FROM THE FUTURE WITH LOVE**********
Internet use reaches 5 billion worldwide
The number of Internet users has now reached almost 5 billion, equivalent to the entire world population in 1987. This compares with 1.7 billion users in 2010 and only 360 million in 2000.* Vast numbers of people in the developing world now have access to the web, thanks to a combination of plummeting costs and exponential technology improvements. This includes laptops, phones and tablet devices costing only a few tens of dollars, together with explosive growth in mobile networks. Even some of the most remote populations on Earth can take advantage of the web, thanks to the infrastructure now in place.
Broadband speeds have continued to accelerate. In the USA, a project known as the National Broadband Plan is coming to fruition. This gives nearly 100 million Americans access to home broadband speeds of at least 100 Mbps.* Connections of 1 Gbps are also present in the vast majority of schools, universities, libraries, hospitals and government buildings. Broadband is now available to essentially the entire population. By 2020, the USA has become one of the leaders in mobile innovation, with among the most extensive wireless networks of any country. There is a massive increase in the broadcasting of wireless Internet and broadband multimedia.
In Australia, one of the world’s most ambitious upgrades – the National Broadband Network – is nearing completion. Vast extensions to the fiber-optic cable networks are being undertaken, with the result that 93% of the population has access to 1 Gbps transfer speeds by 2021.* Australia rises to be one of the leading digital economies, with many new jobs and opportunities created. The remaining 7% of households are able to utilize two new satellites for a minimum speed of 12 Mbps.
South Korea – one of the most technologically advanced places in Asia – has already had gigabit transfer speeds around the country since late 2012.* It has since strengthened its broadband network, upgrading it even further. China has also laid down a national broadband network, another step in its path to becoming a developed nation.
The majority of developed and developing nations around the world now have greatly improved web access compared to what existed previously. However, there is still the problem of a “digital divide”, with rural areas particularly affected. In the UK, for example, while more than half of users now have access to 100 Mbps or faster, around 10% of the population is limited to substantially slower connections.*
The 5G standard is released
By 2020, the next major cellular wireless standard has been adopted.* This continues the trend seen since 1981 in which a new mobile generation has appeared roughly every 10th year. The 5G family of standards is a major leap from previous generations in terms of power and functionality. Among its key features are:
Pervasive networks providing ubiquitous computing. The user can simultaneously be connected to several wireless access technologies and seamlessly move between them. These can be 2.5G, 3G, 4G or 5G networks, Wi-Fi, WPAN or any other contemporary access technology. Multiple, concurrent data transfer paths can be easily handled.
Group cooperative relay. High bit rates are now available in a larger portion of the cell, especially to users in an exposed location in between several base stations. This is achieved by cellular repeaters, together with macro-diversity techniques (also known as group cooperative relay), as well as beam-division multiple access.
IPv6, where a visiting care-of mobile IP address is assigned according to location and connected network.
High-altitude stratospheric platform station (HAPS) systems, delivering high-speed Internet service to very large geographical areas.
Wearable devices with AI capabilities, offering greater levels of user interaction and personalization.
One unified global standard with full compatibility, no matter what brand or model.
Texting by thinking
In addition to 5G, phones are now available with the option of texting by thought power alone.* This is achieved by a combination of eye-tracking technology and a sensor-mounted headset worn by the user. The headset contains a brain-machine interface which detects electrical brain waves and converts them into digital signals, then displays the resulting letters on-screen.*
Some high-end models can be used with glasses or visors featuring displays built into their lenses. This enables completely hands-free texting, creating a form of virtual telepathy. The process is rather slow at this stage, requiring a high degree of mental concentration. It is more of a novelty for now. However, advances in the coming years will enable smooth and fast interactions, revolutionising the world of communication.
Completion of the Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link
The Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link is an 18 km (11 mi) tunnel connecting the German offshore island of Fehmarn with the Danish island of Lolland. Originally planned as a bridge, it was later announced that a tunnel was preferable, as it would have fewer construction risks, a reduced environmental impact and independence from weather conditions. The costs would be broadly similar.
The Danish government approved the project by a large parliamentary majority in 2011. However, it required the passage of a Construction Act, along with further legislation in both countries that wasn’t completed until 2013.
With final approval, construction began in 2014, finishing in 2020. Precast concrete tunnel sections were utilised, with a rectangular cross-section about 40 metres wide and 10 metres high, containing four separate passageways (two for cars and two for trains), plus a small service passageway. The total cost of the project is €5.5 billion and it has a technical lifespan of 120 years.
