Ask the Futurists: 10 Bold Predictions for 2030
Tens of billions of devices, sensors, vehicles and people will become interconnected over the next 10 to 15 years as the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) expands from about 11 billion connections today, to 30 billion by 2020, to 80 billion by 2025. And in fact, those estimates may prove low.
But the good news is, estimates will become increasingly easier to make.
“In the future, we’ll be able to better predict the future,” said Tom Bradicich, vice president and general manager of Servers and Internet of Things Systems for Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Algorithms will build on algorithms, with every prediction smarter than the last. Bradicich isn’t alone in his opinion on how interconnectedness will transform transportation.
We spoke to a number of futurists from across industries who forecasted how the Internet of Things will help shape what many are calling the next Industrial Revolution. And be prepared, these predictions are sufficiently bold.
1. Driver’s licenses will not exist—you won’t need one, because you won’t be driving
Through the first half of 2016, road fatalities in the U.S. climbed more than 10 percent compared with the same period last year, which saw an overall spike in traffic deaths of more than seven percent, the biggest increase in almost a half century. Tens of thousands die every year.
In 10 or 15 years, people who own cars will be thought of the same way as people today who own their own planes: They must have too much money or be an obsessed hobbyists or both. Whether you want to drive or not—even as a hobby—the decision might not be up to you.
“It’s possible it will be illegal to drive a car,” said Bradicich. Driverless cars could quickly result in, say, 90 percent fewer accidents, at which point we’ll start hearing, “I don’t want my neighbor down the road driving because he’s possibly nine times more likely to hit me than an autonomous vehicle,” Bradicich added.
In interviews with more than a dozen prominent futurists, academics and consultants on the effects of IoT, it was unanimous that people will drive less, and everyone will benefit. “Losing 30,000 people a year is really unacceptable, but we live with that,” said Cindy Frewen, a professor and board chair of the Association of Professional Futurists. “We’ve become numb to that fact, yet we take that risk every day. We talk about other things that are high risk, and they are, but cars are one we really don’t talk about.”
Humans, historically, have proven they aren’t the best at understanding or mitigating risks. That will quickly change, and it will be one of the single greatest benefits of IoT, according to Marti Ryan, a consultant and the former CEO of Telematic, a cloud-based platform that provides auto insurance. “Personalization is what I see coming with IoT, and by that I mean personalized, location-based, just-in-time marketing, and personalized risk profiling,” she said. “You’ll be paying for the risks that you choose to take. I don’t know if it’ll be on a per-second, per-minute or per-day basis, but we’ll get to a point where when we make choices, we’ll pay for those choices.”
In other words, people who drive only sporadically won’t need full time auto coverage. Being conscious of more decisions means people, ultimately, will begin making better decisions. Insurance will be peer-to-peer, spreading by word of mouth, and people will team up to pool their own collective risks and save money. That shared data will lead to even greater efficiencies, as people will be able to collect and sell their own data, Ryan said.
“I’ll own all of my own data and get to shop my own data for insurance or financial services,” she said. “Companies that realize it’s all about the consumer and put the power of the data back in the consumer’s hands will rise to the top. The more companies take our data and do something useful, the more we’ll be conscious that our data is being shared, and the more we’ll want to share.”
2. Data will become more like currency
Ryan wants her life optimized. She wants a device to explicitly tell her things including how much time she should spend looking at a screen or going to a museum or exercising on a given day. Exactly how beneficial, from a health standpoint, would an extra 20 minutes of jogging be on a given day? “Provide some value to me,” Ryan said. “Save me time or money, and continue to do that. Don’t be a bad steward of my data, and I’ll continue to give it to you.”
Christopher Bishop, a board member of Teach the Future and TEDx TimesSquare who spent 15 years at IBM, agrees that data will become more of a currency. “People will want to buy your data for a survey or to participate in a focus group,” he said. “There will be chips that have all that data stored. You’ll monitor and manage what goes in there.” But speaking of currency, futurists say you also won’t use cash.
3. People will visit doctors less often
For the day-to-day health needs, sensors on your clothing will monitor your vitals and provide constant biometric updates—eliminating the need for annual in-person check-ups.
For more extreme healthcare needs, futurists say that in 2025 or 2030, your driver’s license will no longer say whether you’re an organ donor, because no one will be an organ donor anymore. Imperceptibly fast connections between 3D printing devices and medical data repositories will build new organs on demand, possibly before those who need them even know that they need them. A microchip in a device on that person’s arm or ear—or in that person’s arm or ear—may buzz to alert him or her, similar to receiving an email or text today, that it’s time to swap out a kidney with a new one perfectly crafted for their body, by their body. And it will be replaced with one that can’t possibly be rejected.
4. Food waste will be nearly eliminated
Sensors will be everywhere, even on our food. Edible sensors will prevent spoilage and optimize global food deliveries, Bradicich said. “We’ll be able to know where there’s food shortages,” he said. “When food can have sensors on it, its spoilage rate can drop. If you’re shipping it, it can be routed in a way to prevent fruit from spoiling.”
We’ll also be able to simply grow more food, a tremendous boon for farmers in developing nations, especially given the potential effects of climate changes, said Christopher Kent, a partner and founder of Foresight Alliance. “There’s a scientist who’s figuring out a way to print paper sensors that you can plant in the soil to measure alkalinity, salinity and how much water there is,” Kent said. “That may not be life changing for farmers in the developed world, but it’s also a huge development for farmers in developing countries.” Printable sensors will be cheap and also tell farmers optimal times to plant optimal quantities of optimal crops, with up-to-the-nanosecond climate forecasts.
