Get ready for the first complete synthetic human brain, moon mining, and much more. Maybe robotic moon bases, chips implanted in our brains, self-driving cars and high-speed rail linking London to Beijing. According to a dazzling number of technology predictions that single out the year 2020, it’s going to be to be one heck of a year. Here, we take a look at some of the wonders it has in store.
2020, of course, is just a convenient target date for roughly-10-years-off predictions. “It’s not any more particularly interesting, in my opinion, than 2019 or 2021,” says Mike Liebhold, a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Future, and an all-around technology expert with a resume that includes stints with Intel, Apple, and even Netscape.
Liebhold now helps clients take a long view of their businesses so they can make better decisions in the short term. He and his colleagues at the Institute for the Future don’t help clients read tea leaves but they do help them read what he calls the signals — those things you can see in the world today that allow you to make reasonable forecasts about what the future holds.
• Japan will build a Robotic Moon Base
There’s no technological reason why Japan shouldn’t be able to move forward with its ambitious plan to build a robotic lunar outpost by 2020 — built by robots, for robots. In fact, there’s really no nation better for the job in terms of technological prowess.
The Institute for the Future’s Mike Liebhold says, “There are private launch vehicles that are probably capable of doing that, and I think the robotics by that point are going to be quite robust.”
PopSci Predicts: Technologically possible, but economics will be the deciding factor.
______________________________________• Self driving Cars
It’s long been a dream of, well, just about everyone, from Google and DARPA to automakers themselves: utter safety and ease of transport thanks to self-driving cars. There’s movement being made, but the first hurdle to clear is a big one: Getting all these heterogenous cars to speak to one another. We don’t yet have the wireless infrastructure, globally speaking, to link all our cars with all our traffic tech.
PopSci Predicts: Certainly doable, but not by 2020.
• The ‘flying car’ will be airbone
The rebirth of the flying car? Liebhold, of the Institute for the Future, shoots this one down. “No. The air traffic control for something like that is incredible.” It’s a problem in every way — logistically we can’t do it, cost-wise we can’t do it, and technologically it’s extremely unlikely. Oh well.
PopSci Predicts: The military might have its prototype “flying humvee” by 2020 (DARPA wants it by 2015), but the tech won’t trickle down to the rest of us for quite a while.
• We will control devices by microchips implanted in our brains
The human brain remains biology’s great, unconquered wilderness, and while the idea of meshing the raw power of the human mind with electronic stimulus and responsiveness has long existed in both science fiction and — to some degree — in reality, we likely won’t be controlling our devices with a thought in 2020 as Intel has predicted. While it’s currently possible to implant a chip in the brain and even get one to respond to or stimulate gross neural activity, we simply don’t understand the brain’s nuance well enough to create the kind of interface that would let you channel surf by simply thinking about it.
“Neural communications are both chemical and electrical,” Liebhold says. “And we have no idea about how that works, particularly in the semantics of neural communication. So yeah, somebody might be able to put electronics inside somebody’s cranium, but I personally believe it’s only going to be nominally useful for very, very narrow therapeutic applications.”
PopSci Predicts: We might have chips in the brain by 2020, but they won’t be doing much
• All new screens will be ultra-thin OLEDs
Display tech moves incredibly fast. There will certainly still be some “antique” LCD monitor screens hanging around in 2020, but as far as new stock is concerned, it’s easy to see the entire industry shifting to paper-thin OLED surfaces, many with touch capability.
“So surfaces will become computational,” Liebhold says. “walls, mirrors, windows. I think that’s legitimate.”
PopSci Predicts: “Give that one a high probability,” Liebhold says. Done.
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