How will the world of a digital user look in 2030?
Casting opinions about the future, with any kind of authority can be a dangerous game. Nils Bohr, Nobel laureate in Physics, is a lot smarter than me, and once said:
Casting opinions about the future, with any kind of authority can be a dangerous game. Nils Bohr, Nobel laureate in Physics, is a lot smarter than me, and once said:
“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”
You can make some pretty fair assumption about the state of the world tomorrow or next week, and you can be pretty confident in the world a month or two hence. But once you start getting up to a year or more from now, your predictions become guesses, even if they’re well educated ones.
That’s not to say that the world ahead is an unpredictable fog of change and random innovation. Much like the weather we can read the state of the now and from that, with our knowledge of previous behaviours make a fair prediction of where we may be heading.
A good forecaster is not smarter than everyone else, he merely has his ignorance better organised.
So, when faced with a project to consider digital services from a user’s perspective in 2030, we realised we would have to tread carefully, despite the overwhelming urge to wave our arms about and make wild and ‘informed’ proclamations about the upcoming golden age of flying cars and sex-robots.
In the end our approach was simple. We’re looking 12 years into the future, so let’s look at the broader strokes, start with what will be happening in areas like Industry & Health. Despite rapid advances in the science behind these, we know it can take years for a new advance to enter the public domain, so if we look at what is coming along now, we will be able to have a pretty good idea of what will be influencing the society of 2030.
We also tried steer away from focusing on the hardware coming down the line, technology is enabler, but we wanted to try and find some broad brushstrokes of the world to understand the needs and pains of the future citizen.
What follows is by no means a definitive prediction, but a selection of a some of the more probable outcomes mixed with a little analysis and no little guesswork. Essentially, some relatively well organised ignorance.
Let’s start with industry. Industry is about building things, and this takes time. There are buildings being planned now that won’t be completed until 2030.
First things first, Mars baby! If we’re not living there, we soon will be, and man will most certainly have stepped foot on the red planet. We will have experienced a new kind of space race, not one of nations competing to claim to claim the stars for their side of the iron curtain, but of companies and individuals, buoyed by the success of their silicon valley start-ups, reaching up to achieve their childhood dreams of rocket men and moon bases.
This will have a number of effects on the industry of the future. First of all, Space will be an industry in an of itself, the technologies developed by SpaceX, Blue Origin et all, will provide low-cost ways of putting a payload into orbit. The cheaper it is to put things up there, the more things will be sent up. There will be a boom of pure science, space mining experiments, industrial R&D and even tourism. Getting things up there, doing things up there and getting people drunk up there will fuel a multi-billion dollar Space industry.
If NASA is to reach beyond the Moon and someday reach Mars, it must be relieved of the burden of launching people and cargo to low earth orbit. To do that, we must invest more in commercial spaceflight.
Another 1960’s sci-fi-trope will also become reality. As we see the burgeoning space industry take shape, so will we see the rise of robots in the workplace. Automation is nothing new, but as the costs of robotics drops, technologies like 3D printing are sufficiently advanced and AI becomes even more prevalent, more and more simple tasks will be taken over by advanced automated systems. There is already a burger chain employing robotic patty flippers (a novelty, but a full house novelty nonetheless), and many companies are beginning to employ a 3D print-on-demand service for products and parts. The burger joint of 2030 may well be flipping meat grown without ever having been part of an animal (which raises the ethical dilemma of asking if lab grown meat is still murder?)
Increased automation in the service sector will also promote the rise of the Super Server. -people working in food & retail who provide a high level of genuine customer service. The ‘vinyl sounds better’ of the service industry.
The upshot of this is that the nature of blue collar work will continue to evolve. There will be less hands-on work per-se, but there will be an increased demand for people to operate the machines doing the grabbers-on stuff. In the way a carpenter may employ a circular saw to take some of the physical labour out of a job, future workers will be employing machines to do even more. Workers will not be replaced, but they will be seriously upgrading their tools.
If you combine this with the evolution of AI’s, there is chance that their worker’s mate may well be artificial. Being able to explain the intent of a job to something that can understand the context of the task in the overall plan, will bridge the gap between those with vital hands-on experience and the complex machines that traditionally require a ‘white collar’ programmer.
And the White Collar workers will also see a shift in their working lives. One interesting prediction is that most Fortune 500 companies will have an AI on the Board by 2030. The question is if a machine that can out-think the finest human Go players is an unfair advantage. Or is the start or AI run mega corporations like Neuromancer’s Tessier-Ashpool?
