particularly as resources become scarcer and it becomes increasingly important to recognise water and carbon footprints.
However, it's not simply an issue of functionality. Fashion's gone through a big cycle in the last 25 years – from being something that was treasured and cherished to being something that felt disposable, because of a drop in prices. In fact, we've completely changed our relationship towards clothes and there's a real feeling among designers who I work with that they're trying to work back into their designs an element of emotional content.
I think there's definitely a place for technology in creating a dialogue with you through your clothes.
Dilys Williams, designer and the director for sustainable fashion at the London College of Fashion
13 Nature: 'We'll redefine the wild'
We all want to live in a world where species such as tigers, the great whales, orchids and coral reefs can persist and thrive and I am sure that the commitment that people have to maintaining the spectacle and diversity of life will continue. Over the past 50 years or so, there has been growing support for nature conservation. When we understand the causes of species losses, good conservation actions can and do reverse the trends.
But it is going to become much harder. The human population has roughly doubled since the 1960s and will increase by another third by 2030. Demands for food, water and energy will increase, inevitably in competition with other species. People already use up to 40% of the world's primary production (energy) and this must increase, with important consequences for nature.
In the UK, some familiar species will become scarcer as our rare habitats (mires, bogs and moorlands) are lost. We will be seeing the effects from gradual warming that will allow more continental species to live here, and in our towns and cities we'll probably have more species that have become adapted to living alongside people.
We can conserve species when we really try, so I'm confident that the charismatic mega fauna and flora will mostly still persist in 2035, but they will be increasingly restricted to highly managed and protected areas. The survivors will be those that cope well with people and those we care about enough to save. Increasingly, we won't be living as a part of nature but alongside it, and we'll have redefined what we mean by the wild and wilderness.
Crucially, we are still rapidly losing overall biodiversity, including soil micro-organisms, plankton in the oceans, pollinators and the remaining tropical and temperate forests. These underpin productive soils, clean water, climate regulation and disease-resistance. We take these vital services from biodiversity and ecosystems for granted, treat them recklessly and don't include them in any kind of national accounting.
Georgina Mace, professor of conservation science and director of the Natural Environment Research Council's Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College London
14 Architecture: What constitutes a 'city' will change
In 2035, most of humanity will live in favelas. This will not be entirely wonderful, as many people will live in very poor housing, but it will have its good side. It will mean that cities will consist of series of small units organised, at best, by the people who know what is best for themselves and, at worst, by local crime bosses.
Cities will be too big and complex for any single power to understand and manage them. They already are, in fact. The word "city" will lose some of its meaning: it will make less and less sense to describe agglomerations of tens of millions of people as if they were one place, with one identity. If current dreams of urban agriculture come true, the distinction between town and country will blur. Attempts at control won't be abandoned, however, meaning that strange bubbles of luxury will appear, like shopping malls and office parks. To be optimistic, the human genius for inventing social structures will mean that new forms of settlement we can't quite imagine will begin to emerge.
All this assumes that environmental catastrophe doesn't drive us into caves. Nor does it describe what will happen in Britain, with a roughly stable population and a planning policy dedicated to preserving the status quo as much as possible. Britain in 25 years' time may look much as it does now, which is not hugely different from 25 years ago. Rowan Moore, Observer architecture correspondent
15 Sport: 'Broadcasts will use holograms'
Globalisation in sport will continue: it's a trend we've seen by the choice of Rio for the 2016 Olympics and Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. This will mean changes to traditional sporting calendars in recognition of the demands of climate and time zones across the planet.
Sport will have to respond to new technologies, the speed at which we process information and apparent reductions in attention span. Shorter formats, such as Twenty20 cricket and rugby sevens, could aid the development of traditional sports in new territories.
The demands of TV will grow, as will technology's role in umpiring and consuming sport. Electronics companies are already planning broadcasts using live holograms. I don't think we'll see an acceptance of performance-enhancing drugs: the trend has been towards zero tolerance and long may it remain so.
Mike Lee, chairman of Vero Communications and ex-director of communications for London's 2012 Olympic bid
16 Transport: 'There will be more automated cars'
It's not difficult to predict how our transport infrastructure will look in 25 years' time – it can take decades to construct a high-speed rail line or a motorway, so we know now what's in store. But there will be radical changes in how we think about transport. The technology of information and communication networks is changing rapidly and internet and mobile developments are helping make our journeys more seamless. Queues at St Pancras station or Heathrow airport when the infrastructure can't cope for whatever reason should become a thing of the past, but these challenges, while they might appear trivial, are significant because it's not easy to organise large-scale information systems.
