What Tech Will Look Like in 2039 | News & Opinion – PCMag



We asked futurists, tech execs, academics, researchers, and a sci-fi writer to imagine our tech-driven society in 20 years. Take a peek into the future.

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The Future Issue

For the first issue of the PCMag Digital Edition in 2019, we’re fast-forwarding to envision what technology—and our tech-driven society—will look like in 2039. We wanted to explore the myriad ways in which tech will be more intertwined with our lives and will have changed our culture. To do so, we interviewed a select group of futurists, execs, academics, researchers, and a speculative fiction writer, who gave us some thoughtful predictions.

Each of our interviewees has a unique perspective on the most important factors that will influence our tech-driven future, including artificial intelligence, automation, biotechnology, nanotechnology, autonomous vehicles, Internet of Things devices, smart cities, and much more. They also speculate how broader issues such as climate change and online privacy and security will affect us and the technology with which we’ll be living. It’s our best educated guess at predicting what our world and technology’s role in it will look like—whether our lives will be dystopian, utopian, or somewhere in that vast gray area in the middle. (Interviews are lightly edited for clarity and length.)

Jason Silva


Jason SilvaJason Silva is host of the Emmy-nominated series Brain Games on National Geographic. He also created and hosts the YouTube series “Shots of Awe.” The ebullient Venezuelan-born documentary filmmaker, speaker, and TV personality—who was once described by The Atlantic as “a Timothy Leary of the viral video age”—is a techno-optimist whose ideas are influenced by (among others) fellow futurist Ray Kurzweil, Wired founding editor Kevin Kelly and his concept of the Technium.


In the next 20 years, we’re going to see exponential progress in some of these nascent technologies, like virtual reality and augmented reality. I think the next thing to dematerialize is the smartphone itself. What that looks like, who knows? Maybe it’s a pair of eyeglasses we put on that are connected to some kind of computational device, and it will beam an augmented reality interface that fully overlays, that is contextually aware, and enhances the way we interface with the world—so that essentially, each one of us has that kind of personalized experience of reality.


I choose to believe that these interfaces and these artificial intelligence algorithms will challenge us, enliven us, and augment our experience of the world. Which is not to say that this stuff can’t be used in the opposite way, as well. It could turn reality into a slot machine or a dream that we never escape from.

Hacking Biology

Freeman Dyson, the physicist, talks about a new generation of artists who will be writing genomes with the fluency with which Blake and Byron wrote verses. We are all made of code. We are alphabetic all the way down. It’s not just about playing with our genes to turn off certain genes and turn on certain genes to mitigate the risks against certain illnesses but perhaps even to arrest the aging process.

Silicon Valley understands that the next hackable space is biology itself. With things like synthetic biology, even gene sequencing is advancing. The capacity to manipulate ourselves will usher in a transformation of medicine and healthcare that will be the next trillion-dollar economy. We will see the transformation in the capacity to modify ourselves and our genes to be on par with what digital technology has done for ones and zeroes.

When you combine biotechnology with advances in artificial intelligence, we’ll probably deploy AI to help us modify our biology to optimize ourselves. Then with nanotechnology, we’re essentially patterning atoms; programming atoms the way we program and pattern basic information, ones and zeroes. Essentially, the world becomes programmable. Biology becoming programmable. All of this programming can be optimized by deploying artificial intelligence. So those three revolutions together are akin to a Cambrian explosion of possibilities, a Cambrian explosion of mind. Kevin Kelly says we’ll essentially cognitize the planet. We’ll cognitize matter in the same way that we electrified the planet.

Rajen Sheth


Rajen ShethRajen Sheth is the director of product management for Google’s Cloud AI and machine-learning team. He’s been at Google since 2004, and helped develop the Chrome browser and Chrome OS for Business. Sheth is also known as the “father of Google Apps“; he’s the man who first pitched and developed Gmail and built a suite of productivity apps around it that became G Suite. Sheth’s focus now is on how to weave AI and deep learning into everything Google does. He’s also thinking about the tech giant’s responsibility and legacy as AI and automation transform industries, impact the workforce, and evolve in ways that change society.


