Forster’s The Machine Stops envisages a dystopian future where society is unable to maintain the machinery on which it has become dependent. His intuition that the new airships of his own day portended a key infrastructure of the future illustrates the hazards of future-casting. Some nascent technologies fail to live up to the hype (ahem…blockchain and driverless cars, anyone?) and artificial general intelligence (AGI) seems forever destined to be just a few more years “perhaps a decade” away, although Elon Musk has yet to accept Gary Marcuse’s bet on that timeline.
So let me venture two more modest but still speculative predictions; one positive and one problematic.
Positively, the years ahead promise much increase in human augmentation of many kinds. A range of health and medical benefits are now in view, from efficiency gains in healthcare provision and design of medication at molecular level to bespoke pharmacological prescription based on individualised biological markers. Expect more wearable tech to supplement smartwatches.
Some anticipate an overarching machine of almost Forsteresque proportions via the internet of things (IoT) although political and economic battles over device interoperability and security will, I think, garner increasing public attention and debate in due course.
Augmented reality will substantially improve safety, , and will shift many enhancements from screen to full field of view with additional benefits for road users and pedestrians alike.
Increasingly sophisticated geospatial sensing and data processing will enhance our understanding of the climate and biosphere emergencies and how successful various remedial steps prove. New technologies may radically reprice the costs of decarbonisation and unlock energy solutions that remain, as Babbage’s first difference engine was in his own day, the stuff of contemporary dreams.
This may be the first industrial revolution to be a net eliminator of jobs, although whether that promises to be good news is moot because navigating the consequences would be deeply challenging both socially and politically. Most of all, I anticipate a proliferation of new technologies and machines over the next few decades that will bolster and complete the reuse and recycle portions of a genuinely circular economy, together with an increasing emphasis on finite planetary budgets.