2020 Vision: A Look Forward To The Promises of a Truly Amazing Year

Get ready for the first complete synthetic human brain, moon mining, and much more

Robotic moon bases, chips implanted in our brains, self-driving cars, and high-speed rail linking London to Beijing. According to a dazzling number of technology predictions that single out the year 2020, it’s going to be to be one hell of a year. Here, we take a look at some of the wonders it holds in store.

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2020, of course, is just a convenient target date for roughly-ten-years-off predictions. “It’s not any more particularly interesting, in my opinion, than 2019 or 2021,” says Mike Liebhold, a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for the Future, and an all-around technology expert with a resume that includes stints with Intel, Apple, and even Netscape. “There’s a continuum of technological development, and that’s just an easy date for an editor or a writer to get a handle on.

After spending decades helping various top-tier tech companies develop and deploy their cutting edge technologies around the world, Liebhold now helps clients take a long view of their businesses so they can make better decisions in the short term. He and his colleagues at the Institute for the Future don’t help clients read tea leaves (predictions are for soothsayers and crystal ball gazers) but they do help them read what he calls the signals — those things you can see in the world today that allow you to make reasonable forecasts about what the future holds.

“We help people think systematically about the future,” Liebhold says. “We don’t give them answers, we give them foresight.”

In other words, the year 2020 (and 2019, and 2021) is Liebhold’s business. And he forecasts a pretty interesting world a decade from now. For instance, given the current forward momentum of mobile technology and the ever-present forces of economies of scale, Liebhold says it’s conceivable that most of the world’s population will be able to afford a Web-enabled smartphone or tablet device by 2020, offering everyone on the planet geo-location services and access to global information and communication (the forces working against this, he notes, are political rather than technological).

Facial recognition and other biometrics will be commonplace, he says. High-performance data visualizations that currently require supercomputing power will become commonplace as well, driving technological and scientific innovation at even faster rates. We’ll see wider distribution of things like AI and immersive media experiences like viewpoint-independent 3-D. We’ll finally have some decent augmented reality glasses.

And what won’t happen? We won’t be uploading the human mind to a machine by 2020, a la Ray Kurzweil. We won’t be cruising the streets in self-driving vehicles, and while robots may be rolling around on the moon, we won’t be mining minerals from extraterrestrial sources.

So what will the world look like in 2020? With Liebhold riding shotgun, we took a quick spin through 2020 to see what the future might hold. Click through the gallery to see some of the bolder 2020 forecasts we’ve seen–and why some of them don’t stand a chance.

IBM Blue Gene