Gauging what life will be like down the road based on the emerging trends of today is something that scientists and speculative minds have been doing since the beginning of time. But given the rapid pace of change in the last century – and the way that it continues to accelerate – predicting future trends has become something of a virtual necessity today.
And the possibilities that are expected for the next generation are both awe-inspiring and cause for concern. On the one hand, several keen innovations are expected to become the norm in terms of transportation, education, health care and consumer trends. On the other, the growing problems of overpopulation, urbanization and Climate Change are likely to force some serious changes.
Having read through quite a bit of material lately that comes from design firms, laboratories, and grant funds that seek to award innovation, I decided to do a post that would take a look at how life is expected to change in the coming decades, based on what we are seeing at work today. So here we go, enjoy the ride, and remember to tip the driver!
When it comes to designing the cities of the future – where roughly 5 of the worlds 8.25 billion people are going to live – meeting the basic needs of all these folks is complicated by the need to meet them in a sustainable way. Luckily, people all across the world are coming together to propose solutions to this problem, ranging from the small and crafty to the big and audacious.
Consider that buildings of the future could be coated with Smart Paint, a form of pigment that allows people to change the color of their domicile simply by pushing a button. Utilizing nano-particles that rearrange themselves to absorb a different part of the spectrum, the paint is able to reflect whatever wavelength of visible light the user desires, becoming that color and removing the need for new coats of paint.
And consider that apartments and houses in this day could be lighted by units that convert waste light energy from their light bulbs back into functional ambient light. This is the idea behind the Trap Light, a lamp that comes equipped with photoluminescent pigments embedded directly into the glass body. Through this process, 30 minutes of light from an incandescent or LED light bulb provides a few hours of ambient lighting.
And in this kind of city, the use of space and resources has come to be very efficient, mainly because it has had to. In terms of low-rent housing, designs like the Warsaw-inspired Keret House are very popular, a narrow, 14-sqaure meter home that still manages to fit a bathroom, kitchen and bedroom. Being so narrow, city planners are able to squeeze these into the gaps between older buildings, its walls and floors snapping together like Lego.
When it comes to other, larger domiciles (like houses and apartment blocks), construction is likely to become a much more speedy and efficient process – relying on the tools of Computer-Assisted Design (CAD) and digital fabrication (aka. the D-process). Basically, the entire fabrication process is plotted in advance on computer, and then the pieces are tailor made in the factory and snapped together on site.
And lets not forget anti-gravity 3-D printing as a means of urban assembly, as proposed by architecture students from the Joris Laarman Lab in Amsterdam. Using quick-hardening materials and dispensed by robot-driven printers, entire apartment blocks – from electronic components to entire sections of wall – within a few days time. Speedier, safer and more efficient than traditional construction.
Within these buildings, water is recycled and treated, with grey water used to fertilize crops that are grown in house. Using all available spaces – dedicated green spaces, vertical agriculture, and “victory gardens” on balconies – residents are able to grow their own fruits and vegetables. And household 3-D food printers will dispense tailor-made treats, from protein-rich snacks and carb crackers to chocolate and cakes.
And of course, with advances in smart home technology, you can expect that your appliances, thermostat, and display devices will all be predictive and able to anticipate your needs for the day. What’s more, they will all be networked and connected to you via a smartphone or some other such device, which by 2030, is likely to take the form of a smartwatch, smartring or smartbracelet.
Speaking of which…
Smart Devices and Appliances:
When it comes to living in the coming decades, the devices we use to manage our everyday lives and needs will have evolved somewhat. 3-D printing is likely to be an intrinsic part of this, manufacturing everything from food to consumer products. And when it comes to scanning things for the sake of printing them, generating goods on demand, handheld scanners are likely to become all the rage.
That’s where devices like the Mo.Mo. (pictured above) will come into play. According to Futurist Forum, this molecular scanning device scans objects around your house, tells you what materials they’re made from, and whether they can be re-created with a 3-D printer. Personal, household printers are also likely to be the norm, with subscriptions to open-source software sites leading to on-demand household manufacturing.
And, as already mentioned, everything in the home and workplace is likely to be connected to your person through a smart device or embedded chips. Consistent with the concept of the “Internet of Things”, all devices are likely to be able to communicate with you and let you know where they are in real time. To put that in perspective, imagine SIRI speaking to you in the form of your car keys, telling you they are under the couch.
