It is easy enough to find a listicle stating times people accurately and inaccurately took a guess at what the future holds with regards to technology. Being able to laugh at and draw inspiration from these predictions is an important part of progress. At one point what limited the size of cities was how much horse manure we could remove. I bring this up not to say our problems are solvable, but to point out it is hard to see a paradigm shift occur before it happens.
So this is my attempt to guess what the future holds. I suppose we will see how accurate I am as time passes. It should be noted I have no credentials to do this. But then again those who possess the credentials to do so often are inaccurate.
It can be argued that one of the most import factors to any civilization is power able to be used. The industrial revolution may have started water powered, but the power of steam and later electricity is what truly changed the world. The Kardashev scale is a measure of energy output a civilization can produce. This is mostly useful for comparing various sci-fi and hypothetical alien civilizations. The one we are currently in is around a .72 on a 3 point scale.
There is currently a push for renewable energy sources, primarily from the sun in the form of photovoltaic or via harnessing less direct effects such as wind or ocean currents. I suspect this will dead end unless one of two things happens, a spectacular new form of energy storage or a serious amount of money is dumped into it. Location helps with both of course, you can use methods like pumped-storage hydropower only in certain locals.
A more useful application may be to run solar farms that runs a process to do chemical energy storage. This could be splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, turning waste plastic back into a gasoline, or something more esoteric like if we figured out how to turn CO2 into a useful hydrocarbon again. These plants could be easily in the middle of nowhere and since their output would be movable by truck it could be transportable large distances.
This however does not solve large scale energy production. There is only one way forward here realistically. Two words that will strike fear into the environmental sect and defined the futuristic predictions of the 50s.
There really is nothing for it here. A constant stream of power that is scalable and incredibly clean in comparison to the destruction of hydrocarbons. Already we see countries moving towards this. The first country to dump a significant amount of research into this and get plants built will be at a huge competitive advantage. No longer are they beholden to other countries to export them oil. They will be able to act independently, and cheap energy costs will drive industry to that location.
My prediction is not that we will get bigger plants but instead multiple smaller ones. This would minimize transmission losses and also allow more redundancy from accidents. A 1000 MW power station melting down is very different from a 50 MW one.
But this will not power the cars of the future. Nuclear powered cars, though interesting, would also not benefit from the constant power output. While batteries to drive an electric vehicle seem like a good idea, they do two things that are not to the cars advantage add a large amount of weight and cause an added degree of stress during serious wrecks due to lithium being quite reactive.
The options are either invent a more energy dense battery or find something else. I do not see much coming in the way of the latter so I suspect it will be the former. Hydrogen was once touted as a possibility but comes with a unique set of challenges. It is very hard to store, and if it starts to escape it is very easy to ignite. While it can be argued that it would also disperse quick enough in an open area, the odorless colorless gas would be very hard to detect if it filled your garage.
Back to something I mentioned earlier about producing our own hydrocarbons. This would be the ultimate dream here. It is something doable today with biodiesel which uses solar energy and CO2 capture to produce a substance which is usable as a fuel. Using corn would not be optimal and perhaps some sort of algae could be used instead. We already have much of the infrastructure to handle and harness biodiesel.
While we are on the subject of cars I think that direct ownership will go down. Already the costs of ownership of a vehicle either are prevent or give people second thoughts about owning one. Once self driving cars become a thing why would you burden yourself with it? Pressure will increase for public transit to increase in scope, and perhaps it will be your city being the Uber. Some make the argument that a car is an asset, and while yes it is, it also drops in value faster than pretty much anything else you could have put your money towards.
With the rise of self driving cars we will also start seeing more radical car designs. The majority of car rides are completed by a single person but there is four people in a car. Single person taxis will become more prevalent to cater to this need.
Also with the rise of of self driving vehicles we will start to see things that look less like a traditional car. Devices that looks like a rolling Amazon Locker will patrol the streets ready to transport you groceries. Why not have a pizza oven on wheels that makes pizzas as it drives to deliver to you?
The first to be successful here is the ones to leverage this to the fullest. Rather then having a massive store for you to shop in, instead a mostly automated warehouse. Consumer facing shelving is incredibly space efficient.
You will see a change in highway signs. They will start including markings for easier reading by computer vision. This will first be pitched as a safety feature (your car can tell you what the speed limit currently is), and be leveraged by self driving vehicles as well. The license plate will not disappear instead it will integrate an radio transmitter similar to Ez Pass or the other toll paying devices.
