Life in a generation: 10 predictions for 2040

Despite being closer to now than the fall of the Berlin Wall, 2040 feels like a date so far in the future that it would be impossible to predict what it holds for us. However, that hasn’t stopped scientists and researchers around the world from trying, and their predictions paint a fascinating picture of the world of tomorrow.

Here we take a look at some of the more significant predictions for the world in 24 years.

Radically redesigned computers

The Semiconductor Industry Association has warned that if computers keep being designed in the way they are now, with more transistors packed into an integrated circuit every year, the march of Moore’s Law will mean they’ll need more energy than the world can produce by 2040. And given that we’re very unlikely to reduce our reliance on computers in that time, it’s a pretty safe bet that we’ll instead see a radical redesign of the conventional computer.

Eye-wateringly expensive oil

Oil has been rising in price for some time, but the level it’s set to hit in 2040 makes today’s prices look positively bargain basement. OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, has said that it expects oil to cost over $160 a barrel by 2040, driven in part by increased exports from Russia and the surrounding area to the Asia-Pacific region. To put this into context, at the time of writing oil costs just $46.58 a barrel.

Image courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of NASA

Colonising Mars

If legendary astronaut Buzz Aldrin is to be believed, humanity will have established a Martian colony by 2040, with the first visitors to the Red Planet arriving with no intention of coming back. However, he does not expect the first off-Earth colony to be self-sufficient within this timescale. Instead, early colonists would need to survive on regular shipments from the Blue Marble until farming and other similar facilities could be established.

Poverty-stricken underclass

In the UK, regular above-inflation rises in rent will lead to almost 6 million people living in poverty by 2040, according to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. And with the total UK population predicted to be around 73 million in 2040, that’s a pretty significant 4.38% of people. The average rent cost is set to almost double in the country in that period, from £132 per week today to equivalent to £250 per week in today’s money by 2040, but wages are not expected to rise at the same rate.

US debt crisis

The Congressional Budget Office has warned that US government debt will climb to 107% of the economy in 2040, up from the already unusually high rate of 74%. The reason for this is largely down to the country’s ageing population, as a greater percentage of the population will be retired, removing their ability to contribute to the economy, and will have greater healthcare needs, putting a strain on the economy.

Drones that can 3D print other drones

If BAE Systems has its way, the drones of 2040 could be equipped with 3D printers that will allow them to make on-the-go repairs and manufacture other smaller drones while in the air. Other capabilities of these futuristic drones could include dissolving if caught by enemies and engaging missiles at the speed of light. The drones could also have the ability to divide into a number of smaller UAVs if required.


Mass automation

A study commissioned by XPat Jobs has found that a significant number of industries will be fully automated by 2040, with the service industry most badly hit. As a result, larger numbers of people will be competing for smaller numbers of jobs, potentially leading to longer working hours and a stagnation in pay. The study speculated that many people could opt to augment themselves to get ahead in this increasingly aggressive working environment.

Widespread water shortages

A report by the World Resource Institute has found that 33 countries will suffer significant water shortages by 2040, with the Middle East worst affected. Among the worst hit will be Qatar, Singapore, Israel and the United Arab emirates, although Spain and Chile will also have problems in this area. The shortages are likely to have a significant impact on the countries’ ability to grow food, and in some cases may impact on the availability of drinking water.

Finding intelligent alien life

Humanity will have found evidence of intelligent alien life by 2040, according to Seth Shostak from the Seti Institute. He believes this leap we made due to a significant increase in the pace that star systems are assessed, as well as improved planet-hunting technology such as the Kepler space telescope. We certainly hope he’s right.

Wholesale societal collapse

The Food System Shock report, produced by the UK-based Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute, suggests that if we don’t take serious, significant steps to shore up our global food supplies, civilisation will collapse by 2040 as a result of food shortages. The theory is that growing populations will become increasingly difficult to feed, with traditional agricultural systems becoming increasingly unstable as a result of climate change. The resulting food shortages could lead to civil wars, increased terrorism and general civil unrest, prompting the collapse of civilisation as we know it.

Wanted man captured thanks to facial recognition

A Chinese man who was wanted by police for “economic crimes” – which can include anything from tax evasion to the theft of public property – was arrested at a music concert in China after facial recognition technology spotted him inside the venue.

Source: Abacus News

SpaceX president commits to city-to-city rocket travel

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell has reiterated the company’s plans to make city-to-city travel — on Earth — using a rocket that’s designed for outer space a reality. Shotwell says the tech will be operational “within a decade, for sure.”

Source: Recode

Businessman wins battle with Google over 'right to be forgotten'

A businessman fighting for the "right to be forgotten" has won a UK High Court action against Google.. The businessman served six months’ in prison for “conspiracy to carry out surveillance”, and the judge agreed to an “appropriate delisting order".

Source: Press Gazette

UK launched cyber attack on Islamic State

The UK has conducted a "major offensive cyber campaign" against the Islamic State group, the director of the intelligence agency GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has revealed. The operation hindered the group's ability to co-ordinate attacks and suppressed its propaganda.

Source: BBC

Goldman Sachs consider whether curing patients is bad for business

Goldman Sachs analysts have attempted to tackle the question of whether pioneering "gene therapy" treatment will be bad for business in the long run. "Is curing patients a sustainable business model?" analysts ask in a report entitled "The Genome Revolution."

Source: CNBC

Four-armed robot performing surgery in the UK

A £1.5m "robotic" surgeon, controlled using a computer console, is being used to shorten the time patients spend recovering after operations. The da Vinci Xi machine is the only one in the country being used for upper gastrointestinal surgery.

Source: BBC

Virgin Galactic rocket planes go past the speed of sound

Virgin Galactic completed its first powered flight in nearly four years when Richard Branson's space company launched its Unity spacecraft, which reached supersonic speeds before safely landing. “We’ve been working towards this moment for a long time,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in an email to Quartz.

Source: Quartz

Google employees protest being in "the business of war"

Thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses AI to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes. The letter, which is circulating inside Google, has garnered more than 3,100 signatures

Source: New York Times

Computer system transcribes words users “speak silently”

MIT researchers have developed a computer interface that transcribes words that the user verbalises internally but does not actually speak aloud. The wearable device picks up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalisations — saying words “in your head” — but are undetectable to the human eye.

Source: MIT News

Drones could be used to penalise bad farming

A report by a coalition of environmental campaigners is arguing squadrons of drones should be deployed to locate and penalise farmers who let soil run off their fields. Their report says drones can help to spot bad farming, which is said to cost more than £1.2bn a year by clogging rivers and contributing to floods.

Source: BBC

Californian company unveil space hotel

Orion Span, a California company, has unveiled its Aurora Station, a commercial space station that would house a luxury hotel. The idea is to put the craft in low-earth orbit, about 200 miles up, with a stay at the hotel likely to cost $9.5 million for a 12-day trip, but you can reserve a spot now with an $80,000 deposit.

UK mobile operators pay close to £1.4bn for 5G

An auction of frequencies for the next generation of mobile phone networks has raised £1.36bn, says regulator Ofcom. Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three all won the bandwidth needed for the future 5G mobile internet services, which are not expected to be launched until 2020.

Source: BBC