Elon University

Forward 150: 2016 – 2025

This timeline of predicted inventions, adaptations, developments and discoveries offers a briefing that includes major statements made in 2006 or earlier by futurists, technologists, scientists and other experts about what they expected to be (at that time) highly likely changes to come over the next 150 years. The items that are not attributed to one or two specific individuals are developments that were commonly accepted by many experts in the earliest years of the 2000s as already proven to be likely, and they expected them to be brought to reality by a number of innovators at many locations around the world.

Use the 2016-2025 quicklinks below to jump to an item of interest or simply browse down the page.

Immersive Virtual-Reality Worlds
Ubiquitous Robots
Emotion-Control Devices
Paint-On Power Generation
Holographic Television
Many Other Possibilities

2020 – Immersive Virtual-Reality Worlds

City Skyline PhotoPeople will spend a large amount of time in virtual-reality worlds in which they will compete, socialize, relax, be entertained and do business by the year 2020. British Telecom futurologist Ian Pearson says immersive computer-generated environments will give people “a life-size, 3-D image and the links to your nervous system allow you to shake hands, it’s like being in the other person’s office. It’s impossible to believe that won’t be the normal way of communicating.” By 2005, GeoSim, based in Israel, was thoroughly digitizing detail about major cities – see the rendering of Philadelphia above.

Virtual reality may come to mean more to some people than our first reality, and this could generate a number of problems for humankind, especially because it will become prevalent and compelling at a time in our history when humans may actually be under threat of their own inventions. Due to the confluence of nanotechnology, robotics and genetic breakthroughs there is a possibility that control of the world may be shifting toward artificially intelligent entities. Humans have to be on their toes, and not lounging in some virtual paradise.

2020 – Ubiquitous Robots

Ubiquitous Robots PhotoFuturists and technology experts say robots and artificial intelligence of various sorts will become an accepted part of daily life by the year 2020 and will almost completely take over physical work. Our society will become a care economy. Robots will take over the physical jobs, they will evolve to be smarter than humans, and they are expected to be granted their own set of rights by 2020. Futurologist Ian Pearson projects that robots will be fully conscious, with superhuman levels of intelligence, by this time.

“Consciousness is just another sense, effectively, and that’s what we’re trying to design in a computer,” he told The Observer, a UK newspaper, in 2005. He added that this could make it possible to program “emotional” machines, such as airplanes that are afraid of crashing.

The image above shows a nano-size electric motor created at Berkeley Lab in 2005. Attach wings or legs, and it could be as fast and nimble as a housefly. (Picture courtesy Zettl Research Group.)

Some futurists say humans will increase their intellects to keep up with their creations, others are concerned that the acceleration of technology will outrun humans’ ability to keep pace. It is possible that by 2020 supercomputers and the enhancement of human intelligence through brain downloads or implants will allow humans to be equal or superior to artificial-intelligence entities.

No matter how it goes, as robots become more developed and human-like it will be necessary to adjust to the way in which such entities will fit within our social systems.

2020 – Emotion-Control Devices

Experts say psychopaths and criminals could be “cured” with the development of emotion-control devices by 2020. The devices will be placed in the areas of the brain that make these people different and help them to lead more normal, productive lives.

2025 – Paint-On Power Generation

Scientists say it is quite likely that developments in nanotechnology and the science of coatings will yield nano solar cells – each just a billionth of a meter in diameter. They will be sensitive enough to generate power from any light source – even infrared light that can be found indoors – and they will be painted or sprayed onto surfaces everywhere to provide a power source.

These inexpensive electricity-generating surfaces can keep our many digital devices fully charged without any effort on our part.

2025 – Holographic Television

It is expected that by 2025 or sooner humans will be able to watch three-dimensional programming, suspended in mid-air and delivering entertainment, informational and educational programs. Sporting events and film actors will seem to appear in the middle of your living room as if they were standing there in real life. It’s also expected that humans will be able to make themselves characters in their favorite sporting events or films.

Other Possibilities by 2016-2025

The following are excerpted from the British Telecom Technology Timeline (information was compiled by Ian Neild and Ian Pearson from worldwide sci-tech reports in 2005):

  • AI technology imitating thinking processes of the brain
  • AI teachers get better results than most human teachers
  • AI starts being noticed as a source of redundancy
  • Computers write most of their own software
  • Human knowledge is exceeded by machine knowledge
  • Electronic pets outnumber organic pets
  • Electronic life form given basic rights
  • Artificial insects and small animals with artificial brains
  • AI entity becomes a Member of British Parliament
  • Smart bacteria contains electronics and is linked to net
  • AI brings chimpanzee or dolphin up to human-level intelligence
  • AI entity awarded Nobel Prize
  • Virus wipes out half of the electronic pet population
  • Remote-control devices built into living pets
  • AI entities given the right to vote
  • Nanotech-based organism colonies built
  • Synthetic bacteria is created
  • Artificial sensors used in cosmetic upgrade surgery
  • Smart makeup works to improve people’s looks
  • Listing of individual’s DNA for $1 (10M key base pairs)
  • More people using telework centers than home working
  • Telework centers double as community resources
  • Police force privatized in many nations
  • Films where viewers can choose who acts in each role
  • Autonomous production plants make everything
  • Retirement age begins to be linked to a person’s medical history
  • Holodecks using room lined completely with polymer screens
  • Thought recognition as an everyday input process
  • Self-diagnostic, self-repairing robots
  • War fought entirely between robot armies
  • ID cards replaced by biometric scanning
  • Fuel cells replace internal-combustion engines
  • Life expectancy approaches 100

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