Telepresence, teleconferencing and touchscreens made out of every surface are also likely to have a profound effect. When a person wakes in the morning, the mirror on the wall will have displays telling them the date, time, temperature, and any messages and emails they received during the night. When they are in the shower, the wall could comforting images while music plays. This video from Corning Glass illustrates quite well:
And the current range of tablets, phablets and smartphones are likely to be giving way to flexible, transparent, and ultralight/ultrathin handhelds and wearables that use projection and holographic technology. These will allow a person to type, watch video, or just interface with cyberspace using augmented reality instead of physical objects (like a mouse or keyboard).
And devices which can convert, changing from a smartphone to a tablet to a smartwatch (and maybe even glasses) are another predicted convenience. Relying on nanofabrication technology, Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode (AMOLED) technology, and touch-sensitive surfaces, these devices are sure to corner the market of electronics. A good example is Nokia’s Morph concept, shown here:
In the cities of the near-future, how we generate electricity for all our household appliances, devices and possibly robots will be a going concern. And in keeping with the goal of sustainability, those needs are likely to be met by solar, wind, piezoelectric, geothermal and tidal power wherever possible. By 2030, buildings are even expected to have arrays built in to them to ensure that they can meet their own energy needs independently.
This could look a lot like the Strawscraper (picture above), where thousands of fronds utilize wind currents to generate electricity all day long; or fields filled with Windstalks – where standing carbon-fiber reinforced poles generate electricity by simply swaying with the wind. Wind farms, or wind tunnels and turbines (as envisioned with the Pertamina Energy Tower in Jakarta) could also be used by buildings to do the same job.
In addition, solar panels mounted on the exterior would convert daylight into energy. Assuming these buildings are situated in low-lying areas, superheated subterranean steam could easily be turned into sources of power through underground pipes connected to turbines. And for buildings located near the sea, turbines placed in the harbor could do the same job by capturing the energy of the tides.
Furthermore, piezoelectric devices could be used to turn everyday activity into electricity. Take the Pavegen as an example, a material composed of recycled tires and piezoelectric motors that turns steps into energy. Equipping every hallway, stairwell and touch surface with tensile material and motors, just about everything residents do in a building could become a source of added power.
On top of that, piezoelectric systems could be embedded in roads and on and off ramps, turning automobile traffic into electrical power. In developed countries, this is likely to take the form of advanced materials that create electrical charges when compressed. But for developing nations, a simple system of air cushions and motors could also be effective, as demonstrated by Macías Hernández’ proposed system for Mexico City.
And this would seem like a good segue into the issue of…
According to UN surveys, roughly 60% of the world’s population will live in cities by the year 2030. Hopefully, the 5.1 billion of us negotiating tight urban spaces by then will have figured out a better way to get around. With so many people packed into dense urban environments, it is simply not practical for all these individuals to rely on smog-emitting automobiles.
For the most part, this can be tackled by the use of mass transit that is particularly fast and efficient, which are the very hallmarks of maglev trains. And while most current designs are already speedy and produce a smaller carbon footprint than armies of cars, next-generation designs like the Hyperloop, The Northeast Maglev (TNEM), and the Nagoya-Tokyo connector are even more impressive.
Dubbed by Elon Musk as the “fifth form” of transportation, these systems would rely on linear electric motors, solar panels, and air cushions to achieve speeds of up to 1290 kilometers per hour (800 mph). In short, they would be able to transport people from Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes, from New York to Washington D.C. in 60 minutes, and from Nagoya to Tokyo in just 41.
When it comes to highways, future designs are likely to take into account keeping electric cars charged over long distances. Consider the example that comes to us from Sweden, where Volvo is also working to create an electric highway that has embedded electrical lines that keep cars charged over long distances. And on top of that, highways in the future are likely to be “smart”.
For example, the Netherlands-based Studio Roosegaarde has created a concept which relies on motion sensors to detect oncoming vehicles and light the way for them, then shuts down to reduce energy consumption. Lane markings will use glow-in-the-dark paint to minimize the need for lighting, and another temperature-sensitive paint will be used to show ice warnings when the surface is unusually cold.
In addition, the road markings are expected to have longer-term applications, such as being integrated into a robot vehicle’s intelligent monitoring systems. As automated systems and internal computers become more common, smart highways and smart cars are likely to become integrated through their shared systems, taking people from A to B with only minimal assistance from the driver.
And then there’s the concept being used for the future of the Pearl River Delta. This 39,380 square-km (15,200 square-mile) area in southeastern China encompasses a network of rapidly booming cities like Shenzhen, which is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. It’s also one of the most polluted, thanks to the urban growth bringing with it tons of commuters, cars, and vehicle exhaust.
