future timeline technology singularity humanity
21st century»2020-2029»

timeline contents


• The Arctic is becoming free of sea ice |


• The Euclid Space Telescope reveals new insights into dark matter and dark energy |


• Gene therapy for deafness | • Breast tomosynthesis is in widespread use | • Five-year survival rates for Hodgkin's lymphoma are approaching 100% |


• America's power shift is destabilising the Asia-Pacific region | • Generation X is reshaping global politics | • Internet use reaches 5 billion worldwide | • Texting by thinking | • Complex organ replacements grown from stem cells | • The first stem cell therapy for congestive heart failure | • A cure for malaria | • Progress with longevity extension | • Genetically engineered "super" bananas | • Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games | • Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (MTR) has been significantly expanded | • Completion of the Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link | • The UK has expanded its offshore grid connections | • Smart meters in every UK home | • Mercury pollution has been greatly reduced | • Glacier National Park and other regions are becoming ice-free | • Britain's new aircraft carriers reach full operational capability | • 30,000 drones are patrolling the skies of America | • Mars 2020 rover mission | • The first test flights of NASA's Quiet Supersonic Technology | • England's Coastal Path is open to walkers | • Expo 2020 is held in Dubai | • The PlayStation 5 is launched |





The Arctic is becoming free of sea ice

Throughout most of human history, the Arctic served a vital function in maintaining a stable climate – acting as a giant "air conditioner" for the planet by regulating air and ocean currents. The extent and volume of ice in the region stayed relatively unchanged from ancient times until the early modern era.

During the mid-20th century, however, as the world's population expanded rapidly, man-made emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases began to increase at a speed rarely seen in the natural geological record. By the early 21st century, total carbon emissions were exceeding 10 gigatons annually, ten times faster than at any point since the extinction of the dinosaurs.*

Combined with a loss of carbon sinks – through deforestation, soil erosion and other habitat destruction – the resulting accumulation of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere led to a clear warming trend around the globe. This was especially apparent in the Arctic, where temperatures were increasing twice as fast as the world's average.*

Between 1980 and 2015, the Arctic lost more than 75% of its sea ice volume. The summer ice coverage, in particular, had declined much faster than was originally predicted. Earlier reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that the Arctic would see ice-free summers by 2100. But with record after record being broken, experts were forced to reassess their models and revise their predictions to earlier dates, taking into account feedback mechanisms like the darkening albedo and greater heat absorption from open waters. The first ice-free conditions would occur, not in 2100 – but as early as the summer of 2020.

So-called "blue ocean events" – defined as less than 1 million sq km of ice cover – become commonplace in the 2020s. Initially restricted to September, as the duration of the melt season is extended this condition begins to include additional months on either side of the minimum. By 2025, the Arctic has ice-free conditions from July through to and including November; namely five months of the year. By 2040, just two decades after the initial 2020 event, the Arctic is experiencing an ice-free "blue ocean" all year round.*


arctic sea ice future


By the mid-2020s, the Arctic region has changed from being a carbon sink to a carbon source. In other words, more carbon is being emitted than is being naturally stored. The thaw and release of carbon that was previously locked in permafrost triggers a permafrost carbon feedback (PCF), strong enough to cancel between 42 and 88% of carbon land sinks worldwide.* By the mid-2030s, permafrost is adding more than one billion tons of carbon a year to the atmosphere, equivalent to about 10% of annual man-made carbon emissions globally.

The rapid warming of the Arctic and resulting loss of sea ice is altering the jet stream – changing the movement of weather patterns over North America, Europe and Russia. In a somewhat counterintuitive trend, cold winter extremes in certain parts of the northern hemisphere are becoming more likely and winter storms are being driven further south. This is caused by the increasing moisture capacity of the atmosphere, with about 7% more water vapour being carried for each additional 1°C temperature rise. The shifting jet stream is also influencing the path of hurricanes and worsening their damage.

Another major consequence of the warming Arctic is the release of methane, a greenhouse gas with 86 times the heat-trapping potential of CO2 when measured over a 20-year timescale. Large bursts of methane – some over a kilometre wide – had been observed from the continental shelf seabed of the Eastern Siberian Arctic Shelf in the 2010s. These events are becoming more frequent and more widespread, prompting concerns about the potential for abrupt climatic change. Solar Radiation Management (SRM) technologies are now being given serious consideration, with some early prototypes and small-scale experiments, but the necessary funding and development to fully restore the Arctic is decades away. Some governments are more interested in exploiting the Arctic for its resources, which are easier to access than before.*

The loss of Arctic sea ice is having a serious impact on animal species including the polar bear,* which is now being forced ashore to hunt for berries, birds, eggs and other terrestrial foods.* These provide less energy and nutrition than their traditional, fat-rich prey – ice seals. Two-thirds of polar bears are lost by 2050 and the species is threatened with extinction towards the end of the century.




