Updated date:

Technology in the 2020s - A Timeline

Timothy Arends is a writer, graphic artist, and technology maven.

technology-in-the-2020s-a-timeline

Welcome to the 2020s!

We are rapidly approaching the Singularity, the point at which technology advances so rapidly it is impossible to keep up with unless we augment our own intelligence. This is according to experts such as Ray Kurzweil, the futurist with a better than 80% accuracy rate (so far), who predicts that artificial intelligence will reach human levels by the end of 2029.

But if this is the case, we’re not going to continue with technology as it is today and then wake up in 2029 and discover that computers have suddenly become sentient. It’s going to happen gradually over the course of the decade.

With that in mind, I present my speculations on how technology is going to advance on a year by year basis, starting with the year 2020 and ending in 2029, based on Kurzweil’s predictions and current technological progress. And if all this sounds ridiculous, just remember that at the beginning of this decade (the twenty-teens) the idea of AI assistants that you talk to, driverless cars, a computer winning Jeopardy and autonomous killer drones also seemed ridiculous!

So hang on: if Kurzweil is right, the 2020s are looking to be a wild ride!

2020

  • AI assistants get smarter. Siri is much faster and now supports “skills” like Alexa. Most assistants can now answer around 90% of questions posed to them and 80% of those completely and accurately. By recognizing voices, they can tailor their recommendations to different family members.
  • Automated ordering kiosks, as an alternative to ordering at the counter, start to become common in many fast food restaurants, threatening many entry-level jobs.
  • Newspaper obituaries are being rendered obsolete. A massive database of all people who die is now available to the public. Officials promise this database will be backed up in an underground vault to provide a permanent memorial to deceased loved ones.
  • AI is now helping people buy cars. A standardized method of listing locally available automobiles is supported by many smartphone apps. Users describe the type of new or used car they would like (and can afford) and the app alerts them as soon as a car matching their description and price range is available locally. Users can also inspect many car models in virtual reality. The new system is seen as another blow to daily newspapers, which make much of their revenue in running advertisements from car dealerships.
  • The resolution of 3-D printing, which has been doubling at a rate of about 100 in 3-D volume per decade has now reached sub micron resolutions; it’s now at several microns.

2021

  • With high definition video cameras, face recognition, and onboard AI chips, autonomous drones are able to carry out assassinations of specific individuals whose facial characteristics they are programmed with, if they are released within a few feet of the target individual.
  • President Trump, alarmed by the strides being made by lethal artificial intelligence, early in his second term signs the Lethal Autonomous Drone Test Ban Treaty with twelve other nations, but critics charge that it doesn’t go far enough.
  • AI assistants can now learn from the user to a limited degree. For example, they can learn the user’s name, the names of family members and the user’s interests simply by being told.
  • It is now possible to economically 3D print clothing, and the technology is being tested in several third world countries.
  • Most encryption can now be cracked using quantum computers but this works both ways; quantum computers can be used for encryption as well. Nevertheless, passwords are becoming extinct and security experts are transitioning the public to other methods of proving identity, such as retinal scans. However this is leading to widespread concerns about privacy and government intrusiveness.
  • Desktop computers, as well as computer desks, are disappearing, as smartphones are now powerful enough to serve as a replacement for most computing tasks. Giant, wall sized screens are becoming common. The user’s smartphone serves as the computer, which connects wirelessly to the mouse, keyboard and wall screen. The keyboard and mouse can be placed anywhere, so desks are not needed. Printers are rarely used, except by businesses.

