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The world in 2020

At the recent European Futurists Conference in Lucerne, Switzerland, E&T asked some leading futurologists for their prognosis for year 2020. Here’s what they had to say.

Clive van Heerden

Senior Director, Philips Design

Over the coming decade, our interaction with machines will inevitably need to become more ‘natural’ through the dramatic increase in the use of indirect channels of communication - making machines sensitive to biometric data from which emotional and contextual information can be derived.

As people we communicate through facial expression, gesture, utterance, contextualization and so on. Currently we navigate our way through codified, layered, unforgiving, syntactically pedantic, keyboard-dependent user interfaces that are fed back through LCD displays. These are the stone wheels of this genre of technical exploration. They don’t have the capacity to deal with the scale of the information tsunami about to strike or the sophistication to keep us engaged. By 2020, machines will need to be sensitive and people will need to become smart.

Ian Pearson


By 2020, lightweight sunglasses will use tiny lasers to write computer-generated imagery straight onto our retinas superimposing them on what we see in the real world. This is called augmented reality and it is already with us today in primitive form - as direction-sensitive images on our mobiles. By 2020, augmented reality will be much more mature and a familiar part of our lives.

By then, we will be well used to the practice of offering overlay cyber-architectures for shops and malls, so that their appearance will be different for each customer. Dual architecture will simply be the norm but in such a world, where marketing departments compete to offer the most standout appearance, invisibility will become the peak of cool.

Buildings will be designed to be extremely plain in the physical world and also appear to people in the dual world as very plain, unless they are in the select target group. The buildings will be therefore almost invisible to people outside of this select group. That only some specific people can see the ‘true’ hidden identity of the places and their proper appearance will make them highly desirable.

Rohit Talwar

CEO “Fast Future”

In this ‘futurescape’, I explore how a day in our lives might look if the technology advances, expected by 2020, become part of our personal ecosystems.

“Life really changed once I got my personal genome mapped - it only cost $100 and the entire profile is stored in a chip in my side and on my mobile. I recently had a body area network installed. Now, overnight a remote service runs a partial or full diagnostic on all my vital signs. When I wake, I get a message to my mobile phone indicating my health status - if I need a check up, the appointment is already scheduled.

Some mornings I treat myself to breakfast at a cafe - the phone interacts with the e-menu, so I only get shown items that are positively indicated for my health. In the supermarket, I scan each item with the mobile phone as I place it in the trolley. The phone instantly alerts me to any items which are contra-indicated for my health.  It also guides me round the aisles to pick up the items I need for the recipes I’m cooking tonight.

Attended a live conference today - something I do a little less often than in the past. Half the room was populated by the holograms of people attending virtually. I used one of the augmented reality headsets, so I could learn more about the speakers and the topics they discussed.

My eco-car has an intelligent control and navigation system, so I can talk on the phone, read or watch a movie while driving. At the end of each day, I spend

20 minutes reviewing and annotating the downloads from my personal data chips that captured every conversation I had and every image I saw.” 

Elina Hiltunen

TrendWiki Consultant

Year 2020 will see the emergence of various technologies that will be changing the future gradually, but radically.

Tissue engineering  and breakthroughs in the stem cell technology will have cured many lethal diseases or conditions that were incurable before. Nanotechnology will have brought new qualities and applications to materials, making them more durable and adjustable to various situations and shrinking the size of electronic gadgets. Household machines, such as vacuum cleaner robots, will have found their way to ordinary homes as their prices decrease and quality increases.

By 2020, the Internet will have merged with the reality and almost all data will exist in the cloud. This extra-virtual layer, called AUG, will indicate the birth of the augmented reality, everywhere. Wherever you go, information about surrounding objects will be transmitted to your eyes via mobile devices, your AUG glasses or contact lenses. A loaf of sliced bread in a shop will send information to your virtual eyes about the manufacturer, ingredients, packaging material, carbon dioxide emissions during the bread-making process and the freshness level, to name but a few.

People will also wear chips enabling a transfer from virtual life to reality - or, more specifically, to AUG. If you have a pre-determined profile, a passer-by with a matching profile will get connected to you. 

Year 2020 therefore will be the time of the emergence and connectivity of data everywhere and for every purpose. 

José Luis Cordeiro

Director, Venezuela, The Millennium Project

Are artificial brains actually possible? Will artificial intelligence ever reach the level of human intelligence? Well, computers are already better than humans in several important tasks. Just to name three indicators: computers process data much more quickly than humans, computers have expandable and more stable memories than humans and computers transfer information between them much faster than humans.

Nonetheless, artificial general intelligence has not yet reached the level of human intelligence, if by intelligence we mean universal pattern recognition. The problem is not so much the hardware as it is the software, although more advanced and flexible software is on the way too. Following Moore’s Law about the exponentially increasing power of computers, famous engineer and inventor Ray Kurzweil believes that an artificial intelligence will pass the Turing Test by 2029. According to others, like former BT futurist Ian Pearson, this could happen as early as 2015.

Supercomputers should be capable of the same number of calculations per second as a human brain in just a couple of years, and personal computers should be at this level around the year 2020. In fact, 10 Terabits (1013 bits) of computer memory (roughly the equivalent of the memory space in a single human brain) will probably cost just $1,000 in about 10 years.

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