The Euclid Space Telescope reveals new insights into dark matter and dark energy

Euclid – named after the ancient Greek mathematician – is part of the European Space Agency (ESA) Cosmic Vision programme, with NASA providing some assistance in the form of instrumentation and scientific analysis. Launched in 2020 and placed at Sun-Earth Lagrange point L2, its mission duration is six years, during which time it studies the nature of dark matter and dark energy.*

Matter as we know it – the atoms in the human body, for example – is only a fraction of the total matter in the known universe. The rest, about 85 percent, is dark matter consisting of particles of an unknown type. This was first postulated in 1932, but has remained undetected directly. It is called dark matter because it does not interact with light. Dark matter interacts with ordinary matter through gravity, binding galaxies together like an invisible glue.

While dark matter pulls matter together, dark energy is pushing the universe apart, at an ever-increasing speed. In terms of the complete mass-energy content of the universe, dark energy dominates. Even less is known about dark energy than dark matter, having only been discovered by astronomers in 1998 (the Nobel Prize for Physics was subsequently awarded for their work in 2011).

Using a 1.2m (3' 11") wide-view telescope at visible and near-infrared wavelengths, Euclid maps the shape, brightness and 3D distribution of 2 billion galaxies covering over one-third of the sky. It measures the geometry and growth rate of the universe in higher resolution than was ever possible before, through a combination of weak gravitational lensing, redshift-space distortions and galaxy cluster observations.

Taken together, these ultra-precise measurements offer the best explanation yet of how the acceleration of the universe has changed over time – revealing new clues about the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the cosmos – and the role of dark matter and dark energy in each of these processes, revolutionising our understanding of these hitherto largely unknown phenomena.


euclid space telescope 2020 technology
Credit: ESA




Gene therapy for deafness

As of 2015, hearing loss affected 1.1 billion people to some degree. It caused disability for up to 7.5% (540 million) and moderate to severe disability in 1.7% (about 124 million) of the world's population. Noise exposure was known to cause approximately half of all cases, while the remaining factors included aging, genetics, perinatal problems and disease infections.

During the first half of the 2020s, advances are made in developing a gene therapy, with some of the first clinical trials in humans. This follows earlier experiments on mice, in which a mutation of the TMC1 gene was repaired. Scientists treated the animals by injecting an engineered virus called adeno-associated virus 1, or AAV1, combined with a promoter – switching on the gene in sensory hair cells within the cochlea.*

Following successful human trials and approval from regulators, it becomes possible for patients affected by the TMC1 mutation to have their genomes sequenced and their hearing restored by gene therapy. However, while TMC1 was known to account for up to 8% of genetic deafness cases, more than 70 other genes were also implicated. It would therefore be a number of decades before the condition was fully understood and curable for all patients. Nevertheless, gene therapy sees major growth in research and development during the 2020s. Other treatment options besides gene therapy are also making breakthroughs at this time including stem cells and various new biotech implants.


gene therapy for deafness 2020 2025 future



Breast tomosynthesis is in widespread use

Breast tomosynthesis is a new 3-D scanning technology that detects 40 percent more breast cancers than traditional mammography, while also lowering the radiation dose. In 2015, researchers conducted the first large-scale study of this technique, to compare it with older screening methods. It was found to provide clearer and more accurate images, with X-rays from different angles showing multiple thin layers of breast, as opposed to single 2-D images. Furthermore, it was safer and more comfortable for women, with breast compression being halved.

As of 2015, breast cancer was the leading type of cancer in women, accounting for 25% of all cases globally. Survival rates had been increasing significantly in previous decades* and during the 2020s, tomosynthesis is among the newly emerging techniques helping to continue this trend. In the first half of the 2020s, it becomes routinely available in many countries.*


breast tomosynthesis cancer future timeline 2020 2025



Five-year survival rates for Hodgkin's lymphoma are approaching 100%

Cancer has seen many breakthroughs in recent years and Hodgkin's lymphoma is now among the types on the verge of being defeated. In much of the developed world, five-year survival rates are approaching 100%.**


hodgkin lymphoma five year survival




America's power shift is destabilising the Asia-Pacific region

As part of its "pivot to Asia", the USA has shifted much of its naval force to the Asia-Pacific in an effort to counter China's geopolitical influence during this decade.** Countries in East Asia have begun to polarise under the tension of the two global powers, despite efforts to maintain stability in the region.** Japan and the Philippines have moved closer to the re-emerging American power in the hope of stopping China's territorial claims of the Senkaku (Diaoyu), Spratly and other islands – while Cambodia, South Korea and other nations try to remain neutral for the sake of economic interests as the region divides. The US and China are not the only major players shifting their sights on this part of Asia: Russia has begun to move east as well.* In the coming years, geopolitical tensions in the region will shake the global economy, stretching US-China relations to near-breaking point, as the latter begins to displace the former as the leading superpower. China has recently developed its first stealth fighter* and has a growing fleet of aircraft carriers.


us china war 2020



Generation X is reshaping global politics

As the new decade begins, a fresh generation of leaders and decision-makers is emerging on the world stage. With the last of the Silent Generation passing away, and Baby Boomers waning in their influence, the so-called "Generation X" is coming into power.

