Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by Brendan Folley. If you’re interested in writing a piece for us, contact [email protected]
We each create a story of what the future can be. In every era we have faced problems – disease, famine, war, recession, and others – that caused us to question whether the coming years will be better than those left behind. But over the long view of history, we have emerged on the other side to a new and better normal.
Over the next 50 years, eight technology trends will change our lives for the better. These interconnected trends – more powerful computing, high-bandwidth wireless, smart devices, artificial intelligence, automation, medical biotechnology, blockchain, and advanced security – are starting today.
In my last article, I described how these trends will impact the world of 2030, as told through the eyes of Ben, a 25-year-old product manager. Building on the ‘new normal’ of 2030, let’s review how each of these trends will evolve between 2030 and 2040. Later, we will check in with Ben, now a 35-year-old CEO of his own startup, to see what life looks like in 2040.
More powerful computing
In 2030, high powered computing will be available everywhere, first though the cloud and then extended to the network edge for fast data analysis and response to smart devices. By 2040, cloud-based quantum computing will change the game on what is possible to compute. Before we proceed, we need to understand the difference between computing today and quantum computing of tomorrow.
The foundation of computing today is the bit. Just like a switch, the bit can only be in one of two states (0 or 1). Bits are stored in transistors, billions of which are in the chips we use in desktops, mobile phones, and other devices.
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The basis of quantum computing is the qubit, created with an electron or photon. Unlike a bit, a qubit can exist simultaneously in the states of 0 and 1, with probabilities associated for whether the final state will be 0 or 1 when measured. Qubits are also entangled, or connected, with other qubits – if one changes, the others are impacted.
By existing in both states of 0 and 1 prior to measurement, a single qubit can effectively consider two calculations at the same time. The number of calculations a quantum computer can execute thus doubles for every additional qubit added: With two qubits, four calculations can be performed at the same time; with four qubits, eight calculations; and so on. It doesn’t take many qubits to perform astronomical calculations. As the head of IBM’s research lab put it to the New York Times, a quantum computer with 100 qubits would require every atom on earth to store its bits. One with 280 qubits would require every atom in the universe.
That said, there are major challenges to realizing the promise of quantum computers. They need to work at temperatures close to absolute zero (-4600 Fahrenheit) to minimize outside interference on the qubits. Quantum computers are unstable, requiring lots of physical qubits to handle control and error correction beyond those qubits used for computation. As Boston Consulting Group noted in their quantum computing report, the ratio of qubits needed for control and error correction to those that actually do computations can be as high as three thousand to one. Due to the challenges in maintaining their operation, quantum computers will need to be kept in data centers in 2040 and beyond, with their computing power made available through the cloud.
What can we expect for quantum computing by the year 2040? Some industry analysts think that Moore’s law – which predicts that computing power doubles every two years – can apply to qubits used in quantum computing. In late 2019, Google’s quantum computer had 53 qubits, which solved a problem in less than 200 seconds that would have needed 10,000 years on a supercomputer. Using Google’s quantum computer as a starting point, let’s assume that the number of qubits performing actual computations, or logical qubits, in a quantum computer doubles every three years to be a little more conservative than Moore’s Law. By 2040, that would imply the availability of commercial quantum computers with more than 4,000 logical qubits.
With that level of computing power, we will see major breakthroughs in network optimization for everything from wireless communications to product deliveries, artificial intelligence, drug discovery and design, encryption for enhanced security, and more. And with the rollout of 6G networks, that computing power will be instantly available everywhere.
5G networks will finish their rolloutby 2030,delivering speeds ofup to 1,000 megabits (or 1 gigabit) per second. That’s 100 times faster than the average speed of 10 megabits per second from 4G networks in use today, offering the potential for a movie to be downloaded to a device in seconds rather than minutes.
5G, however, will have its limitations. 5G networks use high radio spectrum frequencies to transmit signals. The higher the frequencies used, the more data can be carried, but the less distance those signals can travel from a single wireless station. To address this, wireless carriers will deploy lots of small wireless stations close to each other.
But due to the trillions of dollars in investment needed for 5G rollout, wireless carriers will focus on delivering the benefits of 100x faster speeds in urban areas where most users are. More rural locations will likely experience 50 megabit per second speeds by 2030 – still an improvement over 4G today, but a lot less than what you will get in a city.
