To predict the future you first have to understand the present, and in particular the technology that we currently use.
We already use cellphones, the internet and cars. Electronic devices like mp3 players have been popular ever since the Napster Revolution. Blackberries and cellphone text messaging, portable fax machines, laptops, these things already exist.
Indeed, cellphone technology has reached a point where you can shoot a video, take photos, send text or voice messages, and of course just plain talk with good reception. So what can we possibly do with it that we haven't already done?
For starters, we can make it cheaper.
That's my prediction. Nothing complicated. Technically we've had the technology to make these kinds of cellphones 30 years ago, but there wasn't the market for them and they would have been quite large and bulky, and of course, expensive. The real changes in the last 30 years has been how we USE the technology we already have...
Lets look at fax machines and telephones: The technology has existed for a long time now, dating back to the Telegraph and Samuel Morse. How we've been using that technology and improving it has become our most recent wide-spread innovation: Internet Modems.
So what can we expect to happen to modems and the internet? Several things actually:
Thats the biggest problem with internet downloading right now. There are no legal alternatives that have the same "convenience". Its very convenient to just download a Napster-ish program and start downloading a movie that isn't even available on the big screen yet. Some people simply don't like watching a movie in a big noisy theatre, let alone paying $12 to $20 for a ticket. For a nominal fee (less than 50 cents/download) people could be downloading movies and watching it on their computers instead, and doing so legally.
The problems with internet downloading is mislabelling of files. If you download "King Kong" you could just as easily download the 1933 or 1978 versions instead of the 2005 version you wanted. Or you might be downloading a completely different movie. Another major problem is crappy copies. Legalized downloading would allow for high-quality copies and accurate labels on files.
Myself, I download tv shows that I missed on regular television. Or hard to find tv episodes from the 1980s that aren't even on television anymore. If I could find an "Allo Allo" boxed set of DVDs, I would surely buy it.
Most people would probably just set their VCR and tape the show when it came on. Except I don't own a VCR. I own two DVD players, but no VCR. Thats the next issue I want to bring up: VCRs are obsolete. Completely. Most companies don't even make tape versions of movies anymore. Even die-hard-tape-lovers like my parents have started to switch to DVD. VCRs may have been popular during the 1980s and 1990s, but the next two decades are going to filled with DVDs.
I would also predict that roughly around 2015 we might come up with a newer technology, but I doubt it will be a huge jump in technology. If anything the only thing that might replace DVDs is legalized movie downloading.
Lets stop and look at movie theatres too. In my opinion the "Big Box" movie theatre is no longer necessary. In comes the Movie Bong... Movie Bongs (called DVD Bongs in South Korea) use small private rooms, digital projectors and an impressive selection of new and old movies. You can watch what you want, when you want it, pause it to go the washroom, all with the privacy that you and your friend(s) could desire.
There are Movie Bongs in the United States and Canada already. You can also find them in South Korea, Japan and China. In Asia, Movie Bongs are more popular than normal movie theatres. They are extremely popular, especially for young people on dates because of the privacy.
So my prediction is that these "Private Movie Theatres" will replace traditional movie theatres. Why pay to sit in a crowd of people when you can watch the movie in privacy with just your friends? And Movie Bongs use a group rate: The cost of one person watching it is the same as a whole group.
One of the fun things about Movie Bongs is that sometimes the seating vibrates whenever there is a loud sound during the movie. You can turn the vibration off if you don't like it, but myself I stick it on full blast and then watch a loud, thumping movie like Spiderman II so that when Doc Oc thumps around on his mechanical arms the whole couch shakes. Oh yes, and the seating in a Movie Bong is more comfortable. You get leather couches with footrests.
The music industry meanwhile is going to get a run for its money. Why pay for music when it should be free? Think about it for a moment. Music is like poetry. It should flow boundless, its the nature of music to be free. Buying music is a relatively "new" idea.
Radio used to be the old standard for free music, but radio doesn't play everything, and it only plays music on its schedule, not yours. It only plays the sponsored/family-safe stuff. Although frankly Britney Spears is not "family-safe". She might as well be saying "Go Slut Go!" and telling young women to get pregnant, because its the "American thing to do"... I'll go back to this topic later...
