Technology could be a panacea or it might disappoint most of us in the next decade. COVID-19 is only one influence, but may already set the boundaries of what’s possible to achieve. But we have human choices to make about what society we want to foster in 2030. Will it be one of these scenarios or a combination of them?
In Pandemic Aftermath (2020), out now, I chart five scenarios for the next decade: borderless world, nation state renewal, two worlds apart, Hobbesian chaos and status quo. A combination of these five scenarios will likely unfold in the next decade. To some extent, it is within human power to control which. In this post, I chart the consequences of the pandemic specifically for emerging technology. I’ll briefly explain each scenario in a sentence and then chart which technologies are likely to thrive under each.
Note that this post is a simplification. For the full scenarios as well as the analysis of how we might arrive there, read my 450-page book (learn more) where each scenario is a full chapter of 7000 words and is folded into a nonfiction preamble and summary. Also note that even though these scenarios are based on forecasting trends, they are pure fiction and neither of them is likely to pan out exactly as described.
Borderless world – technology and science heaven
In Borderless world, an expert-led world federal state where leaders are able to fully implement globalization and strategies to fix health systems. Yet, the cost is a synthetic world, where nature and the elderly, are both abandoned.
There had been an enormous progress in science and technology throughout the decade; for example, 3D printing was now commonplace; you could print any product right out of your home, if you could afford it. Bigger projects could be done in the local 3D factory based on your specification, if you could afford it. Working remotely was the norm, mostly because of the augmented reality platforms that were launched already in 2025. Truly amazing, really—some people said it was better than being present in the office. The most loved feature was the virtual backgrounds that now had evolved so you could look like you were wearing a suit even though you were in your pajamas. There had to be some benefit to this COVID-19 situation that had created so much misery. After all, it wasn’t like they had a choice. Nobody was allowed to commute anymore. After all those intermittent periods where the lockdowns were lifted only to be brought back there became no point.
The interest in science and technology has exploded. Every kid wants to be an innovator now, just like they all wanted to be astronauts in the 1960s as the first space age got underway. Now, of course, with everyone owning their own set of microsatellites, you can already explore space from your living room. Virtual Reality has become so good that there really is no need to travel to space either, at least not regularly.
Besides, most businesses couldn’t afford commercial real estate anymore. The big five consulting firms shared one office building in downtown New York, for example. Given social distancing, they could only fit 25% of pre-COVID-19 capacity. The new building codes were very strict: only five people per room, no matter the size of the room; thermal sensors at every door, registering even small temperature anomalies; separate entry and exit so you don’t run into people; touchless doors, elevators, screens, computers, everything was done to minimize contact. The HVAC systems were running on a hypercycle, exchanging all the building’s air every 10 minutes.
Vaccines were the first we started to improve, once we got our head above water after the initial onslaught of the pandemic. The first few vaccines didn’t work. Public health officials first told us they would have a vaccine in 18 months. The US President, at the time, told us less than a year, perhaps six months, perhaps sooner. Nobody told anybody who was sick or afraid of being sick that the average timeline to develop a vaccine is over 10 years, and that each vaccine attempt has a 6 percent chance of success.
So even if there were nearly 100 vaccines under development, most of them failed the first few years. But then we had a breakthrough, related to synthetic biology. We finally managed to sequence all known biological DNA in a near instant. All we need is a biological sample. That solved everything. At least if we can gather the samples. So we started sending out people to all corners of the world to collect biological samples. But now we have asked Elok Dusk and Jim Drayson to figure it out. They are working on an autonomous drone that can identify any DNA we don’t have and take a sample right away. They hope to have 100,000 drones in the air by next month. That should take care of the problem.
Now, we can develop vaccines in a few months. That really helps. The only problem is that people still must be willing to take the vaccine. Unbelievably, we still have the Anti-vaxxers. They are growing more numerous, and they have isolated themselves in the countryside. They refuse to enter our cities, because they say the cities are too clean, but in a false way. They prefer natural remedies. Those folks only live until they are 90, not until they are 120 like us. It’s deplorable. They will not know their great-grandchildren. But they seem to like it that way, so what can we do?
