Science & Technology

5 Technologies That 5 Billion Will Use by 2050

Possibly changing the way we live just as profoundly as the internet did.


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Since 1996, the number of people using the internet has climbed from about 40 million people to about 5 billion—or 60 percent of the world's population. There's internet access in the city slums of India, the rice terraces of Vietnam, and the favelas of Brazil.

That's a massive shift in 27 years—or my entire lifetime.

Venture capitalist Paul Graham recently asked on Twitter, "What do 36 million people use now that eventually 5 billion will?"

Here are my predictions for five technologies that could overtake the world by 2050, possibly changing the way we live just as profoundly as the internet did, and solving some of our most vexing problems, which almost always happens through creativity and innovation, not through regulation or government spending.


About 4.4 billion people live in big cities, myself included, and getting around isn't easy or convenient. The pandemic made the budgetary problems of urban transit systems even worse, bringing steep declines in ridership. Meanwhile, the federal government is providing massive new subsidies for urban rail systems that barely anyone used even pre-COVID, like a proposed $2.5 billion streetcar in Atlanta.

Rail was a cutting-edge technology—in the 19th century. I predict that by 2050 the standard in urban mobility will be electric mopeds and pedal-assisted bikes—individualized forms of street transit powered by apps.

The U.S. electric scooter market is expected to double in size by 2030. And we're actually late adopters: Throughout much of Asia, especially India and China, mopeds have already become commonplace, competing with cars, rickshaws, and the lowly bicycle in providing point-to-point mobility, which is where rail falls short.

Some U.S. cities have sought to ban e-scooter companies such as Bird, Lime, and Revel, but like Uber, these services are proving so popular that commuters won't let them be outlawed.

Delivery Drones

Since Amazon founder Jeff Bezos unveiled plans for delivery drones a decade ago, progress has been slow.

Today, there are only a few thousand delivery robots currently operating in the U.S. But that's about to change: In December, Prime Air successfully completed commercial deliveries in College Station, Texas, and Lockeford, California.

On the other side of the world, Meituan and Alibaba have just started rolling out this service to customers.

In the U.S., delivery drones have been hindered by the Federal Aviation Administration's approval process, and it's the same regulatory story in China. But I predict that won't be true much longer because of the overwhelming benefit this service brings in terms of convenience for customers and in reducing the traffic problems caused by delivery trucks clogging up our streets.

By 2050, I'm confident that the urban skyline will be buzzing with what will look like a swarm of carrier pigeons bearing books, spatulas, bottles of vinegar, or whatever else you might order on Amazon—not to mention, hearts and kidneys racing toward hospitals.

Language A.I. 

Generative A.I.—the form of artificial intelligence that uses human prompts to generate unique text and images—had a breakthrough year in 2022. From DALL-E to Lensa, people are using image generators mostly to screw around on the internet. But we're entering the age of sophisticated text A.I., which will revolutionize everything from customer service to poetry.

ChatGPT requires a prompt to generate large volumes of fairly sophisticated text. It is capable of "answering followup questions, admitting its mistakes, challenging incorrect premises, and rejecting inappropriate requests," according to its developer, OpenAI.

Described as a "second brain," ChatGPT will free up some people to work different jobs, as technology always does, while allowing others to do the same work more productively.

Why spend hours researching the technologies described in this video when you can just ask ChatGPT to generate a personalized report? ChatGPT could write the first draft of a professor's syllabus, suggest storylines for a TV show, craft portions of a journalist's article, or create website copy describing a product for sale. Language A.I. will change how we do our jobs in much the same way that search did.

Lab-Grown Meat

When factory farming first began in the '20s, it was designed to minimize costs while maximizing production—animal welfare be damned. But now that scientists can grow meat in labs there's less reason to inflict suffering on the 50 billion chickens and 300 million cows we raise and kill for food each year.

I personally find plant-based substitutes like Impossible Burgers and Beyond Burgers disgusting, but when we can actually scale the process of growing meat in labs, that'll be a game changer. That's when the era of factory farming will come to an end, rendering the U.S. Department of Agriculture mostly useless while reducing the industry's environmental footprint. We'll finally be able to enjoy foie gras without having to think about the ducks we force-fed to fatten their livers.

I bet there will always be some demand for actual meat, just as there are upscale buildings with elevator operators and horse and carriage rides in Central Park. But meat lovers in general will make more ethical food choices as it gets easier, cheaper, and more delicious to do so.

