5 Technologies that will Change Communication in the 2020s

No one can doubt how much communication has changed in the last ten years. The rise of the smartphone and touch screen technology, greater access to high-speed internet, and social media networks that span the globe have meant we can contact anyone, anywhere, at any time. But this is just the beginning.

When I was a kid, growing up in rural Canada, my family had a rotary phone. It took forever just to dial one phone number. It was happy days when we got our first push-button phone. However, because of our isolation, we still shared a phone line with our neighbour. This was optimistically called a ‘party line’, but it wasn’t. It meant call interruptions, busy lines when you were waiting for an important call, and unintentionally listening in on your neighbour’s conversations.

Fast forward thirty years to the present and such a situation is unheard of. Pervasive high-speed internet, cellular networks, fast but small personal computers, and social media networks have made communication instant and omnipresent. And it’s also given us the imagination to see how much further it can go.

So here are 5 ways technology will change communication in the next decade.

1. 6G Networks

While the world is still working on, and fighting over, the development of 5G wireless internet networks, many are already considering the development of 6G.

What is 6G?

6G technology is expected to support up to one terabyte per second transmission rates with microsecond latency using a much wider frequency range. In other words, it allows the download/upload of a huge amount of data very quickly. It’s the equivalent of downloading 200 Blue-Ray discs each second! It will be on the order of a thousand times faster than 5G.

How will it change our world?

With 6G communication will truly be instantaneous for the average person. Music and video downloads, already incredibly fast, will be instantaneous &mdash even at the highest quality. This also means content streaming and fringe technologies such as augmented reality will become pervasive.

The consequences?

Completely recorded history

Combined with higher capacity, smaller-sized data storage and 6G means there will be no reason for people not to record and store their entire life in video. If this sounds invasive or creepy, consider the positive security implications for most people. Why would anyone attack you if they were certain to be identified?

A virtual reality

We will truly enter the virtual age. In combination with the technologies listed below, 6G will enable us to reshape our personal experience of the world. Don’t want to see ads? They’re all blocked. Want everyone to look like cartoon characters? No problem. Change the visual textures of objects around you? Certainly.

When will we have 6G?

6G is expected to be available by 2030, so we’ll have to make do with 5G for most of the next decade. However, given the increasing pace of technological development, I wouldn’t be surprised if it arrived early.

2. Global Satellite Networks

While Elon Musk’s SpaceX is the current leader in the development of a global network of communication satellites with their StarLink, several other companies are preparing to develop their own networks to blanket the world.

Conceptual image of the StarLink Satellite Constellation that will eventually surround Earth. Image from Inverse.com

What is StarLink?

StarLink and other similar systems is a network of around 12,000 tiny satellites that will orbit the Earth as an interconnected cluster. They will provide access to the internet from anywhere on the planet. Everyone from lost explorers to the poor in developing countries will have the same internet access.

As a Canadian, living in a fairly remote part of the world by the standards of modern civilization, I can suggest this will greatly improve internet access in many parts of larger developed nations also.

While this will also bring many more consumer markets online, a big boon will be in areas such as telemedicine, where doctors will be able to provide advanced medical services to remote areas of the world.

When will StarLink be ready?

As of writing, SpaceX has launched 162 satellites in the StarLink network although they continue a steady stream of launches. Commercial access may be as early as this year. However, they still need to work out issues regarding possible interference with ground-based observatories. In addition, there hasn’t been much information on the commercial model of the StarLink system although competition from other companies, if StarLink is successful, would likely bring prices down.

3. Greater selection of wearables

As computing technology gets smaller and smaller, the world of wearable gadgets becomes more affordable and enticing.

Currently, the main wearable on the market is a wide variety of smartwatches. And the main market for these is fitness and health. No one has really figured out how to integrate them in a meaningful way outside of this area or into different articles of clothing.

There are signs that this is changing, albeit slowly. A smart belt comes on the market soon. Another health-related gadget, to be sure, as it tracks your waistline and eating habits. Although the manufacturers suggest in can also anticipate falls, which means it could be used to automatically call for help for those who need it.

Although there hasn’t been much mention of other wearables besides display glasses and a sleep-tracker headband, I’m going to predict that in not too long, and as our mobile bandwidth and cloud storage capacity continues to increase, many inventors will turn their thoughts to embedding not just expanded health measurements, but also security features in jewellery.

Tiny microphones and cameras in rings, earrings and necklaces would seem to be inevitable. They will also be the next obvious step toward fully recorded history.

Either our children, or our children’s children, will be permanently online in a way that feels like an invasion of privacy today. They will consider it as both security and community. Being disconnected will come to feel as if a limb has been amputated.

4. Digital Contact Lenses

Prototype glucose-measuring contact lense. Image from Lensestore.co.uk

Humorous memes comparing smartphone users to zombies have been around for some time and, sadly, are not inaccurate.

In 2016, Germany installed ground crosswalk lights so phone users would cross more safely without having to look up from their phone screens. In addition, medical studies have suggested we are developing hunches from staring down at our phones too much. Clearly a new heads-up display technology is needed.

While Google glasses met with some resistance back in 2012, the world has moved on and is embracing such devices more readily in 2020. However, display glasses remain cumbersome. But what if contact lenses could be used instead? If combined with other wearables, their limitations of size could be more easily overcome.

While this may seem like science fiction to many, it’s probably closer than you think. There are already companies beginning to market digital contacts. At this stage their main market is &emdash you guessed it &emdash health.

Several companies are about to come on the market with glucose-sensing contact lenses that can help in monitoring diabetes. There are also ‘nano-wafer’ contacts that, while not digital, can be used for delivering drugs to the eye.

But don’t despair, science fiction fans, there are already prototypes for contacts with zoom lenses and both Sony and Samsung are developing digital displays that could work with our smartphones.

So, it’s very likely that within the 2020s digital contacts will become the main display method for mobile devices. When that happens, we will experience a rapid transition from smartphones to wearables.

After all, who wants to carry around a bulky phone when your watch, belt, or necklace can do the job, feeding the image directly to your eyes?

5. NeuraLink

As fast as modern communication and computers are, they’re still too slow for some people. Or rather, the human-computer connection is too slow.

Elon Musk (of SpaceX, Tesla, and PayPal fame) has created a company to improve the interface speed between human and device… by building it into our brains. No more hunt-and-peck, or swipe-right, swipe-left. NeuraLink will make it possible to operate our computers and portable devices with our mind alone.

While still in the early stages of development, NeuraLink is already testing surgical implantation techniques on living brains. Still, there are many more hurdles to overcome &emdash both technical and social &emdash before a brian-implanted computer interface becomes commonplace.

When it does, however, it will not just speed up human-machine connections, but it will change the nature of what it means to be human. We will have entered a new stage of human existence.

Your Thoughts

So, what do you think? What is the wearable you most look forward to? What do you think about the coming age of hyper-fast communication and incredibly small devices? And how do you feel about having a brain implant that allows you to control your computers?

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