Nation state renewal – tech locomotives and platforms
In Nation state renewal, with enormous virus death tolls, borders close down and people stop traveling huge distances. This is the decade of intermittency, cycles of opening up society is followed by cycles of closing down, repeatedly and physical distancing is needed throughout the decade. China, Scandinavia, Singapore, Qatar and Germany thrive, whilst formerly “great” nations like US, UK, Russia, Brazil, and India struggle.
3D Printing is everywhere. You can now print anything you need for the house at home as long as it is less than 10 cubic feet, at which point you simply go to the corner store and pick it up or have it delivered. The pandemic sped up the production of anything that would help us enjoy being at home more. 3D printing is a killer application. It is 100 times more transformative than the cell phone and so much more useful.
I know we were about to implement 5G mobile broadband in 2020 as the pandemic hit. Now, the richer nation-states like the Scandinavian countries, Singapore, Qatar, and Germany, all have 8G with near-unlimited broadband. Just to give you a sense, I can download Hollywood’s entire catalog of films through the ages in a mere 5 minutes. What this does is it has made work-from-home work like a charm. Health care can also be received right in our home. They will even ship you a robotic surgical arm you can connect to a computer and it will perform simple surgeries with only an android nurse assisting.
Artificial intelligence just got approved for full autonomy, meaning we now trust it to make decisions on our behalf. That is to say, it’s only available for the top 1% so far. It costs the same as buying a car every month. Not all of us can afford the monthly subscription. AI is highly useful for most things.
Augmented reality is a hit, too. I don’t have to visit my grandmother anymore. She shows up as a hologram. That’s a big savings in airline tickets. Not that anybody flies anymore. It’s restricted and only available by permit. Politicians fly, of course, and corporate executives, but only one per row.
Autonomous driving is now fully put in place. It was needed to restart public transportation. We don’t have buses, commuter trains, or subways anymore. Well, we have them. We just don’t use them much. There is no maintenance of those kinds of facilities. Everything is personalized now. These drone taxis take you where you want to go—if you can afford it.
Blockchain is a game changer. It didn’t look like much in 2020 or even in 2025. The killer application was when countries put their national budgets and all trading on the blockchain in 2027. Oh, and I almost forgot, blockchain is used to do personal shopping as well; we have basically reintroduced a barter economy. I should probably explain, blockchain is this transparent ledger technology that enables everyone to see every transaction that has been made, sort of like opening up the books, you know, without revealing the identity of those who have traded. By increasing transparency, you drop the fraud to zero. We gained back 30% of the global economy, which was informal and black market.
CRISPR, the gene-editing method, has proven very useful in re-jiggering small children’s DNA so they won’t get COVID-19. What we do is manipulate the most common genetic defects related to breathing under stress. Kids are able to increase their lung capacity by 40%, which is sufficient to survive COVID-19 without the need of a ventilator in most cases. For the rest, there’s always the antibody cures, thanks to the top scientists in Europe and the US.
Cybersecurity, well that’s a big challenge. Given that the trust is not so big now between the nations, there are cyberattacks daily. Each country wants to know what the other is up to, particularly regarding technology. There is a lot of theft of state secrets. Contrary to what everyone thought, there is less rather than more collaboration than before the virus.
Precision medicine has evolved, in Germany in particular. Scientists there have personalized treatments for most major diseases. It is not available for free, though. This is private health insurance territory, a shocker for Germany, but after the EU issues (I haven’t gotten to those yet), it became too expensive.
Nanotechnology is only just starting for real. The first nanobots are now at work on construction sites. It’s funny but the first-use case for nanotech is in cleaning. Turns out these tiny machines we made can clean biological matter very efficiently. They essentially devour it. Fascinating to watch, we have these trackers that follow the nanomachines at all times. We have to. Imagine losing them somewhere. You never know what might happen. We cannot control the technology so well yet.
