By Maciamo Hay,
on 15 April 2014 (updated on 22 Augsut 2021)
Your life is going to change faster than ever before
Human society and individual lives are are about to undergo the a dramatic transformation due to exponentially accelerating technologies. Discover what will happen in the next 20 years.
In his landmark book The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil explains how information-based technologies progress at an exponential rate. For example, in 1972, the microprocessor of a personal computer could only perform 100,000 instructions per second (0.1 MIPS). In 1978 it was one million instructions per second (1 MIPS). In 1993, the Intel Pentium reached a speed of 100 MIPS. By 2002, a processing speed of 10,000 MIPS had become common. In the 30 years from 1972 to 2002 the speed of PC's increased 100,000 times. This trend is accelerating over time in a hyperbolic fashion, known as exponential growth.
It took 21 years, from 1972 to 1993, for computation speed to increased 1000 fold, but only 10 more years to increase again by the same factor. In other words speed progressed twice faster. This phenomenon has been observed for in practically all technologies, be it for RAM memory, data storage, DNA sequencing cost, number of cell phone subscribers, number of people connected to the Internet, or the resolution of imaging technologies.
Ray Kurzweil predicts that a $1,000 personal computer will match human brain capability around 2020, and will be 1,000 times more powerful than the human brain by 2029. At that point, computers will have a conscience of their own and will be able to learn and create by themselves, without human supervision. Scientific and technological progress will be essentially conducted by computers. The manufacturing, agricultural and transportation sectors of the economy will be almost entirely automated and employ very few humans. We will live in a world of abundance, in which poverty, war and disease are almost nonexistent thanks to technology alleviating want.
Around 2045, a single personal computer will be a billion times more intelligent than every human brains combined. Everything will move so fast that there will be more technological progress in a day than in all the history of humanity until today. This moment in time is called the technological singularity. It is not a singularity in the strict mathematical sense of a value approaching infinity (like dividing by zero), but rather an explosion of artificial intelligence so fast that it becomes unfathomable to the human mind. It can also be construed as the tipping point beyond which humans won't be able to predict what will happen in the future, or the time when humans surrender control of their destiny to super-intelligent machines. The only way for humans to keep up will be to merge their brains with those supercomputers using neural implants (also known as brain-computer interfaces, or BCI).
What will happen ?
In the meantime, human society will undergo profound transformation at an increasingly rapid rate. We will progressively merge with machines and become nearly immortal cyborgs. The advances in medicine will make it possible to print organs to replace damaged ones, regenerate organs with stem cell therapies, get rid of diseases and rejuvenate our bodies with gene therapies. We will be able to augment the capability of our senses, intellect and emotions, first with wearable devices, then with neural implants. We will also replace body parts, limbs and organs by superior robotic ones. It will become possible to save our thoughts and memories electronically, and eventually even to upload our mind onto a computer, thus creating a digital avatar or clone of ourselves.
In the next ten years, computer chips will become embedded in everything to create the Internet of Things (IoT). The Internet itself will become available for free everywhere in the world, and with 5G networks will be so fast that a full HD movie will be downloaded in one second.
Almost everything will be 3D printed at very low cost, and ultimately we will print all our stuff with 3-D printers at home. Even houses will be built by giant 3-D printers using such techniques as contour crafting.
The electricity produced by solar panels is already cheaper than the one from the grid in some regions (India, Italy, Spain, Germany, California) and will eventually replace all other forms of energy thanks to the exponential growth of solar power performance and plummeting cost of PV panels.
Self-driving vehicles like Google Car will quickly replace traditional ones. Supersonic commercial jets will travel over twice faster as current air planes. Vacuum tube trains will travel at speeds of up to 8,000 km/h, actually replacing even supersonic jets for long-distance journeys. There are already talks of a transatlantic tube linking New York to London in under an hour !
In the late 2020's, computers, robots and machines will have replaced humans in half of the jobs existing in 2014. In 2035, 90% of present jobs could have disappeared. The number of teachers will also drop with the advent of massive open online courses (MOOCs). Some predict that most university courses will go online by the beginning of the 2020s.
In 10 to 15 years, houses will be built in new smart materials and domestic robots will clean, iron, cook, and fix things around the house for us. Most food will be produced in eco-friendly and super-efficient vertical farms managed by robots. In-vitro meat will replace real meat, thus reducing the ecological footprint of stockbreeding.
We will have anti-aging drugs and enhanced organs, such as respirocytes, which will be smaller than red blood cells but will carry hundreds of times their amount of oxygen, making it possible to hold our breath for several hours at a time. Other nanobots could enhance or even replace our immune system by attacking viruses, harmful bacteria and even cancer cells. They could also repair the body from the inside or improve the connectivity between our neurons.
Neuroprosthetics will make brain-to-brain telepathy possible. This isn't science-fiction, it has already been tested. Fully immersive virtual reality with advanced haptics will make it possible to live in virtual worlds and touch virtual objects as if they were real. This could be compared to entering the Matrix, except our computer-enhanced brains will perceive more colours, more details, wider frequencies of sounds and perhaps also seen in more dimensions than we do now. The virtual and the real will merge and become superior to our unenhanced reality. Uploading one's mind to a computer may become possible, perhaps as early as the 2030's, but it won't make us immortal.
