Predictions are a mug’s game. If they come true, you likely didn’t push your thinking hard enough. If they don’t come true, you risk looking like an idiot. Nonetheless, many speakers at the annual TED conference have taken the plunge and proffered thoughts of what the future might look like. The video above takes a quick spin through just some of them, with thoughts from tech pioneers including Nicholas Negroponte, Rodney Brooks, Jeff Han and Pattie Maes.
Below, we asked many of the attendees and speakers at this year’s just-wrapped TED to riff off the conference’s theme (“The Next Chapter”) and tell us what they think might radically change society, life, technology and so on in the *next* 30 years. From funny and wry to deeply insightful, the answers will surprise you.
“One of the things about learning how to read — we have been doing a lot of consuming of information through our eyes and so on — that may be a very inefficient channel. So my prediction is that we’re going to ingest information. You’re going to swallow a pill and know English. You’re going to swallow a pill and know Shakespeare. The way to do it is through the bloodstream; once it’s in your bloodstream, it basically goes through and gets into the brain and when it knows it’s in the brain it deposits the information in the right places. I’ve been hanging around with Ed Boyden and Hugh Herr and a number of people… This isn’t far-fetched.”
Nicholas Negroponte, founder, MIT Media Lab, speaking in Session 1 at TED2014
“The seamless integration of our physical and virtual worlds. This will bring richer experiences and connectivity to the global population.”
Phil Wiser, chief technology officer, Hearst
“I hope it will be a rejection of technology that makes us more isolated from one another and more easily surveilled. I also hope we will have a sudden, dawning realization that we forgot to read books for a while and came to regret it. And I hope we will finally learn to accept our own shortcomings as a species, not in a way that results in complacency but, instead, a renewed commitment to making the planet a more just place to be an animal, human or otherwise.”
Laurel Braitman, writer, TED Fellow
“Progress in medicine, global access to information and a global age pyramid that is already turning upside-down will create a global movement towards an increased demand for good health care. This in turn will increase life expectancy and drive innovation. This re-enforcing circle will change societies’ views on health care. Whereas today it is seen as a cost that needs to be controlled — which potentially slows down progress — it might become the global driving force of innovation and humanity, replacing other areas of public investment focus.”
Harald Stock, president & CEO, ArjoHuntleigh
“What will blow my mind in the next 30 years is the ability to diagnose a disease before you know that something is wrong with you, treat it with medicines designed specifically for you and eradicate it so it never happens again. The concept of connected health, wearable technology and ingested medicines are all pointing us in that direction. The ability for someone to tie it all together, tailored for the individual is what is mind blowing.”
Doreen Lorenzo, president, Quirky
We will see the big picture with more clarity and resolution than ever before. Whether for good or ill (and surely it will be both), ever greater legibility of everything around us, between us, and even in us, and in every system from the physical to the social, financial, commercial, environmental and more is going to transform our relationship to the world, each other and to every system of which we are part. [Read more about "The Legible Planet" in this separate piece, written just for TED.]
Andrew Blau, managing director, Deloitte
“We will have the opportunity to have an approved chip implanted in ourselves that will be a sensor, grabbing health data for early detection of disease or sickness, show our location to those we wish and provide all kinds of new real-time data. This will roll out with early adopters, and over time gain general acceptance.
As a society, we won’t really care if insurance companies have early access to our health data, as their costs will decline and they will be better at being fair, less litigious and more affordable. Thus we will grant several companies (such as tomorrow’s Google, Facebook, Twitter) access to even more personal data, and integrate their offerings into our day-to-day living. We won’t at first like it, but the Supreme Court will allow police and rescue officials a reasonable-basis standard for their grabbing our microchip data (DUI tests roadside, etc).
Also, perhaps related, we will be able to listen to live music, at any hour, all around the world, wherever we are, through some inner-ear adapter not unlike what we have with today’s Google Glass. We will be able to hear street musicians from Ghana and live music in a bar from Reykjavik at lunchtime in San Francisco. Live music will bring the next generation closer together, with promises of global peace.”
Gregory Miller, co-founder, Spacebar, former managing director, Google.org
“We’ll understand what creates dreams — not just ‘it’s your brain cleaning up its cache for the day,’ but really understand why we dream in vivid detail, why the stories make perfect sense while we are dreaming, but are nonsensical upon awakened-review, and what occurrences in the day were selected to be dreamed about that evening. It will all be understood, and no longer will we think, ‘Wow, that was so bizarre that I dreamed about some man I’ve never seen before, playing golf, which I could care less about, and he asked me to marry him in front of a crowd of 50 people, in a place I’ve never been or seen.'”
Geraldine Carter, co-founder, director, Climate Ride
“Humans face three choices in the exponential growth of information in the next 30 years:
1: To deny the power of technology to counter the feared effects of the information explosion (like certain religions today).
2. To delegate more to machines and live a more hedonistic lifestyle (chasing leisure makes us more lazy).
3. To see the power of new tools in the explosion of data to unlock the promise of humans (through augmenting human capability).”
