What developments might emerge in the near-term future given all the unruly technologists with their magical new toys, industry upheavals, and complex social, economic, and political forces we can see on the near horizon?
In our recently launched book Beyond Genuine Stupidity: Ensuring AI Serves Humanity, we highlighted a range of ways in which artificial intelligence (AI) in particular could have a transformative impact for individuals, society, business, and government in the coming years. There are also a range of other exponentially improving technologies which could have a dramatic impact on society in the decade ahead—including robotics, augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR), blockchain, 3D/4D printing, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology.
However, the future is about far more than technology, and so, in these predictions, we have combined hard data on emerging trends, with some creative exploration on our part, to explore the developments we might see emerging in 2018 and playing out over the next five years or more. We cover both the use of disruptive technologies and the broader societal and economic changes and developments that might play out in the near-future. To help challenge the reader, the predictions also range from the highly plausible to wildcard developments that fall into the “unlikely but dramatic” category.
- Hollywood/Bollywood Slowdown – The success of the #metoo campaign in surfacing female harassment will strike deep into major film studios and a broader range of sectors around the world during 2018. Whether through public exposure or private pressure from actors refusing to work with certain directors and producers, many of the accused will choose to resign or be forced to step down from their productions. This leads to regular production delays on a number of films and a noticeable slowdown in output and hence poor commercial results for many studios. The net result is that studios start to change their production model, with heavy vetting of those involved. Directors, producers and actors are forced to take out insurance policies indemnifying the studios against harassment lawsuits and the costs of any production delays. By 2023, we also see a big cultural shift in the studio system, with many more women in executive, production, and directorial roles. The rise of ethical and female-led independent film production further challenges the power of the big studios. The continuing rise of more accessible distribution channels and technology to develop film projects means that more independently produced movies are able to capture audiences
- Robo-Dating – Want your date to hang on your every word, never interrupt, and always do what you want? The first matchmaking websites will appear for those who want to date physical robots or virtual avatars—with personalities customized to our precise preferences. Around the world, women’s groups will rise up in process at services that they perceive as objectifying and dehumanizing women and returning them to the role of fawning 1950s housewives. Within five years, the systems will be using AI to determine and create our perfect match and allow us to have real babies with our robo-partners using donors and surrogates.
- The Queen Abdicates – In a move which shocks the media and the part of the nation that pays attention to such things, Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand announces that she is abdicating the throne in 2018 in favor of her son Prince Charles. The Queen indicates that she would like to slow down, spend more time with her husband Prince Philip, and act in an advisory capacity to the new King Charles. Written into the strict terms of the abdication agreement is the condition that Charles himself must in turn abdicate by December 31st, 2023 in favor of his son Prince William.
- Robo-Pop – 2018 will see the first pop song written by AI enter the top 20 of the pop charts in a major economy such as South Korea or Japan. By 2023, predictive algorithms will be used to determine the music and lyrics for over 50% of number ones, with the majority written by AI software.
- Bitcoin at US$50,000 – Speculation will drive the price of Bitcoin to at least US$50,000 during 2018. This will further drive down the levels of Bitcoin’s commercial use for transaction purposes, as coin holders will hang on to them as an appreciating asset. Within the next two years, China will announce its own government backed digital currency. This will see rapid adoption by several countries that will also outlaw Bitcoin and its rivals. By 2023, the price of Bitcoin, like many other competitors, will decline sharply as it returns to its role as just another digital currency, predominantly used for trading purposes. Massive losses are incurred by individuals, investment funds, and even countries who invested heavily in Bitcoin on the way up, but didn’t sell out their positions quickly enough before the crash.
- Flying Taxis – following successful trials of single person passenger drones in 2017, commercial services are launched in China and the UAE during 2018. The technology continues to improve over the next few years, despite some fatal accidents and many near misses. Around the world, by 2023 more than 20 countries have licensed the use of both single and multiple occupant passenger drones.
- NFL/Premier League Player Strike – Concerns over the treatment of black people by the police spurs a global movement with sports stars taking the lead. This culminates in a weekend of strikes in October 2018 with black players participating from the US National Football League (NFL), the English Premier, many other football leagues across Europe, and sports like cricket, baseball, and basketball. While progress on the underlying cause is slow, this becomes an annual event, and by 2023 has almost become a date in the sporting calendar.
- Polibots/Roboticians – The first robot will be fielded as a political candidate somewhere in the world in 2018, probably by a fringe party. By 2023 South Korea, Iceland, and several others will have updated their constitutions to give robots equal rights to humans in parliament. In the next few years, the first robot MP will take their seat in a national parliament, consulting and polling their electorate electronically on every issue in real time via the internet before casting its vote and displaying a 100% attendance record.
- Trump and Kim Play Cards – Brinkmanship is dialed down dramatically in the second half of 2018. This comes after a massive build-up of US military presence along both of North Korea’s coastlines and direct threats from President Trump to annihilate North Korea. In a bizarre turn of events, a meeting is brokered between President Trump and President Kim Jong-un in Japan with former basketball star Dennis Rodman acting as the go-between. Kim Jong-un insists that the leaders play poker to “break the ice,” believing Trump to be beatable. While the result is never officially released by the US, North Korean TV claims it as the first of many victories in the meeting. Progress in thawing relations between the two nations remains slow, but in 2023 the US does send food aid via South Korea to help the North deal with a devastating drought.
