Within Twenty Years

WilliamHartston once said that if someone says "within 5 years we can ..." then they probably know how to do it, but if they say "within 10 years we will be able to ..." they don't. Since hearing that, I've used this as a rule of thumb many times and it seems a good predictor.
Please put a date stamp on each item, otherwise it gives the impression of no progress.

Note: most of the following was posted before 2005.

Computers and Media

Within 20 years, we will have UnlimitedStorageCapacity.

Within 20 years, network traffic will have doubled another 20 times, once a year every year as it has for the past three decades. So the current population of ~ 100 million wired people will go up 2 orders of magnitude to encompass the entire planet, and the traffic generated by each of them will go up 4 orders of magnitude. Everyone will be transferring DVDs as easily as they now do MP3s.

Within 20 years, the Son of Napster will be ubiquitous and unsinkable. The recording industry will be dead. Within 20 years, intellectual property rights for books, music and video will be unenforceable. "e-book" schemes will be long dead. Within 20 years, paper publishing will be dead. Already, half of all fiction is published on the internet (see below), for free, rather than in paper books at a profit. For many years already, all computer science articles have been freely available on the internet. Already, many scientists resent having to pay for access to scientific articles, resent not having electronic archives, resent paper publishing. The physics preprint archive at arXiv.org, which publishes all physics papers, merely points the way. As a consequence of the above, the movie rental market will be dead. Network and cable broadcasters will no longer have a monopoly on easy video access. Nor will they be able to force viewers to watch advertisements. Network television will be dead. Within 20 years, either video projectors, ElectronicPaper, or retina projectors will be mature, cheap and widespread, obsoleting the CathodeRayTube?. For less than 500$, one will get a portable device that provides a wall-sized image. As a result, the movie theater will be dead.

Within 20 years, digital video cameras will be mature, cheap and widespread. Have you been to LondonEngland? lately? I have. It is said that a person moving about in the city during the period of one day may have been recorded 300 times. In the process of going from my hotel to another location in London via the tube, I saw at least 50 cameras. (This doesn't count the ones that are intended to be non-obvious). If I saw them, they surely recorded my movement and actions. -- DonaldNoyes 20070711

Within 20 years, machinae (or whatever computer animation using 3D game engines is called nowadays) will be the best way to make movies. Except that instead of 2D movies, they'll be 3D scenes which you can navigate at will. Within 20 years, landline phones will no longer exist. Every new phone will be wireless and will have a flat-fee charging structure (none of that per-minute crap).

Within 20 years, the phone versus cable war for high speed internet will be resolved in favour of a third party; wireless.

Within 20 years, at least half the world will be connected to the internet somehow.

Within 20 years, all computers will be social computers, not personal computers. The information that belongs to you in cyberspace will be divorced from any particular physical computer. Your personal computer will no longer be the prison of whatever content you put into it, but will merely be a particular window into it.

Within 20 years there will no longer be any web, email, or Usenet. Just wikis from wall to wall.

Within 20 years we will still be saying "within 20 years there will be no more need for computer programmers".

Within 20 years spam will be indistinguishable from mainstream entertainment. Actors will be obsolete, and "Spam stars" will be computer generated characters, generated by market research. Plots will be constructed semantically by studio-proprietary software or rulesets.


Within 20 years, the proteomics project will be complete. We will finally have the tools necessary to analyze and understand the human genome.

Within 20 years, simple diseases like cancer will finally have effective treatments and cures. (As opposed to the current leeches and voodoo.)

Within 20 years, the injustice and plain evil of patents on genes and drugs will be manifest to the broad public because there will be millions of the things. And millions of people suffering and dying, in the industrialized nations, as a result of them.

Within 20 years, BioTechnology will not have fulfilled its promise of ridding humanity of all ills and diseases through the reverse engineering, refactoring, redesigning, rearchitecting and rewriting of the human genome. But such ideas will be considered seriously.