Born between the late 1960s and early 1980s, Gen-Xers are more heterogeneous than previous groups: diverse in race, class, culture and ethnicity. They are more liberal and progressive than their parents,* with less respect for rules, authority and established policies. They are less likely to be religious. For most or all of their lives, they have grown up surrounded by computers – making them savvy and comfortable with technology, flexible and more open to new ideas. They have more concern for the environment, are more likely to believe in climate change and are generally more accepting of science.

Angry at the social, political and economic legacy bequeathed to them – and driven by a backlash against the recent Trump administration – the Gen-Xers are using their newfound power to build a different kind of world. They are no longer willing to bow to the demands of the Baby Boomers, who many feel have robbed them of their future. They are also not willing to let the Millennials (Generation Y) get a free ride when it comes to paying their fair share.*

From 2020 onwards, there is a shift of money and resources away from senior citizens and towards those in their middle years. Property and inheritance laws, pensions, retirement plans and a number of elderly benefits undergo significant changes, as Gen-Xers work to stem the gap between themselves and their parents. Employees gain more rights, freedoms and flexibility in the workplace, with offices becoming more casual and informal, alongside an expansion of homeworking and the gig economy. Social media and other technologies continue to drive the spread of democracy around the world.

Thanks to the Gen-Xers, many countries begin to relax their laws on private recreational drug use, gay marriage, prostitution, euthanasia and so on. Legalisation and taxation of cannabis add significantly to government revenues whilst helping to cut crime. Scientific research and environmental protection are given higher priorities. Some of these trends were emerging in any case, but are now being accelerated by the Gen-Xers.


2020 generation y generation x future world



Internet use reaches 5 billion worldwide

The number of web users has now reached 5 billion, equivalent to the world population in 1987. This compares with 360 million in 2000, 1.7 billion in 2010* and 3.9 billion at the end of 2018.* Vast numbers of people in the developing world now have web access, 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.


2020 internet users graph future timeline technology predictions



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 wireless 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 relatively slow at this stage, requiring a high degree of mental concentration. It is more of a novelty for now. However, advances in subsequent years enable smooth and fast interactions, revolutionising the world of communication.


future mobile phones 2020 texting



Complex organ replacements grown from stem cells

In the previous decade, it had already been possible to grow various tissues, bones and muscles using stem cells. The first complete synthetic organ transplant was achieved in 2011, when a replacement windpipe was given to a terminal cancer patient. This was followed by further breakthroughs as more complex body structures and systems began to be engineered.

By 2020, a landmark is reached, with scientists having fully characterised how every part of the heart works – enabling complete replacements for use in transplants.* The need for external donors is eliminated, and since the organ is genetically matched to the patient, there is no chance of rejection. This new treatment offers hope to millions affected by cardiovascular disease. Until now, 15 million people had died each year from such conditions.

The economic benefits are huge. A significant portion of healthcare costs have been attributed to organ failure, the recurring treatments for chronic diseases and their subsequent complications. These regenerative medicine techniques effectively provide a cure, rather than ongoing treatment. Until now, direct healthcare costs for organ replacement and associated care had been $350 billion globally (about 8 percent of healthcare spending).

As well as the heart, other organs are gradually being developed: lungs, livers, kidneys, spleens, stomachs, pancreata and sexual organs all make progress during this decade. Internal organ failure will eventually become a thing of the past; for those who can afford the treatments, at least. Furthermore, new vitrification techniques* allow organ banking without damage from ice crystal formation.


stem cell organ replacement regeneration transplant treatment future medical 2020 2030



The first stem cell therapy for congestive heart failure

In the early years of the 21st century, congestive heart failure (CHF) was the single biggest killer in the industrialised world, claiming more lives than all cancers combined. A chronic condition, it was characterised by an enlarged heart and insufficient blood flow to the organs and extremities of the body. About 5.1 million adults were affected in the U.S. during 2010 with 825,000 new cases annually and 50% of patients dying within five years of diagnosis. The only available options for end-stage or class IV heart failure were a heart transplant, or mechanical support using a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). Due to a shortfall of donors, transplants were often unable to meet demand, while permanent LVAD support was limited by clinical complications and high costs.

However, a number of new treatment options were emerging, as a revolution in healthcare began to take shape. Between 2013 and 2020, the global market for regenerative medicine grew from $16 billion to $67 billion, more than quadrupling in size.* Among the most notable discoveries were the use of stem cells to repair and replace damaged tissues. One such breakthrough involved the use of Mesenchymal Precursor Cells (MPCs) – rare cells found in blood vessels. Proof of concept was demonstrated in rodent models of heart disease, then larger animals, followed by Phase 3 human trials in 2014.*

Researchers found an optimal dose range of 150 million MPCs. A single injection – requiring no conventional surgery – was shown to release a cocktail of trophic factors inducing new blood vessel formation, heart muscle regeneration, anti-inflammatory properties and reduced scarring. Major improvements in heart function were observed, enabling patients to lead relatively normal lives once again. By 2020, it is commercially available – adding many years to the lifespans of people who would otherwise have died within a short time.*