Quantum computing didn’t pan out. Turns out, the quantum simulators cannot do the job. The qubits seem impossible to stabilize. We can do some types of advanced computations, but the computers disintegrate afterward, and sometimes it’s dangerous, at least that’s what I’ve heard. We’ll look to the future for that one. Governments are mostly happy. After COVID-19, they were so behind that coming up with quantum proof cryptography was the least of their concerns. But I’ve heard the Chinese have a prototype. We’ll see.
Robotics is fun these days. The robots look nothing like we expected. Few of us have humanoid robots, or androids, I guess they were called a while back. Instead, they help us clean, carry stuff, and do the homework. They are also great at entertaining kids.
Smart fabrics, now that’s a story. We use them for two things, hygienic self-cleaning clothes and to cover up nature when we are outside. We have had to become really careful with being outside. There are always viruses lurking. It’s easy to become paranoid.
Synthetic biology is a true game changer. We’ve carefully regulated it so that it cannot change the germline of humans or any of the larger organisms in nature. However, printing synthetic medicine on demand is better than going to the pharmacy.
Virtual reality isn’t really there yet, but augmented reality is pretty good, as I pointed out earlier.
Two worlds apart – tech for the uber-elite, scarsity for the rest
In Two worlds apart, with a failed vaccine the top 0.1% of population separates from the 99.9% in entire new walled-off financial districts plus a set of islands purposefully constructed to avoid contagion, filled with the world’s most expensive real estate, governed by their own laws.
Futurists had hoped that technology would create a world without privilege or prejudice based on birth, race, economic power, military force, or any other external circumstance. They were right. The rest of us feel that way now. And we are making technologies, as best as we can, to help us do so.
3D printing is still expensive, but those who have it, and can afford to operate the printers and buy the expensive supplies for it, are helping others out. In some neighborhoods they share a printer. In others, volunteers bring them in and ask people to send them what they want printed. It’s a great help. It can be hard to get anything mailed to you these days. Logistics are at times difficult. Private consumption has come to a halt. Whatever gets delivered has a hefty 50% delivery fee. Most people cannot afford that. The upside is that the printers gradually improved.
In 2020, the desktop versions mostly printed plastic spoons. In 2025, even though the most advanced 3D printers went to Clean World, the ones left for us could even print most basic food items, at least dry foods like pasta and synthetic beans and the kind of food that would previously have been considered military rations. They taste quite good, too. Toward the end of the decade, by 2029, we are even printing metal, just like Clean World had done for the past decade. We don’t have access to any rare metals, but we can print aluminum. Besides, the plastics and carbon resins we are printing are very hardy. It works.
Back to technology, the mobile networks are lightning fast. The 5G they rolled out in 2020 dwarfs in comparison, although poorer neighborhoods don’t have the data capacity anymore. We had to reserve those for the business districts, after the tight restrictions our Clean World owners placed on unnecessary traffic.
Artificial intelligence has made some progress, although not as much as we would hope. The truly advanced AI is reserved for Clean World and the few labs they own scattered around Dirty World. What we mostly use it for is to estimate when we can expect the next virus lockdowns, area by area. Foresight is important. Planning ahead gives us a certain relief. At least we know what’s coming. The grocery store closures, stay-at-home orders, and social distancing laws of the first part of the decade were draconian, but most of all, horribly disruptive because we didn’t know they would arrive. Now, everyone can check the Covid-app on their phone and see what restrictions apply where they are going.
Augmented reality is extremely useful, too. The ability to really feel we are together with our friends even if we are apart or checking in with our family when we are on those rare business trips that require 2 week’s quarantine on both legs of the trip. Yeah, I’d say AR is a lifesaver. All desktop computers come with the system, holograms and everything. Basically, we can touch and feel people who are apart, connected by advanced sensors wired to our head, hands, and even to our legs.