That’s why NODE Architecture & Urbanism – a Chinese design firm – has come up with a city plan for 2030 that plans put transportation below ground, freeing up a whole city above for more housing and public space. Yes, in addition to mass transit – like subways – even major highways will be relegated to the earth, with noxious fumes piped and tunneled elsewhere, leaving the cityscape far less polluted and safer to breathe.
Personal cars will not be gone, however. Which brings us to…
In the future, the majority of transport is likely to still consist of automobiles, albeit ones that overwhelmingly rely on electric, hydrogen, biofuel or hybrid engines to get around. And keeping these vehicles fueled is going to be one of the more interesting aspects of future cities. For instance, electric cars will need to stay charged when in use in the city, and charge stations are not always available.
That’s where companies like HEVO Power come into play, with its concept of parking chargers that can offer top-ups for electric cars. Having teamed up with NYU Polytechnic Institute to study the possibility of charging parked vehicles on the street, they have devised a manhole c0ver-like device that can be installed in a parking space, hooked up to the city grid, and recharge batteries while commuters do their shopping.
And when looking at individual vehicles, one cannot underestimate the role by played by robot cars. Already, many proposals are being made by companies like Google and Chevrolet for autonomous vehicles that people will be able to summon using their smartphone. In addition, the vehicles will use GPS navigation to automatically make their way to a destination and store locations in its memory for future use.
And then there’s the role that will be played by robotaxis and podcars, a concept which is already being put to work in Masdar Eco City in the United Arab Emirates, San Diego and (coming soon) the UK town of Milton Keynes. In the case of Masdar, the 2GetThere company has built a series of rails that can accommodate 25,000 people a month and are consistent with the city’s plans to create clean, self-sustaining options for transit.
In the case of San Diego, this consists of a network known as the Personal Rapid Transit System – a series of on-call, point to point transit cars which move about on main lines and intermediate stations to find the quickest route to a destination. In Britian, similar plans are being considered for the town of Milton Keynes – a system of 21 on-call podcars similar to what is currently being employed by Heathrow Airport.
But of course, not all future transportation needs will be solved by MagLev trains or armies of podcars. Some existing technologies – such as the bicycle – work pretty well, and just need to be augmented. Lightlane is a perfect example of this, a set of lasers and LED lights that bikers use to project their own personal bike lane from under the seat as they ride.
And let’s not forget the Copenhagen Wheel, a device invented by MIT SENSEable City Lab back in 2009 to electrify the bicycle. Much like other powered-bicycle devices being unveiled today, this electric wheel has a power assist feature to aid the rider, a regenerative braking system that stores energy, and is controlled by sensors in the peddles and comes with smart features can be controlled via a smartphone app.
On top of all that, some research actually suggests that separating modes of transportation – bike lanes, car lanes, bus lanes, etc. – actually does more harm than good to the people using them. In Europe, the traffic concept known as “shared spaces” actually strips paths of traffic markings and lights, and allow walkers and drivers to negotiate their routes on their own.
Shared spaces create more consideration and consciousness for other people using them, which is why the Boston architecture firm Höweler + Yoon designed the “Tripanel” as part of their larger vision for the Boston-Washington corridor (aka. “Boswash”). The Tripanel features a surface that switches among grass, asphalt, and photovoltaic cells, offering a route for pedestrians, bikers, and electric cars.
When it comes to schooling ourselves and our children, the near future is likely to see some serious changes, leading to a virtual reinventing of educational models. For some time now, educators have been predicting how the plurality of perspectives and the rise of a globalized mentality would cause the traditional mode of learning (i.e. centralized schools, transmission learning) to break down.
And according to other speculative thinkers, such as Salim Ismail – the director of Singularity University – education will cease being centralized at all and become an “on-demand service”. In this model, people will simply “pull down a module of learning”, and schooldays and classrooms will be replaced by self-directed lessons and “microlearning moments”.
In this new learning environment, teleconferencing, telepresence, and internet resources are likely to be the main driving force. And while the size and shape of future classrooms is difficult to predict, it is likely that classroom sizes will be smaller by 2030, with just a handful of students using portable devices and display glasses to access information while under the guidance of a teacher.
At the same time, classrooms are likely to be springing up everywhere, in the forms of learning annexes in apartment buildings, or home-school environments. Already, this is an option for distance education, where students and teachers are connected through the internet. With the addition of more sophisticated technology, and VR environments, students will be able to enter “virtual classrooms” and connect across vast distances.
