Watching the rapid assault of technological advancement on modern society feels a bit like living through the nine circles of hell laid out in Dante Alighieri's allegorical horror the Divine Comedy.
In lieu of demons, sorcerers and strange beasts, we, however, have Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and parasitic devices that slowly leach the knowledge of our lives from our souls.
Underpinning the promise of each new tech development lies a more sinister side that quietly leads us one step closer to an uncomfortable dystopia we are powerless to avoid.
In this context, it's worth remembering the only reason Dante was able to navigate his way through the hellscape imagined in the Divine Comedy was because he had the beneficent poet Virgil to guide him through it.
We don't have anything resembling a Latin spirit with good intentions.
The best we have are so-called futurists and tech experts, who, by their own admission, make predictions that may or may not pan out.
It is in this context that a new report compiled by advertising giant Dentsu from a panel of 18 futurists, science-fiction writers, scientists, tech specialists and engineers attempts to cast some light on where we are headed over the next decade.
Some of the predictions are loaded with optimistic potential, but there is also a darker side that hints at an exacerbation of some of the bigger human issues that have already been laid bare in recent years.
Suffice to say we look set to go on a bumpy ride through some deeply creepy terrain.
The panel of futurists predicts that Elon Musk's Neuralink will successfully implant the first brain-computer interface in a human to treat a brain disorder by 2024.
What's perhaps even more staggering is that a third of consumers are already open to the idea of having a microchip put into their brain to improve physical senses, improve life expectancy and learn new skills.
While this may seem wildly far-fetched, important scientific research is currently being conducted by a team at the University of Auckland for a device that could be inserted into the human brain to test for pressure on the brain among those suffering from a condition known as hydrocephalus.
These are essentially the stepping stones toward greater applications in the future – some of which may include augmentation of human skills.
Dan Bye, the managing director of strategy at Dentsu, says that while this might feel like the Tom Cruise film Minority Report, the technology is already there and he anticipates it will one day play a major role in helping people to manage various mental health conditions without the need for medication.
The more worrying flip-side lies in the ethical dilemma that this technology might only be available to people with money, giving them the means to further extend their advantages over others.
"You have the potential that kids who have rich parents are gaining access to technology that makes them smarter by virtue of allowing them to focus for longer," says Bye.
We've already seen this play out in the context of the disadvantages faced by kids who don't have access to the internet or laptops – and the risk is that this divide is only further exaggerated as new expensive technology hits the market.
"It comes down to regulation," says Bye.
"It needs to be policed. There will always be rogue players who abuse the system, but there needs to be a common-sense filter to it as well."
Death of work visas and the workday
The rapid acceleration of remote digital work will mean that by 2030 e-residency programmes are implemented worldwide to allow workers to join mega-cities.
Over the last year, we've seen how easy it is for workers to transition to working away from the office – and as a corollary, the idea of a worker visa linked to a specific region looks increasingly dated.
It's no longer far-fetched to imagine talented workers around the world connecting online to contribute to companies, regardless of where they are.
This is set to create massive headaches for government regulators who want to keep track of workers and tax them accordingly for the money they earn in a specific country. The reality, however, is that there's no guarantee of your domicile, your place of work and your tax residency being intrinsically linked to each other.
Bye says that the onus rests on government agencies to keep pace with the rate of change that's taking place in this space.
"This is an ethical as well as a practical question," says Bye.
"We need to work out what the worker of the future looks like and what tax regime or scheme is in place that allows them to work in that fashion. We won't be able to get away with a hard barrier in the future. People will be able to get around it."
If we thought it was difficult to keep track of the tax manoeuvres of the big tech companies, wait until workers are similarly untethered from the soil where they operate. Suffice to say governments are in for a decade of unprecedented disruption.
The other side of this is that we will increasingly see companies running on a 24-hour schedule rather than sticking to the standard eight-hour workday. If workers are spread across time zones, there's no reason why you can't calibrate your team to ensure productivity for every hour of the day.
"I think it could be advantageous to us in New Zealand because we're on the opposite side of a lot of the developed world, meaning that companies could tap into our workforce to ensure they are productive for the full 24 hours," says Bye.
Made by humans labels
As technology evolves, less and less of what we wear, consume and use will be made by humans. Machines are set to increasingly take over any task that can be automated, leading to a world where human hands might not touch an item during the production chain.
The panel of futurists predicts that by 2029 we may see the emergence of "Made by human" labels that designate the level of human versus robot input on any given product.
We already have a variation of this seen in premium brands, where handmade products are pushed as having a superior quality to those made by machines.