Various other treatments are emerging this decade,* contributing to a substantial fall in cardiovascular disease. Deaths from these conditions have been largely eliminated in rich countries by the early 2040s.*


stem cells 2020
2020 stem cell treatment for heart failure. Artist's impression of Mesenchymal Precursor Cells (MPCs). Credit: Mesoblast



A cure for malaria

A pill is now available offering a completely effective cure for malaria. With a single dose, it eliminates all strains and blocks transmission from person to person. In 2012, an extensive screening campaign looked at 6 million compounds and selected the most promising from the series to be optimised and retested. A molecule known as MMV390048 was identified as suitable for preclinical development. When tested on animals it showed potent activity against multiple stages in the malaria parasite's life cycle. Animals given a single dose orally were completely cured with no reported side effects. Human clinical trials, beginning in late 2013, achieved similar success.*

This new treatment offers a major improvement to global health. In 2010, there were 216 million documented cases of malaria. Around 655,000 died from the disease – 2.2% of all deaths worldwide – and it caused a quarter of child deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. The actual number of deaths may have been significantly higher as precise statistics for all rural areas were unavailable, with many cases going undocumented.

Malaria had long been associated with poverty, especially for countries in Africa. The eradication of this disease provides a major boost to economic development. In addition to the pill, genetic modification of mosquitoes is also playing a role in finally consigning malaria to history.* Other methods have been developed too. In modern buildings, for instance, automated laser systems can track and kill the insects.*


healthy people 2020 malaria



Progress with longevity extension

By 2020, laboratory experiments are yielding major improvements in the health and lifespan of mice.* Since rodents and humans share similar DNA, there is now real hope of defeating the aging process. Though a permanent "cure" remains a distant prospect, a number of therapies are developed in the 2020s to reduce the cell damage, mitochondrial mutations and other effects of growing older.* For those wealthy enough to afford treatment, these can be used as "bridges" or stepping stones to the more dramatic advances in the decades ahead.* The dream of being able to live indefinitely is gradually moving from the realm of science fiction to science fact. This decade witnesses the beginning of major public interest and awareness of the subject. At the same time, however, there is opposition from religious institutions and conservative groups.


lab mouse robust rejuvenation life extension 2020s  2020 2025



Genetically engineered "super" bananas

East African Highland bananas (EAHB) are a staple food crop in Uganda and other Great Lakes countries, and are used to produce matoke – commonly referred to as cooking bananas. The fruit is harvested green, then cooked and often mashed or pounded into a meal. In its natural state, however, the fruit has low levels of micro-nutrients, particularly pro-vitamin A and iron. Worldwide, vitamin A deficiency is responsible for up to 700,000 children dying each year and over 300,000 going blind.

To address this issue, a group of Australian researchers in 2014 aimed to create genetically engineered "super" bananas. With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they developed a new variety enriched with alpha and beta carotene which the body converts to vitamin A. While identical in appearance on the outside, these specially modified bananas were distinguishable from others due to having a more orange than cream colour inside. Following a series of trials and regulatory approval, this new product is commercially available in Uganda by 2020.* This same technology is later expanded to crops in other countries – including Rwanda, parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Tanzania. It comes at a time when the banana industry is in crisis, due to spread of the TR4 strain of Panama disease which threatens 47% of the global supply.*

A similar project – again funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – produced BioCassava Plus in 2017. Longer term efforts are also being made to engineer perennial wheat and corn, allowing crops to grow continuously for two or more years.* Despite climate change and other threats, poor and subsistence-farming populations are gradually gaining access to more nutritionally rewarding diets, thanks in part to genetic engineering. This is helping to reduce some of the opposition and controversy surrounding GM food.


super bananas 2020 africa
East African Highland bananas, which are used to produce matoke.
Credit: ObsidianSoul (CC-BY-3.0)



Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games

The 2020 Olympic Games are held from 24 July – 9 August 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. The other candidate cities had been Madrid and Istanbul. Prior to Tokyo's selection by the Japanese Olympic Committee, Hiroshima expressed an interest in hosting, but later withdrew their plans to bid. Tokyo had previously hosted the games in 1964 and its National Olympic Stadium is once again used for the main venue.

In August 2013, the Governor of Tokyo, Naoki Inose, stated that the 2011 nuclear accident at Fukushima would not pose a threat to Tokyo's ability to host the Games. He stated that "the water in Tokyo is safe, and we have released this data on our website" and that "radiation levels are no different than in London or Paris." A letter of assurance over the issue was later sent to the IOC members. Tokyo becomes the first Asian city to host the Olympic Games twice. Its slogan for the event is "Discover Tomorrow" and robots are featured during the games in reflection of this.


tokyo 2020 olympic games



Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (MTR) has been significantly expanded

As of 2011, Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (MTR) was 212 km in length. It had 155 stations – 86 railway stations and 69 light rail stops. Since its opening in 1979, it has remained by far the most popular form of public mass transit in the city, handling millions of individual trips in an average work day.