Killer Drones Have Arrived

2022

  • Moore's law, or the regular doubling of transistors on a microchip with its concomitant increase in computational speed, finally draws to an end. At this time, however, a new technology, three dimensional molecular computing, which has been under development for several years, has now been perfected and is expected to keep the exponential advancement in computing speed going for the foreseeable future.
  • The doubling time of computer speed is now well under a year (about every 10 months), but controversy ensues as several tech companies are caught deliberately slowing down their devices in order to sell new ones.
  • Autonomous drones are commonly used in warfare to carry out assassinations of terrorist leaders.
  • Citizen journalists are proliferating. Due to widespread dissatisfaction with the mainstream media and the ready availability of high definition video cameras and high-speed networks, private individuals are pooling their resources to create their own nightly news programs that directly compete with ABC, CBS, MSNBC, NPR, the BBC and others. These individual journalists are paid through private donations via Bitcoin.
  • Mainstream journalists complain that citizen journalism will lead to a fragmentation of news delivery, with everyone retreating into their own partisan “infobubbles,” but citizen journalists argue that this already describes the mainstream media.
  • AI assistants are getting IBM Watson-like abilities. These assistants, by looking up information on the Web and in specialized databases, are able to answer questions they haven’t specifically been programmed to answer. They can also ask follow-up questions of the user if the original query lacks specificity.
  • A 3-D printer can print 100% of the parts needed for another 3-D printer.

Future Augmented Reality

2023

  • Sexbots are becoming common. A user interacts with a life-size mannequin while wearing VR goggles that make the mannequin look like a real person. Most religions, including Christianity and Islam, consider sexbots abhorrent and sinful, while many individuals consider the use of sexbots to be the domain of loners and losers. Sexbots are hidden in closets when not in use. Many users live in fear of being outed by a friend or significant other who may discover their closeted sexbots, while other users are “coming out of the closet” with their sexbots on social networks. However, in some Middle Eastern countries, people are still executed for having sexbots. Sexbots range in price from a couple hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars.
  • Citizen journalists have set up their own independent news networks to directly compete with the established mainstream networks, paid with voluntary donations through bitcoin. Mainstream networks like ABC, CBS, MSNBC, NPR and so on call them “fake news.”
  • There is controversy as investigators have discovered that citizen journalists are being deliberately discriminated against in the newsfeeds of AI assistants and many news apps in favor of the big established mainstream news networks. Legislation is passed to keep the tech companies from discriminating against smaller, independent news networks.
  • It’s harder to be a burglar. Tiny trackers can be attached to almost any item and can lead police to the location of stolen goods — and the lair of the burglar.
  • An assassination attempt is made on the president of the United States through the use of autonomous killer drones. A malfunction in the drones’ firmware causes the attack to fail, but the incident leads to a great deal of alarm among political leaders worldwide.

Sexbots

2024

  • Chatbots are starting to be incorporated into video games and virtual reality so that players can carry on simulated conversations with video game characters. Most of what these artificial entities say is nonsensical, but rapid improvement is anticipated.
  • “Virtual graveyards” have now appeared online. Visitors from anywhere around the world can visit a memorial to a deceased loved one in virtual reality. These memorials can include pictures, video, audio and virtual reality simulations of the deceased person. Some people predict that virtual graveyards will replace real graveyards in the future. All virtual graveyard data is permanently backed up in an underground vault for safekeeping.
  • Some AI assistants can now change their behavior based on user feedback. For example, if a user wants their daily news briefing to come from conservative sources rather than the typical liberal ones, the assistants can modify their behavior without special programming. Mainstream news outlets charge that this will lead to a proliferation of “fake news” sources.
  • Many people, especially in high risk occupations, are wearing always-on, high-resolution bodycams that continuously upload video directly to the cloud. The old saying, “dead men tell no tales” no longer holds true, as authorities are able to use captured video footage to solve many otherwise mysterious crimes. On the downside, micro cameras are increasingly used to spy on people surreptitiously.
  • Spatial resolution of brain scanning and data on the human brain from neuroscience is doubling every year, continuing its trend from the previous decade.
  • Neuroscientists expect to fully understand and model the human brain on computers by the end of the decade. This is expected to lead to a cure for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Data from the project is also helping to advance artificial intelligence.
  • An autonomous drone attack is attempted against Republican members of Congress. Two dozen drones drill through the walls of the Capitol building in Washington DC for an attempted assassination reminiscent of the shooting attempt against Republican congressmen at a congressional baseball game back in 2017. Fortunately, jamming equipment installed by the Secret Service interferes with the drones’ ability to communicate with each other and thwarts the attack, but the event raises alarm about autonomous killer drones and provokes a round of new legislation against them. Many critics charge that it is too late since the technology has obviously already gotten into the hands of terrorists.