6G, whose rollout will start around 2030 and finish by 2040, will be exponentially faster than 5G. Using ultrahigh frequencies of the radio spectrum, 6G will enable speeds up to 1,000 gigabits (1 terabyte) per second – or 1,000 times faster than the maximum speed of 5G. It will dramatically reduce the time needed to access what you want. In one second, you could download 100+ movies. Beyond this massive increase in bandwidth, the real excitement in 6G lies in the potential to integrate land-based 6G wireless networks with satellites to provide global coverage across urban and rural areas.
With 6G, high powered computing and instant communications will be available from wherever you are in the world. And through 6G networks, the full potential of devices will be unlocked.
From any device
In 2030, we will see smart clothing, appliances, cars, homes, and other devices, sharing data with the cloud and between devices. By 2040, all devices will be part of the Internet of Things (IoT) – from tiny sensors monitoring our health and tracking product deliveries to autonomous commercial drones, manufacturing assembly lines, and city infrastructure.
IoT devices will capture data through sensors and respond to inputs from humans or other devices. These devices will be built of much stronger and lightweight materials such as carbon fiber, powered by smaller batteries with greater storage and performance, and be able to act autonomously.
Transportation will change dramatically. Aerial drones will be commonplace for deliveries, dynamically coordinating their flights with other drones through machine-to-machine communication. Human transportation will also extend to the skies through self-driving drones, as companies such as Uber envision. Commuters will shuttle between sky ports within and between cities in driverless aerial vehicles.
Self-driving electric cars and trucks will be standard, connecting instantly with each other and sharing precision location data to co-ordinate their travel. We will start to see competition between self-driving cars and aerial drones, as some consumers opt to own aerial cars or use aerial drone sharing services for transportation. The age of the human driven, gas-powered car will come to an end.
Cities will become smarter. Police officers and other first-responders will access the latest information in real-time through their smart devices to better handle critical situations. Administrators will review real-time data on water and electric consumption, crime, and pollution from an overall level down to the individual street or building, enabling them to optimize resources.
And the smart phone era will also come to an end. Wearable devices will replace them – earbuds that are close to invisible connecting with smart contact lenses that enable video calling and the viewing of news and information.
This world of smart, connected devices will generate an unprecedented amount of data. All this will feed into the advancement of artificial intelligence.
Artificial intelligence will be part of our work and home lives in 2030, delivering personalized experiences and enabling augmented reality. Artificial intelligence in 2040 will still be focused around more narrow applications; however, it will be dramatically more powerful than 2030.
Using cloud-based quantum computers, artificial intelligence algorithms will identify patterns and insights in seconds from the vast data generated from IoT devices everywhere, compared to the years needed from today’s computers for solving certain complex problems. Artificial intelligence will take the lead across industries: from investment management and trading in financial services to drug testing and discovery in pharmaceuticals. Algorithms, powered by quantum computing, will increasingly combine data across areas, making discoveries and recommendations across neighboring disciplines – chemistry, biology, materials science, engineering, and more.
Enabled with artificial intelligence, virtual reality will come into its own, allowing us to visually engage with data and gain insights into it. Wearing smart glasses and using hand gestures, a financial analyst could review visuals on transaction history and financial data in a virtual environment. This will help them identify patterns and accelerate their investigation on potential fraud within a company’s accounts, for example. Video conferencing will be taken to the next level through virtual reality. We will work with our colleagues in a virtual 3D environment, making us feel as if we are all in the same room.
With 6G delivering massive bandwidth, we will use virtual reality anywhere we want for retail, travel, social media, and entertainment. Rather than go to the shop to try on a shirt, we will see what it looks like from every angle in the comfort of our home through smart glasses, along with AI-powered recommendations for complementary items to buy. We will be able to travel to foreign destinations from our home, to engage with our friends in visual chat rooms, and to see world news as if we were there. As we use virtual reality, artificial intelligence will personalize our view of the world, recommending things of interest and alerting us to news and events based on its knowledge of our patterns and preferences.
With automation for how we work and play
In 2030, we will use digital assistants at home and work to automate manual, tedious tasks. By 2040, those same AI-powered digital assistants will have progressed to the point of understanding the nuances and context of language. When we talk with those digital assistants, we will feel as if we are interacting with another human.
Automation will go beyond the digital realm to the creation and transportation of physical goods. Warehouse order picking, food service production, and assembly line manufacturing will be mainly handled through robots, trends well underway today. Automation will also extend into space travel, as Elon Musk’s SpaceX has recently demonstrated by launching and landing a reusable launch booster rocket during its mission to send two astronauts to the International Space Station.
