Predictions made in 1999 and 2019
For DHL’s 50th anniversary, Delivered. has curated a selection of predictions for the future and revisited forecasts from the past.
An article published in DHL’s 30th anniversary magazine in 1999 made some rather spot-on predictions for the future of technology, logistics and the once new phenomenon of e-commerce.
It’s easy to be wise in hindsight. But looking at them now, forecasts such as “trade will become more global” and “greater possibilities for using the internet as an infrastructure for business” seem almost quaint. Technological advances across the board have created a world that would be all but unrecognizable to our 1999 selves. Nothing illustrates this better than experts’ predictions for the coming decades.
Never mind trade becoming more global: The MIT Space Logistics Project aims to develop an interplanetary supply chain that will enable sustainable space exploration of the Earth-Moon-Mars system and beyond. In the not too distant future, we could be installing solar panel farms on the moon that wirelessly power the Earth, or even booking holidays to explore the Milky Way.
A space elevator, according to NASA, is not a piein- the-sky idea, with researchers around the world optimistic that one can be built. A Tokyo-based firm, Obayashi Corp, plans to build one by 2050, and China seeks to pip them at the post with their version as early as 2045.
PREDICTIONS FROM 1999
- E-commerce worth hundreds of billions of dollars every year will be driven by growth in the internet, prompting huge demand for logistics services.
- Technology will get faster, enabling the delivery of more data and video, bringing richer and better service.
- Growth in IT reliability and a worldwide standard of encryption will mean greater possibilities for using the internet as an infrastructure for business.
- The growth in miniaturization will mean people can access the internet through small personal devices and make financial transactions wherever they are.
- It will be possible to live without touching cash.
- Trade will become more global, leading to more goods being shipped over ever-greater distances.
- Transport, both ground- and air-based, will become faster and quieter.
- Political requirements will mean there will be more regulation of the internet, and that customs barriers will remain.
- Machine translation will bring down international communication barriers.
- The emergence of the euro and other common currencies will prompt an acceleration of cross-border trading in goods and services.
“Star Trek”-like teleportation could become a reality, even to the point of teleporting a piece of physical mail by 2043, according to research and consulting agency Quantumrun Forecasting. “In principle,” explains Professor Ronald Hanson at Delft University of Technology, “it should be possible to teleport ourselves from one place to another.” In his experiment, atoms have already been successfully teleported three meters.
Technology won’t just be faster and more reliable, with people accessing the internet “through small personal devices” (today we call them smartphones), it will transform and enhance the way – and length of time – we live. We’ll be able to digitize medicine in dozens of ways, including a body shop that can grow new human organs to replace the originals as they wear out. Or we can merge with machines, with our smartphones integrated into our bodies or brains, “constantly scanning your biometric data and your emotions,” as professor and author Yuval Noah Harari claims. Contact lenses may give us superhuman eyesight, and with the emergence of engineered clothing, such as the exoskeleton suit recently created by Hyundai, heavy lifting could become a snap.
PREDICTIONS FOR THE NEXT GENERATION
- An interplanetary supply chain between Earth, the moon and Mars – and beyond – could harness solar power on the moon, mine asteroids and establish depots on the red planet. (Sources: MIT Space Logistics Project; Popular Science; NBC)
- The biotech revolution will enable us to live healthily for longer, for example with shops that grow organs to replace ours as they wear out. (Source: CEO Magazine)
- We could see the teleportation of the first piece of physical mail by 2043. And in the distant future, maybe ourselves. (Sources: Quantum Run; TIME)
- A space elevator between Earth and a space station could be in use by 2050. (Source: NBC)
- Humans will merge with machines, as smartphones are embedded in our bodies or brains, constantly scanning biometric data and emotions. (As told by Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli historian, at the Fast Company European Innovation Festival)
- Contact lenses will grant us “Terminator” vision, enabling zooming, night vision and visible data fields. (Source: Foresight in Hindsight)
- Advances in nanotechnology will overcome illness and human limitation, for example with robotic red blood cells that hold up to 200 times more oxygen. (Source: Popular Mechanics)
- Powered exoskeleton clothing will become commonplace, for example in the form of an exoskeleton suit for heavy lifting or helping to walk after paralysis. (Source: Business Insider)
- Fully immersive virtual reality could simulate reality entirely, eliminating the chasm between real and unreal – and begging the question of what is real and unreal. (Source: Big Think)
- AI will be able to hack the human organism, predict feelings, make choices and manipulate desires. (Source: Mind Matters)
Of course, great powers call for greater responsibility. Fully immersive virtual reality could be capable of simulating reality completely, with the chasm between real and unreal lacking meaning for many. The cultural and philosophical quandaries raised by this type of technology haven’t even begun to be explored. And artificial intelligence may soon be able to make choices. On our behalf and manipulate our desires, believes Max Tegmark, author and physics professor at MIT. He is a vocal advocate for AI safety.
Whatever happens in the next 20, 30 or 50 years, it certainly won’t be boring. With the current breakneck speed of change and innovation, the next generation may look at these predictions with the same nostalgia we feel when we consider those from 1999. — Christine Madden
Published: September 2019
Predictions form 1999: DHL 30 Years magazine ‘The next ten years’ by Manek Dubash
Images: Colin Anderson/Blend Images LLC/Getty Images; Astrobotic