The last 10 years have seen a lot change in the world of technology – but what will the next decade bring us?
A decade ago the hottest smartphone on the market was the iPhone 3GS – a phone with a miniscule 3.5″ display and a far cry from the 6.5″ screen available on the iPhone XS today.
Speakers have got bigger too, now coming packed with integrated circuits allowing us to do our shopping from our living rooms just by talking.
So what’s in store for the 2020s? Here are 10 predictions…
- Personal flying transportation
Over the course of the last year a number of jetpack and personal flying machines were developed and successfully flown by engineers from across the world.
French inventor Franky Zapata said he had only a “50% chance of success” when he attempted to cross the Channel on his flyboard. But he did it.
And former Royal Marine Richard Browning used a jet suit he invented to negotiate one of the toughest assault courses in the military. Now he’s set up a company to come up with new ways it could be used.
And in Dubai, police have begun training on hoverbikes in the hope that they can help first responder units reach areas that would otherwise be difficult to reach. The futuristic vehicles are intended to be in action this year.
- Living homes as our own personal factories
Professor Rachel Armstrong is a professor of experimental architecture at Newcastle University, and co-ordinator of the living architecture project. She said:
“By the year 2030 houses are more self-sufficient in terms of energy and resources to the point where we are weaned off fossil fuel-based domestic systems.
“Using the incredible processing power of microbes, the tiny organisms that make our soils fertile and whose ancient ancestors are contained within fossil fuels, each home will have a “digester” that, provides an ideal home for microbes, which feed on our liquid waste.
Image:The ‘living brick’ could be an ideal home for microbes. Pic: Living architecture project
“As they feed on our waste fluids, they turn them into clean water, low power 12V electricity supply and a range of organic compounds that can be used for a range of things like fertiliser.
“Cleaned water will be recycled back into our bathrooms and kitchens, reducing our overall water consumption.
“Organic matter will be used to feed our pot plants, window boxes and gardens, so we won’t need to buy fertilisers to make them greener.
“The low-power electricity supply will not only be able to charge our mobile phones and lighting but also perform a range of automated tasks using robots around our home.
Image:A ‘wall’ of ‘living bricks’ housing microbes. Pic: Living architecture project
“Fitted with an artificial intelligence that “knows” just how much energy and resource you, your plants and microbes need to have a healthy home, these “cyborg” systems will become a “living” system that looks after us.
“Different kinds of microbes can make different useful products, like heat and now that we’ve learned how to engineer them using synthetic biology techniques, new regulations will enable them to be installed in homes under specific conditions where they make high value products like vitamins, medicines, food and even remove pollutants.
“People living in these homes are no longer just consumers of resource but are producers of valuable substances that can be used to trade, or give to others in need, forming the basis of a new kind of “off-grid” domestic “economics”.
- What won’t change – the nature of humanity
Image:Technology hasn’t changed human nature
Professor Genevieve Bell has a PhD in cultural anthropology and after a long career at tech giant Intel now heads the 3A Institute in Australia, examining the human impact of AI. She told Sky News:
“When asked about the future, I often look at the past. It might not give us the answers, but it always helps me frame better questions and points of view.
“I think that is because the things that make us human change very slowly, certainly nowhere near as fast as technology changes.”
She added: “Back in 2003, science fiction writer William Gibson said: ‘The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.’ I believe there are parts of the future that are all around us, we just need to look for them.
Image:Smart devices will automate more domestic tasks
“The proliferation of smart devices, be it smartphones, robot vacuum cleaners or smart speakers in the home, are part of a long wave of automation of domestic tasks, and of using digital technologies where once things were analogue, mechanical and physical.
“These new devices do more than just the tasks at hand, though, they also enable masses of data to be collected. Where that data goes, who uses it and for what, are new questions and raise new challenges.
“Are our devices gossiping and judging us? Are they sharing our secrets and not-so secrets and with whom? What does it mean to talk about safety, privacy, security or even trust? Yet the technology won’t make a different future, we will.”
Image:World Economic Forum experts (who gather annually at Davos, above) believe this is the fourth industrial revolution
Professor Bell added: “In 2016, Klaus Schwab, director of the World Economic Forum, wrote that we have entered into the fourth wave of industrialisation, one where we’ll see the emergence of cyber-physical systems (CPS).
“Think: drones, autonomous vehicles, manufacturing robots and smart lifts. CPS represents a significant shift in the application of AI, from discrete, computer-based automation to embedded in a range of physical, often mobile, objects.
“And as these systems emerge, as robots and humans interact, as more data is produced and algorithms make sense of this data, we need to make sure we are asking the right questions.”