The long distance car drive will become a thing of the past. Eventually the United States will get high speed rail. Cities will get bigger, and the need for smaller stops to deliver via truck will decrease. Trucks will go back to being trains, with more local trucks to move goods to warehouses. Planes will become more relied upon as public transit. The area between cities will become increasingly unpopulated.
This is all well and good if you are in a suburb or city. What about those who live in small towns? I can not confess to know much about that and will warn many of these predictions are written by a city dweller. Already though these smaller places seem to be disappearing and the migration to cities will continue. It is more efficient and environmentally friendly to pack more people into cities then it is to worry about last mile for everything.
Eventually we will standardize the smart house. Eventually the house will disappear for most people. There will be a return to the early twentieth century where people rented units smaller than apartments. The boarding home may make a return. Perhaps the dormitory will outside the college setting. Cage apartments might as well.
This will not be by choice. Just a side effect of wealth accumulation, and the further gap between the wealthy and the poor. If you do not have a car you can not commute two hours to work. These cheaper options will be it if you need to live near a city center for work.
The IOT of things will continue to contain more things. IPv6 means everything can be networked. Your refrigerator will report to your health insurance when you have been binge drinking, but if you want a refrigerator that won’t do that it is ok. As long as your plans include not having health insurance.
We will finally live the dream of having lights turn on and off as we enter and leave the room so at least we have that. Speaking of lights the standard bulb design will slowly fade away. It is not optimal for LEDs not allowing for as much heat dissipation. Perhaps your fixture will just come with built in and when they fail you will just replace the whole fixture.
Mobile Computers (Phones)
This is where I am likely going to be the most wrong. While everything so far has been based on trends this is almost pure speculation.
The mobile computer, or phone as it is currently called will cease to be one device. Instead it will be multiple pieces. You will have an augmented reality display, tied to a pair of glasses. Hearing aid style headphones will be attached, nearly invisibly coming off of the device. A main computing unit will be somewhere on your person and connect to them wirelessly. It will have a camera on it, exclusively to use as a way to take selfies and have video calls. The main camera will be on the glasses. At first this will seem weird, and there will be all sorts of lights and other indicators that someone is using the camera. Over time it will become routine. It is just assumed that if you are in public something is recording you.
Input into this system will be the hard part. Interacting with something that is not there will be nearly impossible. For simple navigation , a bracelet that is allowed to slip down over your hand for your fingers to touch will be used. This will be for menus. A ring is an alternative choice, spinning around your finger to scroll. Typing is harder. One of two things could happen. One is a keyboard built into your pants allowing you to type against your thighs. I think this is unrealistic due to the fact it limits what you can wear and adds unnecessary complexity.
There has already been another article written that has explored the various ways people type in VR that would do better at describing the other option I have thought about. One thing they do not note is the possible for haptic feedback glove. I still think this is unlikely due to the same reason as the pants idea.
Your main unit is also your main PC. At first it will connect to monitors and keyboards via cable on a stand on your desk. Soon that will be wireless. After that AR will get good enough your screens are virtual. I do not think keyboards will disappear though. For serious text entry there is little that can rival them nor will there be. While laser keyboards are at first an alternative that seems like a good idea, I ask the reader to try this experiment: Drum your fingers off your desk for thirty minutes and see how you feel.
Your mobile unit is not very powerful by itself. There is a limit to it of course, it is small, needs to have heat dissipated, and is battery powered. It will tap into larger backend services to do heavy lifting. This could be things like games, or anything that there is an advantage to farming out. For example your workplace could provide your device access to a virtual desktop on your device, which contains your productivity programs.
The networking infrastructure will transition from a line to each house to a line to each neighborhood. IPv6 will allow each device in your house to connect to the internet. Each neighborhood will have a multi frequency transmitter, that would use parts of the radio spectrum that will have been freed up by then. In addition to our current frequencies AM radio, and later FM will disappear and be repurposed.
By this point Windows will have succumbed and become what is essentially a launcher on top of Android with their own cloud services. Their primary product will be the before mentioned virtual desktop as well as user management and productivity software. Windows will never manage to gain traction in the mobile space due to the same reason they recently struggled there.
