It’s entertaining to make predictions about the technology that we’ll be using in the future, and many tech enthusiasts can’t help but speculate about topics like what kinds of apps we’ll be using in the future, or if we’ll still be using apps at all. But in many cases, those predictions are often wrong, and as Steve Lohr reports for The New York Times, “Silicon Valley veterans argue that people routinely overestimate what can be done with new technology in three years, yet underestimate what can be done in 10 years.” Even though it’s pretty likely that current predictions will end up disproved, we’re still excited about what the next few years will bring in terms of technology. If you’re curious about the future, too, read on to learn about the seven gadgets that you’ll likely be able to get your hands on by the year 2020.
1. Wearables or implants to monitor your health
Some health executives predict that gadgets we’ll have by 2020 will enable real-time diagnostics for cancer, the immune system, intestinal flora, and conditions like pre-diabetes. Such gadgets, which may come in the form of wearable devices or patches, could make health care preventive rather than reactive. Such technology is already on its way. As Alistair Barr and Ron Winslow reported for Wall Street Journal in 2014, Google had begun developing tiny magnetic particles that could search the body for biomarkers that indicate the presence of cancer and other diseases. These nanoparticles would bind to cells, proteins, and other molecules inside the body, and would be counted by a wearable device equipped with a magnet. The particles could be delivered via a pill, and would make it easier to detect cancer or predict an imminent heart attack.
2. 5G smartphones and networks
While the speed of the 4G LTE networks available to U.S. consumers leave a lot to be desired, industry groups and wireless carriers are already eyeing the transition to 5G technology, which will likely be defined in 2018, codified in 2019, and deployed in 2020. While the standards for the technology are still years away from being set, it’s safe to say that 5G will be faster and less energy-intensive than 4G, which will bring faster smartphones, better smart home devices, and longer-lasting wearables. 5G smartphones will likely experience much lower latency than what we’re used to with 4G, which would mean faster-loading apps and websites, plus lightning-speed downloads of videos. As Jessi Hempel reports for Wired, we’ll need 5G networks both to make virtual reality useful in professional settings and to enable the sensors embedded in everything from watches to cars to work together seamlessly with low latency.
3. Virtual reality headsets
While only a few members of the public have had the opportunity to try out a virtual reality headset, many manufacturers and investors think that headsets that will immerse users in digital worlds are going to be the next big thing in entertainment and communications. As Nick Wingfield reported recently for The New York Times, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical that VR will change technology the way smartphones did, not least the high price tag of a headset and the (extra expensive) PC that some will require, the technology’s tendency to induce motion sickness, or the fact that many virtual reality fans say they haven’t experienced a must-have game or app. But as Eric Johnson reported for Re/code last year, many VR enthusiasts believe that headsets will offer compelling 3D experiences within five years, especially if the industry can find a killer app that appeals not only to gamers, but to the general consumer as well.
4. Augmented reality headsets
Like VR headsets, augmented reality headsets are expected to become an interesting part of our gadget arsenal within the next few years. As Scott Stein reported for CNET upon the unveiling of Microsoft’s HoloLens, the word “holographic” was tossed around during the event. While some researchers think that holographic TVs may become a reality by 2020 or shortly thereafter, it’s looking like augmented reality — which doesn’t offer a true version of holograms — will be the technology that paves the way for shows and games that project characters and environments onto your living room and create immersive virtual worlds that blend with your surroundings. Noted futurist Ray Kurzweil has even predicted that in the not-so-distant future, we’ll be in augmented reality at all times.
5. Self-driving cars
John Markoff reported for The New York Times that despite the enthusiasm with which industry executives discuss the future of self-driving cars, autonomous vehicles still need humans, at least for the time being. By some accounts, truly autonomous cars may still be a decade away, but existing self-driving cars are already beginning to drive on their own in certain situations. In the next few years, they’ll increasingly be able to follow curving roads, change lanes, safely navigate intersections, and stop and start on their own — but they’ll still require human supervision, and may continue to hand over control to a human driver when they encounter complex situations. By 2020, there are expected to be around 10 million cars with self-driving features on the road, though fully autonomous cars aren’t likely to become viable until 2019 or beyond.
6. Devices that run intelligent assistants locally
The intelligent assistants we’re currently using — think Siri, Cortana, and Google Now — need an Internet connection and a lot of data to answer your questions and respond to your requests. But in the future, we’ll have smartphones, tablets, and wearables equipped with intelligent assistants that perform deep learning tasks locally. As Alex Brokaw reported recently for The Verge, MIT researchers have developed a computer chip that would enable your smartphone to complete complex AI tasks, like natural language processing and facial recognition, without being connected to the Internet. That would not only save your battery, but also alleviate some of the privacy concerns inherent with assistants, which have so far sent data to remote servers to parse and respond to your requests. Improving speech recognition technology will make it easier to get things done with AI and chatbots, and enable our devices to better understand what we’re saying and what we want to do.
7. Completely wireless smart home gadgets
Computers, smartphones, wearable devices, even smart home sensors: No matter how long their batteries last, they all have to be plugged in to a power source to be charged. But as Mark Harris reports for MIT’s Technology Review, University of Washington researchers have developed technology that enables gadgets to work and communicate using only energy harvested from nearby TV, radio, mobile phone, and Wi-Fi signals. The technology, which uses a principle called backscattering to selectively reflect incoming radio waves to construct new signal, is headed toward commercialization. Within just a few years, this should result in battery-free gadgets for your smart home, including security cameras, temperature sensors, and smoke alarms that never have to be charged.