Technologically, the 20-year jump from 2015 to 2035 will be huge. During that time some elements of our world will change beyond recognition while others will stay reassuringly (or disappointingly) familiar. Consider the 20 years to 2015. Back in 1995 we were in the early days of the internet, we worked in cubicles and our computers were chunky and powered by Windows 95. There were no touch screen phones or flat screen TVs; people laughed at the idea of reading electronic books, and watching a home movie meant loading a clunky cassette into your VCR.
So, what will our world really be like 20 years from now? What does the future hold for the food we eat, the technology we use and the homes we live in? It would be tempting to roll out the clichés – food pills, flying cars and bases on the moon – but the reality will probably be less exciting. The world in 2035 will probably be much like it is today, but smarter and more automatic. Some innovations we might not notice, while others will knock us sideways, changing our lives forever.
The future of food
What it won’t be like: The scene in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) where Violet Beauregarde has a three-course roast dinner in a stick of chewing gum.
What it could be like: Google’s Ray Kurzweil says: ‘The next major food revolution will be vertical agriculture in which we grow food in AI-controlled vertical buildings rather than horizontal land: hydroponic plants for fruits and vegetables and in-vitro cloned meat.’ This change is already happening. Green Spirit Farms grows kale, spinach and other greens under LED lights in an old plastics factory near Chicago.
Vertical farming, genetically modified (GM) crops and synthetic meat will be responses to the growing need for greater food efficiency as populations continue to grow. But there will also be a reluctant realisation that we all need to eat a better diet, one that is more plant-based and less reliant on processed foods. Meatless Mondays are a start. If that doesn’t work, we could be eating insects in 2035. Already popular in parts of Asia, insects are protein-rich, low in fat and a good source of calcium. Hey, don’t knock a roasted grasshopper until you’ve tried one.
The future of love
What it won’t be like: The movie Her (2013), where Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with an artificial intelligence (AI) operating system that has Scarlett Johansson’s voice.
What it could be like: The internet has forever changed the way people meet and fall in love. Online dating and location-based services such as Vine, Snapchat and Grindr have opened up possibilities that allow people to look beyond their immediate friends, friends of friends, and co-workers.
We are becoming more independent and less constrained by the old social norms. This will have an impact on the relationships we form, with fewer people choosing traditional marriage, a rise in official (and unofficial) civil partnerships, and more people remaining single for longer, if not forever.
Dr Helen Fisher, a senior research fellow at The Kinsey Institute for research in sex, gender and reproduction and an adviser to dating website Match.com, thinks she knows where relationships are heading.
‘Singles are ushering into vogue an extended pre-commitment stage of courtship,’ she wrote in The Wall Street Journal. ‘With hooking up, friends with benefits, and living together, they are getting to know a partner long before they tie the knot. Where marriage used to be the beginning of a partnership, it’s becoming the finale.
‘Any prediction of the future should take into account the unquenchable, adaptable and primordial human drive to love,’ she added. ‘To bond is human. This drive most likely evolved more than four million years ago, and email and computers won’t stamp it out.’'Where marriage used to be the beginning of a partnership, it's becoming the finale.'
The future of work
What it won’t be like: The film Metropolis (1927), where battalions of sullen workers tend hulking machines in mind-numbing ten-hour shifts.
What it could be like: Rather than humans working with machines, automation is likely to make some jobs redundant: taxi drivers replaced by self-driving Uber cars; receptionists replaced by robots; doctors outclassed by algorithms that can plug into vast medical databases; and travel agents wiped out by trip-planning, flight-booking web services.
Heck, even writers like me are threatened by companies such as Narrative Science, which currently uses AI to automate the creation of sports reports and financial updates.
Obviously, there will also be new jobs created: the computer engineer/mechanic who fixes the self-driving Uber taxis; programmers; genome mappers and bioengineers; space tour guides; and vertical farmers. Technology will continue to disrupt businesses and eliminate jobs, creating new professions we can’t yet envisage.