The Industrial Revolution magnified the human’s physical ability and made it so that you can actually build more capable products and replicate them at a faster rate. I think AI is the same for people’s mental abilities. If you’re talking about 2039, every business will be transformed by AI the same way that every business over the last 25 years was transformed by the internet. It’s this fundamental shift—similar to what we experienced with the internet, similar to what we experienced with PCs before that. We’re just at the very beginning.

Start by thinking about how we do things today. From the moment we wake up in the morning all the way through to when we go to sleep, we make decisions, big and small. I’m always amazed at how many of these decisions are made using very little data and imperfect data. AI will supercharge every small or big decision we make. So if you think about an everyday decision—like what podcast to listen to, what should I buy, what route should my car take to work—we’ll make decisions based on all the world’s information, as opposed to just the information I happen to have in my head.

Automation, Education, and AI’s Effect on Society

AI is going to change the types of jobs that are out there. It probably won’t change [them] as drastically as people think, because in a lot of these situations, the need for human intuition, empathy, and decision-making is still going to be needed. We need to be able to prepare the workforce for that next generation of jobs.

AI Future

I think there’s an opportunity to rethink how we train people. The average person changes careers multiple times and learns things on the job that didn’t exist [when they were] in college. This concept of continuous learning needs to be baked into how people work, so they can evolve as technology evolves. If you think about a classroom—a teacher standing in front of 30 students or a university professor standing in front of 300—we need to rethink how to redo education both in terms of personalizing it to the individual while making this kind of continuous education possible on a daily basis. AI is going to be a key to that. AI can make it so that education is built into everything that we do on the job, at home. It can scale in a way that the education system right now can’t.

One thing Google did recently is publish our AI Principles. It’s almost like our constitution for how we believe AI should be used. [Often] a lot of uses of AI are in a gray area. A lot more work needs to happen, but we’ve turned [the guidelines] into an operating principle. We’re learning as we build this technology, so it’s important to set ethical AI principles at the outset; to think about these situations are they come up and adjust. As we’ve examined it, there are very few things that are just unquestionably good or unquestionably bad.

Elizabeth Bear


Elizabeth BearElizabeth Bear is a science-fiction and speculative-fiction author whose works include the Jacob’s Ladder trilogy, The Promethean Age series, the Jenny Casey trilogy, the Eternal Sky trilogy, and dozens of other books and short stories. Her newest novel, Ancestral Night (White Space Book 1), is due in March 2019. Bear’s original and imaginative fiction often explores emerging technologies such as AI and nanotechnology, along with broader commentaries on the cultural influence of the tech industry and the cataclysmic effects of climate change. Bear believes the future will be heavily determined by where in the world humans are living and by how we, as a global society, have managed to deal with emerging crises relating to climate change. (Photo: Kyle Cassidy)


Utility fogs, for those who haven’t encountered the concept before, are swarms of tiny robots that can link up to form various material structures. So for example, you could have a programmable suit of clothes that you could turn into any outfit you wanted. And it could serve as crash protection when your driverless car gets broadsided by that solar bus, by expanding to fill the interior space with a kind of nanotech foam, keeping your body restrained much more evenly and with less impact than a seatbelt or air bags.

Nanotechnology

That’s the original idea behind the application, but the actual implications are much broader. Imagine being able to restructure any building instantly. (Oh dear, plumbing leaks! We need to build some failsafes into that one.) Imagine a legitimately squirrel-proof bird feeder that is surrounded by air that birds can fly through, but is impervious to rodents.

Imagine trying to solve the silicosis problem as billions of humans breathe in tiny robots that become lodged in their lungs… OK, [there are] still a few bugs in the system. I suspect they’re more than 30 years away, but I guess the average scientist in 1977 would have said that generally affordable pocket-sized supercomputers linked up to a global information network were more than 30 years away. And, well, they weren’t.