According to Eze Vidra, the head of Google Entrepreneurs Europe: “School kids will learn from short bite-sized modules, and gamification practices will be incorporated in schools to incentivize children to progress on their own.” In short, education will become a self-directed, or (in the case of virtual environments) disembodied experienced that are less standardized, more fun, and more suited to individual needs.
Many experts believe that medicine in the future is likely to shift away from addressing illness to prevention. Using thin, flexible, skin-mounted, embedded, and handheld sensors, people will be able to monitor their health on a daily basis, receiving up-to-date information on their blood pressure, cholesterol, kidney and liver values, and the likelihood that they might contract diseases in their lifetime.
All of these devices are likely to be bundled in one way or another, connected via smartphone or other such device to a person’s home computer or account. Or, as Ariel Schwatz of CoExist anticipates, they could come in the form of a “Bathroom GP”, where a series of devices like a Dr.Loo and Dr. Sink measure everything from kidney function to glucose levels during a routine trip.
Basically, these smart toilets and sinks screen for illnesses by examining your spittle, feces, urine and other bodily fluids, and then send that data to a microchip embedded inside you or on a wristband. This info is analyzed and compared to your DNA patterns and medical records to make sure everything is within the normal range. The chip also measures vital signs, and Dr Mirror displays all the results.
However, hospitals will still exist to deal with serious cases, such as injuries or the sudden onset of illnesses. But we can also expect them to be augmented thanks to the incorporation of new biotech, nanotech and bionic advances. With the development of bionic replacement limbs and mind-controlled prosthetics proceeding apace, every hospital in the future is likely to have a cybernetics or bioenhancement ward.
What’s more, the invention of bioprinting, where 3-D printers are able to turn out replacement organic parts on demand, is also likely to seriously alter the field of medical science. If people are suffering from a failing heart, liver, kidney, or have ruined their knees or other joints, they can simply put in at the bioprinting lab and get some printed replacement parts prepared.
And as a final, encouraging point, diseases like cancer and HIV are likely to be entirely curable. With many vaccines that show the ability to not only block, but even kill, the HIV virus in production, this one-time epidemic is likely to be a thing of the past by 2030. And with a cure for cancer expected in coming years, people in 2030 are likely to view it the same way people view polio or tetanus today. In short, dangerous, but curable!
When it comes to living in 2030, several trends are expected to contribute to people’s economic behavior. These include slow economic growth, collaborative consumption, 3-D printing, rising costs, resource scarcity, an aging population, and powerful emerging economies. Some of these trends are specific, but all of them will effect the behavior of future generations, mainly because the world of the future will be even more integrated.
As already noted, 3-D printers and scanners in the home are likely to have a profound effect on the consumer economy, mainly by giving rise to an on-demand manufacturing ethos. This, combined with online shopping, is likely to spell doom for the department store, a process that is already well underway in most developed nations (thanks to one-stop shopping).
However, the emergence of the digital economy is also creating far more in the way of opportunities for micro-entrepreneurship and what is often referred to as the “sharing economy”. This represents a convergence between online reviews, online advertising of goods and services, and direct peer-to-peer buying and selling that circumvents major distributors.
This trend, which is not only reaching back in time to reestablish a bartering economy, but is also creating a “trust metric”, whereby companies, brand names, and even individuals are being measured by to their reputation, which in turn is based on their digital presence and what it says about them. Between a “sharing economy” and a “trust economy”, the economy of the future appears highly decentralized.
Further to this is the development of cryptocurrencies, a digital medium of exchange that relies solely on consumer demand to establish its value – not gold standards, speculators or centralized banks. The first such currency was Bitcoin, which emerged in 2009, but which has since been joined by numerous others like Litecoin, Namecoin, Peercoin, Ripple, Worldcoin, Dogecoin, and Primecoin.
In this especially, the world of 2030 is appearing to be a very fluid place, where wealth depends on spending habits and user faith alone, rather than the power of governments, financial organizations, or centralized bureaucracies. And with this movement into “democratic anarchy” underway, one can expect the social dynamics of nations and the world to change dramatically.
This last section is of such significance that it simply must end with an exclamation mark. And this is simply because by 2030, many missions and projects that will pave the way towards a renewed space age will be happening… or not. It all comes down to whether or not the funding is made available, public interest remains high, and the design and engineering concepts involved hold true.
