Society is congregating into more densely populated areas. This isn’t just due to the overall population growth on our little rock as it flies through space—societal and tech trends share some responsibility, as well. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario: Tech enables societal change, and societal change drives technological innovation.
Rapid urbanization affects everyone, whether they live in a large metropolitan area or out in the country. Megacities—metropolitan areas with a population of 10 million or more people—are springing up across the globe. How will humanity adapt to these massive changes?
To toot our own horns, we are the most technologically adaptable species we’ve encountered to date. New tech trends are becoming apparent with each passing day—from discovering ways to move people and products, new developments in medicine, and more sustainable methods of extracting and utilizing resources to improving connectivity across the globe. Let’s take a look at some of these technologies and examine how they might impact the cities of the future.
1. 3D printing
We’ve talked about the advantages of 3D printing, but it’s important to mention it again. The notion of converting chunks of raw material into something usable has been at the core of human existence since the stone age. Modern scanning technology will let us convert the physical world to digital information with ease, and 3D printing will change supply chain logistics forever.
Generating the components required to assemble a piece of furniture or an entire building on site with the right 3D printer and materials drastically increases agility and versatility on both a personal and industrial scale. Engineers can fashion components with high precision and low cost, and anyone with access to a computer and 3D printer can prototype designs to solve problems as they encounter them—even more easily with the right 3D-scanning capabilities. Soon, we’ll live in a world entirely made out of building blocks.
2. Autonomous zero-emissions cars
According to Engadget, Germany announced that it intends to ban the sale of internal combustion engine cars by 2030, forcing shoppers to buy vehicles exclusively powered by electricity or hydrogen fuel cells. Controversy aside, pollution is a real problem when 10 million (or more) people need to get around.
Eliminating emissions is only part of the battle. Traffic is a huge issue in large metropolitan areas as it is, and the amount of time it takes to cross town only grows with increases in population. Humans have naturally slow reaction times and are prone to making emotionally charged decisions, which is why we institute things like driving laws and traffic lights. Autonomous cars have the potential to alleviate the stress on traffic.
If there were no humans actually driving cars, we could do away with traffic lights entirely. Cars could zip between intersections and adjust their speed and timing, so they’d never get into an accident or wait for a green light, sharing information about their location, speed, the conditions of the road, and so on, all at a far quicker rate than humans could ever hope to achieve behind the wheel.
Electric car manufacturer Tesla already supports an improving form of autonomy, and its cars can help you navigate around town in a statistically safer fashion than if you were operating the controls yourself. To mitigate cost, Tesla intends to automate ride sharing, explains Wired. When you’re at work or not using your car, it can drive itself to pick up others and taxi them around on its own, with the profits going toward the cost of the vehicle (and eventually into your pocket).
By 2046, we might regard actually driving a car as a leisure activity in the same way we view horseback riding today.
3. Wearable technology and augmented reality
These two categories are deeply intertwined. Wearables is already gaining momentum as a trend, and augmented reality devices allow you do more with less. Navigating the multidimensional maze of a megacity can be drastically simplified with a screen in front of you, telling you exactly when and where to turn and what elevators to take.
Many folks sport a smart watch. Despite Google Glass being taken back to the drawing board, it showed some promise and created interest in its early stages. A ZDNet article explains how Microsoft is developing the HoloLens, which actively maps your surroundings and displays virtual objects in the real world. These devices have two things in common: They get strapped to your body, take information about the real world, and do something innovative with it.
Again, we might regard navigating a megacity in the future without a wearable augmented reality display in the same vein as navigating a present-day city without a smartphone and GPS—pure madness.
Last on the list is the automation of labour. Structures could be erected in record time with automated vehicles delivering raw materials to an on-site 3D printer that can create supporting beams, light banisters, and windows to be installed by robotic cranes manufactured by the same on-site 3D printer.
This begs a major question, however: What will those 10 million people do if robots handle all the labour? The utopian answer is one of creativity and culture. People could create new prototypes, spend their time writing music, making movies, exploring philosophy, and trading ideas with one another.
But we’ll be working with the robots for the foreseeable future, before running out of work to do. And that sure beats working against them.