- AI will augment, not replace humans
Image:AI set on humanity’s destruction is probably not going to happen
Dr Nicola J Millard is a BT principal innovation partner. She isn’t a technologist but combines psychology with futurology to try to anticipate what might be lying around the corner. She said:
“Although artificial intelligence has yet to reach the sophistication of R2D2 or C3PO, there is no doubt that automation will impact us all in the future.
“Augmented Intelligence, where humans and machines exploit each other’s strengths, is likely to become an increasingly common way of working.”
Image:Human contact will become rarer in customer service, but more emotive
She added: “Looking into the next decade, playing games, interpreting the stock market, writing articles about football, spotting patterns in large, messy data sets, and performing activities in highly structured and predictable environments are all relatively easy for machines to learn to do.
“But by 2030 we’ll also start to see AI taking a much more sophisticated shape as humans will start to trust machines to fly planes, diagnose illnesses and manage financial affairs unsupervised.
“We’ll also see artificial intelligence start to impact transport in a big way with smart cities and smart cars being the new norm.
“But with AI comes moral dilemmas of many of these advancements.
“Think for example of the self-driving car. Should the car swerve to avoid a pedestrian if it thinks that there is a high likelihood that its actions will injure the driver. And who is responsible?
“This is a legal grey area that will need to be addressed in the future.”
Image:Ageing has been a focus on mankind for a long time, as this 1920s advertisement shows
- The abolition of ageing
“Death, thou shalt die,” wrote the 17th century metaphysical poet and Church of England cleric John Donne. His point was spiritual, but for David Wood, the co-leader Transhumanism UK, the “abolition of ageing” is a real goal to pursue.
He spoke to Sky News for a fascinating episode of Off Limits earlier this year, alongside Dr Ian Pearson, a futurologist who has researched different ways to extend human life and pointed to advances in genetic studies.
Dr Pearson said: “We’re looking at the genetic modification side of things already, and we’re looking at technologies in biotech that will allow us to play with telomeres [cells linked with the ageing process] on the end of the DNA strands.”
He added: “The technologies for life extension that IT offers are probably around the 2040, 2050, 2060 time frame, when we’ll have the IT that will allow us to live pretty much forever, or at least until the IT stops working.
“We will make direct links to the brain, and make replicas of your brain, or make an extension of your brain outside in the computer world.
“Therefore your mind will carry on migrating into that computer area, and at some point in your distant future, 99% of your mind is living in the computer, so if your body dies you lose 1% of your mind.
“The rest of it carries on as if nothing had happened. You buy an android, use that as your body from now on, and you carry on living.”
- Will the UK become a surveillance state?
Silkie Carlo is the director of Big Brother Watch, a civil liberties NGO which campaigns against state surveillance in the UK. She told Sky News:
“2020 will be a turning point for the future of surveillance in the UK.
“We’ll have a definitive judgment from the highest court in Europe on whether mass surveillance breaches human rights.
“We’ll also have pivotal fights against state and corporate uses of facial recognition, social media monitoring, encryption backdoors, automated decision making and predictive analytics.
“In 10 years from now, we could be a mature surveillance state with a population that’s watched, listened to, recorded and tracked more pervasively than ever before – and indeed, a population that records and tracks itself.
“It could be a data-driven nation of ambient surveillance and constant quantification. Implants and biometrics would be part of everyday life and surveillance would lace the “smart” homes and cities we’d live in.
“But it all depends on the choices we make in the next year or so.
“If we make the right ones, we’ll look back on this as the dark decade of surveillance – and the future will be one where technologies make us more free, not less.
Image:Police use of surveillance powers could grow by 2030
- Data becomes more honest
Renate Samson is a senior policy adviser at the Open Data Institute. Her vision of the future is one in which the value of data is collectively and collaboratively realised. She said:
“Data is a new form of infrastructure for us and for society as a whole.
“In 2030 the world of data will probably look much like it does today, but we will have a more nuanced approach to how we live our digital lives, though the opportunities for true control will likely remain weak and the consent model may be broken beyond repair.
“The love affair with big data will have soured. Good, accurate, authoritative data will be the hot desire.
Image:Big data will be replaced by best data
“Rather than holding all the data all the time just in case, organisations will realise that using accurate data to address a specific problem will bring real value. Data collaboration by people rather than just business may also begin to be the norm.
“Community will become more meaningful, people will seek to share and engage in smaller groups rather than long for the world to know everything.
“This will partly be inspired by an exhaustion with fake news and falsehoods on social media, and the need for accurate, truthful information.
“Individuals will have a greater sense of what data about them is and where their comfort with sharing lies.
