2020: The future of technology revealed

What the next 10 years holds for us all

With PCs disappearing from desks but technology showing up everywhere else, computing will only get more personal in the coming decades.

The future ain't what it used to be. In the pre-PC era, futurists predicted huge changes in transportation. By 2008, they prophesied, we would be flitting about with personal jetpacks and taking holidays on the moon. But the communications revolution spurred by personal computers and the internet wasn't on anyone's radar.

Now the technology landscape is once again on the verge of change - change that will transport us to places few people have imagined. We know that computers will be vastly more powerful, mobile and connected. But soon we'll struggle to tell where the technology ends and the rest of our life begins.

Digital technology will become firmly embedded in advanced devices that deliver information and entertainment to our homes and to our pockets, in sensors that monitor our environment from within the walls and floors of our homes and in chips that deliver medicine and augment reality inside our bodies.

This shiny, happy future may come at a cost, with experts warning of security and privacy issues. So let's hope our jetpacks come with seat belts. It's going to be a wild ride.

The incredible disappearing PC

Whether you've got a PC on your desk in 2018 will be a matter of choice. If so, it'll be vastly more powerful than your current PC, thanks to advances in nanotechnology, says Doug Tougaw, an engineering professor at Valparaiso University.

"We're getting closer to our goal of creating computers that are a thousand times faster and smaller and use one-thousandth of the energy of today's computers," Tougaw reports.

"As processors get smaller, they'll be embedded into more things. We'll also use standard-size machines packed with hundreds of chips. So we'll have very intelligent consumer products and unbelievably powerful PCs."

Computers using nanotechnology will debut in about five years. Five to 10 years after that, silicon will reach a point at which quantum mechanics won't allow chip pathways to get any smaller, so electric-current-based PCs will give way to optical PCs that transmit streams of light instead of electrons, or to quantum computers that rely on the strange physics of atomic particles to deliver processing brawn, Tougaw says.

William Halal, professor emeritus at George Washington University, says: "Starting around the year 2018, we'll have optical computers that operate at the speed of light, sending thousands of message streams down a single channel."

Most of tomorrow's CPU muscle will go towards making the user interface seamless and intuitive. Keyboards and mice may persist, but they'll become secondary to voice and gesture.

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