- Country Mergers – The perilous state of Zimbabwe’s economy becomes more apparent post-Mugabe. The nation’s leaders turn to South Africa for support in late 2018 and Zimbabwe effectively becomes a protectorate. Almost all arms of government come under South Africa control or supervision by 2023 and, to all effects, Zimbabwe is now its tenth province. A similar pattern is repeated around the world with more than 20 bankrupt or failing countries adopting similar protectorate arrangements under the instruction and supervision of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and United Nations.
- Pound – Dollar Parity – The continued strength of the US economy, a favorable US stock market response to President Trump’s tax plans, and chaotic uncertainty around Brexit all serve to drive down the value of the pound to parity with the US dollar during 2018. Following erratic gyrations which take the pound below US$1 during the Brexit wilderness years of 2019-2021, the UK economy eventually reaches a level of calm by 2022 as the shape of the new semi-Brexit clarifies. The pound settles at an exchange rate of around US$1.10 by 2023.
- Zero Growth Nation – UK growth will plummet to zero and below in 2018. Brexit concerns will see more companies leave the UK, while those that stay will reign in spending and engage in deep discounting. Households will cut their spending amid concerns over personal debt and job prospects as public-sector redundancies rise; more jobs are lost to automation; and firms cut headcounts to reduce costs. Other major nations also see growth stalling, but few hit the buffers like the UK. After a chaotic few years of Brexit mayhem, growth starts to stabilize by 2022 and crawls above 1% in 2023.
- The Artificial Economist – Around the world, AI programs will outperform economists, analysts, and stock pickers in predicting what will happen to major stock markets, exchange rates, GDP figures, and bank base rates across the major economies by the end of 2018. Over the next few years, the number of new AI-powered FinTech funds at first proliferates and then plateaus and declines, with a number outperforming the market and some delivering unprecedented returns to investors. A wave of consolidations, mergers, and closures follows. By 2023, AI is either running or central to the management of more than half of the major public investment funds, unit trusts, investment trusts, and the like in the largest economies. Around the world, we also see AI being given a seat on investment bank boards, central bank advisory boards, and government monetary policy committees.
- Driverless Everywhere – All around the world in 2018, we will see pilot schemes to test fully autonomous electric vehicles on the road, operating under normal driving conditions. China will be the first to actually have driverless cars driving alongside human-operated vehicles on a regular basis. The growing Chinese middle class flocks to purchase their first autonomous vehicle because these cars become a new status symbol. As a result, vehicle pollution in cities like Beijing will start to decline, slowly at first and then demonstrably. Motivated in part by the targets in the Paris climate agreement, more than 25 countries will have fully functional driverless green energy vehicles available for sale or hire by 2023. By then we could also see the first city authority introduce restrictions on manually driven cars in favor of autonomous vehicles.
- Supersonic Travel – In 2018, we will see the first test flights of a supersonic flight from one of the new entrants such as Boom or Cygnus. When fully operational, these planes will be able to cover a range of up to 7,000 miles at speeds of 1,400 miles per hour, and are planned to be in commercial service by 2023.
- Hyperloop – During 2018 at least 10 countries will follow the lead of the UAE and India, and sign up to have superfast (600-1,200 kilometers per hour) Hyperloop rail services in their countries within five years. Near full speed prototypes are likely to be demonstrated during the year, and commercial Hyperloop services should be present in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and possibly California by 2023.
- Robo-Store – Around the world, 2018 sees a spate of openings of fully automated robo-stores where customers either wave and pay, or they are identified through facial recognition and their account is debited automatically. Robots serve customers, re-stock shelves, and self-organize to change displays rapidly based on their analysis of recent visitor and buyer behaviors. Home delivery can also be arranged using drones and pavement delivery robots. The automation of retail accelerates over the next few years and, by 2023, entire shopping malls promote themselves as fully automated. Human store staff are basically there to act as personal shoppers and customer advisers—powered by deep insight provided by the in store AI systems.
- Head/Body Transplants – Following their much-disputed claims of completing a successful human head transplant to a corpse in 2017, controversial surgeon Professor Sergio Canavero and his team repeat the experiment in front of international observers in 2018. The individual survives less than 48 hours, but the observers acknowledge that the experiment was successful. By the end of 2023, the technique has been refined and there are now more than ten people around the world who are still alive six months after their transplant operation.
- Cryo Queen – Hot on the heels of the announcement of her planned abdication by year end, 2018 sees the Queen also announce that she will have her body cryogenically preserved on death. The hope is that the technology to rejuvenate her body and restore her memory and consciousness will have emerged within 20 to 50 years. The intention is twofold: firstly, to give future generations access to the wisdom and experience the Queen has amassed over more than nine decades; secondly, to give a major boost to the UK cryogenics industry as one of the new sectors that will carry the UK economy forward post-Brexit. Within five years, the entire UK royal family, most senior UK political figures have all committed themselves to cryogenics. They are then followed by several prominent business people, performing artists, sports stars, and media personalities—with many becoming shareholders in the leading cryo service providers.
- AI Newscaster – During 2018 a robot equipped with AI is used by a major news channel in the Middle East to work alongside a human, reading out the daily news and interviewing guests. As media budgets come under pressure in the increasingly automated world of 2023, the robo-casters have become commonplace in broadcast news services and online channels. We may pay a premium for a personalized newscaster who sounds like Meryl Streep, Stephen Hawking, or Beyoncé. For the majority receiving the public services from the news channels, our AI has been fed thousands of hours of news reporting in order to learn to flawlessly mimic the serious and situationally appropriate tone of the channels’ best human newscasters.