You've got mail! ...from the future. Our world sure has changed a lot. Are these predictions? Not exactly. At IDEO CoLab we're exploring the future and using fiction as inspiration. We could be right, or very wrong. Sort through the mail and send some to a friend!
Click each card to view a story about the future. Click send to share it with a friend or the world.
2065 marked the passing of the Short Run Act in the United States, limiting all careers to just 10 years of cumuluative employment in any single field. Coupled with a Universal Basic Income program (the last one to be implemented globally), the Short Run Act enabled Americans to pursue multiple careers in their lifetime, interspersed with periods of "pause" for re-education, upskilling, wellness, and family development. As a result, GDP actually increased, while healthcare costs and unemployment plummeted.
In 2042 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the creator of the Aurum. This small wearable device interfaces directly with the occipital lobe, enabling the viewer to "see" feelings by amplifying the effects of body language and pheromone off-gassing. Humans around the world found comfort in knowing that small arguments were, in fact, brought on by mutual misunderstanding or failure to read subtle cues. The act of apology became celebrated in The Parade of Empathy, a global gathering of visible joy, sorrow, and acceptance, culminating in the now famous Empathy Fireworks.
Since the first commercial deployments of fusion in 2025 and the launch of the ITER distributed reactors in France in 2035, fusion power has revolutionized the role of energy in our economy. Harnessing the same reactions that power the sun, fusion creates safe, carbon-free, local, and very low-cost energy. With fusion now available globally, will children born today even remember the fossil fuel era?
In 2027, after Vietnam became the last country to refuse plastic recycling waste from overseas, domestic recyclers began to buckle under the strain of plastic waste from their own countries. The bioplastics market boomed globally, offering packaging in a wide array of materials—from 3D-printed cassava root to silkworm-spun silk. In Germany, a government mandate ensured that all new packaging be self-biodegrading within 2 years, prompting a global revolution in which all countries reached zero-waste packaging supply chains by 2045.
As part of the Green New Deal, 10,000 miles of US highway were rebuilt to include high-speed rail corridors between 2025 and 2030. In just a few years, this new infrastructure resulted in a 95% reduction in domestic air travel, made car trips with over two hours of highway driving virtual obsolete, and reduced the carbon footprint of US transportation by 80%.
After widespread adoption of fusion energy made electricity practically free, urban farming technology took off. Instead of grocery stores, neighborhoods built indoor farms equiped with variable heat, light, and nutrients that were once prohibitively expensive. Plant-based meat could be synthesized on-demand, and the predictability of growing conditions allowed food to be grown-to-order. This hyper-localization of food eliminated the demand for industrial land use and reduced food waste via small-scale, sustainable farms.
In 2030, it was discovered that previous safeguards to make genetic modifications non-heritable were actually ineffective. With the number of genetically modified organisms actually far greater than anticipated, public pressure forced a loosening of governmental regulations. In order to compete for jobs, intelligence, or even basic survival, genetic modification has become a must-have. Decades later, we take our "New You" salons for granted. Walk-ins welcome!
Global Citizenship came about in reaction to two very different phenomena: 1) a growing number of refugees who became stateless (20% of the world's population in 2030) as a result of geopolitical shifts, climate change, or persecution, and 2) the rise of more fluid individual employment as corporations divested themselves of all but a few full-time employees. The first Global Citizenship passport was awarded to citizens of Kitribati when the island finally succumbed to rising sea levels, enabling these citizens to travel and work anywhere in the world.
In late 2054, early registration began for uploading human conciousness to "The Rhizome", a network of organic mycelium modified to encode and decode organic data. Early hyphae contained hundreds of thousands of bits of human thought and emotion—far less than today’s storage standards. People outside the network could encode messages to symbiotized loved ones by talking to networked houseplants. Later advances allowed for short trips to the Rhizome: protective tree trunks enveloped humans in the mat, connecting their conciousness without full body assimiliation.
After the "mini-dust bowl" decimated US agriculture in the late 2020s, desalination plants came to the rescue. Fueled by inexpensive, clean, and ubiquitous fusion energy, desalination provides a realiable source of clean water that keeps our farms growing and people hydrated. In an unexpected reversal of climate change trends, these desalination plants made it more desireable to live in areas of the world most impacted by climate change, prompting global population redistribution. Eat your heart out, Paul Atreides.
Inspired by vocational schools and small colleges around the world, Harvard introduced its School of Trade Sciences in 2040 to develop curated crafts curricula. After automation did away with the most repetitive jobs—from flipping burgers to legal counseling—students began to seek out careers previously isolated to trade schools. Demand and esteem for electrical, plumbing, and appliance maintenance skyrocketed—with students seeking the best training in independent problem solving as well as interpersonal skills.
In 2019, widespread disappointment surrounding the series finale of Game of Thrones (a popular 2D stream-o-cast of the time) led to the revival of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" model from popular books of the 1980's-90's. Storyscape™ technology enabled an infinite number of endings, adaptable on-the-fly to audience interests and emotions. Viewers began rewatching the same show multiple times a night. Five years later, deep-fake technology enabled "View Your Own Adventure," letting viewers be the star of every show—while famous actors took on supporting roles.
After Denmark and Sweden outlawed business air travel for visits of fewer than five days, the telepresence industry blossomed. The first telepresence cafés appeared a few months later, providing both holographic and VR-based meeting rooms for up to 20 people in over 30 countries around the world. Rentable mobile telepresence rigs soon followed as the technology improved, until the arrival of the in-home and portable units we're familiar with today.
Illustrated on other side: Pre-MeBot technologies from the age before personal neural nets enabled rapid training of personal bots for menial tasks. Left to Right: a "Palm-Pilot" for personal calendar management, a telephone (for voice communication to other people), rope stanchions to direct long queues, a paper parking ticket.
After narrowly avoiding the 21st century climate catastrophe, the UN passed the Future Generations Resolution. This binds all member nations to create public education curriculum for K-6 grades that includes the perspective of future earth inhabitants. Children engage in critical thinking and forecasting exercises and quantum computing simulations that help them consider the effects of each individual decision on generations hundreds of years in the future.
Well into the early 21st century, many people enjoyed being outdoors and close to nature, though still within easy access of urban environments. With prolonged outdoor activity today carrying so many health risks, "The Suburbs" offers the next-best thing—a simulated outdoor environment in convenient indoor locations in over 100 cities (and counting!) around the globe. Subscriptions start at just $450/month. So come on down and mow the lawn, have a picnic, or just keep up with the Joneses!