In ten years’ time, we’ll be half way through the next decade. And if the previous 10 years have been anything to go by, we can expect some radical changes.
I’m used to writing about where technology trends are heading in the future, but I usually focus on the next one to five years. This is because my work involves helping businesses use technology and data today, and that usually means leveraging what’s available right now or just around the corner.
But it’s also interesting to sometimes think about where it’s all heading. So here I want to try and peek a bit further into the future and come up with some ideas or predictions about how technology might change our lives on a longer timescale.
Of course, anything can happen in 10 years. It’s very possible that unforeseeable disruptive or world-changing events might make everything I’m predicting here totally wrong. But these ideas are based on extrapolating what’s happening today in society and politics as well as technology, so they can still give us some valuable insight into what the future may hold.
AI and Automation Are Omnipresent
Just like other era-defining inventions – fire, the internal combustion engine, electricity, the internet – the hype eventually dies down, and it becomes something we take for granted.
So, even though I have no doubt it will be integrated into everything we do by 2034, we probably won’t talk about AI as much as we do today.
Today, we rarely think about how AI is there in the background when we make Google searches, pick movies to watch on Netflix or make online banking transactions. Tomorrow, we won’t think about it as it drives our cars, keeps us healthy and helps us work more productively.
In 10 years’ time, with the advances we’re seeing in natural language processing and speech generation, voice control could become our default method of interacting with machines. We’re already used to speaking to machines like Alexa or Siri, even though the experience can be shaky and limited. But with natural language processing taking over, by 2034, it will seem completely humdrum to have natural, flowing conversations with technology. And mature behavioral analytics will mean that our devices will be far better at understanding what we want and predicting what will make us happy.
Physical, automated robots are also coming into their own thanks to the application of AI to problems such as mobility and stability. Will we have fully-fledged “androids” like those we grew up with in sci-fi? We might be getting close to creating robots that resemble us very closely. But I think it will be more common to see machines tailored to specific purposes, such as warehouse work, manufacturing, building and maintenance.
As well as the technology itself, the impact of that technology on society will be all around us. Does that mean a utopia where no one works and an AI workforce generates everything we need? Or a dystopia where humans are largely redundant, and wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the technologically-enabled elite? Or something in between? The only concrete prediction I can give here is that the actions and decisions taken today, as we get started with AI, will play a big part in answering that question.
More and more of our lives are spent online, using digital services and exploring virtual worlds. As technology becomes cheaper, more ubiquitous and more immersive over the next 10 years, there’s no reason to think this trend will change.
In fact, particularly in the eyes of the younger generations, the differentiation between the online, digital world and the offline, physical world may start to fade. The concept of the “metaverse” may have fallen somewhat out of fashion in recent years thanks to the excitement over generative AI. But make no mistake, the concept – that our digital experiences will be just as important and consequential as our offline lives – is still just as true.
Some predict that the coming years could see a revolt against this. They say that a future generation – perhaps the upcoming “generation alpha” who are all children today – might reject this wholesale, valuing time away from technology and firmly anchored in physical reality.
But as virtual reality reaches the point (predicted to be in around 2040) that it can create experiences that are indistinguishable from actual reality, and augmented reality seamlessly blends the best of both worlds, the lure of putting on a headset or picking up a screen is still likely to be strong for people of all ages in 10 years’ time.
Healthcare Is Transformed By Biotechnology
Ongoing discoveries and investment into fields like genetic engineering, personalized medicine, and stem cell research are likely to have a huge impact on the way we cure and care for people in 2034.
Advances in gene editing technologies like CRISPR-Cas9 may have made it possible to correct many genetic disorders before birth. This could reduce the prevalence of many hereditary diseases like muscular dystrophy or cystic fibrosis. It could even reduce the overall genetic predisposition to negative effects of high cholesterol or blood pressure. The societal impacts of this could be huge, including extended human lifespans.
Similarly, regenerative medicine, fueled by research into stem cells, could mean many parts of the body will be “regrown”, making the shortage of organs available for transplant patients and concerns over transplant rejection things of the past.
In 10 years’ time, personalized medicine could be the norm – with patients expecting that healthcare providers will have access to near-complete information about their genetic identity in order to create cures and treatments specifically tailored to them.
Unavoidably, though, all of these technologies will force us to address many ethical questions. Giving parents the right to select or modify genetic traits that might be present in their children means carefully considering matters of consent and equality of access to this technology.
Then, there are potential unforeseen consequences, such as the possibility that these treatments might cause new health complications that we haven’t predicted further down the road. And, of course, anyone willing to hand over their genetic blueprint, even to their doctor, would probably want to be pretty confident that appropriate data protection safeguards are in place. Or that their own information isn’t going to be used against them, such as denying them access to treatment or health insurance based on genetic factors.
Considering how the world might be changed by this technology in 10 years, it’s clear that these are questions that we have to address now if we’re hoping to achieve the optimistic outlook!
Sustainability Out Of Necessity
By 2034, it seems inevitable that our lives will be impacted in some serious ways due to our failure to tackle climate change and pollution. Climate-induced migration will increase as desertification and rising sea levels disproportionately affect less developed areas. This could lead to increased pressure on resources and infrastructure in more developed, “safe” areas. Water scarcity is likely to be a growing problem due to more frequent and severe droughts and extreme weather events. This will have a knock-on impact on food production, just as rising temperatures will lead to declines in crop yields for staples like corn.
What this means is that by 2034, climate change will have real tangible effects on everyone’s quality of life, as well as the economy. Because of this, it’s likely that – out of necessity – sustainability will be mandated to a far greater degree than it is now. Governments and international organizations could be compelled by unfolding crises to implement stricter regulations, forcing technology providers to cut carbon emissions, manage waste and transition to clean energy sources.
This means that in 10 years’ time sustainability will be “baked in” to the technology we use to a far greater extent than today. From powering data centers with renewable energy to circular manufacturing processes that re-use the majority of components to the many waste-reducing efficiencies that can be created with AI.
This is one prediction that I really do hope I’ve got right – because if I haven’t, it will mean we’re still sticking our heads in the sand a decade from now and setting ourselves up for even more serious problems.