The emotional sensors are truly powerful. Basically, based on a face expression, the system tells us what the person on the other end is feeling. I’ve been surprised sometimes. Guess I never was any good at reading other people. It has been defined as a critical infrastructure technology in our legislation. I really wish everyone on the planet could have access, though. We still haven’t solved basic access issues. But neighbors share with neighbors—it’s wonderful to see.
Autonomous driving has kicked in as well. What that means is that we have these computers assisting our driving, at least for taxis. They go slowly and in their own lanes on the road, but they’ll get you where you need to go without having to be exposed to another human being in the driver seat. Those taxis are so small. Social distancing is impossible. Before we figured out, in the first 3 years, about 90% of public transit personnel contracted COVID-19. That’s a lot of people. There was no way they could protect themselves.
Basically, whatever is left of commuter trains, buses, and subways are operated remotely. The subways are barely operational. Six feet of distance doesn’t work under ground. You have to wear masks at all times and special coats are recommended, but it’s cumbersome.
Blockchain is now how we run our banks, our governments, and our barter economy amongst ourselves. The ability to have a transparent account, what they call a public ledger, which is a bookkeeping term, has enabled us to see when somebody is trying to be corrupt (although we still cannot always catch them due to the lack of police resources) and become highly efficient. We needed that.
The economy never got back on track, but blockchain got us to 30% of 2020 levels after only 3 years in operation. Thanks to all the startups as well as banks and governments who pushed for it, we now have open markets again. The barter economy is alive and thriving, too. Bartering for goods is interesting. Everything is on the market, even a virtual hug in augmented reality. It costs the same as renting a movie, basically, and you can often get a two-for-one.
CRISPR, the gene-editing method that was on the scene already before 2020, has now gotten optimized for COVID-19 prevention. It’s reserved for kids, though, after they discovered kids with blood type A, which is 34% of kids, are 50% more susceptible to getting the disease. It was a defect on multiple genes, a complex disorder with spiraling mutations on genes IL-6 (a protein coding gene that induces cytokine in inflammations), TGFBI (a growth gene infected through the cornea) and MTHFR (an enzyme that plays a role in processing amino acids into the bloodstream).
CRISPR interventions resets all of that, but it costs a year’s average salary in the Western world and takes 3 months to kick in. In 2027, 100 kids got it, in 2028, 1,000 kids did, and, thankfully, by 2029 we were able to help 10% of kids in the Western world through a fundraising effort led by the world’s top musicians; most of those kids have blood type A.
Cybersecurity is a constant threat. Businesses report attacks 100 times a day. Small business has been hit the hardest, mostly because they cannot afford the top of the line software. It is estimated that 20% of small business is, to some degree, controlled by the black market by now, increasing manifold percent a year. If we don’t do anything, estimates are small business will be completely controlled by various mafias and cybercriminals, including global syndicates. We’re all in this fight together, though, so the remaining software engineers who are free riders, essentially all the 50+ engineers who cannot get approved for lab work in the Clean World, are all on it. I’m confident it will be solved.
Precision medicine is more than CRISPR, these days. Doctors, for those lucky enough to have an insurance plan (it is all privatized at this point, around the globe), can tailor medication to your social group, blood type, age, and specific disease. Genetic editing, beyond the kids’ COVID-19 project effort, is reserved for Clean World engineers and top scientists working in their labs. It’s not quite personalized medicine, is what I mean; the precision is still not where it should be. But for older diseases, we have decreased the mortality rate by 50% through the decade, which isn’t bad.
Nanotechnology is only reserved for the Clean World labs as is quantum computing. Very little is released about the progress they are making. The big media is all owned by the billionaires, and they tightly control information. There are 1,000 bloggers left who can sustain themselves writing online through advertising and donations; those individuals are doing a great job.
