A recent survey commissioned by Vodafone asked a group of futurologists to identify what technological developments they think would transform home and working life as part of future cities in 20 years. The key points they highlighted were:
- 3D printed components for housing construction, with 4D printed components that evolve over time as families’ accommodation requirements change;
- a five-fold increase in global power generation capacity as clean energy such as solar panels are extended from rooftops to windows, walls and even some highways;
- personalized medical interventions such as 3D bio-printing of organs and limbs;
- new public transportation systems connecting cities with trains running at up to 600mph (966kph);
- large-scale water capture projects, including precipitation harvesting, groundwater replenishment and improved desalination, transforming the lives of 1.2 billion people in water-constrained areas; and
- a tripling of connected sensor usage in farming leading to increased food yields coupled with the development of new protein sources that increasingly displace meat.
The top 10 trends from the report, carried out by the Futerra consultancy, are detailed below.
Trend 1: Future cities
In 20 years, cities will be cleaner, healthier places to live and very different from today. New green spaces, including vast ‘vertical forests’ on the roofs of skyscrapers, will clean the air. New urban agricultures (in tunnels and skyscrapers) can grow fresh food in city centers. Homes will be 3D printed rather than built, and filled with 4D furniture that can reconfigure itself to fit the changing needs of your home.
Trend 2: 100 Terawatt world
In 20 years, imagine humanity having access to 100 terawatts of clean, cheap energy – five times the amount produced today (17.5 terawatts). This could be made possible through better capture, storage and deployment of renewable energy. The shift to this energy abundance will see solar panels not only on rooftops but built invisibly into windows, walls and even some highways. New advanced storage systems will provide steady, reliable power to people in the remotest parts of the world.
Trend 3: Everything online
In 20 years, more everyday objects will incorporate sensor technology connected to the internet, allowing companies, homes and everything in between to operate ‘smartly’. By 2050 we will need to feed 9.6 billion people, and through a tripling in sensor use, the agricultural internet of things (IoT) could increase food production by 70 percent.
Trend 4: Intelligent assistance
In 20 years, with breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI), machines will increasingly support human intelligence. AI will become the ultimate PA (personal assistant), anticipating our needs and allowing us to spend less time doing menial tasks. Our personal digital assistants will manage more complicated tasks too, such as protecting our time, monitoring our health, and even helping us stay safe.
Trend 5: Personalized medicine and healthcare
In 20 years, tailored medical advice and new treatments will take account of our lifestyles, physiology and even our genetics, improving life chances in both developed and developing countries. Personalized physical repairs, made possible by the early 2020s through 3D bio-printing and ‘living drugs’ designed to turn an individual’s own immune system against disease, will end the era of one-size-fits-all healthcare.
Trend 6: Purposeful work and priority shift
In 20 years, the ethical and environmental values of the young will increase pressure on businesses to seek purpose beyond profit. As automation fulfils the ‘dangerous, dirty and dull’ roles, there will be a premium on human creativity. These trends of purpose and creativity will drive a second-wave sharing economy, with more direct transactions between individuals to share ownership. This will change how we make, buy and use ‘things’, such as an up to 80 percent reduction in individual car ownership in developed markets like the United States by 2030.
Trend 7: Mega water projects
In 20 years, large-scale water capture projects, ranging from innovative precipitation harvesting techniques through to groundwater replenishment and improved desalination, could enable every human to have access to plentiful clean water (including the 1.2 billion people already impacted by water scarcity). The rise of innovative responses to sourcing water will make it more common in coastal, arid countries to grow vegetables in the middle of deserts using nothing but sunlight and seawater.
Trend 8: Travel shift
By 2021, countries will start replacing current air and rail links with superfast mass public transport, such as hyperloops and intercity trains travelling at speeds of up to 600mph. In 20 years (or sooner), a new generation of driverless cars, trucks and drones, operating within connected systems, will make mobility a pleasure and offer more choices of where we can live, work and play.
Trend 9: Protein shift
Within 20 years, we will enjoy a wide range of healthy and delicious sources of meat-free protein and realistic meat alternatives that don’t come from animals. This will help bring both global carbon emissions and heart disease down to an all-time low.
Trend 10: Immersive living
In 20 years, education and entertainment will become more immersive, using virtual, augmented and mixed-reality technologies. This hyper-realistic experience will let you not only see, but also smell and touch your way through events, exotic destinations and even to learn about history by stepping into a simulation based in the past. Within 20 years, you will be able to dive into coral reefs or sit in the front row of the World Cup final, all from the comfort of your living room.
The futurists consulted for this survey were:
- Santosh Desai (India)
- Pieter Geldenhuys (South Africa)
- Jennifer M. Gidley PhD (Australia)
- Gerd Leonhard (Germany)
- Cathy Runciman (UK)