Within 20 years, we will have constructed the first completely artificial autonomous life forms, on the order of prokaryotes.
Moved from MachineTranslation in oct 05: WithinTwentyYears computers will no longer have either screens or keyboards. They will use either ElectronicPaper or project an image directly onto the retina. Keyboards will be virtual, with people typing into the air. Even the common rat (ratus computerus) will be replaced with a 3D pointing device. And all of this machinery will be mobile, if people want it to, because OSes will be radically different in order to support Social Computing (where one computer is as interchangeable as any other computer, just like phones).
Within 20 years, TheComingOilCrisis will have occurred. The USA, uniquely dependent on petrol, will be too busy fighting wars vainly attempting to preserve its empire to bother attempting to preserve IntellectualProperty rights.

Within 20 years, China and the USA will have built literally hundreds of nuclear reactors to provide for their energy needs. These will be safe, clean and efficient designs, except in the USA where they will blow up regularly. LOL Photovoltaic power will finally be recognized as the environmental horror story it really is. (It'll take 20 years because environmentalists really are quite stupid.) See NuclearPowerIsBetter.

Within 20 years, automation in the forms of self-checkout machines, fast food ordering kiosks, voice recognition software, expert systems, robots and so on and so forth, will be displacing half of the working population in the First World. The resulting dislocation will result in a third-world dictatorship in the USA with most of the population imprisoned in government "housing" projects. (http://marshallbrain.com/robotic-nation.htm) Welcome to the future kids; absolutely no refunds provided!

The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea. They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain. In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots. And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear: To build and maintain those robots. Thank you. -- Military school Commandant's graduation address, "The Secret War of Lisa Simpson"

It will be 2027 AD. HappyNewYear, everybody! (OK, a week late)

Within 20 years, the USA will have triggered a nuclear war on its way down from superpower status.
Paper publishing

You think paper publishing will be dead in 20 years? Paper scientific journals may well be dead in 20 years, but how many people read this "half of all fiction" you claim is published on the Internet? How many readers of literary novels and short stories are willing to give up paper? Do you think they'll all die off in 20 years? I don't understand this mania for having new technologies kill off old ones. Can't they coexist? I think Internet publishing, electronic book publishing (better on "electronic paper" books or PDA's than on dedicated e-book readers), and paper publishing will all have their place.

At best, they will coexist until the older generation dies. But if ElectronicPaper rolls out for less than 100$ a page, paper books will die; no ifs, ands or buts about it. And this would be a GoodThing since it would conserve trees, kill off the big book monopolies, make all media available immediately everywhere, and make libraries (organized stores of media) vastly cheaper to run.

If memory serves, the trees used for paper (at least in the US) are nearly all farmed for that purpose. There is no loss of new environment for pulp paper trees, and all the trees cut for paper are replaced, so no loss of environment.

True. There's just a loss of potential environment. Because if tree farms were not needed for pulp, they might actually be replaced by forests. Roads and urban sprawl are two other causes of loss of potential environment.

Wrong. We will still use paper, in the form of boxes, bags, etc. And since we will still need to print stuff on those boxes, the print industry will only shrink, not disappear

The desire for having new technologies kill off old ones has two main justifications. First, if a new technology completely supplants an old one then this shows the new tech is superior in all ways. Second, when old technologies die, people no longer have to worry about or become familiar with them. This preserves people's mental space and conserves their ability to cope with and adapt to changing circumstances.

The "new technology" in this case is not superior to the "old technology." To take one example: information retrieval is much slower with a digital device, compared to flipping through the pages of a book. This has been hashed out on IsAnythingBetterThanPaper. -- BrentNewhall

Information retrieval in paper books is so difficult as to be nearly impossible. For example, it is exceedingly difficult to search for the third instance of the word Bonzo in a book. In contrast, the same operation is trivial in digital media. it's a trivial problem all around. Who cares about counting word instances?

Of course, this refers to general information retrieval, as opposed to the quite useless "information" of page numbers within a book. Since the concept of a "page" has no meaning in digital media, it is naturally more difficult to find one. This is hardly the only problem that's impossible to solve in paper but trivial in digital media.