Jim Hackett, Steelcase
“How will our minds be blown in the next 30 years? Well, that’s quite a long time, given the acceleration in history. Still, I’ll be brave and make six hypotheses.” [Read all six of them in this separate piece, written just for TED.]
Blaise Agüera y Arcas, Google
“Medical advances possible due to inter-disciplinary research. For example: Bio-engineering could become a hot new field of innovation leading to great societal impact.”
Ram Shriram, managing partner, Sherpalo Ventures
“I just hope to BE here, as I will be nearing my 94th birthday 30 years from now!”
Ruth Ann Harnisch, president, The Harnisch Foundation
“What is next? Perhaps counterintuitively, I’m guessing it’s a visionary idea from the late 1930s that’s been revived every decade since: autonomous vehicles. Now you’re thinking, give me a break. How can a fancy version of cruise control be profound? Well, much of our world has been designed around roads and transportation. These were as essential to the success of the Roman Empire as the interstate highway to the prosperity and development of the US. Today, these roads that interconnect our world are dominated by cars and trucks that have largely unchanged for 100 years. Although perhaps not obvious today, autonomous vehicles will be the key technology that enables us to redesign our cities and by extension civilization. Here’s why. Once they become ubiquitous, each year vehicles will save tens of thousands of lives in the United States alone, and a million globally. Automotive energy consumption and air pollution will be cut dramatically. Much of the road congestion in and out of our cities will disappear. They will enable compelling new concepts in how we design cities, work and the way we live. We will get where we’re going faster and society will recapture vast amounts of lost productivity now spent sitting in traffic, basically polluting. But why now? Why do we think this is ready? Because over the last 30 years people from outside the automotive industry have spent countless billions creating the needed miracles, but for entirely different purposes. It took folks like DARPA, universities and companies completely outside of the automotive industry to notice if you were clever about it, autonomy could be done now.”
Bran Ferren, co-chairman, Applied Minds, speaking in session 2 of TED2014
“Over the next 30 years, humans will increasingly and widely integrate technology into our bodies for recreational and informational purposes. A teenager in 2044 will marvel at how tech-free our bodies were in 2014, and wonder how we ever managed.”
Ravin Agrawal, managing director, Corellian Capital
“People will live in a ‘bubble’ of personalized experience, where what each of us sees and hears of the world will be different from anyone else. This will result from a combination of factors, most notably personalized advertising and the gradual evolution of our personal electronic devices.
By 2040, we will be surrounded by personalized advertisements/offerings being constantly pushed to us; many surfaces will become active and display content based on who is looking at them at a given moment. They may even be able to simultaneously steer a different image to each observer.
We will also deliberately augment our experience of the world with our personal electronic devices. ‘Glass’-like devices which project images into our eyes will be joined by unobtrusive audio and haptic feedback devices that we will use to inform, remind and connect ourselves.
The net effect will be that each of us will fundamentally experience a different view of reality. In many ways that will be to our advantage, allowing us to live more informed and potentially more connected lives. But this individualized experience may also bring a risk of social fragmentation. The explosion of media choices over the past 30 years has led to narrowcasting that in turn allows us to consume media that reinforce our beliefs and interests, leading to the increased polarization of our society. We may find in the next 30 years, when each of us has a different experience of the augmented world, that we will further fragment and each only see that which reinforces our world view.
This seems like an unavoidable future based on where technology is heading. I hope we can find a way to accentuate the positives, share experiences and viewpoints, and prevent us from being increasingly isolated from one another.”
Forrest Norrod, vice president and general manager, servers, Dell
“In 30 years, we could have our minds totally blown by what a high-energy planet would be like. if energy were clean, cheap and dense, we could lift everyone out of poverty, desalinate as much water as we need, incinerate trash completely so we’d have no waste and do many other amazing things limited only by our imaginations. We’d be able to leave large portions of the earth to nature and still live high quality, modern lives on an ecologically vibrant planet.
This isn’t inevitable though. It will take breakthroughs in energy technologies and major investments in scaling them up. Government, civil society and business will have to prioritize innovation and be realistic about the energy needs of 9 billion people living modern lives.”
Rachel Pritzker, president, Pritzker Innovation Fund
“I’m so astonished by the last 30 years that it’s hard to imagine what might blow our minds in the next 30. That’s how pervasive technology has become for many of us.
Nevertheless, if we agree that we (in the developed world) enjoy a richness of resources like:
— ever-greater storage and compression power
— ever tinier and more powerful chips
— a growing Internet of things (energy, lighting, cars, medical devices, quantified self devices for health)
— a proliferation of robotics applications
Then what *should* happen in the next 30 years is that this richness evolves and extends to places that today stumble along on 2G, dialup, or nothing at all. I’m optimistic about broadband over power lines and by balloon.
I know, though — shoulda, woulda, coulda, right? So I think that what will truly astonish me is if we humans bring ourselves to collectively care enough to *make technology pervasive and useful for everyone throughout the world in accordance with their needs and desires*.
What would be astonishing is if we can put aside excessive margins and corporate amenities to the degree it takes to do the world as a whole good.
I love what access to technology can do — I just want it to be evenly distributed. That would blow my mind, and I bet I’m not alone.”