The Napster Revolution created a new age for music and musicians. Now anyone can promote their music online and become popular by word-of-mouth, not big-budget-advertising. The name of the game is now in favour of the underdog, the person/people who don't have a producer, write their own lyrics and perform in their parents' garage. Musicians can become popular practically overnight online as the result of word-of-mouth.
Whats needed for musicians is more access to sound studios. Many colleges and universities have their own sound studios. So do some radio stations. Making access to sound studios cheaper and more flexible is the key to giving young musicians the ability to compete professionally.
The other advancement is that computer software for creating digital music has been improving over the years so that now a person doesn't even have to be a professional musician to come up with a very nice tune. All they need is a little bit of patience. Therefore we will be seeing a lot more musicians becoming popular without ever setting a foot inside a sound studio.
The same goes with computer animation. A bored teenager now has the ability to animate their own tv series of cartoons that has the same sophistication as "South Park".
Internet cartoons and flash movies if you're not familiar with them already are becoming very popular for a variety of reasons:
Imagine watching a cartoon that gives you the options of changing the outcome. What do YOU want to see the characters do? This already exists, and its popularity is growing. Ten years from now we won't be saying things like "Hey, did you see what Kramer did on Seinfeld last night?" but instead things like "Hey, did you check out what happens when you tell Kramer to hide the turkey in the ladies room?" After all, he could have hid it in the men's room instead... but the ladies room version is more funny.
If you ever read a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book, then you can imagine the same idea applied to television and cartoons.
The Kramer replica is another issue... we now have the technology to recreate digital actors, people who are either dead or alive, and place them movies they have never even heard of. Imagine the Future of 007... a digital Sean Connery making 007 movies, long after the real Sean Connery dies (hopefully not for some years). And furthermore the movie will have its options: You could switch the face/voice to Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan or even (ack!) George Lazenby. Heck, you could even have the option of deciding whether Sean Connery has chest hair or not.
I doubt we will be seeing any invisible cars anytime soon. But we might be seeing invisible T-shirts. Or not seeing them...
Smart clothing is currently being tested in Japan (and also for military). Tiny cameras on the clothing collect images of whats behind the person and then project the image onto a tiny flexible screen in front of the person. And the same thing for the reverse side.
The clothing is becoming popular with 'hip young Japanese teenagers', but its only a matter of time before such clothing is available in North America. The clothing will also likely have the ability to download images from the computer and project the images on to the screens. Thus you don't need to change your shirt to change your look. But you might want to dry clean it regularly.
The clothing of teenagers is also guaranteed to become more racy. Canada legalized toplessness years ago, and the benefits are only starting to be seen in the Toronto fashion scene. Shirts that don't cover your nipples all the time, see-thru or flesh-coloured bras or even more daring clothing that is showing off even more skin.
Why wear a mini-skirt when you could wear a loin cloth? Its certainly warm enough outside thanks to global warming.
Of course, older people will shake their heads and say "Have you no shame?" but thats the point. Why should people be ashamed of their bodies? Why should women be ashamed?
Meanwhile the automotive industry is buckling under the economic pressure of high gasoline prices. Ford, Chrysler and GMC are closing automotive plants and reinvesting their money in technology to create hydrogen-fuel cell cars. Its a drastic shift for the Big Three as they push themselves away from costly gasoline and move towards the much cheaper energy source of hydrogen.
Hydrogen-fuel cell cars are already on the market, but are more expensive and are difficult to re-fuel. The Canadian and American governments are slowing phasing in the technology needed to refuel hydrogen cars, promising to have a network of fuel stations across North America by 2008.
So after 2008 we will start to see the major changes.
The biggest problem with switching to hydrogen is going to be convincing people that gasoline is too expensive. There are going to be die-hards who refuse to switch, but eventually the economics of it will catch up even the most stubborn people. Unless they're rich, people won't really have a choice but to switch.