5. Money saved from energy efficiencies will be used to revamp urban infrastructure
IoT will be crucial in urban areas, too, as it will save large companies billions, if not trillions, of dollars. “You’re going to see amazing savings in commercial buildings,” said Lee Mottern, a member of the Association of Professional Futurists and former Defense Department civilian intelligence analyst. “They’ll save a fortune with smart buildings. I do see a lot of adoption in industry. It cuts manpower, it cuts energy costs and you can even disengage the building from the grid,” similar to unplugging an unused charging device from a wall socket, saving additional electricity.
Much of the power that’s saved will be invested in building and maintaining infrastructure networks that most people haven’t yet imagined. Cars can’t drive themselves without smart roads and smart signs and smart intersections.
Paying for that infrastructure will prove more challenging. With fewer people driving—both because of driverless transportation and with so many more working from home on high-speed connections—municipalities won’t get money from traffic tickets. People may not buy as much locally, crushing the tax base. If more people share housing or don’t buy homes, or move around more frequently, local revenues will plummet and many legacy organizational structures found in cities will crumble from lack of funds. Governments will have to think of other ways to provide goods or services, perhaps through private-public partnerships. Maybe that partnership will focus on creating the necessary set of protocols for everything to talk to everything else simultaneously. “Standards and policies are going to be critical to making that all work as the deluge of data continues,” Bishop said.
6. Cyber attackers will be more motivated than ever
Security of IoT also will be critically important. Several futurists interviewed said devices may reach a point where they only respond to us—perhaps requiring a constant, pulsing connection to our DNA—but many were concerned that hackers will have more incentives than ever before to break down those barriers. One recent hack attack using baby monitors, connected cameras and home routers took down several major web sites, an innovative exploit the Department of Homeland Security had anticipated with a warning just a week before.
“One thing you’re already seeing is that the IT security consulting industry is growing pretty significantly, and that’ll continue to happen,” said David Stehlik, a consultant, professor and certified ethical hacker. “The successful players in the next 10 years are going to be the ones who’ve already established the framework within their own organizations to manage those issues and their brand going forward. Those who create the standards will have a leg up.”
Timothy Dolan, a principal at Policy Foresight, is less worried about long-term security issues for personal devices. “When you come up with a secure system, there’s always a hack, there’s always an innovation and then a counter response to it, but in terms of it being a personal device, I think it’ll be more secure,” he said. “I can imagine that if there is tampering there would be any number of security protocols that would lock people out or destroy data located within the device itself.”
7. Those high-tech contact lenses in sci-fi movies will exist
Dolan said he probably favors personalized earpieces to watches or implanted sensors. Others, including Bradicich, think all of our personal data will be implanted in contact lenses that will give us the supreme combination of security and functionality.
“Your entire smartphone will be in contact lenses,” he said. The fluids in our eyes, and perhaps in nearby blood vessels, will feed data back into the lenses to give us constant health updates. The lenses may even provide personal security, assuming we don’t already have sufficient sensors in our clothing “like those extra buttons tacked onto the inside of a dress shirt,” he said.
8. We’ll create robots that create robots
These devices will have to be created by people—or by robots created by people, at least until robots are smart enough to create manufacturing robots without human input. That might not be far off. The entire nature of work will be transformed through IoT, and maybe John Maynard Keynes’ decades-old prediction of a 15-hour workweek will finally come true.
The best jobs of the IoT era don’t yet exist, just as many of the best jobs of the ‘90s didn’t exist in the ‘60s. According to a survey conducted by Visual Capitalist, people in the future will make a living working as neuro-implant technicians, virtual-reality designers and 3D-printing engineers.
9. Humans will be able to do more good
Life will be less about stuff, even though all of your stuff will be constantly talking to all of the other stuff. People will be living longer—perhaps, according to some surveyed, 150 or 200 years—and spending more of their newfound free time helping others, Bishop said. “I think we’re going to see increased leisure time, but it’ll allow for the addressing of more global problems as global awareness increases,” he said. “With the tremendous value and wealth created by these companies, we’re going to see Gen-Z even more focused on the common good and corporate sustainability.”
That focus will increase as everything gets faster and easier because of IoT. There won’t be communication barriers because different languages will be instantly translated as we talk. People otherwise too young or old or infirm to operate a vehicle will get anywhere they want safely and quickly. Your clothing will talk to your refrigerator after you eat half a pizza for lunch and perhaps the two devices will politely suggest having a salad for dinner. Evidence from a crime scene will be collected and recorded automatically. In fact, most crimes could plummet. More people will be doing things they actually want to do.
“One thing IoT does is increase the opportunity for individuals to be more self-reliant,” said Unique Visions’ Joe Tankersley, a 20-year Disney veteran and imagineer. “I could run a craft factory in my own garage. We’ll have new entrepreneurship because of that.” Similarly, low barriers to entry will result in more people growing their own food.
“As humans,” he said, “we tend to overvalue our unique contributions, but it doesn’t mean that we won’t see a situation where, for instance, as people prefer craft beer to beer brewed by a giant corporation, you might see a future where people prefer a product made by a human vs. automation, because it’s human made. For everyday items, we’ll care less and less.”
10. Technology will become invisible
Tankersley thinks we’ll reach a point where we’ll be surrounded by so much technology we’ll then be surrounded by none.
“The ultimate goal of all this technology is for it to disappear,” he said. “The only people who really think a cell phone is a good form factor are the people who manufacture cell phones. You’ve got to carry it, it’s bulky, it breaks. People seem to think that these devices are what we’re obsessed with—we’re really not. We’re obsessed with the fact that these devices provide a new kind of connection for us. And if we can make that connection less obtrusive, why wouldn’t we?”