Sharing Economy

One thing I expect to see is an increase in social-sharing technologies to include conveniences for people outside of urban cores: not just shared bikes and cars but shared lawn mowers and hedge trimmers, for example. In America, we’ve developed a way of life that is very resource-heavy, but it’s far from the only model—or even the most economically efficient model, from the point of view of the citizen. (Not so great for people who sell lawnmowers.) This is more a social change than a technological one, of course, but I can foresee a future where nobody needs to own things that they need only once in a while.

What’s Truly Possible?

Recently, I think “Okay, Glory,” my humorous take on a tech billionaire held for ransom by his own smart house, is probably pretty good. I also think that “In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns,” and its sister story, “Gods of the Forge,” which are about a world where the threat of global change began to be taken seriously and real steps taken to mitigate it, offer some hopeful and plausible glimpses of the future.

Yuvraj Agarwal


Yuvraj AgarwalProfessor Yuvraj Agarwal is an assistant professor of computer science at the Institute for Software Research at Carnegie Mellon University. Professor Agarwal’s research resides at the intersection of distributed systems, the Internet of Things, and machine learning. He also runs the Synergy lab at CMU and does research into energy efficiency and sustainability when constructing new, smarter buildings. Professor Agarwal envisions a future where data, embedded sensors, and billions of connected devices will create smarter, more efficient infrastructure in both urban and rural areas.


What makes up a smart city is the infrastructure: roads, transportation, and lots and lots of buildings, whether that’s homes or commercial buildings. Looking at 10 or 15 years or more down the line, I think we will have instrumented our cities. We’ll have sensor information from everywhere, from noise to pollution to safety applications, like where [gun]shots are detected. We’re already seeing starting points, like smart lighting. Pittsburgh is actually looking to roll out 35,000 smart light bulbs.

Then, as we open out that vision, there will be video sensing everywhere. Once you develop these applications, they’ll be better markings for situational awareness, like the cause of a traffic jam. We don’t have the capability to combine all of these together into a comprehensive smart city system yet. Right now, the data is all in silos. Down the line, there will be a big push toward data standardization so that technologies can talk to one another.

Smart City

5G and Next-Gen Networks

5G is a very interesting turning point. It’s very expensive for carriers to network a smart city right now. I think 5G will change that, because you can get high bandwidth and very low latency, [and] you can connect pretty much everything. All of this means we will get much better sensing; it’ll no longer be infeasible to have sensors constantly streaming data. I think it’ll be quite something to see—to watch a smart city handle an issue like disaster response.

Now the carriers rolling out 5G like Verizon and others are still thinking about what the killer app will be. I think it’s entirely possible that the next set of internet connections and access points will be 5G-enabled. I think the confluence of cheaper hardware, much better sensors, advances in machine learning, and better connectivity will allow us to do things that have not been possible.

I think it will enable much better health care. Think about the rapidly aging older population. There’s this idea of the quantified self, the data people store about themselves. So imagine in the future, if I develop an ailment, the IoT will enable a doctor to say, ‘Hey, let me look at your history,’ and they are able to pull up all of this data from your Fitbit and your Apple [Watch] and all of these devices. And if you’re diagnosed with a disease, to look 10 or 20 years back to figure exactly when symptoms started appearing and how it’s progressing. This data can also give people much more actionable data about their own health and how to manage it.

Precision Agriculture

The limiting factor you often hear in terms of actual resources are water and energy, but eventually, with a growing population, it’s going to be food, too. Especially as more people gravitate toward cities and there are fewer people doing farming, we’re going to have to use technology in incredibly inventive ways to feed the population. We’re seeing the beginnings of sensing and machine learning in farming to make it more sustainable and more efficient, but I think we’ll see lots of new applications in that space in the next 10 or 15 years.

Precision agriculture can help farmers realize inefficiencies in systems; if they’re over- or under-watering and causing crop losses, using machine learning to scan where you need fertilizer, and so on. As an example, India has this interesting problem where every winter there is a massive crop burning that causes immense pollution in New Delhi and other nearby areas that are downwind. It’s a perfect example of where drones, cameras, sensors, and machine learning could detect automatically when this is happening. Even in the food supply chain, being able to optimize it and reduce the massive food waste we have around the world, because there’s a low-cost 5G modem tracking every delivery.