An article that was out in 2024 described the progress in nanoscience this way: “Clean World is getting ready to use nanobots to do their dirty laundry, tackle cancer in the gut, and clean up all their waste, of which there is a lot generated, given their luxurious, lavish lifestyle on those resort islands. Who knew nanotech was so useful?” About quantum computing we know next to nothing, only that when it succeeds, it will break all known encryption. Our 50+ engineers are afraid it will break all of our cybersecurity defenses. Mounting a counterattack using quantum computing is the stuff of fiction for us who are on Dirty World resources.
Robotics have gone mainstream, at least in our factories, for deliveries, and in the home. They don’t look that impressive, but they do the job. Still kind of clunky, but more efficient than humans, I’d say.
Smart fabrics have now replaced regular clothes, but they have an array of other uses. We now coat all of our surfaces with antimicrobial sheets that are mass printed in special facilities available only in the major cities. That way, we were able to reduce the amount of sanitizer we were using. It was getting completely crazy. Imagine having to refill sanitizer from the street’s water truck that was converted to a sanitizer dispenser, every week. People got tired of carrying buckets of sanitizer. Their skin started turning yellow, too; our bodies couldn’t take all the cleanliness. A lot of people got chronic allergies before we realized the problem.
Hobbesian chaos – little if no tech advancement – and some regression
In Hobbesian chaos, all vaccines fail, no protective state lasts beyond a year, rule of law ceases to exist, and terrorist groups (Boko Haram, the Mafia, al Qaeda), clans and ideological movements sweep through the earth with constant struggle and fight for scarce resources as a result.
Many put their faith in technology. After all, wasn’t this the decade that supposedly was going to get us more progress than all other decades of this century combined? This was what the futurists had been saying before 2020. Now, the tune was different. Conditions have changed. Forecasts were revisited. Both the pandemic and the set of escalating regional events that we just experienced, particularly the famines, the wars, and the ecological disasters, slowed their growth and limited technology’s impact to pockets of newly emerged elites.
What people wanted was to return to the way things were before. Technology became the means they deployed to make it so. Here’s how it went.
3D Printing got implemented quicker than expected. As a distributed technology, it was popular with everyone. The 3D printing service companies became the world’s biggest, supplying everything you needed to print your own reality, your own version of perfection. Only, the devices were faulty, they were expensive, and the products they printed were mostly not edible, which means you could print a desk. But you cannot feed a happy family on printed pasta alone.
Internet speeds were soaring at the beginning of the decade. Then, it hit all the providers; people couldn’t afford all the planned upgrades. 5G, 6G, 7G, 8G, they all got delayed and big cities were prioritized.
Artificial Intelligence was available, but only to the highest bidder. What that meant was a huge discrepancy of what you could do with it. The poor could watch TV created by bots, which was something. The rich could outsource their life to the AI, essentially. Neither turned out to be ideal. But in the name of progress, governments around the world began testing the notion that everyone would have their own digital avatar, a persona that could stand in for them online. What it mostly was about, was securing votes. This was the perfect scheme to ensure that everybody voted. Once your avatar was online, there was no excuse. Everybody would know that you didn’t vote, and you could be punished. But it rarely happened. States were so weak these days. They had enough with fighting down rebellion.
Augmented Reality first meant that business meetings, love at a distance, and computer games got extremely intense. That was the first few years of the decade. After that, AR shifted a bit. Developers were more excited about building up the various factions with facades that made them look more powerful. The middle of the decade was the age of deepfakes. It became impossible to figure out if whoever you were interacting with truly represented the country of Germany or simply was a hacker. How to tell? Entirely new actors appeared out of nowhere. Since the media was weak, and nobody knew who to trust anymore, it wasn’t possible to stop them.
Autonomous Driving didn’t pan out at all. That is to say, systems were launched but they were in an eternal test mode. The reason is that the cost of implementing a new traffic infrastructure couldn’t be footed by failed or failing states, and there were few big companies willing to foot the bill. There were exceptions, of course. Germany managed to implement one through the combined efforts of their entire automotive industry in collaboration with the richest regions.