Facebook will never die. It will continue to acquire companies and leverage them to keep themselves relevant. Their current main product will fragment more. They will eventually invent a social credit system that is easy to access. This will help them win the battle over Craigeslist in the listings front. Soon they will crush or buy Meetup, and the dried husk of Foursquare.
Twitter will continue as it is, until they release their Instagram competitor. Facebook will see them as a threat then. Twitter has always had a problem realizing any sort of profit. If Facebook turns up the heat with a direct competitor, particularly if that competitor addresses the complaints of Twitter that could spell the doom of the company. Twitter has no clear additional services to offer, and no real way gather user data the way Facebook does. They may try a redesign that bombs and drives users to an alternative. The only value is their size.
Alphabet(Google) will be eaten alive by regulators at some point though not for antitrust. Their general good will with the populence will have worn off. In the present time they control the majority of the stack people both consume and use to access the internet. The problems will also be internal. The majority of the people they need to move their progress forward are smart enough to start their own companies. The only ones that remain after a two to three year stint are the ones who know they would not really survive anywhere else. Already their rapid rate of killing off their projects is evidence of something going on like this. They will flail about releasing a new social network, new messaging app, and many other innovative side projects that will either fail or not succeed in the way Google measures as success. Google will happily close down a project with 100 mil in revenue as it is a drop in the bucket. Their ad business will never go down, but the data they can keep will be limited by the regulation.
YouTube will be forced to split off. Two things could kill YouTube. The first is their advertisers pull out. What would happen in this case is that since the advertisers do not want to be associated with the types of content YouTube attracts they will just pull out. An alternative will have popped up, run by one of the content companies. This will have a much higher bar to get on. It will be the Disney channelification of YouTube. The other way is a user revolt. Sure currently there is nothing that can touch Youtube. But that will not always be the case nor is the case in non US countries. Perhaps Twitch will make a move to become a better platform for non streaming gamers. Maybe another site like Floatplane, or Gizmodo will make a play for the people who review tech. Perhaps Pornhub will release a tube for meme content. Death by cuts like this will drain the base.
Reddit will continue on as is. Everyone complaining it is worse than it used to be. The final death will come when they make embedding external images and video much harder. That and posting becomes much harder and slower due to copy right scanning.
Overall there will be about the same level of usage. There will be platforms like Mastodon, and various sites that promise freer speech. The average person on these sites will be the type who uses their free speech but not really the types you want to hear. There will be a few fad apps that no one can make money off of, or everyone gets bored with quickly. Perhaps an app that makes geocaching cool, or one that lets you spell out words on a map by walking that path. Or maybe one that lets you pick a topic and argue with someone.
Food will change. We will finally limit the sugar content of foods. Lab grown meat will sneak in to the popular diet, and so will many vegetarian alternatives. Overall the world diet will become less diverse. Seafood at some point will become unsafe to eat do to sheer quantity of garbage and waste in the water. The stores that sell you food will have less employees. Already automated checkouts are rolling out, and Amazon has the cashierless store. Soon they will not need employees to stock shelves. The prices of a grocery store will eventually become too high, and be replaced by direct shipping from food warehouses.
Marijuana will finally become federally legal. The whole industry will be very different then it is even now. The actual plant will be like very expensive craft beer or home brew. The majority will use disposable vape tanks. This is due to the fact that the percentage of active chemicals can be more consistent and easily measured. It also allows the producers to use more of the plant. In addition it is easier to ship, smells less during shipping and usage, and is healthier for the user.
There will be significantly more isolation. Constantly recording cameras everywhere means that every mistake you make is likely to have been recorded. Some won’t care. People will spend more time doing cheap things like watching video. The constant wearing of headphones and screens makes it possible to ignore everyone even in public. The stores will have less people and require less interaction. More people will work from home, more will not know their neighbors.
The governments of the world will have bigger and better databases. Eventually you will just have your DNA stored, and your fingerprints. There will be a long fight until that point. They will say they are not storing your face for recognition purposes. Your voice, your gait, your cell phones antennas addresses, and other things like watches and shoes will be stored. There will be a fashion movement to fight facial recognition which the governments will not really fight against hard. There is plenty of other ways they have to recognize who was where and when.
It would be a shame to end this list on such a note. At our current time we enjoy the longest lives, the highest rate of education, and the most connectedness humans have ever had. I do not think these trends will disappear. We may have a few bumps on our way but I firmly believe humanity will only get better from this point on. The resiliency and determination of us is legendary, and that is truly one thing that will never change.