IoT Privacy and Security

We have data and sensors everywhere, controlling your building, controlling public utilities like bridges. And now we’re getting into the realm where we’ll have IoT sensors with machine learning. We need to address the impact of all of this on security. The whole security model is completely broken in terms of what you think an IoT device can do and how it’s different than a traditional information technology device like a laptop or a phone.

IoT Security

IoT is becoming even more involuntary. Whether or not I like it, I walk past something, and it may be sensing my movement at that point, it may be sensing where I’ve been, it may be sensing how much I walk and what level of activity I do. As a society, we have to deal with the implications of this, whether it’s IoT in your home or IoT in a public space. We see some of that with Chinese companies doing facial recognition through millions of cameras.

So I think there’s a crossroads here. A lot of these use cases are so data-driven, and they are so computationally intensive that by definition, the vendors want you to install that device that ships all the data to the cloud, because it allows them to improve the machine learning and the models. I am worried about what it means for privacy, especially as we increase the amount of sensing. In a dumb home, if I may call it that, you don’t have to worry about this data leakage and privacy concerns. There was a gap [between] what you did [and] the outside world. Now, that’s going away, and very much like what Facebook did for what we make available in public, that’s what’s going to happen even for IoT. All of this information will be there. And somehow, we have to rein this in and have regulation or rules or transparency into how that data is being used. I think that is one of the defining challenges as IoT and smart homes become much more pervasive. And then, how do we make sure that this doesn’t become a completely disaster in the long run?

Rana el Kaliouby


Rana el KalioubyRana el Kaliouby is the co-founder and CEO of Affectiva, which builds emotion-sensing artificial intelligence software for media and advertising, analyzing videos, and automotive AI applications to measure the emotions of drivers and passengers. The Cairo, Egypt, native invented Affectiva’s emotion-recognition technology and has a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. She believes emotion-focused AI will become ubiquitous and ingrained in the fabric of the devices, AI systems, and technologies that we use every day.


I believe we’ll use personal AI, such as a conversational agent or social robot that knows you really well. Imagine AI that grows with you over the years, can act as a learning companion, helps you be productive, motivates you when you are bored or down, helps organize your life, helps with your health and wellbeing, and proactively advocates and acts on your behalf.

For example, why do I not have an AI that can say to me: ‘You’re in San Francisco next week; why don’t you meet up with so and so over lunch? I can schedule that for you, and while you’re at it, there is an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art that you would really enjoy. I’ll get you tickets, because it looks like you are free end-of-day Tuesday.’

Next-Gen Interface

With this personal AI, we’ll have our own personal profile that stores our preferences and knows our longitudinal emotional and cognitive states. We can carry this tech passport with us in every single technology interaction we have at home, at work, in self-driving vehicles, at play, or in any other space in the digital or physical world that we inhabit.

Perceptive Tech

I also believe that in the future, all technologies, big and small, will be perceptive and sentient. The ubiquitous human-machine interface, in whatever shape it will manifest, will interact with you the same way that humans interact with each other. Ubiquitous, perceptive AI will be always there, but in a subtle sense, operating in the background to make our experiences better and our lives easier. These systems and technologies will be seamlessly integrated into our day-to-day lives, the devices we use, the cars we drive, the homes we live in, and the like, having a small footprint.

Emotion AI will provide a backbone for our digital experiences. In the coming years, I believe we’ll see that it will evolve beyond just emotion, and transform into “human-perception AI” or, as I like to say, AI that can understand all things human.

If you think about it, we’re already surrounded by AI today, with the ubiquity of technologies such as Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant that are constantly engaging with us and learning about us. At the same time, science has shown that there are facial and vocal biomarkers of mental health. Now, imagine if these devices were equipped with human-perception AI that could detect these facial and vocal indicators of poor mental health. There’s significant potential for this technology to transform mental-health treatment and care, by serving as a way to measure people’s wellbeing and even providing real-time intervention.