Blockchain became a good idea gone bad. Instead of fostering a transparent economy, it contributed to a collapse. The problem was that building a transparent ledger, at the end of the day, requires that a majority of actors have the self-interest of transparency. Failing that, the system requirements change, and the odds gradually tilt towards cheating. Anyway, that’s what happened at first.
Then, governments, those that still had any power, tried to step in. but by then, most systems were so opaque, so entrenched, that little could be done. There was openness, but you had no idea who was behind each transaction. The principle of governance is very poorly thought out in blockchain. It relies on openness. But openness cannot survive when you don’t have the tools to enforce it. For transaction after transaction, when corruption was exposed nothing happened. So, there you had it, a thousand open ledgers that displayed fully transparent corruption of the system that nobody were able to do anything about. The situation was quite ironic.
Additionally, the more central banks started printing money and buying a lot of government debt to hold interest rates down the way they did in the war years, the less efficient the blockchain became. Governments should have made the choice, blockchain or quantitative easing. When both were implemented at the same time, they became a bit like two parallel economies competing for attention. What the combined forces of the impact of COVID-19, a massive launch of a parallel economy through blockchain did, is to cause a big short-term economic decline followed by a much smaller rebound than expected, as people were putting their eggs in two separate baskets.
CRISPR, the gene editing tool, became a life saver for criminal networks who highjacked the top scientists and extorted them for the services of editing their genes so they would not contract COVID-19.
By altering just three genes, genes IL6 (a protein coding gene that induces cytokine in inflammations), TGFBI (a growth gene infected through the cornea) and MTHFR (an enzyme that plays a role in processing amino acids into the bloodstream), those thugs were able to secure a new extortion service which they made available to their highest echelon of supporters, those that owed them more than $100 million dollars each. That way, CRISPR came to fuel the largest criminal networks in the history of mankind.
Cybersecurity was a big concern, but not in the way one might think. The issue wasn’t that cybercriminals would extort you. The real issue was that there was nobody who wasn’t one. This creates a weird situation. If you can trust nobody, how to you practice endpoint security? Hence, that paradigm failed. Instead, corporations around the world had to implement a new system based on zero trust. The challenge with that paradigm is that it has enormous negative externalities, as economists would say. When you cannot trust your own employees to do the right thing, and the IT systems are the only monitoring tools, how can you trust your own IT systems or those that operate them. It becomes a vicious cycle.
Precision medicine requires a much different infrastructure that is available to us right now. The prospect of a major breakthrough whereby individuals can get meaningful, appropriate treatment is next to nil. Health systems have enough with treating emergencies. Any chronic diseases are left untreated. There are university hospitals still experimenting with it but they treat very few patients. The field is left in an eternal state of limbo. Progress is made, but it never gets scaled up.
Nanotechnology and Quantum Computing are simply postponed to the next decade. All the researchers who were active in the field have been repurposed to more pressing matters. There’s a time for everything and pie in the sky research is not something we can afford right now.
Robotics means vaccum cleaners and less factory workers, which means less jobs in the home services industry as well as in manufacturing. It took only three years before robots were blamed for the mass unemployment that was caused by an avalanche of factors related to COVID-19’s economic fallout. Kind of a shame that it is so, but robots became a convenient vessel to put our blame upon. Robot shaming has become a thing. People are literally tormenting machines, if that makes any sense to you.
Smart Fabrics was another pipedream of the early 2020s. Implementing clothes that incorporate advanced technology never became affordable. The prototypes are cool, though.
Synthetic Biology is making quiet progress, but the few firms that managed to capitalize on the crisis were largely consumed with trying to develop a vaccine, which took their ball of their main R&D targets. As a result, the breakthroughs ceased to happen and investors largely lost interest. Perhaps the world is better for it. One report said that if synthetic biology had become one of the top three industries, it would push us away from human nature, because synthetically produced “nature” is better. I’m glad this hasn’t happened yet. I still enjoy my walks in the park, the occasional mountain hike, and my cruising down the slopes in winter.