Karen Wickre, editorial director, Twitter
“If the past 30 years were about the internet and the world wide web, the next 30 years will for me be about testing the limits of the human body infused with technology.
How far can we go. Can we truly become an interplanetary species, as Elon Musk suggests we could be?
What happens to us physically when we get to Mars?
Can we transform the way we learn? Will there be a need to spend 20 years studying when all knowledge is instantly available to all of us. What if to be is to know? How then do we apply what we know?
Do our children stand a chance to live forever?
How do we start relating to computers once they gain consciousness?”
Kelo Kubu, executive director, Gamatong
“In the next 30 years, the full Star Trek story will actually come true. Already, we’ve seen many of the show’s far-fetched ideas come to fruition. We’ve witnessed some jamming technological progress. But none of the vision of humanity’s future that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry developed has materialized yet. His idea was that each person was able to contribute, that their differences were put to use, and that purpose aligned them to do better, together. That’s next.” [Read the full story, "How Star Trek will finally come true," in this piece written just for TED.]
Nilofer Merchant, author
“I think what will blow our minds in the next 30 years will be watching the maturation and contributions of Generation Z. This is the first generation to grow up with wide access to advanced technology since their birth. I have seen kids like my godson — born in 2011 — be able to successfully navigate a tablet computer from before he was able to form complete sentences. I think that this type of exposure to super-computers, tablets, smartphones and social media since infancy makes their brains different, and as this generation comes of age and begins to take their place as leaders in society over the next 30 years, I think we will see mind-blowing advancements in every aspect of life that technology can affect.”
Ryan Coogler, filmmaker
“A much needed fundamental change in transportation, which will allow people to travel from any major city to any major city in the world in a couple of hours or less.”
Payam Zamani, founder and CEO, reply.com
“We will discover ‘Earth twins': planets around other stars that are roughly the same size and distance as Earth and we will be able to detect what’s on their surface and their atmospheres … and finally really start answering the question: ‘Is there life out there?’
Back on Earth, quantum physics will lead us to new technologies that will transform communication security and change the conversation around privacy.”
Shohini Ghose, quantum physicist, educator and TED Fellow
“In the next 30 years, everyone in the world will be connected. Even the most remote communities that today can only be reached on foot will be in contact with the rest of the world thanks to mobile connections and delivery systems. Though I don’t expect that our traditional infrastructure (roads, landlines, postal services) will reach all corners of the earth, new modes of transportation will proliferate, allowing anyone to reach anyone else.
Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAVs) or drones are just one such mode of transport. Recently, with the support of the Wasserman Foundation, IDEO.org explored how drones could play a role in last-mile health delivery. We see an astoundingly bright future for drones, one that recasts them from agents of war to agents of change.”
Jocelyn Wyatt, co-lead, executive director, IDEO.org
“A democratic China with a GDP that exceeds America’s.
A geopolitical landscape that will see a return to inter-state warfare as dictators push back against the tide of democracy in a desperate attempt to hang on. Unfortunately, that won’t mean the end of intra-state warfare either. Those wars will continue, unabated.
The disappearance of small island developing states like the Maldives due to climate change.
Sitting in traffic, but not driving; instead working in one’s ‘car-office’ with a 100 gigabit wireless connection.
Thinking it’s normal to speak to a machine; Siri is only the tip of the iceberg. “Her” is already here.
And, since I’m Cambodian-American, the total transformation of Cambodia from a country where one political leader has been in charge for nearly a quarter of a century to a pluralistic society where good governance and human rights are the norm. Hope springs eternal.”
Sophal Ear, professor, author, speaker, US Naval postgraduate school
“Five to ten years from now, search engines will be based not just on looking for combinations of words and links but actually on reading for understanding the billions of pages on the web and in books. So you’ll be walking along, Google will pop up, and say, ‘Mary, you expressed concern to me a month ago that your glutathione supplement wasn’t getting past the blood/brain barrier. Well, new research came out 13 seconds ago that shows a whole new approach to taking glutathione; let me summarize it for you.’
20 years from now, we’ll have nanobots — another exponential trend is the shrinking of technology — that go into our brain through the capillaries — and basically connect our synthetic neocortex and the cloud, providing an extension of our neocortex. Now today you have a computer in your phone but if you need 10,000 computers for a few seconds to do a complex search, you can access that for a second or two in the cloud. In the 2030s you’ll be able to connect to that directly from your brain. I ‘m walking along, there’s Chris Anderson, he’s coming my way, I’d better think of something clever to say. I’ve got three seconds — my 300 million modules in my neocortex won’t cut it — I need a billion more. I’ll be able to access that in the cloud. Our thinking then will be a hybrid of biological and non-biological thinking.”
“We are living on the verge of the greatest revolution in architecture since the invention of concrete, steel or of the elevator. And it’s a media revolution… We don’t need the Greeks any more to tell us what we think about architecture. We can tell each other what we think about architecture. Digital media hasn’t just changed the relationship between all of us, it’s changed the relationship between us and buildings.”
Marc Kushner, architect, partner HWKN, speaking in Session 2 at TED2014