From 2010 to 2020, the railway undergoes a series of major expansions in order to meet rising demand. Two of the first new links are the 3 km West Island Line, completed in 2014, and the 7 km South Island Line in 2015. That same year, the 11 km Sha Tin to Central Link is completed, followed by a 6 km extension across the harbour completed in 2019. This extension makes up the new North-South Line of the MTR.

Opening in 2016 is the Guangzhou-Shenzen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link. This cuts down travel time to Guangzhou and Beijing to 48 minutes and ten hours respectively. It also connects Hong Kong's MTR to the Pearl River Delta Megacity, soon to become the largest metropolitan area in the world. This intercity line will greatly boost jobs and commerce in the south of China.

Various other MTR extensions are opened later in the decade – including the Northern Link, which offers a major transportation corridor for the residents of western Hong Kong. By 2020, the MTR has a total length of greater than 270 km.*


Click to view animation:

hong kong mtr 2020



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.


fehmarn belt bridge fixed link 2020 project
Credit: Femern A/S


Fehmarn Island was already connected by bridge with the German mainland, and Lolland was already connected by bridge with Zealand. Furthermore, Zealand was already connected with the Swedish coast, via the Øresund Bridge. However, there was no link between Fehmarn Island and Lolland until now. The Fehmarn Belt fixed link, therefore, provides a far more direct route from Germany to Sweden and Norway.

Travel times between Scandinavia and continental Europe are in fact substantially reduced: the ferry transit that was required previously took 45 minutes (plus waiting time), but car drivers now require a mere 10 minutes, while train passengers can complete the journey in no more than 7 minutes. The duration of a train journey between Hamburg and Copenhagen is cut from around 4.5 to 3 hours.*


Completion of the Fehmarn Belt Fixed Link project 2020 technology



The UK has expanded its offshore grid connections

In 2008, the UK government passed the Climate Change Act. This committed the nation to legally binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of 34% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 (relative to 1990 levels).*

As part of efforts both to decarbonise its economy and to satisfy future power needs, the UK explored the potential for links with neighbouring countries. Two interconnectors were already in operation, to France and the Netherlands. Several new connections were proposed, with most being completed by 2020.* These included a 560 mile (900 km) cable to Norway, a link between Ireland and Wales, plus additional links to France, Belgium, Spain, Iceland and the small Channel island of Alderney.* Together, these would supply gigawatts of clean energy to the UK.

The Iceland connection was arguably the most ambitious. This 750 mile (1,200 km) line – the longest of its kind in the world – aimed to harvest the abundant geothermal power of the country's volcanoes. In 2012, an agreement was signed between Iceland and the UK, ensuring this project's success while strengthening political relations.* Although the upfront capital costs were high, the 90% load factor of geothermal generation made it an attractive option for the long term.


uk iceland geothermal 2020


These interconnector projects are built with surprising speed. The undersea cables are laid at over 30 km a day, with each kilometre containing 800 tonnes of copper. As well as reducing CO2 emissions, they go some way towards mitigating the impact of peak oil – improving the energy security of Europe as a whole. By 2050, an international "super grid" will be established throughout the continent, combining the wind, wave and geothermal power of northern Europe with solar projects as far south as Africa.

Despite these new projects – and Prime Minister David Cameron's intention to lead the "greenest government ever" – the UK fails to achieve its target of 15% clean energy by 2020.* Though impressive compared with earlier decades, even greater measures will be needed to reduce the country's reliance on fossil fuels.


uk offshore grid connections 2020 future energy map europe



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.*


smart meters uk 2020 technology



Mercury pollution has been greatly reduced

Mercury – also known as quicksilver – is a heavy and silvery element, and the only metal to exist in a liquid state at room temperature. It is used primarily for the manufacture of industrial chemicals, electronic applications, thermometers and in gaseous form to create fluorescent lamps.

If inhaled or absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes, mercury and most of its compounds are extremely toxic. They have a range of devastating health impacts, including brain and neurological damage (especially among the young), birth deformities, kidney damage and digestive system problems. Victims can suffer memory loss and language impairment alongside many other well-documented effects.

In the early 21st century, the largest emissions of mercury came from gold mining. Combustion of fossil fuels – mainly coal in utility, industrial and residential boilers – was the next biggest source. An estimated 1,960 tons were produced each year, with China by far the greatest contributor at nearly one-third of the global total. Improper disposal of certain products like batteries, automobile parts and fluorescent bulbs also led to mercury entering the environment. About 30% of the total amount of mercury entering Earth's atmosphere each year came from anthropogenic (man-made) sources.*


mercury uses

Mercury emissions from man-made sources in 2010. Source: UNEP


Though primarily an issue in developing countries, mercury was recognised as a global problem. In the space of just 100 years, man-made emissions doubled the concentration in the top 100 metres of the planet's oceans.* Food chains were disrupted, with fish and shellfish absorbing small amounts of mercury,* posing a health issue the world over. This was a particular concern for pregnant women and those with young children.