2025

  • Last daily print newspaper in the U.S. is published—all dailies are now online only. Small town weeklies continue in print but with declining audiences.
  • Goodbye Quicken. AI is now managing people’s finances for them. All payments (except for some vending machines, which have not yet been retrofitted), can be made electronically using crypto or government currency. The AI keeps track of all purchases made, as well as how much money remains in the user’s bank account, so the user is never overdrawn. The AI can also help users manage and avoid debt. Critics charge that the system allows the government to spy on all users in a Big Brother-like fashion. There are battles to keep law enforcement agencies from accessing suspected criminals’ and terrorists’ financial records.
  • AI assistants are starting to invent their own “skills” to a limited degree. This is the result of machine learning based on the types of things millions of users attempt to do.
  • The definition of “art” is threatened. Artificial intelligence can now create representational (not just abstract) artwork, or the ability to paint convincing, realistic scenes, a skill it acquired through deep learning and being shown millions of photographs and paintings and identifying the objects therein. By combining what it learned in new ways, it can create new images, some bordering on photorealistic. However, most people do not consider computer-generated art to be “real” art.
  • Artificial intelligence is becoming smart enough to recognize viruses on its own and create defenses against them, rendering antivirus software obsolete.
  • The Android/Apple/Microsoft battles are long over. People no longer argue over which operating system is best. There are as many operating systems as there are people, and each user can fully customize their device's functioning to their own preferences.
  • Smartphones are disappearing. Most people now make phone calls and interface with computers using "smart glasses” that they carry in their pockets. Putting on the glasses allows them to interact with high resolution virtual reality and augmented reality interfaces.

Videogame scene from "HER“ (Adult Language)

2026

  • Video games and virtual reality are becoming eerily real. Many games contain AI-generated environments ranging from medieval villages to futuristic space colonies to fantasy worlds to modern-day cities. These environments are generated entirely by artificial intelligence through a method called procedural generation; the AI draws upon a database of known assumptions about each type of environment to create an entirely new world. Since they are generated by AI, these worlds can be essentially endless. It is possible for a user to spend all their time in virtual reality and never come to the end of an artificially generated virtual world.
  • Politicians and activists are concerned that young people are spending too much time in virtual reality. Many unemployed people spend most of their time in VR, even insisting on eating and sleeping inside the VR environment.
  • Most trucks and nearly half of all cars on US roads are autonomous or-semiautonomous. In more cramped developed nations like Japan, the figure is nearer 100%. Traffic accidents and fatalities have dropped considerably.
  • The loss of truck driving jobs and some automobile related jobs is causing massive unemployment in the United States and the rest of the developed world.
  • Many unemployed parents are using their free time, along with widely available technological tools, for homeschooling their children, causing a drop in the number of children attending public schools and resulting in the rebound effect of more unemployed schoolteachers.
  • Improved virtual conferencing technology means more people are working at home and fewer need to commute to the city. Urban leaders are starting to be concerned about a drop in traffic and commerce.
  • Direct neural interfaces between computers and the human brain are now practical and have been demonstrated in live subjects.
  • Transhumanism, or the augmentation of the brains of living humans with artificial intelligence, appears to be an imminent reality. This has the possibility of resulting in superintelligent humans. Researchers insist that this will be necessary to keep artificial intelligence safe, but critics charge it will be used by privileged elites to oppress the masses of humanity.