Health Wearables

When Fitbit trackers debuted in 2009, they allowed people for the first time to track their movement with a simple black wristband. Of course, the concept of the pedometer is an old one—there was a big step-counting craze in 1960s Japan—but the FitBit ushered in the modern-day trend of using wearables to learn about your own individual health data, whether it be step counting, sleep tracking, and continuous glucose monitoring. By 2050, I predict that wearables loaded with censors will eliminate the already dubious annual physical and send most of our primary care doctors the way of switchboard operators.

Before the advent of continuous glucose monitoring, people with diabetes had to prick their fingers throughout the day to measure their blood sugar. Now these tiny electrode devices under the skin can do so continuously. I think by 2050, even nondiabetics will use these tools to monitor their insulin responses, getting data about how their bodies interact with the things they put in them—a business idea that's already in the works.

Some 540 million adults live with diabetes worldwide, a number that's expected to grow to almost 800 million by 2045.  The global prevalence of obesity tripled between 1975 and 2016. On one level, that's a free market success story: Fewer people are dying of starvation than ever before. In fact, they're now experiencing the consequences of gluttony and abundance.

But over the next 27 years, we should expect better drugs and devices that will help people manage their weight and health, detecting problems earlier and more accurately than ever before.


When French artists envisioned the year 2000 in the year 1900, they were too conservative with their predictions, unable to imagine a world that had done away with clunky propellers, electrical wiring, and bulky machinery in favor of more streamlined, more efficient tools for housework, transportation, and food production. Everyone also seemed to think that blimps would be a really big deal.

Nobody anticipated the massive shifts that would come because of exponential increases in computing power especially. Perhaps these predictions are also limited by our imagination.

The details are hard to know, but I'm confident that by 2050 technological creativity will have made mundane tasks obsolete, freed us from the constraints of biology, and collapsed distance and time in ways that make the constraints of the physical world increasingly irrelevant.

Photo Credits: Asun Díaz, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; ARipstra (WMF), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Authors of the study: Dong-Hee Kang, Fiona Louis, Hao Liu, Hiroshi Shimoda, Yasutaka Nishiyama, Hajime Nozawa, Makoto Kakitani, Daisuke Takagi, Daijiro Kasa, Eiji Nagamori, Shinji Irie, Shiro Kitano & Michiya Matsusaki, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Bartz/Stockmar—Fleischatlas 2018, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Baldesteinemanuel326, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Bfyhdch, CC BY-SA 4., via Wikimedia Commons; Beyond My Ken, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons; The Cefnamwlch Home Farm Milking Carousel by Eric Jones, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; CAPTAIN RAJU, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Comyu, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Consumer Reports, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Centro de Producción Audiovisual. Oficina responsable del archivo fotográfico institucional., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Chris Talbot / Paignton—Internet Cafe; Cqholt, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; David Revoy / Blender Foundation, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Daniel Oberhaus, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Dllu, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Ed Gold, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; East Devon : Heathen Hill Farm & Milking Parlour by Lewis Clarke, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Envato Elements ; Elvert Barnes from Silver Spring MD, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons; Gangaasoonu, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Gabriel S. Delgado C., CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Hynek Moravec, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; IICD, CC BY 2., via Wikimedia Commons; Internet Archive; kamran.solangi, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Kevin Nicol/World Pictures/Photoshot/Newscom; Kiran Jonnalagadda from Bangalore, India, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Larry D. Moore, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Library of Congress; Marie, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Mike Winkelmann, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Martin2035, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons; Mack Male from Edmonton, AB, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Matthew T Rader,, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Mont Servais/Abaca/Newscom; Mliu92, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Michael Coghlan, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Noah Wulf, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Narek75, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Nevit, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Ossewa, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons; Project Kei, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Phillip Pessar, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons; Pavanaja, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Raman Patel, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Rhetos, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons; Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons; Rob Croes / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons ;Secretaria de Agricultura e Abastecimento do Estado de São Paulo Agriculturasp, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Subhashish Panigrahi, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Tom Williams/Roll Call Photos/Newscom; User:psubhashish, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; User:Vmenkov, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; User: (WT-shared) Shoestring at wts wikivoyage, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Watershed Post, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Music Credits: "Stutter Island," by Ros-e via Artlist; "Youth," by ANBR, via Artlist; "Metaverse," by Lux-Inspira via Artlist; "Polygons," by Evgeny Bardyuzha via Artlist; "Lost," by Ramol, via Artlist; "Still Need Syndrome," by Yarin Primak via Artlist.

Cameras by Jim Epstein; writing by Liz Wolfe; editing by Regan Taylor.