In 2013, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) established a global, legally binding treaty to prevent emissions and releases of mercury. Governments agreed on a wide range of mercury-containing products whose production, export and import would be banned by 2020. Detailed plans were enacted to cut levels of mercury used in mining operations, coal-fired power stations, industrial boilers, smelters, waste incineration and cement clinker facilities. Public awareness campaigns, medical programs and support for mercury-free alternatives were also developed. Though not yet completely eliminated, this has led to a drastic reduction in mercury pollution and its gradual phasing out by many countries.*



Glacier National Park and other regions are becoming ice-free

By 2020, the Glacier National Park in Montana has become completely ice-free, the park's namesakes having disappeared as a result of global warming. An earlier model (shown below) had forecast this event for 2030, based on a study by the US Geological Survey, along with 1992 temperature predictions by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, updated computer models and fresh data obtained in 2009 indicated a temperature rise more than twice as rapid as previously thought.*


Click to view animation:

glacier national park 2020 2030
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey


As early as 2020, therefore, the glaciers were gone, leaving behind only barren rock. Many cold water dependent plants and animals subsequently died out due to loss of habitat, including a number of rare species. Reduced seasonal melting of ice also affected stream flow during the dry summer and fall seasons, reducing water table levels and increasing the number of forest fires. This had the added effect of putting more carbon into the atmosphere. The loss of glaciers also reduced the aesthetic visual appeal of the region for visiting tourists.

This process is being mirrored all over the world, with non-polar ice beginning to vanish from many prominent regions including the Andes, Alps, Himalayas and Kilimanjaro.

Later this century, glacier loss from the Himalayas will have a devastating impact – destabilising much of the Indian subcontinent, including the nuclear-armed Pakistan. Floods and mudslides will be triggered by the initial melting. Afterwards, fewer and smaller glaciers will mean less run-off to rivers such as the Ganges that would normally provide fresh water for drinking, agricultural production and hydroelectric power generation. Given that the Mekong, Yangtze and Yellow rivers are affected too, this could mean water shortages for potentially two billion people.



Britain's new aircraft carriers reach full operational capability

The Queen Elizabeth class is a new type of aircraft carrier built for the Royal Navy. It replaces a trio of aging Invincible class ships that were in service from 1980-2014. Two aircraft carriers are developed in this new class: HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. These vessels – described as "supercarriers" by the media – feature a displacement of 70,600 tonnes, over three times that of the older Invincible class; an overall length of 280 m (920 ft), a width at deck level of 70 metres (230 ft) and height of 56 metres (184 ft). They are the largest warships ever built in the United Kingdom.

Under the flight deck are a further nine decks. The hangar deck is large enough to accommodate up to 40 fixed and rotary wing aircraft. To transfer aircraft from the hangar to the flight deck, the ships have two large lifts, each of which are capable of lifting two F-35-sized aircraft from the hangar to the flight deck in under a minute. The ships' self-defence weapons are the Phalanx CIWS (4,500 rounds/minute) for airborne threats, and miniguns plus 30mm cannons for sea threats.

Each ship has a crew of 686 (up to 1,600 when including the aircraft), integrated full electric propulsion with a range of 10,000 nautical miles (12,000 mi; 19,000 km) and speed of 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph). The main radar is a BAE Systems S1850M with fully automatic detection, for tracking up to 1,000 air targets at a range of around 400 km (250 mi). A second radar known as Artisan can track objects the size of a snooker ball from 20 km (12 mi) away.

Despite their impressive size and capabilities, the Queen Elizabeth class receives a great deal of criticism from the British media and public. The ships are delivered late and over budget. In 2013, it was reported that costs would need to almost double from the original £3.6 billion to £6.2 billion. Following sea trials in the late 2010s, both ships are operational in 2020.* They will remain in service for up to 50 years.*


queen elizabeth class aircraft carrier timeline 2020



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.*


30000 drones by 2020



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 that arrived in 2012 – but carries a different scientific payload. This time, the main objectives are:

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.*


mars 2020 rover mission



The first test flights of NASA's Quiet Supersonic Technology

In 2020, a new "low-boom" supersonic passenger plane begins flight tests as part of a NASA research program.* This is the first in a series of X-planes being developed by the agency, which are intended to make air travel greener, safer and quieter. The 10-year New Aviation Horizons initiative aims to reduce fuel use, emissions and noise through innovations in aircraft design that depart from conventional tube-and-wing shapes. Lockheed Martin is among the contractors who unveil a preliminary design for Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST). This is built at half the scale of a commercial aircraft and is piloted. While still at the prototype stage, it leads to further advances in supersonic travel and a new generation of planes capable of exceeding Mach One (the speed of sound), but without causing a loud supersonic boom. The economic impact of these various new technologies amounts to over $255 billion in operational cost savings between 2025 and 2050.


nasa quiet supersonic technology 2020 timeline
NASA's Quiet Supersonic Technology (QueSST)