AI Social Contract

AI ‘Social Contracts’

I don’t subscribe to the doomsday scenario of AI taking over humanity. But I also don’t think that the future world will be one where humans completely dominate and direct AI. Instead, I believe we’ll work in partnership. As with any successful partnership, we’ll need rules and guidelines to govern how we work together. That’s where the social contract comes into play.

I believe that mutual trust and understanding are central to this new social contract between people and AI. There’s a lot of talk about people needing to be able to trust AI, but I’d advocate that AI needs to be able to trust people too—to perform the right role in workplace settings, to operate vehicles or machines safely, and ultimately to use AI ethically and morally. Human-perception AI will be key in enabling that trust and understanding, so that people and AI can ultimately form the kind of relationships that humans have with one another, that make partnerships productive and mutually beneficial.

Patricia Culligan


Patricia Culligan Patricia Culligan is the Robert A. W. and Christine S. Carleton Professor of Civil Engineering and Founding Associate Director of the Data Science Institute at Columbia University. Professor Culligan is also a member of Columbia’s Earth Institute and formerly served as co-director of the Urban Design Lab, a research unit of the Earth Institute focused on sustainable urban development. She has a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. Professor Culligan is fascinated by “the challenge of dense urban environments and the ability to live in them,” but her research covers everything from nuclear waste disposal and applying geoengineering to ground contamination to green construction and sustainable urban development.


Everything we wear and touch is going to sense the environment around us and our response to it. Sensors on our clothes, shoes, and backpacks are going to measure the quality of the air that we breathe. When we fill a glass with water, sensors in the glass are going to monitor the quality of the water before we drink it. Our metabolism, body temperature, stress levels, and other health indicators will be constantly measured.

Connected Tech

We will be living in an age of personalized health, where a combination of our genetic makeup, environmental exposures, and lifestyle will be used to predict our health outcomes and guide us toward optimal choices. If you are someone who is particularly sensitive to poor outdoor-air quality, you will be guided to walk to work along a route that minimizes your exposure. If you are someone who is sensitive to certain dissolved minerals in your water, you will be guided toward filtering it.

Green Infrastructure

Green infrastructure is trying to revegetate a city to deal with rainfall locally as opposed to channeling it into the underground pipe network system we have [in New York], which is aging and can’t deal with the capacity that it needs to work at this particular point in time. To have impact, we’re talking about thousands and thousands, if not ten of thousands of small vegetated interventions around our city.

In the future, you’ll see buildings made of solar panels. You’ll see rainwater harvesting in cities. Neighborhood-level distributed infrastructure, in contrast to more traditional, centralized infrastructure systems. Solar panels are a distributed form of energy—infrastructure that can provide power to a single home or neighborhood if operated as a micro-grid. In contrast, a large power plant is a more centralized form of energy infrastructure that might support the needs of a city. Distributed systems have much more flexibility in their evolution than centralized systems, so in the face of uncertain climate impacts, they have some advantages.

Climate Change Technology

Climate change impacts are going to be local. In the US, for example, the Northeast is going to receive more precipitation, so it will get wetter, while the Southeast will receive less. Sea-level rise will likely be higher along most areas of the East Coast than the West Coast. It’s going to get much hotter in the interior of the country than along coastlines, although it’s likely to get hotter everywhere. And if you add this fact to the phenomenon of the urban heat island, dealing with heat stress in cities is going to be a big challenge.

Flooded Venice, Italy

(Photo by Stefano Mazzola/Awakening/Getty Images)

In the future, I think we will have moved as much underground infrastructure as possible aboveground. With the advent of autonomous vehicles, we might have totally abandoned subway systems for a public fleet of vehicles that uses AI to efficiently ferry people around their urban environment. Buildings will be designed or retrofitted to harvest and store energy. We will also be harvesting water locally and reusing it within the city. Everything will be sensed, so we’ll minimize our exposure to environmental conditions that are harmful to us as individuals. The first floors of buildings in flood zones will be set up to allow for flooding. To combat urban heat islands and to combine livability with density, cities will also be increasingly biophilic [with abundant nature].