The resulting switch to hydrogen is going cause two problems: A stronger demand for water and electricity. The United States is already suffering under an energy crisis and a water shortage. This water shortage is only going to get worse as more and more of the United States turns into desert (damn global warming!). The shortage of electricity is going to spark much higher prices of electricity.
In fact its going to get to the point where many people will be tempted to build a windmill or put solarpanels on the roof.
Thankfully Japan has been mass manufacturing solar-panels for several years now. 90% of all solar panels created are now built in Japan, and the prices have dropped considerably.
Right now the market in North America emphasizes solar panels for cottages, log cabins and sailboats. They're deliberately marketing to yuppies. The cost of outfitting your log cabin with four small solar panels is roughly $500 (four is the required number needed to run a small microwave or charge a laptop). Clean, renewable energy and a rechargable 3-day or 1-week battery for extra energy.
Its only a matter of time before solar panels are widely used on residential house, factories and commercial buildings. Thus larger solar panels, cheaper industrial ones that are mass produced will end up being installed on rooftops across North America. It may cost as much $2000 to outfit a house, but when your regular electricity bill is $200/month, the solar panels will repay themselves in less than 2 years.
"E-Sharing" will be a new catch-word for electricity. No, I'm not talking computers and email here... I'm talking about sharing electricity. This is a program that is already available in parts of Canada. Wind/Solar farms use them to sell electricity into electrical grid and is paid a fee based upon per kilowatt. Some residential houses with solar panels also use them. When the family leaves, the solar panels keep working and pump extra electricity into the grid. When the family is home the electricity is used for lights/etc.
Water is going to be the biggest hurdle, especially for countries like the United States which is going to suffer horribly under global warming. Extreme weather, hurricanes are going ravage the coastal areas, dust storms and tornados in the mid-west and winters that are either super-harsh or very mild.
I fully expect the price of bottled water to double by 2020, along with the prices of soft-drinks. But thats not the real scary thing, towns and cities in the mid-west will become "ghost towns" because they will simply run out of water. Transporting water is not a solution, its just a bandaid.
Thus people will have no choice but to move to areas where there is larger supply of fresh water. Coastal areas with rivers, Canada (which is also warming up due to global warming) and even Russia (which has lots of fresh water) will become desirable places to live.
The water concern is a health concern. But there are other health concerns we need to discuss, starting with food/drinks.
Especially synthetic food. Synthetic food already exists. Coca-Cola and a variety of common foods are already available. Many of them are ones you won't realize are synthetically made. The reasoning behind this is that its cheaper than paying farmers for growing food. A chemically mixed together product, store bought, warmed in the microwave and voila: Your pizza, containing no actual meat, cheese or vegetable products. Pure chemicals processed in such a way to fool your tastebuds, because it tastes good, contains nutrients and fibre, but otherwise is completely synthetic.
The problem to me is just how safe is this food to eat? The United States has been eating chemically-processed foods ever since McDonalds first came on the market. Since then fast-food and junk-food have become major parts of the American diet...
And where has it gotten us? An obesity rate that has skyrocketed. 73% of adult Americans are now obese and 36% are obese. Even 56% teenagers are overweight and 24% are obese. Americans have become FAT, FAT, FAT!
So where will we be in 2020?
We'll be even fatter. I fully expect the obesity levels to rise as America wastes more money filling their bellies with fattening food. There will be more radical diets, surgery, liposuction, new ways to get rid of the fat...
Anything BUT exercising or eating properly. Just sheer typical American laziness.
Of course, laziness is also the model of invention. If we can invent a lazy way to lose fat, it will likely be an American who invents it.
Want a cheap way to lose fat? Its called exercise. Only problem is that involves work.
And no sex doesn't actually burn that much calories. People who are lazy in life are usually quite lazy in bed too. So they're not burning very much calories that way.
And speaking of sex, we have three major issues to discuss: Pregnancy, periods, and AIDS.
The New Pill is out and periods may be a thing of the past. Women now have the option of simply going without their period. No more worrying about pregnancy or that one week of the month when your body goes into overdrive. Periods will simply not happen. A women's period is caused by hormonal changes. All the pill does is prevent the hormones from being released. No hormones, no period and no pregnancy.
