How will technology change life by the end of the decade? Here are a few ideas.

We'll have more open cities, where citizens can "participate in the delivery of services."

The maker movement will go mainstream.

By 2020, we may see drugs personalized based on people's DNA.

In the past, innovative products flowed from rich countries to poor countries. By 2020, the pipeline may start flipping.

2020 could see the end of online versus offline.

"If cash is king, the king is dead," says Kosta Peric, deputy director of the Gates Foundation's financial services program.

Many contributors expect the less desirable effects of technology to become even more troubling by 2020.

2014-01-16

8 Unexpected Ways Technology Will Change The World By 2020

Six years isn't that long, but the rapid pace of innovation means everything--from education to health care to the Internet itself--could look a lot different by then.

How will technology change life by the end of the decade? That's the subject of a new book, called Shift 2020, which explores the future of everything from greentech and health care to 3-D printing and transport.

Shift 2020 was edited by Rudy De Waele, a strategist and entrepreneur from the U.K., and includes predictions from more than 70 futurists, thinkers-in-residence, entrepreneurs, think-tank analysts, and academics. We picked out a few ideas that caught our eye. You can purchase the full copy here.

NEW EDUCATION MODELS

Salim Ismail, a director at Singularity University, predicts education will become an "on-demand service" where people "pull down a module of learning" when they need it. Large bundles of knowledge, as in traditional courses, will be out. Specific will be in.

Eze Vidra, head of Google Entrepreneurs Europe says: "School kids will learn from short bite-sized modules, and gamification practices will be incorporated in schools to incentivize children to progress on their own."

SMARTER CITIES

Several contributors expect the smart city to become a reality. Apart from ubiquitous sensor technology, mesh networks, and big data analytics, we'll have more open cities, where citizens can "participate in the delivery of services," says Shannon Spanhake, San Francisco's deputy innovation officer.

Cities will also become trusted exchanges for alternative currencies, form "public-private-people partnerships," and form more robust city-to-city networks to deal with issues like climate change and trafficking, she says.

A CREATIVE BOOM

Making will go mainstream, says strategist Raina Kumra: "The maker movement resonates not just with the creative class, but with people who would never consider themselves to be traditionally 'creative'--opening up a whole population of pragmatists who now make extremely useful 'artwork' by learning the basics of code, design and desktop milling."

Distributed manufacturing could be bad news for major brands, says David Rowan, editor of Wired's U.K. edition: "What bloggers did to mass media will have its parallel in what amateurs will do to the Sonys and Toyotas of the world."

HEALTH CARE

Russell Buckley, of Ballpark Ventures, expects to see a switch in health care from catering to people when they're ill to more monitoring and prevention. By 2020, we'll also see more drugs personalized based on people's DNA and more training and surgery conducted remotely, he says.

REVERSE INNOVATION

In the past, innovative products flowed from rich countries to poor countries. By 2020, the pipeline may start flipping, says Timothy Kotin, founder of education start-up E-coach Solutions. He believes that as Africa embraces technology to solve health and education challenges, it may start exporting its models elsewhere.

THE END OF ONLINE/OFFLINE

2020 could see the end of online versus offline. "The membrane between the online world and the offline will effectively disappear, as continuously connected devices fully disappear into our pockets, clothing, our jewelry, our selves," says Glen Hiemstra, of Futurist.com. "We will not think of two different worlds ... but instead see simply a fully integrated life."

FINANCIAL INCLUSION

"If cash is king, the king is dead," says Kosta Peric, deputy director of the Gates Foundation's financial services program. By 2020, mobile money will have spread throughout Africa, enabling some of the 2 billion people without access to financial services to come into the formal system. That should help lift many out of poverty, he predicts.

THE DARK SIDE

Many contributors expect the less desirable effects of technology to become even more troubling by 2020. Among their dark imaginings: The end of privacy and the continued rise of surveillance. The personalization of everything and the end of serendipity. Dependence on devices. Loss of human autonomy in the face of artificial intelligence. To quote Gerd Leonhard, CEO of the Futures Agency: "Machines will know us better than our closest friends and spouses, giving us utterly flawless comments, advice, and recommendations and very accurate personal predictions--in fact running our lives to a very large degree... The backlash will be strong, as well, but for the most part addiction and convenience will prevail."