Those of us who work probably won’t do so in a traditional office either. We’re already seeing a shift in the definition of work: it’s now a task you perform, not a place you go to. Productivity is no longer measured by sitting at a desk. There’s no nine to five. No job for life.
In MYOB’s report The Future of Business – Australia 2040, chief technology officer Simon Raik-Allen suggests we will see a return to more vibrant local communities as people work within walking distance of their homes.
‘Rather than the office, or even the remote workspace, localised centres will emerge as the home of business – giant warehouses, which are used by employees from many different companies, spread around the globe… Within each will be rooms filled with giant wall-sized screens allowing us to work in a fully virtual, telepresence model. Banks of 3D printers would be continually churning out products ordered by the local community,’ Raik-Allen predicts.
The future of health
What it won’t be like: Any episode of Star Trek where Bones whips out a tricorder, diagnoses the illness and then cures it with a hypo-spray.
What it could be like: Hospitals are the costliest single element in Australia’s health system, representing up to 40 per cent of our annual health expenditure. No wonder future healthcare strategies will try to keep people out of them.
Prevention will become the focus as we gain greater control of our health information, using self-monitoring biosensors and smart watches to continuously gather fitness data; web apps will crunch the data, syncing to electronic health records. Using these numbers, companies will be able to build a model of your overall health that can predict future problems. Being forewarned, patients will be able to take action early, changing lifestyle habits or taking designer drugs tailored to their individual DNA.
Technology will be key. ‘Telehealth platforms will make in-home patient monitoring the norm for those who need it,’ says Dr Sarah Dods, health services research theme leader at CSIRO. Doctors will be able to consult over the internet – the perfect solution for people living in remote towns across Australia.
Genome mapping will lead to personalised medicines and 3D-printed replacement organs. Meanwhile, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology will be used in driverless ambulance drones. The New Zealand-based Martin Jetpack company has already developed such a concept.
Of course, greater awareness of what we need to do to stay healthy will be equally important, as will avoiding passing health fads such as juicing, weight loss supplements and weird detoxification rituals like eating clay. And if we can stay away from futuristic cosmetic surgery procedures such as JewelEye (implanting platinum jewels into the whites of the eye to give that movie-style sparkle), so much the better.
The future of technology
What it won’t be like: The film Elysium (2013), where the super-rich, led by Jodie Foster, have abandoned earth to live on a luxury space station.
What it could be like: Technology underpins everything we’ve looked at so far – food, health, relationships and work. We’re heading into a future where improved battery technology will enable better electric cars, personal flying machines, Hyperloop transportation systems, private space tourism and drone delivery services. We’ll wear Band Aid-style fitness sensors on our skin, charge our devices using wireless power, let algorithms optimise and guard our homes, and have virtual assistants (the next generation of Google Now, Siri and Cortana) to help us manage the flood of data and make sense of it.
Some of this might happen. Or none of it. Three things, however, are certain: technology will get smaller, smarter and cheaper. In fact, it will get so small, smart and cheap that we’ll be able to put computers and sensors into almost anything – fridges will tell us when we’ve run out of milk, bins will tell the council when they’re full, 4K televisions will notice when we’ve stopped watching and turn themselves off to save power.
We’re on the road to the internet of things where everything is connected, not only to the internet but also to one another.
The future is… unpredictablePredicting the future is notoriously risky, especially if you claim to be an expert and then get it spectacularly wrong. In 1883 Lord Kelvin, president of Britain’s Royal Society, declared ‘X-rays will prove to be a hoax.’ Arthur Summerfield, the US Postmaster General in 1959, predicted that mail would be ‘delivered within hours from New York to Australia by guided missiles’. And we should be glad that Alex Lewyt’s 1955 notion of ‘nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners’ never made it to the drawing board.
But whatever happens next, it will be a great time to be alive.
Dean Evans is a technology expert, business writer, author, gamer and the former editor of TechRadar.com. He lives in the UK and continues to experiment with his 3D printer. Apparently his cookies are sublime. Follow him on Twitter at @evansdp
This article doesn’t suggest that any of the people or organisations mentioned endorses or promotes Grey is the New Black and Suncorp Superannuation.