Having access to an artificially intelligent co-worker will also have some benefits for the average worker. Again having a automated colleague who can understand intent and content will be an advantage, and since they don’t require a desk it can free up co-workers from physical working constraints, allowing for a greater scope of telecommuting.
Although it is something that is only just beginning to catch in the US by 2030, many companies will be adopting a more Scandinavian approach to the work life balance (fuelled in part by a new workforce who do not have the same job-for-life/work-to-live attitude as previous generations), providing workers with more opportunities to self manage their working time and environments.
As attractive as this sounds however, it has been proven even today that working more than 2.5 days out the the office damages your relationships with co-workers, which can lead to a sense of alienation or isolation in the workplace.
It would appear, that isolation will be a common problem for many people, not just at work, but in their personal lives too, as we we see when we take a look at the society of 2030.
By refocusing our space program on Mars for America’s future, we can restore the sense of wonder and adventure in space exploration that we knew in the summer of 1969.
As we explored in the previous section, Space is big business now, and there is a renewed appreciation of scientific advancement. Whilst not as fetishistic as the 1960’s/70’s, there will be a certain creep of ‘sci-fi’ themes into entertainment, design, fashion etc. In some ways this will be the counter point to the web-weariness of the 2020’s, triggered by the social media & data backlashes of the late 2010’s.
A new era of Digital Responsibility will have emerged, with a promise to only use technology in a way that won’t hurt others.Studies conducted in the 2010’s identified what were joking dubbed iDisorders, mental health and social issues caused by an overuse of social media or dependance on online communities. These ranged from OCD to narcissism, ADHD, social skills deficit and even addiction.
In the physical world the densification of urban and suburban spaces means that people are pressed into closer proximity than ever before, but the online generation, choosing to live alone and struggling with social skills, ironically feel a greater sense of isolation.
This is a problem shared by older citizens in 2030, living longer and retiring just before the cut-off age rose, they are physically fit, and able, and have a great deal of free time, but like retirees from previous generations they can find themselves struggling with feelings of loneliness. A problem that has affected the elderly for many generations.
The impact of this has been a re-appraisal of how we use digital and online services. No longer are they seen as a primary tool of communication — replacing face to face contact, but instead they will be used to facilitate, real, quality human interaction — a simple need that people had begun to forget they actually need for mental wellbeing. Borrowing again from Scandinavia, the concept of Hygge resurfaces as something of a fad, with people looking to share meaningful moments with relatives and loved ones.
People will also be attempting to live a life that is both sustainable and balanced, having recognised the importance of not just work/life, but also a web/people balance.
So social issues, mental health problems and a feeling of isolation? It’s time to move onto healthcare.
Despite assurances from numerous start-ups in the early 2000’s, we have yet to have a fully functioning Star Trek tricorder, and medicine is still very much at the cutting-into-people stage, but there will have been some interesting developments.
Transplant technology has continued to move apace, with over 60 transplants a day being conducted in the US. The first lab grown organ has been transplanted into a human and the use of artificial blood is being trialled by the army and emergency services.
Advances in emergency medicine are also being made through the widespread use of wearable tech, not just watches or glasses, but ‘smart’ or connected clothing that can provide real-time biometric information to first responders before they even arrive at the scene — allowing them to prioritise patents and prepare treatment en-route.
Smart medicine also has become a staple of mental healthcare with apps being prescribed the alongside conventional medicine. With health tracking being a staple of smart products and with better personal data management, it is possible to provide personalised, curated programmes for patients, with personally tailored nutritional supplements becoming big business.
This kind of holistic care is the defining factor of healthcare and personal wellness in 2030. The stigma of mental illness has passed and people are taking their mental health as seriously as their physical health, with gym memberships including meditation and relaxing classes, and mental health trackers joining their step counters.
There is no health without mental health; mental health is too important to be left to the professionals alone, and mental health is everyone’s business.
With the issues we discussed previously regarding issues with social skills and a creeping sense of isolation, these positive moves to provide better mental health care as a preventative measure will begin to have an impact, and positive human interaction will be seen as a necessary as the trips to the gym.
However a healthy mind may not guarantee a healthy body, and there may well be a greater divide between the healthy and the not-so healthy with a 33% increase in obesity prevalence and a 130% increase in severe obesity prevalence from levels today. In other words, more people will be obese, and more people will be more obese.