England's Coastal Path is open to walkers

England's Coastal Path is a 3,000-mile (4,800 km) public footway covering the entire perimeter of England and Wales. It opens up locations that were previously restricted to landowners and/or were physically inaccessible. Thousands of new walks, rural trails, climbing routes, beaches, coves, clifftops and scenic views become available – helping to boost tourism, improve local economies and breathe new life into seaside towns and villages. A route covering Wales had already been completed in 2012. The remaining English sections were expected to be finished by 2030, but additional government funding allowed this schedule to be brought forward 10 years, to 2020.* This new coastal path will be threatened by erosion in subsequent decades.* However, it is designed to "roll back", so if part of the coast erodes or slips, the path isn't lost; it can soon be moved back with the new coastline.*


england coastal path 2020



Expo 2020 is held in Dubai

Every few years and for a period of six months, World Expos attract millions of visitors. The 2020 World Expo is hosted by Dubai, the first Middle Eastern city to organise the event in its 170-year history. The theme this time is "Connecting Minds, Creating the Future" with a focus on today's highly interconnected world and the progress achieved by working collaboratively.* Dubai gains a major economic boost from organising and hosting the event – over $24 billion from 2015-2021, or nearly a quarter of the city's gross domestic product.* Competing bids had come from Izmir (Turkey), Sao Paulo (Brazil) and Yekaterinburg (Russia).




The PlayStation 5 is launched

The PlayStation 5 (PS5) is a ninth-generation video game console developed by Sony. As the successor to the PS4, it is among the company's flagship consumer electronics products. The PS5 features exponential improvements in graphical ability – tens of gigabytes of RAM and over 10 teraFLOPS of computing power,* pushing it close to the 40 teraFLOPS needed to render photo-realistic dynamic scenes.* It also includes support for VR, augmented and mixed reality, now that these technologies are becoming cheaper and more widely adopted, along with support for 8K Ultra HD. The PS5 is released in the second half of 2020.*


playstation 5 sony 2020 release ps5
Credit: Peter Kotoff




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1 Carbon emission release rate 'unprecedented' in past 66m years, The Guardian:
Accessed: 7th April 2016.

2 Arctic Amplification, NASA:
Accessed: 7th April 2016.

3 An interview with climate scientist Paul Beckwith, Future Timeline Blog:
Accessed: 7th April 2016.

4 NSIDC bombshell: Thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from carbon sink to source in the 2020s, releasing 100 billion tons of carbon by 2100, Climate Progress:
Accessed: 7th April 2016.

5 The Future History of the Arctic, by Charles Emmerson:
Accessed: 7th April 2016.

6 Polar bears losing weight as Arctic sea ice melts, Canadian study finds, The Guardian:
Accessed: 7th April 2016.

7 Polar bears are unlikely to survive the 21st century, Future Timeline Blog:
Accessed: 7th April 2016.

8 NASA Officially Joins ESA's 'Dark Universe' Mission, NASA:
Accessed: 27th January 2013.

9 "Clinical trials of gene therapy for humans could be started within 5 to 10 years."
Gene therapy restores hearing in deaf mice,
Accessed: 3rd April 2016.

10 When will cancer be cured?, Future Timeline Blog:
Accessed: 31st March 2016.

11 3-D technology detects 40 percent more breast cancers than mammography, Future Timeline Blog:
Accessed: 31st March 2016.

12 Hodgkin lymphoma survival statistics, Cancer Research UK (latest available data):
Accessed: 5th October 2012.

13 Browse the SEER Cancer Statistics Review 1975-2009, The National Cancer Institute:
Accessed: 5th October 2012.

14 Obama unveils new strategy for 'leaner' US military, BBC:
Accessed: 14th December 2012.

15 Obama intensifies "pivot" to Asia, World Socialist Website:
Accessed: 14th December 2012.

16 The Response of China's Neighbors to the U.S. "Pivot" to Asia, Brookings:
Accessed: 14th December 2012.

17 Obama's Road to Myanmar Is Paved With New Asia Intentions, The New York Times:
Accessed: 14th December 2012.

18 Russia begins its slow pivot to Asia, FT:
Accessed: 14th December 2012.

19 Chengdu J-20, Wikipedia:
Accessed: 26th February 2017.

20 10 page report:
The Generation Gap and the 2012 Election, Pew Research Center:
Accessed: 20th November 2011.

21 The Looming Gen X Global Revolution of 2020, The Huffington Post:
Accessed 19th November 2011.

22 10 fool-proof predictions for the Internet in 2020, Network World:
Accessed 21st February 2018.

23 More than half of global population now online: UN, Yahoo!:
Accessed 4th January 2019.

24 Japan eyes 'mind-reading' devices, robots by 2020: report, PhysOrg:
Accessed 3rd January 2018.

25 The Brain Twitter Interface, YouTube:
Accessed 24th April 2010.

26 British team grows human heart valve from stem cells, Guardian.co.uk:
Accessed 7th May 2009.

27 21st Century Medicine – Organ preservation for transplantation, 21st Century Medicine:
Accessed 24th February 2010.

