Before highlighting some likely key trends for the decade ahead – the 2010’s – let’s pause a moment to review some of the most important developments of the last ten years.
- Technologically, the 00’s were characterised by huge steps forwards with social computing (“web 2.0”) and with mobile computing (smartphones and more);
- Geopolitically, the biggest news has been the ascent of China to becoming the world’s #2 superpower;
- Socioeconomically, the world is reaching a deeper realisation that current patterns of consumption cannot be sustained (without major changes), and that the foundations of free-market economics are more fragile than was previously widely thought to be the case;
- Culturally and ideologically, the threat of militant Jihad, potentially linked to dreadful weaponry, has given the world plenty to think about.
- Nanotechnology will progress in leaps and bounds, enabling increasingly systematic control, assembling, and reprogamming of matter at the molecular level;
- In parallel, AI (artificial intelligence) will rapidly become smarter and more pervasive, and will be manifest in increasingly intelligent robots, electronic guides, search assistants, navigators, drivers, negotiators, translators, and so on.
We can say, therefore, that the 2010’s will be the decade of nanotechnology and AI.
We’ll see the following applications of nanotechnology and AI:
- Energy harvesting, storage, and distribution (including via smart grids) will be revolutionised;
- Reliance on existing means of oil production will diminish, being replaced by greener energy sources, such as next-generation solar power;
- Synthetic biology will become increasingly commonplace – newly designed living cells and organisms that have been crafted to address human, social, and environmental need;
- Medicine will provide more and more new forms of treatment, that are less invasive and more comprehensive than before, using compounds closely tailored to the specific biological needs of individual patients;
- Software-as-a-service, provided via next-generation cloud computing, will become more and more powerful;
- Experience of virtual worlds – for the purposes of commerce, education, entertainment, and self-realisation – will become extraordinarily rich and stimulating;
- Individuals who can make wise use of these technological developments will end up significantly cognitively enhanced.
In the world of politics, we’ll see more leaders who combine toughness with openness and a collaborative spirit. The awkward international institutions from the 00’s will either reform themselves, or will be superseded and surpassed by newer, more informal, more robust and effective institutions, that draw a lot of inspiration from emerging best practice in open source and social networking.
But perhaps the most important change is one I haven’t mentioned yet. It’s a growing change of attitude, towards the question of the role in technology in enabling fuller human potential.
Instead of people decrying “technical fixes” and “loss of nature”, we’ll increasingly hear widespread praise for what can be accomplished by thoughtful development and deployment of technology. As technology is seen to be able to provide unprecedented levels of health, vitality, creativity, longevity, autonomy, and all-round experience, society will demand a reprioritisation of resource allocation. Previous sacrosanct cultural norms will fall under intense scrutiny, and many age-old beliefs and practices will fade away. Young and old alike will move to embrace these more positive and constructive attitudes towards technology, human progress, and a radical reconsideration of how human potential can be fulfilled.
By the way, there’s a name for this mental attitude. It’s “transhumanism”, often abbreviated H+.
My conclusion, therefore, is that the 2010’s will be the decade of nanotechnology, AI, and H+.
As for the question of which countries (or regions) will play the role of superpowers in 2020: it’s too early to say.
Footnote: Of course, there are major possible risks from the deployment of nanotechnology and AI, as well as major possible benefits. Discussion of how to realise the benefits without falling foul of the risks will be a major feature of public discourse in the decade ahead.