Facing digital assassination? Innovation predictions for 2020

What’s in store of us in 2020 as technology takes on a growing range of social challenges? UK innovation foundation Nesta has made a series of ten predictions

Imagine having your own personal digital twin to live out alternative futures for you, so you don’t have to make any changes in real life until you are sure which path to take. Or watching a last big bang for fireworks as unsustainable pyrotechnics are replaced by drone swarms. Or taking out cyber-insurance to defend yourself from digital assassination.

These are just some of the technology predictions for 2020, launched by Nesta (the UK’S National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) in January. As an innovation foundation, Nesta has some form in future-gazing. In 2019, the organisation accurately predicted that ‘deep fake’ videos would be weaponised in the media. It also proposed the rise of the RoboLawyer as the legal profession is disrupted by AI and automation, a revolution in assistive technologies for disabled people, and an end to the traditional working week (which didn’t happen but many more companies successfully piloted four-day working weeks).

Digital doppelganger

Among Nesta’s most eye-catching predictions for 2020 is the digital doppelganger, which will be built accurately from your digital profile to do the things you don’t dare to do – like moving to the seaside to open an artisan bakery while you keep that banking job in the City. As your digital twin tests the impact of various life decisions, putting your personal data back into your own hands, you will no longer have to ask ‘what if?’ A scary thought.

Nesta also predicts that, in 2020, the move to a cashless society will reach a tipping point, leaving whole swatches of our economy and geography where you can neither get hold of cash nor spend it. More democracies facing apathy and distrust will experiment with different (and potentially better) voting systems such as quadratic voting, which allows people not just to express what they like and don’t like, but also how important it is to them. And there will be a growing sense of fear over the threat of climate change, which Nesta terms ‘ecoanxiety’.

Positive predictions

There are some positive things on the horizon. Women’s health will be boosted by a focus on hormones and the rise of FemTech. Education will address a lost generation by focusing on broader skills and creativity. And for those seeking more balance in the workplace, there will be a revival of 21st century unions after years of decline.

As public surveillance technology expands to identifying protestors by their gait (without the inconvenience of facial recognition), Nesta predicts that street protesters in Hong Kong, Paris and elsewhere will perfect ‘silly walks’ to dodge the authorities. As for those fireworks, which send billions up in smoke every year around the world and cause endless pollution and accidents, the prediction is that drones will replace them for popular entertainment and son et lumiere displays.

Nesta’s final prediction for 2020 is perhaps most relevant to the age of social media. To prevent identify theft and hacking of our digital accounts, we will take out cyber-insurance to ensure our personal reputations remain intact in the era of internet piracy. We may want to save the planet, improve public health and transform education, but for many people, avoiding ‘digital assassination’ comes before everything else.

Read more about Nesta’s predictions for 2020 here
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