We will also enter the era of personalized and local manufacturing, delivered through intelligent 3D printing. 3D printers can create an object by repeatedly adding layers of material – plastic, metal, wood filament, ceramics, and others – until the object is created from a digital design. So far, 3D printing has been mainly used for prototyping and the production of small batches of goods, but it is now starting to be used in mass production as well. Over the next twenty years, more and more sensors will be integrated into 3D printers, generating real-time data and powering artificial intelligence which in turn will enable more refined and faster execution of designs.
Generative design software, powered by artificial intelligence and high-powered computing, will complement 3D printing. Users will input design constraints and requirements, and the system will dynamically consider all possibilities and create optimal design alternatives, oftentimes resembling what you might see in nature.
The result will be a world of truly personalized, on-demand products based on designs we would not have previously conceived ourselves. A customer will be able to create any product – a spare part for an industrial machine, a chair for a dining room table, a custom-tailored shirt, and more — through virtual reality-enabled glasses, selecting from among suggested alternatives for the optimal design. The order will be sent to a local 3D printing company and delivered by drone directly to the customer. Auto parts and other industrial orders will be sent electronically for local printing, reducing the need to hold inventory. Manufacturing will thus return to our local communities as smaller, automated 3D printing factories, creating custom products and enabling fast delivery.
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And improvements for how we live
In 2030, AI-enabled telemedicine will be commonplace, powered by the data collected from medical sensors on our smart watches and glasses which monitor our health. By 2040, the convergence of virtual reality, artificial intelligence, 6G wireless, and quantum computing will take health care to an entirely new level.
A doctor could view the internal systems of a patient by wearing virtual reality enabled smart glasses, tapping into data collected from sensors on the patient and processed through artificial intelligence to generate the three-dimensional view. She could see an assessment of her patient’s health compared to others with similar characteristics. The massive bandwidth from 6G combined with advanced robotics will make telesurgery for minor procedures a viable option for rural patients.
The real excitement will come from applications of quantum computing and artificial intelligence to gene therapy and drug discovery. Genome sequencing will become exponentially faster and more readily available for individual patients. This will help to find DNA mutations, diagnose disorders and intervene early before the symptoms of disease appear. By understanding each person’s DNA, doctors will be able to increasingly personalize treatments. Using the data on DNA sequencing from more and more patients, AI-enabled quantum computers will be able to identify patterns in diseases not easily detected, further improving treatments.
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In parallel, drug discovery will be dramatically accelerated. On average, it takes years of trials for researchers to test different drug candidates for treating a disease. Quantum computers can test molecule reactions and narrow down drug candidates from thousands to dozens. As a result, new drugs will come to market faster and with lower cost. This, combined with earlier diagnosis and more personalized treatments, will enable us to live longer with a higher quality of life.
Transparency and trust will extend across connected marketplaces
Blockchain will be a standard means in 2030 for enabling transactions between companies in manufacturing, transportation, financial services, and more without the need for a middleman. Blockchain technology enables buyers and sellers to use a distributed digital ledger, where all parties have a copy of the ledger and transactions, once verified, cannot be altered. Smart contracts based on blockchain technology can enable automatic, direct payment once the conditions for the contract have been digitally verified.
By 2040, the use of blockchain will also be the standard for transactions between devices. Billions of devices connecting wirelessly – from the larger ones such as drones down to the microscopic sensors on everyday items – will need the means to identify and transact directly with each other. It would take too much time and bandwidth to have all these devices communicate through a centralized cloud service.
Instead, each device will have its own blockchain-based identity as registered on the distributed digital ledger. This will allow for the fast authentication of devices onto trusted local networks, enabling communication and coordination between autonomous cars and aerial drones, for example. It will also enable trusted microtransactions to occur between devices – whether it is a machine ordering a new part directly for delivery, the sale of data or payment of royalties between devices, or the payment of fees from sensor-enabled products for storage or delivery.
Beyond companies and devices, blockchain will benefit individuals, enabling millions of entrepreneurs to transact securely with customers worldwide. According to the World Bank, over 1 billion people worldwide have no way to prove their identity. Using blockchain, these individuals will not only have a means to prove their identity, but also to demonstrate the value they deliver – whether as contractors or entrepreneurs – through verified ratings and reviews on their work and their credit worthiness. Together with digital currencies for payment, blockchain will enable micro and small businesses to sell their products and services to customers wherever they are.