“We will become more attuned to the misuse of behavioural data about us. Privacy will continue to matter but it won’t be a one size fits all. Concepts of ownership of data will persist amongst the few, but the majority will act collectively to challenge organisations who are unethical.
- Recapturing human identity
Image:Social media giants’ predictions – based on their own form of pop psychology – will lose credibility
Andrew Orlowski is director of the research network Think of X. He predicts that marketing-driven ideas about human identity which have been adopted by Facebook and Google will begin to recede. He said:
“The public keeps delivering up shocks to our experts, who now seem to live in a perpetual state of surprise.
“And for that you can blame the pop psychologist Malcolm Gladwell, the bestselling Canadian and the master of the quirky counter-intuitive pop science McNugget.
“Following his success, psychologists and neuroscientists began crafting their work to appeal to this new audience.
“Both wanted to make their accounts of how we behave to be ‘scientific’ – but their programs had fatal flaws. Psychologists became convinced that we were always wrong, and neuroscientists with extinguishing the idea of free will.
“Instead of being complex Enlightenment-era individuals, we were really either rats, or badly flawed robots.
“These ideas spread from marketing to our intelligentsia and captivated our policy makers.
“So we’ve been nudged and “game-ified” in encounters where the manipulator hopes we don’t notice the manipulation.
Image:Social media companies promised to predict their users’ behaviours
“Google and Facebook promised the increasingly out-of-touch political class that they could not only understand our behaviour, but shape it too.
“But the result was that by erasing what makes us human, the boffins had painted all the walls white and now couldn’t find the door.
“The explanations were useless. When everything was quirky and counter-intuitive, no intuition could be understood or predicted.
“It doesn’t help that both fields are now beset by crises: what is useful is not reproducible, and what’s reproducible is not useful.
“So my bet is that these fads have had their day. The ‘why we do things’ – the acknowledgement of human agency – will return to explanations of ‘what we do’. It must, for who wants to be surprised all the time?
Image:The battle to regulate Big Tech is heating up
- The battle to regulate Big Tech
Rowland Manthorpe is the technology correspondent at Sky News. He found a serious issue in European efforts to tackle competition issues posed by the Silicon Valley giants. This is his analysis.
In a wide-ranging interview at the start of her second term as European competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager acknowledged reforms demanded from firms such as Google don’t “necessarily change anything” because the companies had “already won the market”.
She cast doubt on the effectiveness of future changes to Google’s Android mobile operating system, saying she was “not holding my breath”.
Ms Vestager fined Google a record €4.3bn (£3.9bn) in July 2018 for using Android to illegally “cement its dominant position” in search and forced it to make changes to restore competition to the marketplace.
But although Ms Vestager said Google would be introducing a “preference menu”, offering users a choice of different browsers in the new year, she admitted she was not sure whether it would work.
Image:EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager is set for a second term
She told Sky News: “One of the very impressive competencies of Google as a company is their competence of making people make choices.”
Asked if she meant that Google would drive users towards its own products, she replied: “This is why it will be very interesting to see, how will such a menu of different options – how would that actually work?”
Ms Vestager is beginning a second term as European commissioner for competition, with an expanded role that has seen her labelled the ‘most powerful regulator of big tech on the planet’
In her first term, she levied record-breaking fines against Google and forced Amazon and Apple to pay huge sums in unpaid tax, drawing the ire of US President Donald Trump who said she must “hate the US”.
Yet although she said she had been able to stop companies breaking European competition law, and punish past misconduct, she acknowledged that “recovery of the markets” was a “work in progress”.
Image:The US aims to return to the moon again in 2024, this time with a woman
- Returning to the moon
This year marked the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, and now a number of national agencies and private companies are planning on returning mankind to the moon by 2030.
The US space agency NASA plans to not only return to the moon before 2030, but to journey beyond it and land a human on Mars, although that may not take place within the decade.
“This time we’re going to the moon to stay,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, adding: “And from there we’ll take the next giant leap in deep space exploration.”
It won’t simply be another great step for man, either.
Artists explain why humanity has remained so transfixed by the moon
Meanwhile, Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of SpaceX, has claimed it would be easier for his company to land on the moon first rather than try to convince NASA that the company is up to the task.
An even richer billionaire, Jeff Bezos, has also announced his plans for his own private space exploration company Blue Origin to send a spaceship to the moon.
China’s space agency also landed a lunar rover this year as part of its Chang’e 4 mission which has been on the dark side of the moon since January.
The head of the China National Space Administration, Zhang Kejian, has announced its plans to land human crew on the south pole of the moon within the next 10 years.
Who will get there first? We’ll just have to wait and see.
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