Technology will help us be healthier and more efficient and reduce negative impacts we have on the environment, but we as humans will also have to adapt to nature. Have you seen the pictures in Venice? People are just sitting in the Piazza [San Marco] with their rain boots on with water up to their knees. So defending a city against some of the storm surges that we’re going to see or the hurricane activity is going to be almost impossible. Instead, we have to adapt our cities to enable flooding.

Andrew Lippman


Andrew LippmanAndrew Lippman is a senior research scientist at MIT. He serves as the head of Viral Communications and associate director of the MIT Media Lab. Lippman, also the co-director of MIT Communications Futures Program, has been a part of the MIT Media Lab since it was founded in 1985. His research topics include digital video, news and media, next-gen graphical interfaces, decentralized systems such as blockchains, and more. As head of the Viral Communications research group, he oversees projects that push the boundaries of scalable real-time communication systems.


Networks and Data Ownership

Fifty years ago, the most trusted man in America was Walter Cronkite. He ended his newscast by saying, ‘…and that’s the way it is.’ And people believed that. They trusted the institution that was giving them that news, and now that trust has migrated to networks. And so the challenge we face is to make those networks worthy of that trust and carriers of that trust.

Looking at things from the opposite point of view, we’ve also seen that there are large cases of centralization of the means of communications and the means of control of data. That centralization we’ve seen can be dangerous. It can be misused; it can be attacked.

Can we build systems that work in decentralized ways, that work in distributed ways, and where you retain the ownership of things like your data, networks, connections, and friends? Over the course of the next however-many years, I’m hoping that that pendulum will swing back and that we will place social and personal value on our networks and our own information, and see the benefits of a connected society without the cost of relinquishing ownership of your own connections.

Social Likes

News and Online Misinformation

When you start to talk about things like news… the picture becomes a little bit more complicated. And the reason is that we’re also learning more about human psychology, and I think we’ve ignored a lot of that in the construction of our systems.

‘Lies travel around the world before the truth gets its boots on.’ Jonathan Swift said that in 1710. He also said the lie has done its damage before you’ve been able to correct it. So we’ve known that things that are shocking or sensational can take root and overwhelm a common vision of reality, a common vision of truth and accuracy. Nevertheless, we’ve built a set of systems that allows this to happen all too easily.

A lot of what we [researchers] have worked on is reducing friction in our communication systems, but maybe a little bit of friction is a good thing. A little bit of gumminess in the way things flow may be a good thing for allowing us to reflect a little before we react. I’m relatively optimistic and hopeful. I think people will do better if you give them a chance. I can’t invent a future that’s gonna say, ‘Okay, I’m gonna slow the news down. You’re only gonna get the news once a day.’ That’s not going to work.

So the question is, what do you add to it that prompts that reflection? Maybe in the future, we can do a better job of something as simple as the Like button. Turn it into a badge of trust that says, ‘When I passed this onto you, I read it, and I analyzed it, and we can talk about it.’ In other words, provide the option. Provide the way to insert a teachable moment into the things that we might otherwise just solely react to and then move on.

Amy Webb


Amy WebbAmy Webb is a quantitative futurist and founder of the Future Today Institute. She is also a professor of strategic foresight at the NYU Stern School of Business and the author of three books: Data, A Love Story; The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream; and the upcoming The Big Nine: How The Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Will Change Humanity. Webb also writes the annual Tech Trends report; the most recent edition covers 225 different emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence, biotechnology, autonomous robots, green energy, and transportation.


There are a few [technologies] that should be on everyone’s radar. Biology is one of the most important technology platforms of the 21st century. Genome editing will influence the future of life on our planet, and what’s both promising and concerning is that changes made can be heritable. If you’re trying to eradicate malaria without also wiping out the entire mosquito population, deleting the part of the bug that’s capable of carrying the disease—such that the newly edited sequence is passed down to future generations—is a good thing.

