My Top 10–20 Year Trends

I recently published my top 5–10 year trends, which are:

  • Computer Science Education
  • Distributed Work
  • Cryptocurrency

I thought it would also be fun to write up my top 10–20 year trends. The timescales could be wildly off on all of these but these are some things I expect to start and then become big in the next 10–20 years.

My top 10–20 year trends are:

Self-Driving Cars

Digital Cities and Countries

Modern Tech Cities

Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving cars in some senses are here today, but they still feel far away. I hope they come this year, or next year, or even in a few years, but it seems there are still a number of things that need to happen to go mainstream. I think the most ambitious prediction would be that you could easily grab a self-driving car in a major city in 2 years, by 2020. Maybe a more conservative prediction would be that they could become more mainstream in 10 years. I do see self-driving cars almost every day in San Francisco. But even if a few people can get them now, I think it could take a little while for the ramifications of the impact of self-driving cars to be felt. I think they will change where people live, how they work, how cities are organized, how commuting works, how travel works, how hospitality works, how trucking works, how shipping and supply-chain works.

It seems there are a lot of steps along the way but a few key steps/questions are:

  • Can a regular person hail a self-driving car in a major city? Or even a very “tech” city? When will this happen?
  • When do laws change that really accommodate self-driving? How does this work with existing human driven cars? Will cities outlaw human-driven cars? If so, when will that happen?
  • When will secondary industries built on the consequences of large-scale self-driving car adoption emerge? This seems like this will be the thing that could really shift day-to-day life.
  • When will self-driving cars (in the US) overtake human driven cars?
  • When will self-driving cars replace human taxi/Uber/Lyft drivers? What about bus drivers and truck drivers? Will they get replaced, or will the job change?
  • When will, or will people start to live significantly farther away from major city hubs because of a shifted commute? Will it push the suburbs out at the same time as making cities denser?

10 years from today is 2028. 20 years from today is 2038. It feels in that time self-driving cars will become common place, radically alter and likely remove jobs related to driving. But the larger impact will probably be from the secondary effects of this and how it can shape cities, create new unexpected industries, and change existing industries. I think the next generation, for kids who are born in 5 years or so, will most likely not buy a car, drive a car, and it could even be possible only know self-driving cars. Maybe this all sounds very futuristic, but it’s 10–20 years in the future!

Digital Cities and Countries

As far as I know these don’t really exist today (the internet is big, so probably there are people experimenting with this somewhere). I think one of the natural consequences of cryptocurrencies and the detachment of issuing and controlling money from a short list of nation-states is that people will desire and begin to create methods of organizing that are only digital. This exists already in the form of social networks, or just websites or web communities. However, I believe something more formal will develop and become mainstream that looks like and takes on some of the responsibilities that people normally associate with governments.

What I expect to happen is as cryptocurrencies grow, people realize there is not yet a sophisticated enough method to govern them that balances a large variety of interests with lots at stake. It will likely build on basic forms of open source governance but will be substantively different. I think it’s possible that digital countries or digital cities will be created and then issue their own currency (a cryptocurrency). Or the reverse is possible — a cryptocurrency is created then people demand a way to govern it and a digital country or digital city surrounding it is created. This is different than some of the open source projects at the moment which do not claim or project themselves as this type of entity. People have been experimenting with open source governance, but are mostly keeping it as an open source project.

When these evolve and become digital cities or digital countries, they may have different forms of organization, ways of voting, determining policies, changes to monetary policy (which then become written in code).

Digital countries that then become wealthy will likely, in a twist of fate, take a couple paths. Some will remain only digital countries, just existing in cyberspace. Some will then gain a physical presence, trying to acquire land from existing countries. This would be analogous to Amazon starting out as a website and e-commerce and creating physical stores — moving from cyberspace to meatspace.

I imagine, that as regular nation-states have been quite slow to evolve, some digital cities and countries will start to offer services comparable, or in some cases better than the alternative offered by the government. This may start with services that are easier to do online, such as identity services, banking/financial services, but I think could expand to surprising places. If people think the digital country or city provides a lot of value, they may start to collect taxes. Tax to a digital city might seem a lot like a software subscription.

There will likely be confusion as people try to reconcile digital citizenship with their original citizenship. Because the global conversation is dominated by just a few countries, smaller physical countries may have large incentives to play nicely with wealthy digital countries and that may help them with a transition towards legitimacy and such things like trade agreements or travel agreements. People will have many digital citizenships. It could create more “competition” in terms of government services.

Some old-world countries will evolve, even to a greater extent than what Estonia is doing today. Estonia may build and double down on their reputation as providing and offering digital citizenship and services. Ideas like BitNation may grow more popular and develop lots of offshoots. I think different types of digital government forms (think representative democracy vs. direct democracy vs authoritarian) will emerge, and many different monetary policies will be experimented with. And maybe all money and cash will be digital at this point, and old-world governments even replace their currencies with their digital versions.

Facebook or Amazon have some of these features today, but with these companies, the form of government is more like an oligarchy or dictatorship. What would a Facebook-like website look like if the users had a vote? Or it thought of itself as a digital government serving the users?

This is also wildly futuristic! Maybe nothing changes and we’re all still using physical cash. But I think these things will happen.

Modern Tech Cities

As some key technologies get even better, I think modern technology cities will really develop. It seems like there are a few of these, and the experiments are getting more common.

From experiments with green-cities in Abu Dhabi like Masdar City, to the new generation of tech eco-cities in China, to projects like Sidewalk Labs from Google in Toronto, the time is right now for innovation around urban planning and design.

This trend is going to be driven by the global move of people towards cities. According to a United Nations report, in 1950, 30% of the global population was urban, in 2014 it was 54%, and in 2050, that will move to 66%.

This means new cities will be created, new mega-cities will be created, and existing cities will need to think about how to modernize.

I think some trends that will drive future tech cities are:

Green Energy From the Start
As more people move to cities, it will be imperative to figure out how to use the energy efficiently. Existing cities can be retrofitted for green tech, but I expect new cities will also be designed with solar/wind and other green technology in mind.

Self-Driving Cars Only
Cities are really shaped by their transportation. If new cities are designed around self-driving cars, and there are no human-driven cars, the entire design of the city can and will change. No more parking lots to take up lots of space. No more cars parked on the sides of the roads. People won’t need to own cars sitting around all the time. Cities can be redesigned around walkability. Also, a new city has a real opportunity to build in the idea of self-driving cars into the urban design.

Tech-Savvy Local Government
This also is a future wish-list item, but I think the future smart city, combined with some of the ideas around digital countries and digital cities, provides local government an opportunity to be the vehicle to deliver high functioning public services supported by technology. Routine city services can be greatly improved by technology, saving people who live there lots of money, but also lots of headaches.

Digital Currencies
A future smart city would likely move away from cash. They could use an existing popular token or blockchain or develop their own token. A specific local currency token, would have the benefit of encouraging the velocity of transactions within the city, and also preventing the money from leaking out.

Online Voting
A tech city would also have online voting. It takes a second to vote on a poll online, but still most people aren’t voting in elections.

Great Schools 
I think good schools, and good public education are huge drivers of desirability to live in a city. I think a future tech city would have schools as good as any in the country, that are public, that somehow can find a way to loosen themselves from many of the overbearing constraints of the way many schools are run.

So those are some of my top 10–20 year trends — we’ll see what happens!