While the need for security will be most critical
AI-enabled smart cameras, biometrics, and other forms of personalized security will be in widespread use by 2030. Data security will become even more critical by 2040, where billions of Internet-of-Things devices and sensors will be connecting at up to 1 terabyte per second on 6G networks.
Blockchain can help with security. Blockchain chips included in every device can be assigned their own fixed identity. As described in a recent Forbes article, everything a blockchain-enabled device does can then be monitored and managed – the information it shares, the transactions in which it engages – giving us more control over our data.
The advent of quantum computing, however, will threaten the fundamentals of our data security. Earlier, we talked about how it was conceivable to have commercial quantum computers with more than 4,000 logical qubits by 2040. While such computers will deliver great benefits, they will also have the computing power needed to break RSA encryption — the common standard used to protect the data we share through the Internet.
Quantum computing will likely provide the solution to the security problem it presents. Post-quantum cryptography (PQC) will replace today’s encryption for data transactions. Discussions on future standards are starting today and will continue to evolve along with quantum computing into the 2030s. Finding and replacing older encryption standards with PQC across all connected devices will start in the mid-to-late 2030s. It will not be an easy transition. It will be similar in scope, as the RAND Corporation has put it, to the previous work for Year 2000 (Y2K) conversion. But in the end, we will be on a much more secure infrastructure for the coming decades of innovation.
Now that we have reviewed these eight technology trends, let’s have a look at the world of 2040 through the eyes of Ben, now a 35-year-old CEO of a startup. Things have changed a lot in ten years – both in technology and in his stage of life.
May 20, 2040
The self-driving car moved along the local map, floating just above the pupil of his eye – about 5 minutes away. Standing in front of his house, Ben blinked. The display changed on his smart contact lenses, automatically connecting with his ear buds and bringing up his personal news feed.
With a glance, he chose a news video to play. It was about all the work that companies and the federal government were doing to switch from older Internet security protocols to quantum cryptography. Everyone was concerned that hackers, armed with commercially available quantum computers, could break Internet encryption and access anyone’s data. Even though work started on the switch over in the mid-2030s, it was still a massive, ongoing effort – considering the billions of connected devices and sensors in the world. It made the Y2K conversion of computers back in 1999 look like a minor bug fix in comparison.
The self-driving car pulled up and Ben stepped inside, distracted with thoughts of the day ahead. The evening held the anticipation of his third wedding anniversary, but before that was the vague anxiety of his doctor’s appointment. This annual physical involved a full-blown diagnostic of his recently sequenced genome.
The car entered the highway and quickly accelerated to 100 miles per hour, connecting with other self-driving cars to coordinate speed and distance between them. Ben glanced out the window at the one lane still reserved for the last of the gasoline powered cars. Those things are dangerous, Ben thought. I’m glad they’re getting phased out this year.
Ben put on his smart glasses to start a virtual video conference call with his team. For all the things that smart contact lenses could do – bring up news and other information, monitor your health, record what you are seeing – they hadn’t yet advanced to support virtual reality, though it was just a matter of time.
Three dimensional images of his leadership team appeared around a virtual conference room table along with a menu of tools – white boards, notepads, and others – to choose from. His own team was spread out across the country and internationally.
One by one, his leadership team gave their updates. Ben listened as his CFO outlined the upcoming schedule of back-to-back pitches to investors for fundraising their next round.
It was hard to believe how far his company had come. Just ten years ago, he left his job at a financial services blockchain platform company to start his own business. He now found himself the CEO of a blockchain marketplace with 300 employees and $40 million in revenue. His company connected small to mid-size businesses around the world with customers for their product and services.
“OK, I got it,” Ben said to his CFO. “Send me the latest presentation and we can work on the pitch later today. Sounds like that wraps things up. Mary, can you summarize the next steps and owners for everyone?”
“Sure Ben”, Mary said and outlined the key things they had just covered. Mary was Ben’s virtual assistant. She got everything right. It was sometimes hard to remember that Mary was not an actual person.
“Well, everything looks fine overall,” the doctor said. “Your weight, heart rate, blood oxygen, sodium, and other biomarkers have all been within normal levels.” Ben’s doctor had full and ongoing access to this data, collected by Ben’s smart contact lenses over the past year-and-a-half and saved in his medical profile. “Let’s have a look at your genome.”
