BBC forecasts the future of technology, society, and our economy for the next 150 years.

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Detail of BBC Future's graphic (screen shot of Tomorrow's World / via BBC Future)

Detail of BBC Future’s graphic (screen shot of Tomorrow’s World by Information is Beautiful Studio/ via BBC Future)

With the start of the New Year, organizations often take the opportunity to publish outlooks on the upcoming year.

Now some take this very serious and predict tech inventions even further into the future. BBC Future has released an infographic on “Tomorrow’s world“, compiling the predictions of the world’s “thinkers, scientists, and pundits”. To make things even more interesting, they commissioned “the special bets department at British betting firm Ladbrokes to give [...] their odds on each prediction coming true.” The odds really do the trick here, and arrange the predicted inventions and events somewhere between most likely and least likely. This helps to even classify events as far away in time as 150 years.

It struck me immediately that I had seen this before. It must have been… yes, at the Beginning of 2012, already a year ago. The trend forecasting firm Envisioning Technology had published an interactive map of emerging technologies until 2040. It was assorted into 11 technological categories, spanning from Artificial Intelligence to Geo Engineering. While this graphic focuses on ‘emerging’ technologies’, BBC’s map seems to feature concepts which are already ‘state-of-the-art’ at the predicted time.

What the Future Has in Store for Us

Researchers predict that nearly 75% of the world’s population will live in cities by the year 2050.

Envisioning Technology cites the UN’s forecast that the world population will reach 9 billion by that time. What will humanity have achieved by then? They start out with listing ‘Organ Printing’ as a technology emerging in 2015. From TED.com we learnt that this is happening already, although on a smaller scale. You can watch the TED video with surgeon Anthony Atala from March 2011 here.

Interestingly, for 2049, the BBC’s graphic features the following forecast: “The global population hits its highest ever point and then starts to decline.” The odds for this to happen are 1/4 according to the BBC. The map also lists elements from Computing and robotics, Politics and business, Science and nature, and Society and Technology, but in order to simplify things, let’s focus on Technology and Computing.

‘Your computer has a sense of smell’ is a pretty likely prediction for 2017. Envisioning Technology‘s technology outlook for the same year states “Augmented Reality – A life view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated, sensory input such as sound, video, meta data or graphics.” A write up in Mashable from June 2012 explains the principle advantages of AR for the retail industry. “Boards” in the category Ubicomp (ubiquitous computing) are predicted as “Meter-sized interactive displays serving a number of purposes: in the home, video screens and bulletin boards; in the office, whiteboards, bulletin boards or flip charts. A board might also serve as electronic book case from which one might download texts to a pad or tab.” This is very close to a Design Fiction film recently featured on Urban Times. Imagine being able to see yourself–instead of a model–wearing that coat you looked at on Amazon.com, as you walk past a wall of high resolution advertising boards. Scary.

Envisioning Technology continues in 2018 with “Self-driving Vehicles”, naming “avoiding accidents by eliminating driver error, increased roadway capacity” as main advantages. ”Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” find their way from military to civil use in 2022.

Interestingly, the BBC’s graphic lists the same concept as most likely (odds are 3/1), stating that in 2030 “Many commercial flights take place without pilots”.  A few years after that, “Cars are now purely automated and driver-free” in 2037.

“Machine translation” is “the use of computer software to translate text or speech from one natural language to another”. This concept could according to the interactive graphic of Envisioning Technology, truly render language classes redundant in 2019.

Fabric-embedded screens in Envisioning Technology's interactive info graphic from 2012 (screenshot from envisioningtech.com)

Fabric-embedded screens in Envisioning Technology’s interactive info graphic from 2012 (screenshot from envisioningtech.com)

2023 is the year when Venor Vinge’s vision of wearable computers finally becomes possible, with the concept of ‘Fabric-embedded screens”. Interestingly as we learn on Wikipedia, “because wearable computing affects society so profoundly, it is the central topic of the 2013 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society–ISTAS 2013″. It seems as if this advancement might be here sooner than later.

Another fascinating concept is that of “Swarm robotics”, predicted for 2030 in Envisioning Technology’s graphic. “The coordination of multirobot systems which consist of a large number of mostly simple robots. A desired collective behaviour emerges from the interactions between the robots and the interactions of robots with the environment.” This brings almost a new meaning to the power of collaboration.

The BBC features another concept, although quite unlikely: “You can upload the contents of your brain to a computer” in 2024, and then, in 2034 you can “log on directly from your brain” – how handy indeed!

This all is getting pretty unimaginable now – so lets jump even further: Envisioning Technology forecasts that the first Mars Mission will take place in 2034. The BBC’s experts predict that the first base on Mars will be established in 2059. Clearly, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke were well ahead of their time with “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), as this film is set in 2001 and even includes a mission to Jupiter…

the Moon, Mars, Mercury and Venus in 2008 (Bossco / Flickr)

Take a leap into the future and discover Envisioning Technology’s interactive map and the BBC’s predictions by Information is Beautiful Studio for yourself.