Recently, techniques for direct brain stimulation, like optogenetics, have made it possible to not only read but also write information into single neurons. At the moment data transfer rates are still very slow, the best we can do is a few bits per second, but this could well increase to kilobits or maybe reach broadband speeds by 2045. This means the range of human perception could expand beyond its current design limitations. One could foresee a new and extraordinary world where there is a virtual marketplace for trading high quality emotions – where artists looking for a particularly high strength brew of melancholy, or actors needing to channel regret or compassion for their next play, could purchase emotions online.
Our cities will be made from living, dynamic materials that respond to the environment. In 30 years, tall buildings made of glass and twisted steel will be seen as relics from a bygone era, in the same way we think now of 1970s concrete tower blocks: ugly, out-dated and unfit for contemporary purpose. The urban environment of 2045 blends architecture with living materials that are mouldable, adaptable, responsive and disposable.
Entirely new synthetic life forms, or biological machines, made of engineered living cells from bacteria, fungi and algae will grow and evolve with the changing needs of a building’s inhabitants. They breathe in pollutants, clean wastewater, and use sunlight to make useful chemicals, energy, heat and vibrant vertical gardens. We will start to see a convergence between biology and technology, to the point where there is no longer a perceptible difference between the two. Today, synthetic biology labs are looking at the full diversity of what nature has to offer and using this to mix, match and edit genomes to design synthetic life forms. Right now, this field is just getting started and the science of synthetic biology is going to be tougher than most will admit.
We will use invisibility cloaks to "disappear" ugly objects. Invisibility has forever been a tantalising prospect. The key to cloaking lies in the way the electromagnetic spectrum (including visible light) interacts with objects. The human eye picks up electromagnetic radiation that falls and scatters from objects and we perceive this as light. In recent decades, scientists figured out using mathematics that it might just be possible to imagine a new class of artificial materials made of intricate tiny features with light (and sound) bending properties. They named them metamaterials.
Using nanotechnology engineering, scientists have since shown cloaking actually works – in principle at least, for a narrow range of colours and only from certain viewing angles. In my view the future applications of cloaking are highly uncertain and will likely be determined by the fads and social contagion of the time. They may be used in everything from novelty gimmicks to making unsightly construction sites and power stations seemingly ‘disappear’.
Oren Etzioni, chief executive of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence
AI will find the answers to many of the humanity's biggest questions. By 2045, we will not yet achieve human-level artificial intelligence, but we will have intelligent tools that augment our abilities to an unprecedented degree. No human can read even a tiny fraction of the one-hundred million or so scientific papers available online. But what if a cure for cancer is hinted at within the millions of medical articles that are published each year?
In 30 years' time, AI will be able to read - and understand - scientific papers, both text and figures! These AI readers will be able to connect the dots between disparate studies to identify novel hypotheses and suggest experiments that would otherwise be missed. AI will help us to find the answers to science's thorniest problems. At the Allen Institute for AI in Seattle we are working towards this future with the Semantic Scholar project. Our broad mission is to contribute to humanity through high-impact AI research and engineering.
Tamar Kasriel, founder and MD of Futureal, future-focused strategy consultancy
You won't be able to tell the difference between VR hoverboards and real hoverboards. By 2045 quite a few of us might have a hoverboard, but it will be struggling to compete with the thrill of the virtual reality version. What we are likely to see is the breakdown of much of the current distinction between the real and the digital, and the artificial and the human.
Humans will upgrade themselves continuously. As human enhancement becomes increasingly widespread and sophisticated, prosthetic add-ons and improvements will move further into the realm of the possible and everyday. Bits of exoskeleton hanging by the front door for Marty to put on as he goes into the street to make him a little bit faster, better coordinated, stronger.
Those who can afford it will have better eyesight and hearing, and just the right cocktail of food/medication to be the very best that they can be for the day ahead, based on micro performance analysis of the day just gone.