For all technology's promise, there's a dark side that's still under-acknowledged. Before we get too excited about the future, we might want to step back and wonder if we're actually making progress.

[Images via Shutterstock]

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8 Comments

  • Michelle Rose

    It's all too clear that opportunism is a major driver of these paradigm shifts in both the "light" and "dark" side of tech advancements. As a species, we're working to make things easier for everyone. As individuals, we're looking out for number one, despite the shift toward networking everything , or perhaps because of it. All the scientific advancements in the areas of psychology, neurology, and artificial intelligence will not significantly reduce the number of sociopaths our civilization produces. Ergo: yes, we will have marvels beyond description. But we will also have atrocities that beggar the imagination.

  • Sure, the end of autonomy and increased surveillance sound bad but you can't talk about the dark side of tech without bringing up extremist groups who are willing to use destructive tactics to achieve their goals. The same cheap, open source, cutting edge technologies that the average person benefits from are just as available to al-Qaeda, Hamas, et al as they are to silicon valley startups and home hardware hackers. I'm an admitted optimist and techno-utopian who believes that most people are good and that technology will increase equality across the globe, but the destructive angle is alarming and I see no obvious solutions.

  • Eze Vidra's vision for the future is disappointing--I'd urge them to think deeper about goals for 21st century learning. Generally, folks agree those are interpersonal skills (knowing how to work with others) and intrapersonal skills (self-regulation, learning how to learn, instrinsic curiosity). Neither of those areas are tapped by "gamification" (ie behaviorism) or working on a series of problems someone else gives you (direct instruction).

    Let's dream bigger. What if learning looked like the web?

  • Allan Hytowitz

    You missed the biggest factor in that people will get smarter.

    21st century vision skills require letter reading skills previously unprecedented in human development.

    http://www.dyop.org/documents/DyopAcuity.html

    http://www.dyop.org/documents/2013_AAO_Harris.pdf

    About 2/3rds of the world's population has vision developed for distance ("red-dominant") and detecting game and predators rather than near vision ("green-dominant") that facilitates comprehension of letter-based words.

    http://www.dyop.org/documents/ColorScreening.html

    Our discoveries of Dyops as a more precise method for measuring acuity also has led to discoveries of differences in color perception and their correlation to dyslexia, migraines, and epilepsy.

    http://www.dyop.org/documents/Harris-colored_contacts.pdf

    Better acuity puts people in glasses to facilitate their ability to read and learn. Chromatic modulation will reduce the handicaps that "red-dominant" vision individuals have when it co

  • Hi Ben, nice summary, enjoyed the reading. One question remains: which ones are really unexpected? The signs are on the walls for longer. The really unexpected one could be that all this is worthless when energy blackouts kick in...when energy return on energy invested (EROEI) will turn negative and will dry out the use of these applications...what then? Where's plan B?

  • Great point Ralph… Here’s plan B.

    When you read the full shift2020 e/book – you will find out we have Plan B well covered.

    In shift2020, I predict Body Area Networks will be empowering everyone. I also predict Body Area Networks will be powered by body energy supplied from nano-scale generators (in us, on us & around us) to service billions of applications and exponentially more.

    Plan B is our Body Energy… or Plan BE.

    Plan BE additional sources of energy are well defined from one of my all-time favorite Microsoft patents filed on April 24, 2000 -- awarded in 2004:

    US Patent 6,754,472: Method and apparatus for transmitting power and data using the human body: http://www.google.com/patents/US6754472

    IMHO - Plan BE, combined with the amazing advances in renewable energy forecasted, will keep our lights on forever.

    And, I'd say, we have a very bright future ahead for all shift2020 predictions and any others we can imagine.

    Michael O'Farrell // Curator @nanomobility