Consider the problem of finding all the annotations you've made to a book in reverse chronological order. Again, who cares? It matters that the notation is there, not date and time I made it. Consider the problem of transferring all of the annotations you've made to a phone directory to this year's new version. These are problems that can never be solved using paper because no sane person has the patience to tackle them. In contrast, digital media has limitless potential, so if its actuality sucks then that's only because programmers suck. (The DougEngelbarts and AlanKays of the world are few and far between.)

Consider the task of reading a book during a power outage at night, or while camping

Batteries work nice for this. If you have enough of them. See DesertIslandFallacy. And the environmental capacity to manufacture, recharge and dispose of them

[See contrast ratios for LCD screens, glare, etc]
"half of all fiction is published on the internet"

I wasn't quite buying that and asked for it to be supported, it seems it has been, and I am surprised.

Over 100,000 stories were published in the major archives in fall 2000 (http://www.alternateuniverses.com/archivestats.html). This does not include alt.sex.stories.moderated.

Original fiction is difficult to find because useful library software doesn't exist. As a result, fiction on the net tends to be organized around broad cultural items like sex and television shows. One can find original fantasy and science fiction if one bothers to look.

Within 20 years, some programmer with a head on his shoulders will write a distributed, highly organized, searchable, easy to use, easily accessible, UniversalCatalog program for fiction and non-fiction.

That would be nice indeed.
So there's a huge quantity of fiction coming our way. What about the quality?

It varies greatly from the execrable to the sublime. But then, paper publishers put out Danielle Steel, David Eddings and Iain Banks.

Quality internet publishers strive for. "Frankly, most of the people who have something to say get published now" --Steve Jobs
Within 20 years, a network of magnetically levitated trains will provide high-speed transport for us all. Oh hang on, that's been a standard "within 20 years" prediction since at least 1945.

It's a stupid prediction. Anyone can see there is no economic case in favour of maglev when compared with the TGV.
Within 20 years, we may have stopped laughing at the SpaceElevator, which means that within 70 years, we may have built one.
I set up a while ago a space for a General Futures wiki (http://futures.wiki.taoriver.net/), but never found the time to set it up and promote it. If y'all want to inhabit it, I think there are some really exciting possibilities. I probably won't be participating much, but you're all welcome to it. (Though, the general futures wiki was intended for 50 years out. But that's all malleable.)

While I haven't worked on the General Futures wiki, I have worked on the WikiFutures? wiki (http://wikifutures.wiki.taoriver.net/), which is a place to think about the future of wiki. -- LionKimbro

Don't bother. I know exactly what the future of wiki entails. I'm building it. Within 2 years, wiki won't be like anything you can imagine. -- RK

Aww, can't we at least get just a little hint of what it will be like?

You don't know how much it pains me to say this but the answer is no.

And as a side note, whenever someone tries to say or do anything about the future, he's immediately attacked by some dumb twerp. Is this due to crushing stupidity, some sick desire to kick better people down or are people actually trying to kill the future?

I don't think that is true of anyone who tries to say or do something about the future. It's just that many who do this are self-styled saviours of mankind who are really little more than megalomaniacs, and these are the ones most often treated with derision. As Sagan says "Yes, they laughed at Einstein. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown"

People who imagine a better future should be encouraged. Those who actually do something about it should be supported. Those who attack them should be lynched. -- rk

This may not hold if the people in question are the above mentioned megalomaniacs

Engineers like to find exceptions to sets of rules, look for problems in a system, or look for similarities between two superficially distinct entities. This, in addition to the high volume of incoming vaporware, over hyped products, and half-baked ideas they are exposed to, gives rise to the usual arguments of 'but it won't work in case of ...', 'but what if someone does ...', 'oh, that's just ... with ...', and 'I'll believe it when I see it'. They also tend to meet hostility with hostility. Those who attack should be educated.

Engineers are well-known to be conservative politically and by no coincidence whatsoever, they are also conservative mentally. Engineers are used to meeting the world on their own terms. Anything outside of their field is treated with suspicion or contempt.