When will it all happen?
Here is a timeline estimating the approximate first adoption of new technologies by society. Many of them already exist at experimental stages or in forms that are not yet ready for mass commercialization. The dates below indicate the time technologies will first be adopted, mostly by wealthier and more tech-conscious or health-conscious individuals. Like for everything else, it will takes years or decades before those technologies become widespread at every level of society across the globe, and there will always be people who reject change or refuse to adopt some or all new technologies, be it for religious reasons (Amish, fundamentalists, some forms of New Age) or just because they aren't comfortable with it.
Two major paradigm shifts will take place before the Singularity, a first one around 2019-2020, and the other around 2029-2030.
Life will change so much at each of these stages that I like to refer to them as the transformations toward Human Life 2.0 and Human Life 3.0, respectively. The Singularity, which could happen any time during the 2040's, will mark the shift to Human Life 4.0. This timeline stops at 2030 as it is too difficult to predict the rate of change after that.
Update August 2021
Time has come to test the estimated timeline below when the article was originally written in April 2014. After seven years, we can see that many goals have been achieved more or less on schedule. A few have been delayed by a few years or have not yet been fully commercialised. Only four are clearly still a long way off (human brain simulation, augmented cognition, supersonic transports and vactrains).
- Bioengineered (lab-grown) organs => Situation in 2021: research well under way, but not ready to use yet.
- Biometric sensors => Technology ready in time
- Personal microbiome sequencing => Ready
- Ubiquitous computing => Continuous deelopment. Hard to assess.
- $1,000 full genome sequencing => Ready and price now under $400.
- 3D TV and 3D printers become mainstream consumer products => Ready, but 3D TV abandoned due to lack of public interest.
- 1st generation smart grid => Available in may countries
- Computer simulation of the human brain (Human Brain Project) => Underway, but very delayed.
- Flexible screens => Many prototypes since 2004. Foldable smartphone first commercialised in 2019, but slow to start due to manufacturing complexities.
- De-extinction (extinct species brought back to life) => Succeeded in 2003 with the Pyrenean ibex, but who died soon after birth. No success since then.
- Residential grid parity for photovoltaic panels in most developed countries => Grid parity reached in 11 countries and many US states before 2014 and since then for most countries under 50' of latitude.
- First vactrains (vacuum tube trains, like the Hyperloop) => New estimates between 2027 and 2030.
- Wireless power transfer (e.g. wireless chargers) => Ready
- Proactive software agents => Ready
- Solar panel positioning robots => Technology ready but not yet mainstream
- Tricorder with medical diagnostics => Many prototypes, but none commercialised
- Augmented cognition => Not ready.
- Labs-on-chip => Technology ready but not yet mainstream
- Machine translation equals professional human translation => Getting closer, but not yet achieved.
- Self-cleaning clothes (omniphobic coating) become mainstream => Commercialised but not yet mainstream
- Photovoltaic windows => Ready
- AI translators => Ready and widely used
- Artificial neural network widely used => Under way, but not mainstream yet.
- Autonomous cars => Partially ready, but not mainstream yet.
- Biometric implants => Ready
- Computers and pinhead-sized cameras embedded everywhere => Not yet.
- Cybernetic implants for the disabled => Ready
- Internet available everywhere on Earth =>Not yet, but underway with Starlink.
- Machine vision => Ready
- Micro-nuclear reactors => Operating in Russia since 2020. Under construction in five more countries.
- 3-D Virtual Reality projected in retina => Technology exists and is commercialised, but needs improvement.
- VR haptics => Ready
- Supersonic commercial jets => Many projects under development, but entry into service planned from 2025 for business jets and from the 2029 for passenger airliners.
- Agricultural robots (agbots) => Ready
- Botsourcing (replacement of human jobs by robots) => Underway.
- Massive open online courses (MOOCs) become mainstream => Ready (mainstream in part due to Covid-19 lockdown)
- Second-generation biofuels => Ready (though not widespread)
- Closed ecological systems
- Genetically designed foods
- WiGig and 5G networks => Ready
- Controlled self-assembly for DNA, RNA and proteins
- Epigenetic therapy
- Fabric embedded screens
- Next-generation drugs
- Personal computers can simulate human brain
- Printed electronics
- Gene therapy becomes mainstream
- Precision agriculture
- Self-healing materials widely used
- Advanced nanotechnologies
- Memristors widely used
- Organ printing becomes mainstream
- Prenatal genetic manipulation become common
- Synthetic biology becomes mainstream
- 3rd generation biofuels
- Stem-cell treatments become common
- Telepresence becomes mainstream
- Domestic robots widely used
- Smart materials widely used
- Next-generation BCI (assist/augment brain functions and repair brain)
- Predictive group sentiment
- Anti-aging drugs become mainstream
- Brain-to-brain telepathy and neuroprosthetics become mainstream
- Computers 1000x more powerful than the human brain
- Conscious AI that can learn and create on its own
- Enhanced organs, medical nanobots and respirocytes
- Genetic enhancements become common
- Molecular assemblers used in nanofactories
- Optogenetic implants
- Smart energy network
- Thermal storage
- Thorium reactors become mainstream
- Vertical farming becomes main form of farming
- Fully immersive Virtual Reality