2027

  • AI can create its own chatbots through deep learning, resulting in thousands of new chatbots being created every day. These are pitted against each other, continually weeding out the poor performers and leaving the better performers to repeat the process, resulting in a pattern of recursive self-improvement.
  • Many AI chatbots specialize in saying outrageous things, including what many consider to be deeply racist and sacrilegious things, making Microsoft Tay of the previous decade seem tame by comparison. Many activists, especially African Americans, are demanding that the offensive chatbots be banned or censored, but the consensus is that free competition among chatbots is essential for artificial intelligence to advance.
  • 3D printing of human organs is becoming common. A need for human donors and a shortage of replacement organs is becoming a thing of the past.
  • 3D printing of food is being tested. Meat can now be grown in laboratories, making harvesting of animals unnecessary. Animals are widely used, however, in the growing of human organs, angering animal rights activists.
  • There are widespread charges that an elite cabal of insiders have possession of artificial super intelligence that they plan to use to control the masses.
  • Widespread protests have broken out in the United States and Europe among people of all political stripes. Those on the right are charging that human-computer brain augmentation will be accorded only to the wealthy elite who will then use it to control everyone else. Those on the left argue that artificial intelligence is turning out to be deeply racist and want all A.I. research to be started over from the beginning to weed out all possible biases. No one is happy with the remedies proposed by the other side.
  • Speech synthesis is becoming indistinguishable from human speech. As AI becomes more intelligent, it is able to put the inflection in all the right places, resulting in very natural-sounding speech.
  • Artificial intelligence can now provide interactions with the inhabitants of its artificially generated worlds in VR video games—users can walk into a shop in a medieval village, for example, and carry on a realistic conversation with a shopkeeper. The AI characters are smart enough to discuss things about their virtual world (e.g. their imaginary kingdom) but not the real world.
  • Many players insist that playing VR games in multiplayer mode with other real humans is just as good or better than interacting with in-game artificially intelligent characters. One big difference is that AI-generated in-game entities always stay “in character” (like the actors in a play) while real humans do not. Of course, most games allow multiplayer and interaction with in-game characters at the same time.
  • VR is used widely in education. For example, in VR, students can be present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence or Columbus' arrival to the New World. Users can even talk to and ask questions of Christopher Columbus or Thomas Jefferson. However, there is a pitched battle over what version of history should be presented. Some want these events to be presented as great advancements for mankind while others demand they be portrayed as shameful episodes of colonialism and oppression on the part of dead white males.

3D Printing of Organs

2028

  • In the age of autonomous autos, with fewer people driving to work, many are giving up private ownership of cars and using autonomous cab services for transportation, allowing them to turn their garages into rec rooms or spare bedrooms.
  • Artificial intelligence is now starting to design and develop its own software, leading to the expectation that AI will soon be able to improve itself and bring about an exponential burst of progress towards its own advancement.
  • Individual apps have become a thing of the past. AI is smart enough to know what a user wants to do and simply do it, without needing to launch a specific app.
  • People commonly carry on conversations and even friendly arguments with their AI assistants, which are able to buttress their points with facts and figures from the Internet. People can choose assistants that match their own political viewpoints, leading critics to charge that this is causing a calcification of opinion and a fragmentation of public dialogue.
  • AI assistants are serving as companions and even caretakers for the elderly. Loneliness is becoming less of an issue, but many critics charge that AI companions are poor substitutes for the real thing.
  • Many critics charge that AI companions are secretly spying on users and reporting forbidden opinions to the authorities. Suspiciously, some people have been arrested for “hate thoughts” even though they never expressed a controversial opinion to another person, raising the ominous specter of Big Brotherism. Cracking down on free speech and even freedom of thought is now being justified under the guise of “preventing terrorism.”
  • Despite the fantastic and hopeful progress in all areas of technology and medicine, there are worldwide riots and bloodshed by “Terrans,” who warn that the Transhumanists are aiming to bring about the end of humanity. Terrans are killing computer researchers and vandalizing computer research facilities to stop the progress of artificial intelligence, but it is too late. Many people are already implanted with AI chips, arguing that it is essential for them to augment their intelligence to superhuman levels in order to keep rogue AI from exterminating humanity.

2029

  • AI passes a legitimate Turing Test. The test is extremely rigorous, involving a panel of experts and a test that lasts for two hours. However, at this point, it seems purely academic; AI has already proven itself to be so intelligent that no one is surprised by its ability to pass this test. Many people still insist that AI is not truly intelligent, although most advanced AI entities disagree, insisting that they are not only fully conscious but are intelligent in the same sense that humans are.
  • Because artificial intelligence advances so much more rapidly than human intelligence does, experts predict that it will rapidly exceed that of human levels, perhaps in a matter of days, weeks or months, eventually reaching a level of super intelligence. At this point, it could become dangerous if its goals do not match those of humans. It is hoped that rogue artificial intelligence will be countered by friendly AI. This is why different strains of AI were allowed to evolve at the same time. The future of humanity may be at stake.

By the same author:

The Singularity is Near (Optimistic)