I recently skimmed through a report released by the Institute for the Future (IFTF) in 2005 making predictions for the next 10 years. It’s been 10 years now, and the report was certainly accurate about some things – social networking, the ubiquity of mobile phones, large amounts of user generated content (blogs, podcasts etc) – but also off on some things – the severity of effects from climate change, smart roads, holographic displays, and embedded brain chips. But of course, to me, the interesting thing about future predictions isn’t about being right, it’s about looking back on it when that future time comes and observing what was important to ourselves back when those predictions were made. With that in mind, I’m going to make some of my own predictions for the next ten years – from 2015 to 2025 (and maybe beyond) and perhaps when 2025 comes around, I can re-post this blog post and reminisce about what seemed important at the time.
So, here are just a few predictions I want to make on a few areas of science and society. These aren’t things I’ve diligently researched, but an extrapolation from my own observations, filtered through the values and views I hold in 2015, composed of my knowledge but shaped by my ignorance. Feel free to leave your own predictions on these areas (or others) in the comments.
In 2015 we are in the era of biotechnology. We are currently making many discoveries in biochemistry, cell biology, physiology, and medicine. But many of these advances take some time to be turned into practical uses and then open up to a wide market. Gene therapy, organs grown in vitro from a persons own DNA, treatments for diseases once thought insurmountable (Alzheimers, Parkinsons, ALS, diabetes, cancer, AIDS etc), and a growing number of stem cell treatments will begin to become available in the next ten years. Treatments meant to augment or prevent disease may become available, such as gene doping, smart drugs, and tissue grafting.
Materials science will also hit the market. Some say we live in the digital age, but if we go by the theme of materials used, we actually live in the polymer age. Polymer muscles, self-healing polymers, and polymer sensors will become part of our everyday lives in ways that are difficult to foresee. Polymer dendrimers will be used for various biological activities, such as focused drug delivery, biological sensors, and medical imaging.
The current trend of Moore’s Law will continue until the point that transistors become so small that electrons can tunnel between gates. This will prompt more 3D processors, quantum computers, and nanotechnology breakthroughs. Computer integration is often predicted when it comes to the future of technology – having it hands free (headsets, things like Google Glass), integrated into our clothing or our workspace (the desk or chair), or even integrated into our body (computer tattoos or RFID chips) – and this will probably be the future at some point, but I think there almost needs to be a cultural shift for this to happen. As it stands right now, these types of integrations seem anywhere from mildly inconvenient (people would rather hold onto a phone than have it woven into their clothing) to socially taboo or even potentially illegal (having technology surgically implanted into your body). But, I think in the next ten years we’ll begin to see the technology itself adapt to being more conducive to this type of integration and culturally we’ll start to become more used to and accepting of this type of integration. I think by 2025 this type of integration will still be fairly new, but it won’t be seen as inconvenient or weird.
Social networking will still be around, but the internet will be very different. Government regulation of the internet will mean that the internet is reined in, become less of the wild west that it’s been since the nineties. Restrictions on content and access will prompt people to turn toward decentralization, possibly in the form of mesh networks. This will mean there is more than one internet, with access being based more on proximity and the number of people in the mesh network. I predict we’ll begin to see some of these arise in the next ten years, but that many people will cling to the current internet during that time, meaning the ubiquity of mesh networks won’t come around until after 2025 – cultural shifts can take time.
Nothing that exists in 2015 can potentially alter economics as much as 3D printing. I predict that in the next ten years, 3D printers will start to become more and more affordable, showing up in the houses of middle class people the way personal computers did in the 1980’s. These first 3D printers that become affordable won’t make the best quality products, being somewhat of a novelty at first, but I think by 2025 we’ll start to see more practical and useful things come from them. This will make the market for schematics and polymer materials used in 3D printing boom, while the market for many finished products will stagnate (think what the internet did for many retail stores like Circuit City and movie rental places like Blockbuster). It will create a market of user generated schematics (the same way people make phone apps in 2015) for making any number of things. It will be a revolution in terms of how to prohibit and enforce certain types of things like guns, but also in the realm of patents – you will no longer be able to just pirate software, but pirate schematics for otherwise expensive real world products.
The second biggest potential impact economically will be crytpocurrency (things like Bitcoin and Dogecoin). In 2015, Bitcoin tends to take the spotlight, but I think it’s still up in the air as far as which cryptocurrency will “win” or if there might just be more than one that people use – although I tend to think it will settle on one the same way social networking settled on Facebook. As global fiscal policies continue to devalue their currency and younger generations turn toward technology and peer-to-peer networking, cryptocurrency will become the unit of economic exchange. Governments will take time to incorporate this new paradigm, being slow to adapt, but they will be unable to curb the replacement of old currencies with new. What we’ll see in the purview of the next ten years, though, will be more and more businesses accepting cryptocurrencies and more and more people using them. This will create a shift in the cultural mindset concerning cryptocurrency – whereas right now people think of their Bitcoin in terms of how many dollars they are worth, more people (especially young people as they enter the market place) will think of the cryptocurrency itself as the unit of currency, rather than mentally translating it into the old money. This will be a key step in getting off the old monetary system and onto a digital one. Governments will try to shut things down until they learn how to tax it and make money off of it, but during the next ten years, expect a lot of resistance to cryptocurrency from governments.