The doctor activated his smart glasses, which connected with Ben’s glasses. A three-dimensional view of Ben’s genome appeared in the examination room, rotating slowly in the air.
“The good news is that your genome doesn’t show any predisposition to major disorders,” the doctor said. He waved his hand and the genome scrolled and zoomed in.
“I’ll talk you through each of the major sets of genes that we review, and you can see how they compare to others.” To the right, a list of genetic characteristics appeared, colored by green, yellow and red to represent whether they fell within the expected range.
As the doctor talked, Ben thought about a friend of his, Ryan, who had gone through a similar diagnostic. That had revealed Ryan’s predisposition to certain disorders later in life. Fortunately, they were discovered early, and Ryan had been on gene therapy drugs which should help prevent them from happening.
“That’s about it,” the doctor said, concluding his review and transmitting the data to Ben’s medical profile. “See you next year.”
“Small air leaks in the front and rear left tires have been detected. I’m going to have to pull over. Replacement tires are on their way,” the car said, as it moved over to the emergency lane and came to a stop.
“C’mon,” Ben said. “I can’t be late – I’m meeting my wife at 5:30.”
The car did not have anything to say in response. “The tires are arriving in 2 minutes.” Ben sighed as the car came to a stop and he stepped outside.
Above him, a service drone approached with two new tires protruding from underneath. It hummed downward and came to a stop in front of him.
“Attached are the tires ordered for your vehicle,” the drone said to Ben. The drone offered to walk Ben through the step-by-step process of replacing the tires.
The car jacked itself up on the left-hand side and released the fasteners on its tires. Ben removed each tire, inserted the new ones, and brought the old ones over to the service drone.
“We apologize for the inconvenience,” the drone said. “Your car service provider is providing you with a package of five free rides in your area. Safe travels!”
It lifted off into the air and flew back in the general direction it had come, adjusting its course to give plenty of space between it and the commuter drones overhead, taking passengers between sky ports in nearby cities.
Ben got back into the car. I just hope I’m not late to meet Cindy, he thought.
Recording Started: 5:25 p.m.
Cindy smiled as she walked toward Ben, waiting outside the art gallery. “Why do you look so nervous?” she asked, giving him a kiss.
The “Arrived” notice flashed inside his smart contacts. Relieved, Ben looked up and saw the blue ribbon-wrapped box silently lowered from drone overhead.
Ben had designed a necklace for his wife, using the generative design service from a local 3D printing manufacturer. Ben had input his wife’s preferences, and the system had created alternatives from which he could choose. 3D product printing was now common for everything from custom-made jewelry to food.
The box dropped to eye level, startling Cindy.
“Happy anniversary!” Ben said, smiling. “An art show and a gift – what could be better?”
She unwrapped the box to find the platinum and white gold necklace, featuring interlacing, organic lines. “I love it!” she said, hugging him again. “You didn’t have to get me anything.”
“It’s a one-of-a-kind,” Ben said. He helped her put it on.
Ben and Cindy entered the gallery. The virtual art exhibit, called “Eye of the Beholder”, buzzed with the energy of the circulating crowd. Rectangular panels, each with a different color and a word above it, hung from the walls of the gallery. Each panel connected to the digital profile transmitted from a person’s smart glasses, and then generated an artistic three-dimensional image just for that person.
Ben and his wife put on their smart glasses for the virtual reality experience. Holding hands, they gazed at a blue-colored panel titled “Future”. Colors emerged from its center, transforming into three-dimensional images before them.
Six Months Later: October 15, 2040
The images faded as the recording of their 3rd anniversary finished, as captured from Ben’s contact lenses. “That was a great day,” Ben said. Cindy leaned into him and smiled. “The best is yet to come,” she said.
The story of the future – starting in 2050 and going beyond – continues in my next article.
Meet the Author
Brendan Foley, VP of Product at Automation Anywhere, is an accomplished executive focused on developer platforms and B2B/B2C e-commerce. With over 20 years of post-Wharton MBA experience, he has a successful track record of delivering software, services, and online experiences in consumer and business sectors that drive results.
Some of his specialties include Enterprise software and services, advertising technology (ad tech), eCommerce, developer platform, agile/iterative development, customer segmentation, market opportunity analysis, value proposition definition, messaging and positioning, retail and financial services industries, and group leadership.