Five years ago I wrote a set of predictions about 2020. In some ways I think I was too unambitious for the progress of technology: browser technology has probably already reached the levels I had expected for a decade later. Some of them look like they might be off-target, like the increase in storage capacity of mobile devices. We still have another five years to see how they all pan out.
I thought I’d take another swing at a set of predictions. This time I’m looking out towards 2025.
3D printing is the next major transformative technology wave. In 2025 we’ll be seeing 3D printers in the homes of at least a quarter of North Americans. Home 3D printer quality in 2025 will be amazing. A consumer will be able to print in multiple colors and plastic/rubber-like materials, with a final print quality that will often rival that of mold-formed products.
There will be multiple marketplaces for things to print: some open-source ones that will contain basic shapes and designs, and a number of licensed repositories for printing designer items like toys and kitchenware from well-known names. There will also be a healthy 3D piracy community.
When you look around a room in 2014, a lot of what you see will be printed in the home or a rapid-manufacturing facility in 2025. 3D printing will eat the manufacturing lifecycle from the bottom up. Products where the first 100 might be built with rapid prototyping today will have the first 100,000 produced on-demand. Companies like IKEA will choose to print and cut their designs on-demand in warehouses rather than stocking parts built elsewhere.
Local distribution centers will replace overseas manufacturing almost completely. North America will import processed materials from China, India and Africa for use in the new local centers: plastics and rubbers, and metals with binder. The local manufacturing centers will use a combination of 3D printer, laser/plasma cutting and generic robot assembly to build everything from one-off orders to runs of thousands as needed.
To support rapid manufacturing at these levels, generic robotics will replace the manufacturing line of today. A generic robot will be able to be taught to do a task like a human does and will coordinate with other generic robots to build a product like a fixed line would do today. Generic robotics will also find itself at home in other fields currently employing humans doing repetitive tasks like food preparation, laundry and cleaning.
Amusingly 3D printers will be displacing regular document printers which will have mostly died out at that point. Paper will take much longer than 2025 to replace, but the majority of financial, legal and educational work will be entirely electronic. Electronic signatures will be commonplace and some form of e-signature using mobile devices and biometrics will likely be used to validate documents. Paper in the home will be well on its way out and even children will be coloring on electronic devices with a stylus rather than coloring books.
In 2025 we’ll have maxed out our technologies for 2D display and audio. Screens on cheap devices will have the same effective DPI as paper and the pixel will be something very few people will see. Virtual reality won’t be pervasive yet, but it’ll be in a significant number of homes for entertainment purposes. There will be devices small enough for portable use.
The convergence of devices will continue, and will consume a number of devices for entertainment at home. The cable box and dedicated game consoles will be almost dead, replaced with streaming from personal devices Chromecast-style. TV will still be going strong and there will be advancements in display technology that will allow basic 3D technology without glasses using light-field manipulation.
Vehicles will be radically transformed by advances in self-driving technology. While we still won’t have pervasive self-driving vehicles, there will be a large number of autonomous vehicles on the road. These will mainly replace long-haul trucking and transport, but some higher-end vehicles will be autonomous enough to allow individuals to safely commute to work or run errands hands-free.
Car ownership will be dramatically declining by 2025. With the ability to summon transport from an autonomous or human-driven vehicle at the tip of everyone’s fingertips, it won’t make sense for most people to own vehicles. High-end cars will continue to be a status symbol, but the low-end market will be decimated in the transition.
Electric vehicles will have captured around half of the market of vehicles sold, including everything from passenger cars to transport trucks. Fossil fuels and hydrogen will be included as “backup” options on some models, used only to increase range if needed by charging the batteries.
With solar getting cheaper and more efficient year-by-year, we’ll see some changes in the way that energy is supplied to home. Neighborhood grids will replace nation-wide grids for home use. Dozens of houses will pool their solar power into a cooperative with battery storage that they’ll use for electricity, heating and charging of vehicles.
More nuclear power will come online in the 2020’s, mainly driven by new reactor designs that produce very little waste and advances in fail-safe technology. Thorium-based reactors will be just starting to appear and safe designs like the CANDU plant will become significantly more popular.
Much of the new power brought online will be fueling desalinization and water-reclamation facilities to stabilize the fresh water supply. Fresh water will dominate the news cycle as energy does today.
With all of the changes described above, North America will see a significant effect on the number of low-end jobs. Manufacturing, food and transport industries will be radically changed, jobs moving from many low-skilled positions to a few high-end positions.
This will require thought on how we can re-architect the economy. I think we’ll see concepts like minimum guaranteed income replacing welfare and minimum wage. This is much more difficult to predict than the pace of technology, but we’ll have to do something to ensure that everyone is able to live in the new world we’re building.