Technological advancements are notoriously difficult to predict. If you’d have asked someone in the 1980s or 90s what their predictions were for the new century, it’s unlikely that they’d have thought that we’d all be connected through our mobile phones with the ability to take high-quality video footage whenever we like.
Instant access to information, an increasingly automated society (self-checkouts, drone deliveries), online shopping and on-demand TV are things that we all take for granted.
To predict the next ‘big’ tech advancement, it’s perhaps best to look back at history to see how technology has evolved. Computers have steadily, then more quickly become smaller, more powerful, and more transportable. Cars have become faster, safer and more economical; and are now becoming more environmentally friendly.
Tech advancements are driven in part by demand and in part by necessity. We are facing a global environmental crisis, so tech is being developed to tackle this: renewable energy, recycling, thermal efficiency, electric cars. But sometimes, an idea seems to come from nowhere and take holdfast. Social media is a great example of an idea which was unheard of only 15 years ago. Now it is a part of all our lives.
As we enter a new ‘Jazz Age’, a ‘Roaring 21st century Twenties’, what will the technology landscape look like in ten years’ time?
Artificial intelligence is still very much in its infancy. Sci-fi depictions of all-powerful machines destroying humanity have perhaps made us more cautious of its implications. This is surely a good thing but the 20s must certainly be the age when AI hits the mainstream. Machine learning is already in use, particularly in the manufacturing and healthcare industries. The latest technological advancements in AI are helping to predict disease more accurately than ever before and find cures and undertake surgery before it’s too late.
Until now, specialised AI programmes have used statistics as a base for developing theories. It is predicted that new AI technology will create software capable of hearing and seeing the world. Automatic cars are already doing this, and the next generation of robotics are set to become the companion of choice both to carry out chores and for intelligent conversation.
We are heading towards a cashless society. That is the opinion of some think tanks in the 21st century. In the UK in 2018, cash transactions reached their lowest in recorded history at only 28.5%. Cards, on the other hand, accounted for 48.9% over the same period. Contactless debit card payments and Apple Pay have quickly become the preferred method of payment for millions of Brits. The increase in the contactless limit from £20 to £30 in 2015 helped to increase contactless payments by a staggering 97% by 2017. Trends are similar across Europe and the Western world.
In developing countries, however, cash is still the most common form of payment. Is it only a matter of time before the developing countries follow suit? There are also cryptocurrencies to consider. When Bitcoin was released in 2009, it was predicted to skyrocket in use. After some initial security uncertainty, it has seen year on year growth. Somewhat shunned by mainstream businesses in recent years, it has now become the currency of choice for dark web users in search of illicit commodities. As technology advances and societies change, will Bitcoin become more mainstream?
As mentioned above, mobile phones are a ubiquitous part of our lives. We are ultra-connected like never before and this has all sorts of implications for the future of society. Think of a photo you share of your child. In a few years’ time this could be used by an obscure marketing company somewhere on the other side of the world. When you like a company on Facebook, are you subsequently bombarded with marketing material and inappropriate ads? In some countries, commenting on political events on social media can even lead to you facing criminal charges.
The more connected we are the easier we can access everything we need. On the flipside, however, when things go wrong the bigger the potential disaster. There have been many privacy breaches over recent years from the large scale, (Ashley Madison, Facebook & Cambridge Analytica, Wikileaks) to the smaller scale scams involving credit card fraud and identity theft.
As technology progresses, the need for better security becomes ever more vital. The prediction for ultra-connectivity in the 20s is perhaps the biggest shift we’ll see this decade. There are already over five billion people connected to the internet. Many of these are through wireless devices such as mobiles, watches and headsets. Our desire to integrate with technology has never been stronger.
Scientists are already using microchips to enhance their physical capabilities. In 2009, British scientist Mark Gasson surgically implanted a glass capsule into his hand. He went on to theorise that the technology could be viewed as part of his body because it was able to carry a computer virus which could be transmitted to other devices. Implants in humans have been used to open automatic doors and switch on lights but now theorists predict that the next generation of digital implants will include brain implants and iris overlays which fully integrate the human brain with the World Wide Web.
The sociological and ethical implications of a computer connected brain are complex and far-reaching. They are also probably a lot closer to reality than you think. Prosthetics are already being integrated successfully with human tissue and through online communal gaming, we are already heading towards a digitally shared consciousness.
There is a feeling of uncertainty around the world. Whether this is political, financial, ecological or philosophical, it is influencing how we develop and the innovations we make. Despite being more connected than ever, it seems that in many ways we live in a more fragmented society than ever before.
Here are a few more predictions for tech in the 20s, please comment below with your own predictions and let’s see if we have a Nostradamus in the Business Leader community:
- Nano technology
- Voice activated appliances
- Artificial reality
- Genetic editing
- 4D printing
- Asteroid mining
- Smart Dust