30,000 drones are patrolling the skies of America
In 2012, the FAA Reauthorization Act passed into law in America. This legislation was the result of a huge push by lawmakers and defence companies to massively expand the use of drones – making it far easier for federal, state, local police and other agencies to fly them in U.S. airspace. Not only that, but commercial entities would also have drone authorisation from 2015 onwards.
These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been used extensively in Afghanistan and other military operations. In domestic U.S. airspace, they are deployed mainly for border and counternarcotics surveillance, but also in a variety of other public safety missions, such as disaster relief efforts, locating missing climbers or hikers and combating forest fires.
However, concerns are raised over issues of privacy and civil liberties. Many drones feature highly advanced monitoring equipment, infrared, heat sensors and radar. Some have cameras able to scan entire cities and read a milk carton from 60,000 feet away. Others can intercept mobile texts and phone calls. There are even models equipped with tasers and rubber bullets.* In some cities, they are being used to monitor protests and to spy on citizens with no warrant or legal process.*
In 2012, there were already 7,000 operating drones in U.S. airspace. By 2020, this number has more than quadrupled to over 30,000.* Various other countries have been expanding their surveillance in recent years – Britain, for example, has seen a nearly 30-fold increase in high-definition CCTV cameras.*
Mars 2020 rover mission
In 2020, NASA deploys the latest in a series of Mars rovers. In order to save costs, the design is based on the earlier Curiosity mission – which arrived in 2012 – but carries a different scientific payload. This time, the main objectives are:
to look for signs of past life
collect samples for return to Earth
demonstrate technology for human exploration
The mission accomplishes several high-priority planetary science goals. Over 30 samples of rock cores and soil are captured for more definitive analysis in laboratories back on Earth. The rover takes measurements and uses technology to help designers of a human expedition understand hazards posed by Martian dust. It also demonstrates how to collect CO2 for on-site conversion into oxygen and rocket fuel, while also performing a new and improved form of precision landing: critical for eventual human exploration on the surface. Overall, this rover is a major step towards the agency’s long-term goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.*
Holographic TV is going mainstream
Breakthroughs in rewritable and erasable systems have made it possible to mass-market the first truly holographic TV displays.* This form of technology has been in development for nearly three decades. One of the main problems encountered was that the displays required a lengthy delay between each “rewrite” – making it impractical for televisual displays. However, recent advances in power transfer have overcome this problem, with displays now capable of running at many frames per second.
Typical holographic screens of this period are expensive, with most viewed as a luxury item for now. However, competition between the major vendors later succeeds in bringing down costs, making them affordable to the majority of people. Further refinement of this technology also leads to bigger and sharper displays. The screens can be fixed to a wall (with the image writing lasers behind the wall), or placed horizontally on a table (with all of the components underneath).
Initially popular in Japan and the Far East, holographic TV soon finds its way to the rest of the world. Over the coming decades, perfection of this technology will see entire rooms turned into holographic environments.
Smart meters in every UK home
Smart meters are now installed in every UK home. These have an electronic display, showing customers precisely how much electricity and gas they are using, and their costs in real time. The data is relayed back to energy firms automatically, which means that estimated bills and visits from meter readers are now a thing of the past.*
Average bills are being reduced as a result, since the meters encourage changes in behaviour. The meters can also “talk” to domestic appliances such as refrigerators. If necessary, these can be made to switch on and off depending on the level of demand on the grid.
Smart grids are also being introduced to manage flows of electricity more efficiently. These are capable of handling more volatile sources of energy (such as windfarms) and coping with micro-generation – consumers are increasingly using solar panels or heat pumps to generate their own electricity and sell it back to the grid.*
Video games with photo-realistic graphics
Thanks to exponential growth in computing power, video game characters now achieve a truly lifelike appearance when played with the latest graphics cards. Advances in 3D modelling techniques have allowed programmers to recreate the subtlest of facial features, expressions, movements, lighting and other physical effects. Complex interactive scenes featuring entirely computer-rendered people are becoming indistinguishable from reality.* This is raising a number of ethical issues – due to the sheer level of realism now available, combined with ongoing advances in AI technology. Meanwhile, Google Earth has become so advanced that users can browse and move around in a smooth, photographic-quality 3D environment with moving cars and day/night cycles.*