The following essay was submitted by Jon Sourbeer from DigiPen Institute of Technology as part of the Future of Technology Scholarship competition.
Society will look very different in 2040 due to fundamental shifts in the thinking of individuals, and how technology is applied to them. Many of the technologies that allow the following changes are already in their early implementation phases, while others will emerge as suddenly and unexpectedly as the cultural trends that invoke them. But like any major technological change, the way society adapts to them will be as telling and unique as the technology that invokes it.
The first of the changes will perhaps be the least unexpected, with the passage of the Safe Highways Act in 2035. By eliminating human decision making behind the wheel and replacing it with self-driving vehicles in all major metropolitan areas and on all federally funded highways, accidents in these areas will decrease to nearly zero. Computer control will be mandated, and individuals insisting on keeping a ‘manual’ will be relegated to using it only on minor roads and in rural areas. Car chases and high speed escapes will become a thing of the past, as non-compliant cars are quickly flagged and/or shut down by the extensive wireless networks pervading every major roadway.
Medicine will doggedly advance, as well, as after years of development and extensive work with veterans, bionic limbs will become accessible to the general public. But it won’t be until the birth of the first completely engineered human baby in Sweden in 2037, and members of the first digital generation facing their mortality for the first time, that bionics and gene-therapy will truly explode. With the idea of death, loss of mobility, and significant lifestyle changes threatening their personal lives, significant changes to one’s body will become, for the first time, truly acceptable. Although many will choose less drastic gene therapy, numerous others will for the first time choose voluntary limb replacement, granting individuals the ability run, lift, and swim far beyond the capability of normal humans. As a result, a 2039 ruling by the International Olympic Committee will officially ban ‘modified’ individuals from competition, but only if their modification has a direct impact on the competition itself. Climbing of Everest by the first modified human in record time will be met with derision by some and wonder by others.
And while imaging technology will continue to advance with leaps and bounds, allowing by the minute diagnostics, most of it will be handled automatically by patient care systems, only alerting the medical personnel in critical cases.
Turning further to robotics, drones will dominate everyday life and commerce. In 2033, when McDonald’s introduces its McDelivery option, major corporations around the world will finally embrace a product Amazon first introduced in 2025 – by the hour drone-delivery. Fast-food windows and quick order chains will be forced to rapidly adjust, offering in-house seating and drone drop-off – to both cars and specified locations. Delivery jobs will disappear overnight, with only the largest and heaviest products still requiring such work. However, due to safety regulations and expensive litigation, those jobs too will be fundamentally changed, as delivery drivers no longer drive nor actually carry the product. Heavy furniture, expensive electronics, and other non-drone delivered goods will have ‘delivery guarantors’, people who’s sole job is to ensure that the robots deliver the product on time and where they are supposed to go, and to ensure that no company can be sued.
Other intelligent robotic systems will become more ingrained in everyday life. No longer faceless entities, human-like robots will finally be available to take over many entry-level service positions, having reached sufficient interactivity to please a majority of the population. Robotic nannies will become extremely popular, allowing two-incomes households to exist without paying for daycare. And while a growing movement of upper-middle class will insist upon both traditional daycare and non-robotic service personnel, suggesting such interactions are better for children and healthier for everyday life, most people will adapt to the simple convenience and savings of these new systems.
And while drones and robots will have impacted the speed and everyday interactions with products, direct social communication and everyday transportation will have changed as well. With the cost of private spaceflight finally reaching reasonable levels, and the successful landing on mars of a manned mission by a corporation in 2038, travel to destinations around the globe will be faster than ever, and new job opportunities will finally be available to non-astronauts. Mining and research positions will become available for the first time on another celestial body, with factories soon to follow. As goods, even those with an expiration date, will have little to no storage requirements or cost once in transit in space other than time, many web articles will appear professing how we will soon see products with little time sensitivity produced en masse on other celestial bodies and shipped over the course of months back to Earth.
But these changes will pale in comparison to the social effect of HotSpot, a social media company that revolves around 24-7 streams of individuals. Adopted initially by many common youtube personalities, and eventually accepted by teens and overprotective parents, HotSpot takes advantage of streaming video and GPS to give friends and viewers access to what is going on in your life at any time. By marking certain areas (such as bathrooms) as off-stream, users can allow others to view their location, with auto-status updates made by the smart system. Twitter updates such as “grabbing ice cream at Bonnie’s #delicious” will be replaced by a merged photo and video system showing the ice cream, determining the location, and generating an automatic post without the user having to lift a finger. While many will initially limit their HotSpot accounts, others will quickly let the smart system handle all the hard work.
With almost all individuals having their own personalized devices, single entertainment centers will become a thing of the past. Televisions and monitors will be replaced with individual projectors and displays that instantly deploy in front of a person’s field of view. Movies, video games, and other media will all stream, and families and couples will focus more on being in the same room or on the couch together than on necessarily watching the same program, though synced shows will be very popular. Rental and purchase prices for movies will migrate together, with the rental being more expensive and the purchase cost only being a small bump in price more. Advertising will become both more and less obtrusive. Ads will be more frequent, though less obvious and pronounced, as products personalized to every individual will appear in shows, movies, and games. One person may see the hero drinking Pepsi, while the other sees Coke. Even subtle shifts in camera angles and focus will be employed as on-the-fly freedom of editing becomes a reality. There will be less attention drawn to the ads themselves, and commercial breaks will become far less frequent.
And while some of these changes may be jarring, others will be nearly seamless. The technology for many of these changes already exists and is moving closer to full reality every day. For most of these, the shift will not be the technology itself, but how quickly they are adopted and reach critical mass. But as time has repeatedly shown, society often moves faster than anyone can predict.