However, other things are likely to become the norm, such as space tourism. Thanks to visionaries like World View and Richard Branson (the pioneer of space tourism with Virgin Galactic), trips to the lower atmosphere are likely to become a semi-regular occurrence, paving the way not only for off-world space tourism, but aerospace transit across the globe as well.
Private space exploration will also be in full-swing, thanks to companies like Google’s Space X and people like Elon Musk. This year, Space X is preparing for the first launch of it’s Falcon Heavy rocket, a move which will bring affordable space flight that much closer. And by 2030, affordability will be the hallmarks of private ventures into space, which will likely include asteroid mining and maybe the construction of space habitats.
2030 is also the year that NASA plans to send people to Mars, using the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and a redesigned Saturn V rocket. Once there, the crew will conduct surface studies and build upon the vast legacy of the Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity Rovers to determine what Mars once looked like. This will surely be a media event, the likes of which has not been seen since the Moon Landing.
Speaking of media events, by 2030, NASA may not even be the first space agency or organization to set foot on Mars. Not if Mars One, a nonprofit organization based in the Netherlands, get’s its way and manages to land a group of colonists there by 2023. And they are hardly alone, as Elon Musk has already expressed an interest in establishing a colony of 80,000 people on the Red Planet sometime in the future.
And Inspiration Mars, another non-profit organization hosted by space adventurist Dennis Tito, will have already sent an astronaut couple on a round-trip to Mars and back (again, if all goes as planned). The mission, which is currently slated for 2018 when the planets are in alignment, will therefore be a distant memory, but will serve as an example to all the private space ventures that will have followed.
In addition to Mars, one-way trips are likely to be taking place to other celestial bodies as well. For instance, Objective Europa – a non-profit made up of scientists, conceptual artists, and social-media experts – plans to send a group of volunteers to the Jovian moon of Europa as well. And while 2030 seems a bit soon for a mission, it is likely that (if it hasn’t been scrapped) the program will be in the advanced stages by then.
NASA and other space agencies are also likely to be eying Europa at this time and perhaps even sending ships there to investigate the possibility of life beneath it’s icy surface. Relying on recent revelations about the planet’s ice sheet being thinnest at the equator, a lander or space penetrator is sure to find its way through the ice and determine once and for all if the warm waters below are home to native life forms.
By 2030, NASA’s MAVEN and India’s MOM satellites will also have studied the Martian atmosphere, no doubt providing a much fuller picture of its disappearance. At the same time, NASA will have already towed an asteroid to within the Moon’s orbit to study it, and begun constructing an outpost at the L2 Lagrange Point on the far side of the Moon, should all go as planned.
And last, but certainly not least, by 2030, astronauts from NASA, the ESA, and possibly China are likely to be well on their way towards the creation of a permanent outpost on the Moon. Using a combination of 3-D printing, robots, and sintering technology, future waves of astronauts and settlers will have permanent domes made directly out of regolith with which to conduct research on the Lunar surface.
All of these adventures will help pave the way to a future where space tourism to other planets, habitation on the Moon and Mars, and ventures to the asteroid belt (which will solve humanity’s resource problem indefinitely), will all be the order of the day.
To break it all down succinctly, the world of 2030 is likely to be rather different than the one we are living in right now. At the same time though, virtually all the developments that characterize it – growing populations, bigger cities, Climate Change, alternative fuels and energy, 3-D printing, cryptocurrencies, and digital devices and communications – are already apparent now.
Still, as these trends and technologies continue to expand and are distributed to more areas of the world – not to mention more people, as they come down in price – humanity is likely to start taking them for granted. The opportunities they open, and the dependency they create, will have a very deterministic effect on how people live and how the next generation will be shaped.
All in all, 2030 will be a very interesting time because it will be here that so many developments – the greatest of which will be Climate Change and the accelerating pace of technological change – will be on the verge of reaching the tipping point. By 2050, both of these factors are likely to come to a head, taking humanity in entirely different directions and vying for control of our future.
Basically, as the natural environment reels from the effects of rising temperatures and an estimated CO2 concentration of 600 ppm in the upper atmosphere, the world will come to be characterized by famine, scarcity, shortages, and high mortality. At the same time, the accelerating pace of technology promises to lead to a new age where abundance, post-scarcity and post-mortality are the norm.
So in the end, 2030 will be a sort of curtain raiser for the halfway point of the 21st century, during which time, humanity’s fate will have become largely evident. I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping things turn out okay, because our children are surely expecting to have children of their own, and I know they would like to leave behind a world the latter could also live in!