Their knee-jerk reaction towards vaporware and hype only proves it. Instead of pulling something useful out of failed projects (user requirements, desirable features, even design principles) they reject it entirely, and go on to reject anything else that looks like vaporware or hype. Basically, engineers are closed-minded.

The first thing we do, let's kill all the engineers. -- Henry IV, Part I

If you're an engineer, you simply do not belong on a page titled Within Twenty Years!

Many engineers do indeed look forward to the technology to come in the next twenty years. Not all engineers fail to salvage knowledge from failed projects; many of the opinions expressed on this very site were formed out of such introspection. Like all people, they do reject most other things that look like vaporware or hype. The difference is that they they are much more aware that many 'scientific/technological breakthroughs' are neither. Of course, depending on the individual, the constant exposure they receive either skews their filters to be much more accurate than a layperson's or much too sensitive.
Within twenty years, life on Earth will be extinct. -- JayOsako

In twenty years, I'll be laughing at that prediction, memory permitting. (no offense intended)

That's a pretty chilling statement. Any reason to believe that if Reagan didn't manage it, Herr Shrub will be able to?

Bush? Not really, or at least not specifically; it is my observation that despite all the nominal power of the office, the POTUS has very little freedom of motion. To get the position, one has to commit to a myriad of contradictory interests; most of the real power resides with Congress; and the practical options in most cases are far more constricted than most people imagine. To put it another way: had someone else been President in the past three and a half years - whether it was Al Gore, Ralph Nader, Howard Dean or even Lyndon LaRouche? - events would have unfolded in almost exactly the same way they did under Bush.

As for my reasons... well mostly it's that I know how stupid and ignorant human beings (without exception) really are. That more than enough reason to expect it. -- JayOsako

Discussion on ExtinctionOfHumanity. Others await TheSingularity.
In 20 years, the world depicted in comic books like Cyberella and Transmetropolitan will be the darned truth. In 20 years? really? all this? There's only one zero on that number.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -- MarkTwain

Speech from The Next 20 Years conference -- New York, July 1999:
Unless we are at PeakOil and nobody can pull a rabbit out of the hat to keep industrial society going. If that happens, 2024 will likely be a very unpleasant time indeed.

Come now, what are the odds? So what if some estimates say we're already at the peak; some other estimates say we have another 6 years until the peak - and there are minority views that the supply is essentially inexhaustible. So let's act like it is! What's the worst that could happen? Why be a pessimist. The glass isn't emptying out, it's half full! - isnt that part of the problem though? We act like nothing is wrong, and that someone else will take care of it? Isn't it safer to assume worst case until proven otherwise in matters such as this? [Nov04 chg by RobPasay]

Hold on; odds? Useful to talk about occurrences in many instances, but when there is one only instance, of questionable usefulness. After all, if it's one in 10,000, our future might just be that one time. To assign a chance greater than 0 means one admits it is possible. Next questions is, is it GOING to happen, or is it NOT going to happen?

That we talk in terms of prob abilities means we do not know enough to talk ab out what will happen. So instead, we need to get accurate and broad spectrum FACTS, raw and accurate statistics, not sunshine blown up the kilts of the board of directors by engineers who want to look good. Several large oil firms just revised their estimates DOWNWARD. We still don't know what numbers are accurate. Saudi keeps saying they will increaser production. Looking at the numbers buried in monthly reports, their production of real oil has remained static for some time now- and now appears to be declining somewhat. So, Borrowing from William Shatner, 'What's real?' --KirkBailey

When we are able to talk to computers, we will have libraries immediately available for reference on any topic. We will be able to verbally walk through the definition of any concept with a device which not only 'knows everything', bit can recall any part of your entire interaction accurately. So you could mention a process, or define a process, or start to define a process and save it for later, or you could define and run a process, entirely at your whim, because you know the whole of the development interaction can be recalled. I think this would encourage a focus on the 'task at hand', removing any tendency to digress. And conversely, I think it would encourage digression where it is appropriate - where one concept needed expansion at the time, while fresh in the mind, one would only need to tell the machine to 'suspend that thread of thought' at that point so that you could confidently concentrate on the new sub 'task at hand'. (Not sure if I should sign that one) -- PeterLynch