The blame for this will be falling on both the education system of previous years and the preponderance of cheap fast food still being attractive to lower income households. Despite the best efforts of TV chefs of the past, and the explosion of meal kit subscriptions, there will still be an ignorance surrounding how to cook healthy homemade meals.
However. Since we’re writing this future, we have also decided that Taco Bell has gone bust. It’s simply for the good of mankind.
The personalised healthcare mentioned above is just one aspect where tailored, curated services will be the norm, for a user of services in 2030, personalisation will be core to their experience. Generation Z want unique and personalised products — and they want to find them found quickly.
The International Telecommunications Union has pledged that everyone will have a legal, online ID by 2030. Couple this with the proliferation of blockchain and distributed ledger technologies, and the online profiles and data of 2030 will have a very different landscape.
A single, unified ID will remove the problem of silo-ed online identities and experiences. Rather than using your social media login to access a personal feed and some entertainment, then your Banking ID for finance and your social security for healthcare and government services; you will be able to access everything from a single point of entry.
Access to this ID will be unlocked using the owner’s biometric data. A two step process involving fingerprint and another physical attribute — your face, a retina scan or even your gait. A system could recognise you as you walk up to it, pre-load your environment and then only need you to look at it to fully unlock.
Another exciting possibility is that people may choose to own their own data, having it linked to their online ID and stored in their own Personal Data Exchange rather than owned and controlled by third parties, giving them complete control of their privacy and even the ability to monetise their digital footprint by selling access to service providers in order to provide fully personalised advertising and services.
“Our online lives currently operate in a provider-centric system, where privacy policies tend to serve the interests of the provider or of a third party, rather than the individual. Using the data they collect, advertising networks, social network providers and other corporate actors are able to build increasingly complete individual profiles. This makes it difficult for individuals to exercise their rights or manage their personal data online. A more human-centric approach is needed, which empowers individuals to control how their personal data is collected and shared.”
Alongside this will be a set of global ‘preferences’ and services allowing them to seamlessly transition between digital environments (phone, home, car, work, etc), providing the experience regardless of what piece of hardware they are using. Trying a piece of gym equipment in a different gym? Your workout and settings will have preloaded the moment it recognises your face.
An interesting addition to an online profile will be that persons ‘scores’, both in terms of social credit, but also in terms of predictability. Whilst Social Scoring may not be prevalent in the West (although there will be ‘unofficial’ systems used), it will be a longstanding process in the East, especially China. Citizens will be graded depending on their behaviour, points being removed for such infractions as bad driving, smoking in non-smoking zones, buying too many video games and posting fake news online. Those whose score dips below a certain level will be penalised with certain measures such as banning them from flying, taking a high speed train, the inability to purchase property and blocking them from jobs of trust and responsibility. ‘Good’ citizens can receive perks such as discounts on energy bills, renting things without deposits, and getting better interest rates at the bank.
On a slightly less sinister note, the Predictability Index is merely a rating of how easy a persons movements are to predict. With prediction at the core of many AI driven services, how easy it is to define what a person will do will be huge benefit both to providers and consumers. In a society accustomed to pretty much all aspects of their lifestyle being enabled by heavily personalised subscription services. Personal delivery will be key — packages will be delivered to the person, not just their building or car. In order to do this providers will need to know the recipient’s most likely location at time of delivery thus optimising logistics and lowering costs.
Therefore, the easier it is to predict where somebody will be, the lower the cost will be for their service. A person’s Predictability Index will set the price for a person’s services the way their credit rating determines their APR in the US. So in a weird new semantic paradigm shift, “You’re so predictable” will be a compliment.
The more things change the more they stay the same.
So this our future world. Not so drastically different from our world now. Not quite a William Gibson-esque techno-distopia, but not yet utopia either. People’s drivers will still be the same, they will want food, shelter, warmth and work. Interpersonal relationships will have been re-examined and social media will have evolved.
Space will be cool again and we’ll be looking to the stars, but we’ll be looking inward for better mental health.
Personal data ownership will be be the norm, and combined with the increase in use of AI and automation, people’s general technical fluency will have increased.
Young people will be be looking at their life scores alongside their game scores.
And finally, the recognition that digital relationships are no substitute for real people will also have put paid to those dreams of sex robots, sorry.