Driverless cars will just be...cars. And for many driving will have become only a leisure pursuit, a kind of sport.
Buildings will power themselves. Being optimistic, Marty and Doc won't find themselves in a smoggy apocalypse in 2045. Rather, a powerful mix of sense and/or fear will have continued the momentum behind increasing the efficiency and reducing the cost of alternative power sources. Solar panels will be built into lots of different building materials, so the whole of Hill Valley can quietly and cleanly power itself.
Richard Watson, futurist, writer and founder of online magazine What’s Next
Your phone, car or home can read your feelings and adapt accordingly
Machines will be able to sense and then adapt themselves to the emotional state of an individual user. At the moment machines can work out where someone is, who someone is and perhaps what they are doing or "like" but that’s about it. The next stage will be for machines to intuit human feelings. This can be done by ‘harvesting’ facial expressions, body language, heart rate, voice and so on. If you are typing text into a computer the computer might consider the speed you are typing, decide you are stressed and conclude that this isn’t the best time to allow you to read negative emails.
If you are driving a car, the car might consider how you are driving and infer certain conclusions. If the car decides you are angry and in danger of driving unsafely it might adapt itself to make things safer. On the other hand a shop might use this technology to work out when customers are more likely to buy things, including things they probably don’t really want.
Robotic insect swarms will help farmers and the military
By 2045 we should see insect-sized robotic insects capable of flying in co-ordinated swarms. They might be used for crop pollination purposes or as battlefield or crowd control cameras. These flying robots could be fitted with air sniffing or sampling technology to test air quality, search for pollution or give early warning about biological or gas attacks. They could also be programmed to interact with real insects. Gives the term police SWAT team a whole new meaning!
3D printed pizza
An invention that featured in Back to the Future II was the Black & Decker Hydrator . This was a kitchen device that could turn raisins back into grapes and stale pizza into a freshly delivered snack. By 2045 many kitchens will feature a 3D Printer that can turn out a fairly respectable printed pizza, biscuits, pretzels and so on. NASA is already experimenting with 3D printed food for missions to Mars and beyond. Unlikely to put any top-end London restaurants out of business, but a fun kitchen gadget to sit alongside the Soda stream and waffle maker, although if you have a 3D printer you wouldn’t need a waffle maker.
Peter Cochrane OBE, advisor and former BT chief technology officer
Almost everything about you will be monitored, analysed, and responded to by sensors and connected everyday objects.
In 2045, upon waking, you’ll walk into the bathroom, whose mirror will check your pulse and blood oxidation. An ultrasonic teeth cleaner samples and analyses your saliva, while bathroom scales, built into the floor, check your weight and skin salinity. Your toilet analyses all body matter issued, and all data is checked against your wearables to consider the recorded activities of the previous day, including food and drink intake.
By the time you are dressed and enter the kitchen your general health and bodily needs have been assessed and a suitable smoothie and coffee will have been prepared, along with a suggested breakfast menu of food, which is optimised to match the day’s activities, pulled from your diary and messaging systems. Everything will be tailored to your own needs, and by the time you leave the house, you will be completely refreshed and energised for the day ahead.
Mark Drapeau, head of content, World Future Society and editor, The Futurist
Poverty and hunger have been all but eliminated - by Uber
Uber, the world’s premier logistics, transportation, and energy company, has entirely eliminated urban “food islands” in developed areas of the world, and the Uber Foundation has leveraged the company’s technology along with outside partnerships to make significant contributions to reducing global hunger and poverty.
Through massive R&D efforts in renewable energy, autonomous vehicles, and technology-governed transportation networks, food, water, and other critical goods are available at extremely low cost to virtually anyone in the world who needs them. Such innovation can be traced back to the Gates Treaty of 2025, which was driven by philanthropist Bill Gates and President of the United States Pharrell Williams.
It for the first time brought together the most economically productive 25 nations to agree to a mutual reduction in military and other spending and an increase in R&D spending and corporate incentives to pursue environmental and climate change reseach.