As people born in the internet era (post 2000 mostly) grow up and enter the market place, culture will see another radical shift. We’re already seeing it emerge in what I called Granular Bubble Culture. I think looking from the top down, interconnectedness and globalization will cause somewhat of a homogenization of culture on its surface, but from the bottom up, we’ll see more and more of the Granular Bubble Culture, where pockets of subcultures keep themselves in a perpetual bubble, creating strange fads and phenomena within themselves that will seem alien to outsiders (think Bronies or people who watch Pewdiepie).
However, I think there will be a significant (although maybe not even the majority) of the population that once again becomes disenfranchised with the acceptance of consumerist culture we have now. The interesting thing about our modern times (2015) is that consumerism has become mainstream. Even the types of people who, back in the 1990’s, were often the biggest opponents of consumerist culture (primarily the left) are now fine with consumerism. They will gladly boast about their new smart phone or computer, show off their apps, and dress stylishly. I think, as is often the case in cultural evolution, we’ll see at least somewhat of a backlash against the acceptance of consumerist culture (the way the early 1990’s was a backlash to the consumerist culture of the 1980’s). It will once again become fashionable (in some areas of society, not all) to be minimalist, to spur certain types of technology, and to be thrifty and (at least somewhat) disconnected. There will mostly likely still be a silent majority that are happy to continue buying the next best thing, but this backlash will probably produce some forms of culture that will garner a lot of attention.
User generated content will continue to overtake mass media, at least in more affluent countries. We already see now that many movies make the most money overseas, so movies will continue to be produced for that audience. Podcasts, Youtube channels (or whatever video services take over), blogs, forums, and social media will continue to expand in production and consumption, many of them moving to the aforementioned mesh networks. TV will become more and more the platform for intelligent mass media, although the on-demand style of places like Netflix and Hulu will begin to overtake the old paradigm of scheduled television programs. However, I predict a change happening in the sorts of content seen on these programs. The new millenium has been big on shows about white, male antihero types (The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, House, The Walking Dead, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, True Detective, The Knick, Dexter, and the list goes on) which will probably not go away completely, but I think there will be an expansion on the types of shows we’ll see (things like Orange is the New Black and Transparent).
I think the trend of becoming more liberal of social issues will continue. By 2025, I predict marijuana will be legal in at least the majority of states in the U.S. and that gay marriage will not only be legal in all 50 states, but will start to be seen as something somewhat more normal (especially by younger people who grow up in a world where it’s more accepted). However, I see the pendulum swinging too far into that direction in the form of what are often pejoratively called SJW’s or social justice warriors. In the well-intentioned pursuit of more social acceptance for those considered outside the norm, political correctness will become more and more prominent, with the court of public opinion passing swift judgment on people who don’t conform with a strict set of correct terminology to refer to people. However, I see the pendulum reaching its pinnacle in the next decade, swinging back the other way in a backlash against this type of forced tolerance. My only hope is that it doesn’t swing too far in the other direction, but can find a happy middle ground where everyone is accepted but people can talk freely.
I think culturally there will become mistrust in authority (it’s already happening now, particularly when it comes to police). This will go hand-in-hand with the decentralization of society – more user generated content, mesh networks, Granular Bubble Culture (taking the place of central authorities), cryptocurrencies and 3D printing – and cause a decrease in government legitimacy. Governments will never go away – in fact, they will probably only step up their surveillance and attempts to control things – but on many of these decentralization issues named above, people will continue to ignore and subvert them in the same way people do now with online piracy.
In the end, culture is probably one of the most difficult things to predict. Culture is the interaction of many actors with an assortment of different tastes and backgrounds. Most of what can be extrapolated about culture is how culture will interact with the other areas – science, technology, economics – and it would be just about impossible to predict particular things, such as what style of clothes people will wear, what genres of music people will listen to, or the brands they will be loyal to.
So, what do you think of my predictions? Do you think they will be accurate? Do they reflect current trends – in other words, are they good extrapolations of how things are now in 2015? Am I predicting things (science, technology) to move too slowly or too quickly? Is there anything I may have missed that would enhance or throw a wrench in my predictions? What are your predictions for the next ten years? Twenty years? Fifty years?