2020 tech predictions – how many made in 2010 have come true?
The end of one year always brings predictions and hopes for the next. The end of a decade prompts more than usual. But what about all those forecasts made years ago for the year 2020?
We went back through technology predictions made a decade ago to see how experts thought technology would change our lives, from a real life ‘babel fish’ to people living on a moon base.
Read on to find out which came true, and which are still struggling to get off the drawing board.
Prediction #1: The mobile device will be the primary connection tool to the Internet for most people in the world in 2020.
Reality: There’s no doubting this one. However, mobile internet became dominant faster in some countries than others. In Australia, ACMA revealed that mobile phones are the most popular and frequently used device for internet access in the country for the first time in December 2017. The UK reached this milestone in 2015, while the trend is more pronounced in developing economies, where mobile phones are almost ubiquitous.
Prediction #2: The mobile phone will become a gateway to global communications, and link seamlessly to the web and every screen in homes and offices.
Reality: This prediction, made two years after the launch of the iPhone, may seem obvious now. But it shows how the combination of smartphones and cloud services have transformed our ideas of communication and connectivity.
Prediction #3: Voice recognition and touch user-interfaces with the Internet will be more prevalent and accepted by 2020.
Reality: Mass adoption of touch-screen devices took off with the launch of the iPhone in 2007. The penetration of voice computing has soared with the rise of smart speakers such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant powered devices. Research in 2018 found that over one billion devices offered voice assistant access.
Reality: While we could argue the semantics of ‘things’ vs ‘computers’, it’s undeniable that we are living in an IoT-world. Data from Statista shows 26.66 billion connected devices in 2019 and in 2018 analysts estimated IoT devices alone numbered over 7 billion.
Prediction #5: The Internet will carry exabytes — perhaps zettabytes — of content.
Reality: The only thing wrong with this prediction is that it happened well before 2020. According to Cisco, the annual run rate of global IP traffic was 1.5 zettabytes in 2017. It will increase to 4.8 ZB by 2022. Looking back ten years, it’s clear few people predicted how much our data consumption would soar.
So close yet so far
Prediction #6: Universal translation will be commonplace in mobile devices.
Reality: Real-time translation has been around for some time. Google launched its Translate service in 2006, switching to a neural machine translation engine in 2016 to translate “whole sentences at a time… figure out the most relevant translation, [and] to be more like a human speaking with proper grammar.” In 2017, Google launched real-time audio translation through its wireless headphones. However, results have been mixed. While we haven’t yet realised Douglas Adam’s vision of the babel fish, it isn’t that far off.
Prediction #7: Cars will drive themselves.
Reality: Self-driving cars have been a staple of sci-fi books and films for years. And there are examples of cars becoming much more intelligent. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla said in April this year that, by the end of 2020, new Tesla cars will be capable of driving themselves anywhere on the planet, under all possible conditions, with no limitations. Yet we are still to see any vehicles in public environments that can meet this standard, and several accidents may have pushed this sci-fi reality further back.
Prediction #8: In the next 10 years, we will see a 20-time increase in home networking speeds.
Reality: Cisco’s prediction from 2009 seemed like a great leap at the time, and perhaps it was. Akamai's state of the internet report found that Australia's average speed in Q1 2010 was just 2.613 Mbps (with a maximum average speed of 9.7 Mbps). The global average was higher then, and remains so, but as of May 2019, the top 19 countries by fixed internet speed were all averaging over 100 Mbps. According to Ookla's global index, Australia's average speed in May 2019 was 39.29 Mbps, which is 12.97 Mbps short of Cisco's '20 times faster' prediction. But in some countries Cisco's prediction is closer to being accurate.
We’re still dreaming
Prediction #9: We’ll control devices via microchips implanted in our brains.
Reality: Scientists have been working on ‘brain computer interfaces’ (BCIs) for at least 20 years. Last year it emerged both Elon Musk (him again!) and Facebook were investing in BCI research. Even if the technology reaches the level required, the ethical debate about BCIs will continue to rumble on. With one year to go until our 2020 deadline, it seems unlikely we’ll all be wandering the streets, controlling our tech with our minds.
Prediction #10: China will build a rail line from Beijing to London.
Reality: This is one of those predictions that seems ridiculous on first reading. However, while it’s not going to come true literally, there is some basis in fact. In 2013, Xi Jinping, President of the People's Republic of China, announced the Belt and Road Initiative. The initiative is a global development strategy aimed at improving China’s connectivity to the West through infrastructure investments in over 150 countries and international organisations.
Prediction #11: By 2020, a $1,000 personal computer will have the raw processing power of a human brain.
Reality: It’s hard to estimate the computing power of the human brain. In theory, it will be possible someday, but not next year for the bargain price of $1,000.
And Katrin Amunts, European Union’s Human Brain project’s scientific director, plays down the likelihood of us matching our brain’s capabilities in the near future:
"How can we explain creativity, how can we explain self-reflections? These are higher cognitive functions which are very familiar for us, but we are so far away at the moment to understand them in such a way that we can re-engineer it in a machine."
Prediction #12: Japan will have built a permanent a moon base.
Reality: The Apollo 17 mission in 1972 was the last time anyone set foot on the moon. NASA aims to change that, but it won’t be in 2020. NASA is “working to establish a permanent human presence on the Moon within the next decade.” The first step is the development of a spaceship called Gateway to orbit the moon and provide support for longer journeys, including a venture to Mars. The first part of Gateway is not expected to launch before 2022.