How big would a VerbalWiki? be?
Anyone have any clue about the infection and mortality rates of AIDS in 20 years? Especially in third world countries? [someone asked prior to Nov04]

I do not have an answer on that. From a previledged position of having access to Discovery Channel and other cable goodies, I am almost bet on medical research would still be focussed on immortality / perpetual youth, even if human population halved or reduced to less by man-made or natural causes.

more room for all the hot 200 year olds to cavort around in
Within 20 years, the number of things we are predicting to happen within 20 years will have increased tenfold...?
In 1992 the British science rag Nature had an article about a meeting of the world's leaders in nanotechnology science. This was shortly after the guy at PARC had built the first aluminum atom tower on a nickle substrate using the scanning tunneling electron microscope. The authors of the article closed it by saying that the hard sciences tend to overestimate what we can achieve in two years and underestimate what we can do in twenty. Well, it's been a dozen years since that conference and I don't see diddly do happening in nanotech manufacturing. Are we behind the curve?

Not by much. There's just a wee bit of difference between stacking a pile of marbles and using a lego kit to build a supercomputer.

[But I just read something about QuantumDots and an AccidentalInvention - It may lead to the light of the future coming from your walls and ceilings! 20051028]

Yeah, supercomputers, that's phunny. We haven't seen a durn thing for a dozen years. Is this research properly funded? Is there scientific advancement that is being hidden behind a veil of military secrecy? Is everything happening in the nanotech field covered by patent secrecy? These are legitimate questions.

Along those lines, keep in mind that research becomes product on a timeline determined by where the research was done. For instance, in the USA we have a history of secrecy that long outlasts its own good in the area of technology and products developed for the military. In general, it takes about 15 years for products developed for military applications to make it to the general market. The whole family of industrial sythetic lubricants with the properties of sperm whale oil is a great example of that. These lubes were developed for the spy satellite program and didn't make it to industrial jobbers' shelves until the late 1980s.

On the other hand, many products developed for NASA's space program became consumer commodities within three years of original development. A ton of scientific and opthomological instruments from the 1970s were created this way.

So, is there progress in many scientific arenas that we simply don't hear about? Why the heck not?

I'd also like to point out that "basic research" is a pretty loose concept to Some People. Does anybody remember the Tokamak experiments at Sandia? No? No? These guys were putting out regular papers every quarter or so talking about how much more energy they were getting from the thing. The last paper I saw said that they were about to hit breakeven on power in/out, then -- silence.

Kinda dumb, ain't it? Isn't that a bit like broadcasting, "Hey, we've hit an important scientific breakthrough, but we're not gonna tell you what it is," when everybody already knows what it is. Oy.

-- MartySchrader

Note that the year is now 2011 (19 years later) and we still haven't heard much about nanotech manufacturing. Why?
Everything to do with nanotech is basic research and basic research in an active field either gets published so it can be recognized, or it becomes obsolete within the year.

[Tokamaks are WayCool or WayHot? actually and can be seriously checked out at http://www.plasma.inpe.br/LAP_Portal/LAP_Site/Text/Tokamaks.htm]

Anything one can presently envision as happening WithinTwentyYears will probably happen sooner, or not at all. It is only about three years since this page was created, and some of the items are already implemented or have been surpassed --DonaldNoyes 20070711

But the page is very top heavy in the computers and media section. It may just be that miniaturizing technology or moving content to a new publishing system is easier than curing cancer.

Yeah. Easier, sure -- but with less effect on those afflicted with cancer. And with all forms of cancer on the rise around the world you'd think there would be more basic research dedicated to that and results to match. Nanotech research into microbiology just doesn't seem to be keeping up. Is it not so?
DynamicRelational or at least MultiParadigmDatabase. - July2007
See: ZombieTechnologies, WithinFiftyYears, PastTwentyYears, NextBigThing, TheFuture

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