Imagine 10 years from now, you order a Bacon and Cheese Whopper, only for a monitor to tell you precisely how many grueling miles you'll have to run to burn it off. Or someone just glances at your shoes and knows where you bought them. Or consider this: You walk into a bar and your entire dating history is thrown up on display. Would you run for the hills? (I sure as hell would.)
Welcome to 2020 as envisioned by Frog Design, a voyeuristic fantasy in which pretty much everything is transformed into digital data. Buying a train ticket is as easy as sending a text, shopping goes down on your PDA, and privacy goes out the window. Creepy, but hey, it's the future.
The project, called "Your Life in 2020," brought together Frog, tech guru John Maeda, and a raft of other designers, futurists, and journalists at a conference in San Francisco in December, and the results were recently presented (and these concept images have just been released). At the heart of the matter is a seamless marriage of physical and digital worlds, with Aldous Huxley as officiant. "It's no longer 'technology' in 2020 anymore," Maeda writes. "It's just how we get things done." We have the highlights below.
Small is the new big, and sharing is the new byword. Cars will tamp into smaller and smaller footprints and practically everyone will ride a bike, sending SUVs the way of the horse and buggy. Rideshare programs like SmartCar and ZipBike will go from fringe to mainstream. And trains will be hooked up to a massive e-network, so you can book and buy tickets on your cell. For those who still have to brave the highways, traffic will be dictated by personality. Type A? An on-ramp tracks you ahead of other cars (and quarantines your road rage), so you can drive as fast as you please -- within the speed limit, of course.
Ten years from now is "the end of the classroom as we know it," George Kembel of the Stanford d.school writes. Professors will be a "team of coaches," and class projects will be like Choose Your Own Adventure -- open-ended and actually pretty fun.
The good news is that you'll be doing less of it. The bad news is that it won't necessarily be by choice. Computers will be 32 times more powerful than they are now, meaning practically everything will be automated. Automation, of course, is code for layoffs. The service sector and manufacturing will take it on the chin.
Technology will make it reallllly hard to inhale a whole box of Oreos. Every time you pop something in your mouth, a device adjusts your personal nutritional rating, inching up when you eat something healthy and down (way down) when you eat all the Oreos. It's like having Jillian Michaels by your side all the time, except less annoying. The devilishly complicated FDA guidelines will be replaced by a universal food decision icon "that is easy enough for even a 5-year-old to grasp," writes IA Collaborative's Dan Kraemer. (See above.) And smart refrigerators will scan your kitchen for ingredients, whip up an ultra-healthy menu, then preheat the oven. They're the new (faintly fascistic) personal chef.
Computers will be able to track everything we do. Everything. As Frog's Mark Rolston tells it, they'll monitor your health as easily as you might update your Facebook page. They'll shop for you, no need to wade through department-store racks. If you see a great pair of shoes on someone walking down the street, your mobile handset or AR-equipped glasses can identify them, and then do the price-shopping for you. You'll be able to interact with an Xbox 360 without ever touching a control. See Project Natal.
Never again will you have to utter the words, "So, what do you do?" (And never again will you have to stammer through an answer.) It'll all be right there on an overhead display, a sort of speech bubble for the wired age. Sounds cool, right? Until you think about the last time a computer had that much power.