A Day in 2020

What will the world look like in the year 2020? Will we have flying car? Rolling planes? Swimming buses?

Are we optimistic or pessimistic? Realistic?

Let’s go back to 2005. The dark ages, before the iPhone and iPad and Android. Before GNOME 3. Gmail was a year old. Facebook still largely unknown (they dropped ‘the’ from their domain, and opened to high school students that year). Myspace was kicking it old school. Not a peep from Twitter yet. Bing not found. Sun Microsystems still existed. The cloud was only starting to gather.

Now today. With Android riding large, Google still strong, Microsoft still Microsoft, Apple still Apple (but with the iPhone and iPad now), what’s changed? Facebook is seen already to be weakening. The question on the whiskeyed lips of the investment community this New Years is whether they were lucky or smart. Will they survive? The same goes for just about everyone but Google at this point.

Microsoft is in a slow, long decline. Will they recover, reinvent? Become another IBM (still there, still strong, but not flashy, not consumer-oriented)? Will everyone be using Windows Phones in 2020? Will we still call them phones, smartphones?

Apple has maybe-maybe-not lost its mojo in the form of one Jobs-comma-Steve. What new market will they invent next? Will they replace the diamonds on the fingers with smart rings?

Google has thus-far shown a propensity for prediction. They’ve understood the mobile market and gotten Android out there in a way that Apple never would or could. They’ve blundered on social networks, but mainly because of the fickleness of that audience; if they were smart they would back a federated alternative, which preserves their fundamental business model, yet they’ve shown their hubris and tried to foist Google Plus upon the world.

Facebook, for its part, is still a strong platform. But they have yet to show anything to prevent them from becoming another Myspace. Going public doesn’t prevent that, but it may be enough to postpone it.

Twitter just keeps on going, but with no apparent direction. Will they become another Yahoo!? A strong company, but with no deep current, they are relegated to float atop the tides of change, with not even their leadership knowing where they will go next.

Now 2020. You wake up to birdsong, greeted by a friendly botservant to fix you breakfast. It has a death star, or a small letter G or lowercase f, or a tilted symbol looking a lot like a Nordic flag, or a purple Y!, shining on its forehead and breast. It has a spiral of crayon running up its ankle to its knee, your daughter is going to be an artist, it will tell you later that night when you get around to washing it off.

Now 2020. You wake up to an annoying electronic beep, greeted by a plastic block with blinkenlights saying you have 15 new mails, five missed calls/voice messages. You walk down the stairs (your daughter’s crayon art spirals the handrail this time) to make breakfast. You drop your phone into a cradle, and it reads out your mail while your coffee percolates.

Now 2020. Now 2020…

I don’t know. The fact is that the future is a complex equation. Market forces, human ignorance and biases, politicians that won’t serve the people. Lawyers. Managers and niche markets. Lofty ambitions, fortunes to be made.

It seems likely that we will not have botservants. It seems likely that phones will have become pure mobile devices, meant to be used not merely as glorified mobile phones, but as computing devices in their own right.

Will television become Internet vision? Likely. Will you read eBooks? Likely.

The pace of progress is being slowed, but there will come a time that it bursts through like water overpowering a dam. That may not be by 2020. But there is too much data, too much computing power, for it to be held forever.