Virtual Reality—well—those masks are clunkier and more expensive than ever. But given the deepfake issue, I’m glad this is the case, we have enough trouble with AR. Can you imagine if virtual reality became indistinguishable from real life? I don’t even want to think about how the mafia would exploit that.
Status quo – some tech but it doesn’t blow you away
In Status Quo, the vaccine works, the world is still a tri-polar order (US, China, Russia rule in each hemisphere) and after a period of readjustment, society and the world economy, on most dimensions, will not be significantly altered by this pandemic experience, although remote work is now a real thing.
Technology made progress in the same pace as before (nonlinearly and in surprising ways). As in the previous decade, many new products were launched on the basis of exciting technologies. On the other hand, as AI and a bunch of other technologies progressed, it became clear that the platforms that would transform society (e.g., AI, quantum tech, nanotech) needed more time to mature. There were some foreseen improvements in technology roughly according to the lines we saw becoming apparent at the beginning of 2020—although we probably lost momentum by about 2 years with most developments that were not COVID-19 related.
3D printing had already progressed enormously in the past decade. Already in 2020, 3D-printed medical supplies, particularly PPE like masks and plastic screens, were deployed across the world to stem equipment shortages. Throughout the decade, metal 3D printing moved from the prototype stage to full deployment across industry and even in the home, allowing those who could afford the top models to print nearly any commonly manufactured item.
The 5G network was the telecom standard that defined the early part of the decade, although the rollout got massively delayed by COVID-19, particularly in the developing world. Because of the delays, the next 6G standard, which entails 100 times faster speeds, originally slotted for a 2030 rollout, will only arrive in 2035.
Augmented reality became important as a supplement to online education technology as well as for group demonstrations in a business-to-business setting. There were no game changing applications beyond those two, which was a bit disappointing.
Autonomous driving hit major delays, but eventually brought increased efficiencies and convenience back into commercial transportation in cities and on highways. It took most of the decade to build out the infrastructure for autonomous trucks.
Blockchain had a tremendously positive impact on digital businesses, increased the value in stock markets, although it proved disruptive to those banks that didn’t get on the bandwagon in the first years of the decade. Dramatically reducing the cost of transactions and information flows, it was exactly the boost the financial system needed to recover from the crisis, in fact adding trillions of dollars into the market by 2030 and boosting trade in excess of 30%.
CRISPR-based genome editing services hit a massive milestone in 2024, as a complex set of biological therapies enabled regenerative medicine products that increased longevity of life span by several years for most people who had private health insurance or were covered by welfare provisions. The more than 10,000 patents in the area tripled and generated significant revenue for the growing number of new biotech companies that had mushroomed in the venture capital funding spree in the first 3 years of the decade. In fact, from a base of around 100 companies, there were now 500 companies providing such services, mostly to hospital and to other biotech startups as well as corporations.
Cybersecurity proved to be a battleground in the first part of the decade as criminal activity surged. Toward the latter part of the century, governments and large businesses regained control and were able to introduce technologies with no major security breaches. The same could not be said for smaller companies, who suffered greatly. In private homes, data breeches were commonplace, and there was nothing much to do about it, given the increasing sophistication of cybercriminals. Governments mandated all software and hardware vendors to include a basic cybersecurity protection package in their software by 2029, which took care of 80% of the issues.
Precision medicine is relatively common, but personalized sequencing for cancers and regenerative diseases is only available on a pay-to-play basis and is not covered by insurance. One of the limiting factors is human germline experimentation, which remains a controversial issue ethically. The highly repetitive gene sequences, centromeres and telomeres, which particularly affect cancer and aging, respectively, are at the forefront of the experimentation and promising results are seen.
Nanotechnology made some progress through the decade, but some of the experimentation with nanobots in the brain which act like T-cells, the white blood cells that are so important to our immune defense, was slowed down due to the economical constrains of securing medical nanotech production at a sufficient level.
