What's ahead this year?

Really, it's anybody's guess, but there are experts in the art of forecasting trends. They call themselves futurists. 

International Business Times asked five futurists to weigh in on what life - holds post-pandemic. Here are their insights:

Meet your new co-worker 

Soon, we'll be talking to automated online assistants -- all because of advancements in artificial intelligence, robotics, and analytics.

Maybe you've already had a chat with one already -- if you think your electric bill is wrong or want to know why your package hasn't been delivered yet?

“We have to think from a work perspective about what happens for the next few years when we have to start considering a chatbot as our next colleague," Scott Steinberg, of FutureProof Strategies, told IBT. 

But workers will see advances that affect them even more directly, especially through contactless, touchless, voice-controlled, and gesture-controlled devices, apps, and software.  

Passwords and PINs, for example, will go away: “What you’re going to see is a variety of technologies from biometrics that use your body, your face, your voice, different gestures to control devices.” 

And those chatbots won't be just co-workers, they'll filling a void in our personal lives -- one created by all the time in lockdown, according to Faith Popcorn, futurist, CEO of Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve, a marketing consulting firm, and author of the best-selling “The Popcorn Report.” told IB Times in an email.

Chatbots, Popcorn told IBT, will become “perfect friends who understand us, keep us company, answer our every emotional need – we don’t even have to voice our wants.”

And the biggest shocker comes from scientist But David Brin: Within the next decade, cellphones will be history. 

“There are several possible alternative designs on the drawing board,” Brin, author of best-selling “Earth” and “Existence,” told IBT. 

“Of course, people have been predicting augmented reality will inveigle its way into our eyeglasses and sunglasses.” 

Heading off another pandemic  

With COVID-19 still raging, we really don't want to think about another pandemic, but another will surely come -- we just don't know when.

Whatever the scourge, though, physicist Michio Kaku is confident AI will give us a heads-up so doctors can “conquer” the disease.

Vast amounts of data collected through everything from digitized thermometers and sewer systems to cellphone data and drones can "give an early warning system detecting the next outbreak of disease instantaneously before it becomes a pandemic,” said Kaku, who teaches theoretical physics at City University of New York.

“Since about 60% of all diseases come from the animal kingdom, another pandemic is inevitable,” he told IBT, “so we need AI to alert us at the instant they arrive, not after they have seized control of a population.”

And the coronavirus pandemic will give push biomedical technology to keep pace, Jamais Cascio, of the Institute for the Future, told IBT.

“We’re likely to see unexpected benefits from the tools built on-the-fly to manage COVID-19 infections," he said. "It’s very likely to lead to big changes in how healthcare is provided in the U.S.”

Bye-bye, bills 

Fintech, blockchain, and online currency exchange markets will be rocked by the pandemic as well.

Credit cards will become smarter by storing data for peer-to-peer transactions, act as an ID, or become a digital ticket for an event, Steinberg said. 

And those Washingtons, Lincolns and Jacksons are going away, replaced by new currency methods like blockchain, he said.

“We’re really going to see the world move away from hard, physical currency, especially if health concerns continue to manifest." 

Hot wheels, fast planes 

Get ready to charge up your electric car because that's the road that the auto industry is heading down.

“The shift to electrified transportation is happening far faster than most people expected,” Cascio said. 

The effect on the environment is the big upside, but the shift from gas-powered to electric cars and trucks has negatives, too.

Big Oil, for example, will get a kick in the teeth. And the impact will be even worse if researchers perfect a vehicle battery that can provide a charge in five minutes or less.

Such a breakthrough “will be the final straw for the petroleum fuel industry,” Cascio warned.

And more electric vehicles will require a massive energy production infrastructure, he said.

“Home car charging typically doubles the load, and rapid spread of solar means the grid has to be efficiently two-way, not just built for delivery.”

Brin forecasts other big changes in ground transportation.

Envision interurban monorails on spindly pylons over expressways that, according to Brin, “would start to make our cities truly look like the last century’s sci-fi images – perhaps almost like 'The Jetsons.'”

Kaku sees big changes ahead for air travel -- and he's not talking face masks and COVID tests.

Flying at the speed of sound -- roughly 1,000 mph -- will become commonplace, he said.

“Supercomputers will allow engineers to abolish or reduce the sonic boom on jets,” making commercial supersonic travel readily accessible. 

Satisfying our wanton desires

Spending so much lockdown has taken a heavy toll on us, experts agree. And we're dealing with our isolation through what Popcorn calls the Dark Revelry -- we're willing to gamble our wellbeing for "moments of unfetter ecstasy.”

One way is through drugs. Jay-Z has his own pot brand. So does Wiz Khalifa. Popcorn points to a 500% jump in cannabis delivery services for some companies and a 63% surge in substance abuse during the COVID-19 outbreak.

But there are other signs of wild abandonment, too, she told IBT. Don't forget sex parties on Zoom, and the Ibiza-style VR platform Sensorium.

“Products and services that let customers be bad – but safely – will surge as we rebound from this huge pandemic pause,” she said.

The job hunt 

Millions are unemployed because of coronavirus. More than a few of us will have to find new jobs.

So, what does the future hold?

First, the bad news: Machines will take over repetitive jobs, Kaku told IBT. Still, not all manual work will be outsourced to non-humans.

The world is still going to need such as plumbers, sanitation workers, carpenters, and gardeners, because robots can't recognize patterns or have the fine motor skills that these jobs require.

In high demand as well will be lawyers, mentors, therapists, and human relation positions because, as Kaku put it, robots are “poor with human interactions.”

Also surging will be intellectual capitalist jobs that require creativity, imagination, art, science, leadership, analysis, and innovation.

artificial-intelligence Artificial Intelligence, for over 60 years has become an integral part of fast-paced, innovative, and demanding industries. Photo: Pixabay / Gerd Altmann