The instinct to travel is innate within us, but we will have to do it in a more carbon-efficient way. It's hard to be precise, but I think we'll be cycling and walking more; in crowded urban areas we may see travelators – which we see in airports already – and more scooters. There will be more automated cars, like the ones Google has recently been testing. These driverless cars will be safer, but when accidents do happen, they may be on the scale of airline disasters. Personal jetpacks will, I think, remain a niche choice.
Frank Kelly, professor of the mathematics of systems at Cambridge University, and former chief scientific adviser to the DfT
17 Health: 'We'll feel less healthy'
Futurists can do formal studies in Futures and related topics, although most of us have multi-disciplinary academic backgrounds. We can also be part of a number of professional associations that help us develop our skills and network with some of the best in the business. Obviously, it’s quite easy to identify the good futurists – you just need to evaluate the track record of their predictions. And you can also look at the detail they give in their future scenarios, and whether they’re able to make these valuable and applicable to our world today (this separates the science fiction writers from the professional futurists).
Recently, Business Insider interviewed futurist Ian Pearson, founder of Futurizon on his predictions for the key new technologies we can expect to see by 2050 and how they will change the way we live. Ian has a great reputation for technology predictions at about a 10-15 year horizon, and we like his list a lot.
Here is what he suggested (click here for the full story and detail behind these predictions):
- We could start seeing delivery drones finally start making deliveries in the next two years.
- A Hyperloop could take us in between cities in just six years.
- Machines could start thinking like humans as early as 2025.
- Space trips designed to send people to Mars could start taking place in 2030.
- Prosthetics could get so advanced in the next 10 years they could give people new skills.
- Clothing could give people superhuman skills in the next 10 years.
- Virtual reality could replace textbooks during the next decade.
- The smartphone will become obsolete by 2025.
- Self-driving vehicles could be ubiquitous in the next 10 years.
- 3D-printing could be used to construct more houses in 20 years.
- People could start using robots to do work around their house and provide companionship starting in 2030.
- We could live in a Matrix-like virtual world by 2045.
- People could also become Cyborgs by 2045.
- People could control their home settings using artificial intelligence by 2040 as well.
- Super tall buildings could function like mini-cities in the next 25 years.
- We could rely entirely on renewable energy by the year 2050.
- Space tourism could be feasible in 2050, but likely only for the very wealthy.
Source: Business Insider
For many people, this sort of list feels a little bit like reading a science fiction wish list. But we believe that this is a credible view of our near future. And it illustrates one of the key findings of our team’s research: that we are living at a time in history characterised by deep disruptive changes.
The list above provides an insight into some of the technologies that are about to disrupt our world. Three of the key areas of disruptions are:
- The next evolution of human beings and integrating with robotics – it could be argued that we’re already technically cyborgs (part machine / part humans) as we keep our mobile phones (which are technically super computing devices) less than an arm’s length away from us at all times. They might as well be implanted – and they probably soon will be. As robotics develop, we will integrate them into our lives and then implant them too. But even if that’s a step too far for some people, we will use the Internet of Things to connect ourselves more and more to the digital devices in our lives, making our homes, cars, offices, cities and environment smarter and smarter.
- Changes to how we travel – from drones to hyperloop trains, driverless cars to interplanetary travel, the near future of travel looks set for revolution. But maybe even more so than most people think. Driverless cars are going to go from legal to compulsory very quickly, as we realise their potential to dramatically increase road safety and efficiency as soon as every car in a system can speak to every other car. Driverless cars will also shift us quickly sharing cars. Uber doesn’t just want to take over the taxi industry, they’re actually aiming to take over all cars everywhere. If your car is self-driving, and can earn money while you’re not using it, then it makes sense to put it into Uber’s system. And when you do that, you’ll quickly realise that you don’t actually need to own a car – you can just use the closest Uber vehicle. We’ll also need less parking spaces – you can turn your home garage into an extra room, and your workplace and the local mall can convert parkades into usable office and retail space. Changing how we travel is going to be one of the biggest game changers in the world in the next decade or so. And we know – for sure – that this WILL happen.
- Revolutions in energy production and storage – We recently wrote about this issue ourselves (see here) and have been following the development of alternative energy sources for a few years (see notes on ITER, nuclear fusion, solar and shale gas, for example). Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Coalition is going to accelerate the delivery of “miracle energy solutions”, which could see the price of energy plummet in the next years. And that is a lever that will affect everything else, and especially impact the lives of the poorest people on the planet.
What a time to be alive.
And what a time to be a leader in the world. We need to recognise that we live at a time of deep structural change, and that we must prepare for a future that will be unlike the past. This requires confronting limiting orthodoxies, accelerating creativity and innovation, and changing not just products and processes but entire business models as well. We’re always changing, and so is the world. But sometimes the constant march of change beats to a different drum – and takes a different path. When the music changes, so must we.