The 20th century was the most violent century in the history of humankind. It was also the most innovative century in human history, a fact that still gives our species hope amidst the daunting crises we now face. The 2020s will be a pivotal decade. Fortunately, technologies are coming down the pike that will reshape society for the better. Below, we’ll highlight five tech advances that will make an enormous impact on society.
Groundbreaking tech advances expected to take place in the coming years Electrified self-driving vehicles are poised to disrupt both the oil & gas and auto industries. Don’t believe us? Let’s start with the coming EV revolution – according to the International Energy Agency, the global electric vehicle fleet is set to grow from 3.1 million to over 125 million by 2030. This is a conservative estimate – if governments around the world begin to take climate change seriously, 220 million EVs could be roaming roads by 2030. While gasoline-powered ICE cars will still be around in 2030, their numbers will soon start declining, if they haven’t already started doing so. According to a survey conducted by the American Automobile Association, 20% of respondents plan on making an electric vehicle their next purchase. Bloomberg projects electric vehicles will reach price parity with ICE vehicles as soon as 2022. This will displace oil consumption to the point where the world will be pumping two million barrels per day more than it needs. And that’s just the start. Now, let’s talk about autonomous vehicles. As we speak, level 5 (or completely autonomous) concept cars already exist. BMW claims they’ll have a level 5 on the road by 2020, and Tesla production cars may make the jump to level 3 autonomy (car in control, with the driver able to take over in an emergency) soon as next year. This puts the world on track for level 5 autonomous cars by the end of next decade. Unless you want to, there will be no need to own a car – you’ll simply be able to call one and have them drive you wherever you need to go. With increasing numbers of urbanites ditching their rides, the number of cars on the road will stall and then plummet. The vehicles that remain will become increasingly autonomous and electric. Cars are presently responsible for 28% of American greenhouse gas emissions – if this shift occurs, it will help mitigate the ongoing rise in global temperatures. (2) Brain-to-brain communication Passing notes in class is so 20th century. However, smartphones are hard to conceal. Soon, however, your teenagers will be able to transmit thoughts to their crush directly, and nobody will be the wiser. Sound impossible? Thanks to groundbreaking research conducted earlier this decade, a day may soon come when this Star Trek-esque advance will become science fact. A few years ago, researchers from the University of Washington managed to send a simple ‘hello’ from the mind of one research participant through the internet to a colleague’s 8,000 kilometres away. Once honed, this advance will have a wide range of applications. Communication with those silenced by strokes, brain injuries, and birth defects will be possible. Emergency workers will be able to communicate easily in chaotic situations. Couples will be able to discuss a movie without angering fellow theatre patrons. However, serious ethical issues will need to be addressed. Will students be able to cheat on exams without their teacher knowing? Will debating politicians be fed lines by fixers off-stage, Manchurian Candidate-style? Will you able to read the thoughts of others? It will be interesting to see how this technology evolves in the coming decades. (3) Hyperloop trains Hatched from the mind of master inventor Elon Musk in 2012, the Hyperloop is a transport system that promises to change how we move about the world. An airless tube that serves as a conduit for passenger-carrying modules, it is claimed this futuristic mode of transport could eventually hit cruising speeds of over 1,200 kilometres per hour. What does this mean in real-world terms? This would allow someone to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in only a half-hour – much faster than driving (5 hours 43 minutes) or flying (1 hour 25 minutes). After a few years of research and development by universities like MIT and the Technical University of Munich, the first real-world prototypes are now under construction. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is presently constructing test tracks in China and France, with plans to build additional prototypes in the United Arab Emirates and Ukraine. Sir Richard Branson recently unveiled plans to build the UK’s first Hyperloop from London to Edinburgh, while Elon Musk himself is about to open a concept tunnel underneath Los Angeles within the next year. If the Hyperloop manages to live up to the hype, it will massively disrupt short and medium haul flights, to say nothing of car, bus, and legacy train services. Even if it is not powered by fossil-fuel free electricity, this innovation will greatly reduce the carbon intensity of travel. According to analysis conducted by the Department of Transportation in the United States, Hyperloop travel could be up to six times more energy efficient than comparable short haul air routes. (4) Vertical farms As our climate continues to change, agricultural land will come under stress. Drier conditions, flash floods, record heat, and sudden frosts will all wreak havoc on crop yields. In addition to mitigation tactics like desalination and genetic engineering, the construction of vertical farms will be key to feeding our planet as the 21st century progresses. What are vertical farms? They are indoor agricultural facilities where crops can be grown in a climate-controlled environment. Light is provided by arrays of full spectrum LED bulbs, while water comes from hydroponic systems. According to the creator of a vertical farm prototype in Japan, these facilities use 30 to 50 times less water than traditional greenhouses – great news for those about to inherit an H2O-constrained world. It’s important to note that these facilities are still in their infancy. Commercially available LEDs are only 28% efficient at present – however, with lights that boast 68% efficiency currently in development, vertical farm products may approach cost parity with field crops by the end of the next decade. (5) Bioengineered meat It’s getting increasingly uncomfortable to be an omnivore these days. They’ve had to deal with ethical challenges for years, but now, it’s become a well-known fact that meat production is a major carbon emitter. According to a United Nations report, the raising of livestock (poultry included) is responsible for 18% of all CO2 emissions. With drastic action now required to avoid runaway climate change, a rapid shift away from field-raised meat is necessary. Fortunately for the steak lovers among us, researchers have been working for decades to find a way to make meat in the laboratory. The first cultured meat experiments were conducted by NASA in the early 2000s. However, it wasn’t until the early 2010s when serious efforts began to create the world’s first lab-made burger. Delivered in 2013, this patty cost $300,000 to make. By 2017, though, the procedure had become far more cost-effective, bringing the price of a lab-made hamburger down to about $11. At this rate, we can expect to find flavourful, cost-competitive lab meat in grocery store meat coolers by the middle of next decade. When this happens, the demand for meat from factory farms will fall drastically, lowering carbon emissions as omnivores move to a guilt-free source of animal protein. Fasten your seat belts – it’s gonna get wild It took one hundred years for the telephone to become universal. The smartphone went from zero to over 70% penetration in a decade. The rate of technological progress is accelerating exponentially – wherever it leads us, the coming years certainly won’t be boring ones.