28 Global Regenerative Medicines Market (Technology, Application and Geography) - Size, Global Trends, Company Profiles, Demand, Insights, Analysis, Research, Report, Opportunities, Segmentation and Forecast, 2013 - 2020, Research and Markets:
Accessed 6th September 2014.

29 MSB & NIH Agree 120 Patient Trial In End-Stage Heart Failure, Mesoblast:
Accessed 6th September 2014.

30 "Experts said that if the larger trial proves to be an equal success then the first stem cell-based therapy to treat advanced heart failure – known scientifically as 'class IV' failure – could be on the market in six years."
See Scientist honoured by the Vatican on verge of stem-cell breakthrough, Catholic Herald:
Accessed 6th September 2014.

31 See 2026.

32 See 2041.

33 "... it could be at least seven years before any pill derived from this new compound is distributed throughout malaria-afflicted regions."
See South African Scientists Claim Breakthrough Drug Cures All Strains of Malaria, PopSci:
Accessed 1st September 2012.

34 GM mosquitoes offer malaria hope, BBC:
Accessed 1st September 2012.

35 Intellectual Ventures: Mosquito Laser Shootdown Sequence, YouTube:
Accessed 1st September 2012.

36 Aubrey de Grey's Prediction for 2020, YouTube:
Accessed 25th March 2012.

37 Aubrey de Grey – In Pursuit of Longevity, Singularity University:
Accessed 25th March 2012.

38 Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever, Ray Kurzweil:
Accessed 25th March 2012.

39 'Super' banana to face first human trial, PhysOrg:
Accessed 16th June 2014.

40 Disease threatens world's bananas, says UN, PhysOrg:
Accessed 16th June 2014.

41 See 2031.

42 MTR Projects:
Accessed 10th November 2011.

43 Femern A/S – Fehmarnbelt Fixed Link:
Accessed 10th November 2011.

44 Climate Change Act 2008, The National Archives:
Accessed 23rd June 2012.

45 Offshore Grid Development for a Secure Renewable Future – a UK Perspective, The Department of Energy & Climate Change:
Accessed 23rd June 2012.

46 Iceland's volcanoes may power UK, The Guardian:
Accessed 23rd June 2012.

47 UK and Iceland sign energy agreement, UK Government:
Accessed 3rd January 2018.

48 Missed renewable energy targets will cost UK dear, warns study, The Guardian:
Accessed 23rd June 2012.

49 Smart meters to be fitted in every home by 2020, BBC:
Accessed 29th January 2011.

50 UK energy smart meter roll-out is outlined, BBC:
Accessed 29th January 2011.

51 Global Mercury Assessment 2013, UNEP:
Accessed 19th January 2013.

52 Mercury treaty adopted in Geneva by 140 countries, Dawn.com:
Accessed 19th January 2013.

53 Mercury in fish, Wikipedia:
Accessed 19th January 2013.

54 "Governments have agreed on a range of mercury containing products whose production, export and import will be banned by 2020. Certain kinds of non-electronic medical devices such as thermometers and blood pressure devices are also included for phase-out by 2020."
See Minamata Convention Agreed by Nations, UNEP:
Accessed 19th January 2013.

55 No More Glaciers in Glacier National Park by 2020?, National Geographic:
Accessed 12th April 2009.

56 Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier, Wikipedia:
Accessed 4th November 2013.

57 Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, Royal Navy:
Accessed 21st February 2018.

58 Surveillance Drones, Electronic Frontier Foundation:
Accessed 20th January 2013.

59 New York City police eye drones for surveillance purposes, Digital Journal:
Accessed 20th January 2013.

60 Drones over U.S. get OK by Congress, The Washington Times:
Accessed 20th January 2013.

61 See 2016.

62 Science Team Outlines Goals for NASA's 2020 Mars Rover, NASA:
Accessed 12th July 2013.

63 NASA Begins Work to Build a Quieter Supersonic Passenger Jet, NASA:
Accessed 2nd March 2016.

64 England Coast Path to be completed by 2020, The National Trust:
Accessed 23rd May 2015.

65 See 2034.

66 England Coast Path in Kent: two steps forward, Gov.uk:
Accessed 23rd May 2015.

67 Expo 2020 Dubai, Official website:
Accessed 27th November 2013.

68 Dubai Chosen to Host 2020 World Expo, ABC News:
Accessed 27th November 2013.

69 Extrapolated trend from earlier generations:
PS1 (66 MFLOPS / 2MB RAM), PS2 (6.2 GFLOPS / 32MB RAM), PS3 (230.4 GFLOPS / 256MB RAM), PS4 (1.843 TFLOPS / 8GB RAM), PS4 Pro (4.12 TFLOPS / 8GB RAM).

70 Sweeney: 40 TFLOPS Can Render Photo-Realistic Dynamic Scenes, But Humans Require More Than Computing Power, WCCF Tech:
Accessed 15th February 2018.

71 PS5 Release Date, PS5 Launch Games, PS5 Rumors, How Powerful is the PS5? - Everything we Know, US Gamer:
Accessed 15th February 2018.


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