Once a decade restricted to sci-fi novels, the 2020s look to be an exciting 10 years for technology. As the world has found its feet with computers, the internet, and other advances, incredible innovations could become mainstream. Here’s a look at five bold but feasible tech advances that could change our lives over the next 10 years.
Technically, this one already exists. Argus II is an FDA and EU approved device used to improve visual impairment. While the technology is in the early stages, trials have found at least some improvement in vision for many users. The vast majority of subjects were better able to discern between light and dark shapes or locate objects they otherwise could not.
The company behind the device, Second Sight, is working on improving it to transmit information directly to the brain, rather than building on the limitations of a damaged optic nerve. The next decade could potentially see the roll out of bionic eyes that completely restore lost vision. Of course, the next step may then be to improve upon the visual limits of healthy eyes.
Texting by Thinking
Who needs touchscreen keyboard when you can send messages by thinking about them? Already back in 2017, the BrainGate study used an advanced brain-computer interface to allow paralyzed individuals to type messages via thought. The results were fairly slow, with the fastest think-typist producing eight words a minute. But for those otherwise unable to communicate, this is a huge leap forward.
The benefits stretch beyond paralyzed individuals. Less invasive headsets that are easily removed could be worn by pretty much anyone, converting electrical brain impulses into text on a screen. Over time, headsets will become more portable and potentially be the preferred way to type. Even if only by writers at home or employees in the office, they may find composing large essays and emails so much faster when they’re not limited by typing speeds.
Human-Like AI Devices
While Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri simulates a human assistant, these are technically what we’d call a VI, or virtual intelligence. The difference between a VI and an AI is that, while an AI is truly intelligent, with the ability to think for itself, make decisions, and learn, a VI is heavily dependent on set inputs. Just try to talk to Alexa like you would your best friend and you’ll quickly see the limitations.
That said, the technology is rapidly evolving. By amalgamating user data, these devices are, in a sense, constantly learning as bugs and mistakes are corrected. Given the exponential leaps and bounds made in computer tech over the last few years, crowd sourced data will keep adding to the voice recognition and other capabilities of AI in the 2020s. By 2029, the idea of an AI that passes for a human does not seem out of the question.
Fully Driverless Cars
This is another piece of tech that technically already exists. Within controlled tracks, driverless cars are able to maneuver surprisingly well, and self-parking is already a feature in commercially available vehicles. That said, we’re not quite ready to remove the steering wheel from your average family sedan.
Beyond the technology itself, many questions remain for when driverless cars become the norm. Insurance policies will need overhauling, road systems replanned, and tough ethical questions answered. For example, if the vehicle in front suddenly stops, will your driverless car decide to swerve and hit a group of pedestrians, drive off the road down a steep slope, or continue and put you in danger? While these are difficult questions to answer, what’s certain is that machines never drink drive or get sleepy at the wheel. The overall number of accidents is likely to plummet.
London to Sydney in Half an Hour
Notorious for his bold predictions, one of Elon Musk’s big focuses right now is his BFR rocket. The main goal will be to use it to colonize Mars by the mid-2020s, he says. But while landing on another planet will be an incredible feat for humanity, this advanced space shuttle could have another exciting use back on Earth.
With specialized spaceports in major cities, it would be theoretically possible to launch a manned rocket from the UK and land in Australia within half an hour. While the cost of a ticket would be as astronomical as the tech itself, it sure would beat spending a whole day on a plane. Other proposed routes include New York to Singapore in under 40 minutes. One of the main hurdles to cross is perfecting reusable rockets, which would bring down the cost of such an endeavor dramatically.
Though futurism is an imprecise science, it’s fun to think about what the next decade holds. Some of these technologies, such as bionic eyes and driverless cars, technically already exist in some form. The next step is bringing them to the mainstream. As they become more common, prices will fall. Before you know it, you could be upgrading to eagle-eye vision and heading to Sydney for breakfast and coming back to your London flat for teatime.