Quantum computing, which can massively parallel-compute numbers that classical computers cannot, was beginning to make inroads toward the specialty computing market such as large businesses and governments. The technology was still expensive and a bit unstable, so repairs would have to be made at the frequency of a veteran car, but the results were impressive. Distributed weather reports. Engineering calculations from the work site. The first experimental results of breaking traditional encryption algorithms began to show up toward 2029, but cryptographers devised a way to extend cybersecurity for another few years.
Robotics was mainstream in most factories by 2025, but the use cases were rather limited. Personal robotics hit a snag as the humanoid robots didn’t catch on the way the manufacturers thought. People thought it was creepy.
Smart fabrics began to change regular surfaces, which all became interactive and embedded with inexpensive heat, motion, and chemical-composition sensors. The first truly virus-proof work outfits went mainstream by 2027 but didn’t make it to all corners of the world because of the price of the raw materials.
Synthetic biology gained rapid adoption in the US, but was still prohibited in Europe, which meant that food production largely was kept within the borders of the Americas. Non-food applications of synthetic biology included fabrics, sensors, medical technology, and organic manufacturing.
Virtual reality didn’t take off in the consumer market because the headsets were still clunky and the neural interface it depended on never materialized. Instead, gamers continued to embrace the technology and it was widely used in flight simulators and advanced construction projects.
Technology does not determine our future, nor does our contemporary pandemic situation determine technology progress. However, they are quite possibly strongly interrelated. The way I chart this up in my book Pandemic Aftermath is through the four forces of disruption (tech, policy, business models and social dynamics) that develop in separate ways in the five scenarios. Read more in Pandemic Aftermath or especially in my next book, Future Tech, which will be out in spring 2021.
Tech depends on the policy environment. Tech depends on breeding ground for its business models. Tech is strongly influenced by social dynamics. The true nature of demand is not in the hands of a pollster or even of a marketer. Innovation corresponds to a deeper psychological need. Those needs change depending on the circumstances around us.
Each of the five scenarios likely have pieces of truth in them. Even if one scenario is clearly intended as dystopian (Hobbesian Chaos) and one is utopian (Borderless World), the other three scenarios fall somewhere in the middle (Status Quo, Nation-State Renewal, and Two Worlds Apart), and each of the five reflect both positive and negative developments simultaneously. I wanted to reflect the reality of our world.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen pronouncements that indicate remote work would be commonplace after the pandemic as part of a “new normal” which is a term I reject on the basis that we don’t yet know if the next decade will be normal, in this case meaning somewhat stable. I doubt that, for lots of reasons, I’ll cover in a separate new introduction the newest edition of my book Leadership From Below (forthcoming over the next few weeks). That book was originally published in 2008 and documents trends from the first internet revolution and the frenzy of the dotcom era of 1999-2000. At that time, the term was “nomadic knowledge work”. All the tech first adopters claimed telework would dominate, yet my Ph.D research proved that few of them were actually using it to the extent their advertising slogans and op-eds indicated. Many challenges remain for remote work to take off. One can lament that or celebrate that the human spirit is alive and that we still appreciate working together and meeting face-to-face?
Having said that, what I do know is that if I’m somebody who is innovating in the field human-computer interfaces (AR, MR, VR, sensors, neural links), human–human mediated interfaces (using both digital and neural stimulation) or interface design, including designing for a future with attentive interfaces that don’t require users to do work (and don’t require co-presence) in order to connect and feel things deeply and intensely, I would feel particularly excited about the future of my commercial endeavors, given what we see unfolding right now.
What our joint coronavirus experience indicates so far, is that clear demand can channel specific evolutionary paths and pave the way for innovations that would have taken much longer to see the light of day otherwise. Equally, no matter how much you wish for something to be developed scientifically (say, a vaccine), no amount of money will get you there in an instant. Also, there will be other influences throughout the decade, we are just at the onset of this decade which is bound to bring so many opportunities and challenges. The same can, of course, be said for any decade. Except this time, we already have growing evidence it will be true.