However, what are the implications of making choices about heritable characteristics in humans? This isn’t the same thing as simply speeding up what would otherwise be a Darwinian process. The US doesn’t have a national biology strategy, and there are no codified norms and standards that everyone agrees to worldwide. So while gene editing could theoretically eradicate certain diseases, such as HIV, from the human population, we don’t yet know the further-reaching implications if the same technique is used to enhance certain cognitive abilities.

For example, scientists in California are working on a technique that’s sort of like a biological DVR, which records cells as they age. If we can quantify aging at a cellular level, it’s plausible we could reverse it. This seems like the type of technology that would become commercialized, which would mean that we’d have a new stratification of humans: engineered people, who stay youthful for as long as they’d like, and non-engineered humans who must suffer through the aging process. And that has ramifications for all of our futures, because people who know they’re going to live 150-plus years would likely make different decisions than people who have normal (by today’s standards) life spans. Imagine a member of Congress who serves 75 years: That would be a nightmare.

Hacking Biology

Smart Interfaces

On the hardware side of things, spatial computing environments and smart glasses will dramatically transform our communications ecosystem over the next two decades. In spatial computing environments, machines occupy space around us and are responsive to us in real time. They use sensors, 3D capture, rendering, wearable displays, and computational algorithms. This means you’ll bring your own data to a space and also generate new data in relation to it. Rather than a two-dimensional overlayed screen of information, you might be sitting across from a fully rendered AI agent who tricks you into believing she’s human. In fact, a prototype already exists; I’ve seen it, and it’s remarkable.

What all this points to is that soon, we’ll start to transition to the next era of computers; a post-screen era where humans are intertwined with computing environments rather than carrying them around in our pockets. Smart glasses will begin to replace smartphones, and the transition from smartphones to smart wearables and invisible interfaces—earbuds that have biometric sensors and speakers, rings and bracelets that sense motion, smart glasses that record and display information—will forever change how we experience the physical world.

Transportation

The ecosystem I’m hoping for is egalitarian and smart: smaller pods that are capable of safely transporting people, pets, and objects where they need to go without massive delays. Autonomy can end the public-transit problem that exists in many cities, where hard-working people must spend two hours … just to get home each night. Autonomous vehicles would operate on a network of interconnected roads, bridges, and underground tunnels that are continuously maintained. And—since I’m a bit of a car nut—this idealized future would still allow me to drive an old-school supercar, like a Ferrari 458, around a performance track.

What I think is more likely to unfold is it will take longer to reach full autonomy in cars and trucks than everyone is expecting, and that’s because in the US, our government hasn’t engaged in long-term planning and strategy. So there are numerous dependencies still left to be developed, like insurance rates, how to safely transition our current infrastructure, car ownership models, and the like. We’ll see car companies competing for market share rather than collaborating. Elon Musk’s tunnel project will continue to be scrutinized. Meanwhile, China will move ahead with its various maglev high-speed train projects. It’ll be a scattershot of options for many years.

Future Car

Artificial Intelligence

I am gravely concerned about what I call the Big Nine tech giants who are effectively in charge of AI’s destiny. Those companies are Google, Amazon, IBM, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook, and China’s Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. Humanity is facing an existential crisis in a very literal sense, because no one is addressing a simple question that has been fundamental to AI since its very inception: What happens to society when we transfer power to a system built by a small group of people that is designed to make decisions for everyone? What happens when those decisions are biased toward market forces or an ambitious political party?

The answer is reflected in the future opportunities we have, the ways in which we are denied access, the social conventions within our societies, the rules by which our economies operate, and even the way we relate to other people. In the US, relentless market demands and unrealistic expectations for new products and services have made long-term planning impossible. Our government has no grand strategy for AI nor for our longer-term futures living with AI. Instead of funding basic research into AI, the federal government has effectively outsourced R&D to the commercial sector and the whims of Wall Street. In China, AI’s developmental track is tethered to the grand ambitions of government. AI is part of a series of national edicts and laws that aim to control all information generated within China and to monitor the data of its residents as well as the citizens of its various strategic partners.

We are building the year 2039 future right now, in the present. We ought to think more exponentially and agree to act incrementally. We each play a critical role in what’s developing on the horizon. That means you, dear reader.


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