It has been 4 years since the last prediction for the year 2016. My original plan is to draft a prediction every 2 years, and scope for the next 4 years. Gates once said, we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. A decade ago, having computing devices as small as a palm with Pentium 4 computational power was unimaginable. Even 8 years ago, it was a difficult fate for us to build an all-in-one TV with high-end PC capability.
Review the Prediction of the Past 4 Years
The prediction of the past 4 years has been accurate. The biggest promise of economic stability has been kept with all the unusual fiscal policies, otherwise such predictions can hardly be any believable if at all. Reviewing the prediction I made 4 years ago, Internet connection speed, the unfortunate market share of 3D TV, Television on demand, computational power, driving assistance (self-driving), and photography technology have matched the reality pretty well. However, for wireless power source, Pads and ultrabook merging, commercial supersonic flight, unemployment rate, and artificial intelligence has been off quite a bit. No predictions on unmanned aerial vehicles. Overall, some of these predictions are too optimistic, and some of these are simply ignorant.
The Economic / Social Outlook for the Next 4 Years
However, it is harder to predict the next 4 years on the same social / economic stability promise. Globally, the economy growth slowdown will be a given. On the contrary, the United States will be least affected due to the dominance of Dollar in Global economy. In Europe, it is unlikely the economic situation in Spain, Greece and other Mediterranean countries will get any better. As slow as politics go, the possibility of one or several countries exiting euro-zone becomes ever more real. However, under the gloomy environment, Japan's outlook improved marginally after several scheduled tax hikes. The tricky bits, is China. China would likely to take either two paths:
1). Its GDP will land at around 4.5% to 5.5% yoy growth in the next 4 years. This is after a controlled turbulence landing, with some finesse mix of fiscal / monetary stimulus. Overall, the fiscal sheet is more balanced, and as the world manufacturer, China integrates more efficiency in its system, and it is harder to compete on efficiency front even with much lower labor costs. This is a China as a newly-minted developed nation, seating comfortably among the rest of developed nations with GDP per capita between $9,000 and $10,000.
2). Its GDP will land at 4.5% or even below in the next 2 years and will be considered as fatal. Fiscal and monetary tools seem ineffective due to large amounts of capital outflow, as well as loosen control over capital in general after 2008. The social uprising turns out to be much easier than expected. The regional government would be hard to contain the unrest, and the central government would likely to have several rounds of negotiations with opposition leaders, it becomes impossible to predict what would happen afterwards.
For the sake of making any progress on this prediction, I will pick the China option 1 as the background for the next 4 years. If option 2 turns out to be closer to the reality, it nullifies all the predictions I am going to make below.
India, for the lack of systematic knowledge in that area, it is hard to predict the impact of India to the global technology and economy outlook. For Russian and Middle-East oil-producing countries, the assumption will be that oil per barrel will float around $40 to $100, and Russian's economy will struggle nevertheless due to the more volatility in the oil price.
The Basis of Any Predictions
The success of any prediction, if at all, looks at the past patterns. For the past 100 years or so, it has been the capturing and interpretation of exponential growth. It has been emphasized in enormous books and talks about the fascination of exponential growth. However,by applying exponential growth, without the underlying understanding of technological principles, we risk of hitting some fundamental laws of the physics, and makes no progress at all (and on the other hand, a premature prejudice of "understanding" the fundamental limits of physics, can be fatal too).
The exponential growth is made possible only with two key terms: standardization and the economy of the scale. The modern marvel of this kind, is the iPhone. Without the scale of the iPhone, modern high resolution screen with capacitive touch will cost thousands dollars to manufacture per square inch. But now, everyone gets a modern high resolution touchscreen with a few bucks.
These two key words, will manifest themselves in many forms, and will continue to play wonders in the next 4 years.
The smart hardware has been around for more than 10 years. But what makes sense as a "smart hardware"?
It makes the basic functionalities we assumed about that hardware a no-brainer. Smooth, one touch, perfect and care-free integration;
It extends beyond the basic functionalities, but operates under well-defined principles (good example, a router that caches cloud content and make the access instantaneous, bad example, a refrigerator that orders food for you);
It is unlikely to be something completely new.
Then, there is the un-PC era. In the next 4 years, homes rarely own any desktop computers, even though aggregated processing power in a single-family house can easily reach more than 10Tflops. There is a change of the interface too. People now interact with these devices by either touching or talk. The graphical interfaces now have a meaningful conversational re-touch.
Despite the potential conflicts and regional instability, the transportation will be more cost effective. In terms of the land transportation, self-driving or smarter driving assistant will be standard add-on in newly shipped vehicles. However, it is far from becoming the mandatory standard. The Abu Dhabi PRT was a failure in the Middle-East, but similar transportation services will run commercially in some cities. The next generation of long distance land-transportation is still in experimental phase in the United States. Not only that, some of the longest commercial flights are cancelled due to the cost. Commercial transportation is going to be more expensive, and slower.
Entertainment industry gets a big boost in time of recession. People still spend disproportionate time on big television, The movement of "cutting-the-cord" will happen much faster than expected. The United States 15 to 35 year viewership on cable will drop at the rate of 10% to 20% year over year and accelerating. Today's top TV show numbers (5m viewer at the premiere) will keep steady. But shows with 2m to 3m premiere viewership will see a drop to 1m or less. In the United States, online streaming players will ink deals with major sports and have exclusive rights to stream online. People will spend more than 3 hours a day on streaming services, either on television or on their mobile devices.
Shared economy is not going the way you would expect. At its core, shared economy moves the assets out of the company such as AirBnb or Uber's balance sheet and bumped up its profitability. At boom times, asset-light companies can move fast and quickly get rid of less profitable businesses painlessly. At down times, these companies will try to own more assets as the asset prices are all cheap. However, the most popular way for them to do so will not be out-right purchase. Instead, they will launch finance programs to help its share economy workers to own these assets, and leave the risk of asset depreciation to them.
The mobile messaging service will consolidate. Respectable players on messaging service will reach 300m daily active users, and have at least 2b message sent per day. Any player cannot reach that hallmark will be dead. There will be only 3 to 4 major players in that space, if not less. All the messaging services will have the ability to make audio and video calls, which will continue to marginalize the phone call service business for traditional phone service providers. In the United States at least, more than one online-based business will enter ISP business. The speed of the Internet will continue to improve. Home Internet speed globally will average to 100Mbps. Global mobile Internet speed will average to 10Mbps. Specifically, the mobile Internet service in Middle / South Africa will reach average 500Kbps. In the other word, as long as you can pay, with your cellphone, you can have semi-stable Internet connection and will be able to do video calls anywhere in the world except Antarctic.
Cost-effectiveness is penetrating medical equipments. With lower cost of processing power and general application of machine learning techniques in signal processing, popular and essential medical equipments will reach a point that are cheap and versatile enough to even be delivered to the most remote area on Earth. The profound impact will be a global lift in life expectancy.
Virtual reality gears will have tractions in many more homes. They are still struggling to find its killer applications. But on average, shipped units per year will be around 30m globally at the end of 2019. Industrial robots will replace more human labor, which is a good thing for China. Privatization of space technology continues. One or more private companies will accomplish at least one low-orbit manned mission.
Thus, it is not the worst time of humanity yet for the year of 2020.