So slutting around like Britney Spears will be "fine and dandy" with the new pill. People will frown at the slut's antics. The only real danger is whether she sleeps with someone with AIDS.
The long term effects of the New Pill have yet to be tested, but doctors and feminists are enthusiastic that it may lead to a new age of women's liberation.
Of course, the pill doesn't stop sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS. The disease is currently ravaging southern Africa, India, Russia, China and various parts of the world where condoms are not used (usually due to religious reasons).
I predict three possible outcomes.
You can see the differences between countries that use condoms and those that don't. In the United States where condoms are socially accepted and regularly used, the AIDS rate is only 0.6% and only 1 million people in the USA have HIV/AIDS. In a country like Zimbabwe however (where condoms are forbidden by the local religions) the AIDs rate is 26% and there is 2 million people who have HIV/AIDS.
Some countries are worse than others. 40% of Swaziland and Botswana's adult population has HIV. 24% in South Africa and 30% in Lesotho. Thats just the adult population. Many children have since been born with HIV and will not live to see adulthood.
The current situation of merely treating the sick with anti-viral medicine is just a band-aid. It doesn't actually fix the problem of HIV spreading. The population of the WORLD needs to be educated in order to prevent HIV from spreading across borders and becoming rampant. People need to understand that sex without a condom is just as deadly as sticking a loaded gun in your mouth and playing Russian Roulette.
The true losers in that situation is the religious groups, preying upon the helpless victims, spreading their lies about condoms/safe sex. Abstinence does not work. Its a proven fact, people are going to have sex whether the church likes it or not.
Atheism is proving to be the fastest growing belief system in Africa, and I would predict that atheism is going to become an important belief in the future. As the world continues to globalize, with many religions and cultures mixing together, its no surprise that atheism is already the fasting growing belief system.
In the United States 10% of Americans are atheist. This figure has been growing slowly during the last century, but it has seen its sharpest increases during periods of heavy immigration. The influx of different religions into North America is feeding the rate at which children grow up and become atheists.
The United States has three major belief systems: Protestant (52%), Roman Catholic (24%), and Atheist (10%) The remainder is Mormon (2%), 1% Jewish, 1% Muslim and 10% other.
World-wide we see some drastically different statistics: 19.9% Muslim, 17.3% Roman Catholic, 14.8% Atheist, 13.3% Hindu, 5.9% Buddhist, 5.8% Protestant, 0.4% Sihk, 0.2% Jewish, and 12.4% other. If you add Protestants and Catholics together, Christianity is the world's largest religion... but with one key difference: Protestants use condoms, whereas Catholics believe they're a sin.
My prediction is that we will see an increase in the following beliefs: Buddhist, Hindu and Atheism. I also predict the "other" category to grow as smaller religions get more global recognition.
I also predict that we will be seeing a growth in religious cults, like Scientology and Rosicrucianism. I can guarantee that may even turn violent.
If there's one constant in our world, its that religions eventually lead to wars.
Especially as our world borders on overpopulation. At the current growth rate (the world's population currently grows 6% every 5 years), the population of the world will reach 7.68 billion by 2020. What will result?
Food shortages, water shortages, religious wars... its only a matter of time before we are fighting over food.
But thats not going to happen between now and 2020. Food will become more expensive, but I don't expect us to be outright fighting over quality farming land.
But I do predict the cost of meat will go up, especially beef. Of all the meat products, beef is the most wasteful when it comes to land usage. Therefore its only natural that as land becomes more scarce the cost of beef will go up. We simply don't have the technology to make a synthetic steak. Its not going to happen. (But I do question just how much of a McDonalds hamburger is actually beef. The amount of chemicals added to the patty may actually outweigh the beef.)
Housing issues, water quality, brown outs, expensive electricity these are all issues that will need to be addressed as the world's population. The amazing thing is that the places in the world that suffer the most from overpopulation are also those places that don't have access to birth control pills and condoms. Strange how those two inventions may actually be far more important than mp3 players or automobiles.
How we use that technology between now and 2020 is the question.