However, human involvement looks set to become a major ethical issue in the coming years. As more and more jobs are cut in favour of more cost-effective automation, pressure will be placed on companies to put people over profits.
This could create major PR dilemmas for companies that are seen to be jettisoning the people on whose backs their companies were built in the first place.
Historically, we have seen battles like these play out before on the question of where products are being made. When major jeans manufacturers Levi's closed its 60 US-based plants during the 1980s in a move to Asia, there was outrage from both workers and consumers.
With the great automation revolution fast-approaching, we likely see the second wave of outrage levelled at major companies who dare to leave workers in the lurch in pursuit of bigger profits.
Bye predicts that consumers, eager to support workers, may be encouraged to spend extra on companies that continue to provide jobs despite the impact this might have on the company's bottom line.
"With Gen Z coming through, we're seeing much more conscious consumers in terms of how they choose to spend their money," says Bye, explaining that the importance of quality and provenance will only grow over time.
He does, however, add that this trend will depend largely on the level of disposable income of the consumers in question.
"Machine-manufactured items are always going to be mass-produced and therefore cheaper than hand producing, but equally hand-produced things are likely to have a lower carbon footprint. You will have consumers willing to pay a premium for something that has a lower impact on the world."
The proof's in the blockchain
Many companies already trumpet the ethical superiority of their supply chains, ingredients and production facilities.
Given the factories are often hidden away in places most consumers will never visit, they're left with little choice but to accept the representations made by brands. Greenwashed claims have been known to run for decades before journalists or officials finally uncover what the companies have actually been doing behind the scenes.
The future could, perhaps, offer a more transparent look at the processes that go into products through the digital magic of the blockchain.
The blockchain is essentially a publicly available ledger that keeps a record of all transactions made online – and this technology could give customers direct access to real-time data of the supply chains of some of the biggest companies in the world.
A bold prediction included within the Dentsu report is that by 2028, the Advertising Standards Authority will make blockchain evidence compulsory for any claims companies make about their social corporate responsibility.
The point here is that companies will no longer be able to hide behind obfuscation, corporate trickery or greenwashing. If they make a claim, they will have to back it up with information publicly available on the blockchain.
Given the power this will place in the hands of journalists and the public in general, major corporates will be much more hesitant about making unwarranted ethical claims.
There will always be ways to sidestep these provisions, but the degree of difficulty will be a great deal more stringent than just saying whatever you like and hoping that no one notices that your core is rotten.
War of the titans
A third of consumers would consider using a single company for all of their lifestyle needs by 2030 – including shopping, healthcare and financial services.
The foundations for this are already being laid by the major tech companies, such as Google, which are consolidating their positions and looking to reach their tentacles into as many areas as they possibly can.
It's becoming increasingly difficult for other companies to compete with the might of companies that already have revenues larger than many medium-sized countries around the world.
US-based professor Scott Galloway recently put the scale of growth into context when he pointed out that five companies – Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft – made up 17.5 per cent of the S&P500 index in January 2020.
By January 2021 that number had increased to 24 per cent.
So what will it be in 2022? And how much more of our data will they control by that time? How much more will our lives be integrated with these giant companies? And how many smaller businesses will be eaten up in the process?
The Dentsu report shows that convenience and so-called "super-functionality" will reign supreme by 2030, with consumers opting for a handful of companies that offer them everything they need in one place.
The challenge of competing with these juggernauts is part of the reason that many regulators are currently running anti-trust lawsuits around the world in a bid to break up these companies before it's too late.
The trials of Microsoft in the 1990s did, however, show that breaking up a tech giant is often easier said than done.
And as the report explains: "Regulation historically tends to be very backwards-looking … and has tended to solve things that were a problem 10 years ago."
Health is what we want
The issue of data collection is most worrisome when it comes to the space of health, given the confidentiality of this information.
However, this information is also deeply valuable to companies looking to help consumers improve their lives – and fittingly, the report predicts that by 2030, every brand will have become a health brand in some way.
Your home, watch, shoes, clothes, car and mobile phone will all be looking for a way to play a role in improving your wellbeing.
Among the wild predictions only a few years away, we can expect major car brands to launch built-in pathogen detection and purification systems by 2027.
In the current context of the pandemic, this type of technology would be massively helpful in identifying disease and slowing down the spread.
If the technology identifies a pathogen, then you will be able to self-isolate immediately before infecting anyone else.
These pathogen detectors could also be present in stores, your home and at the local gym. We can expect the brands of the future to battle fiercely for control of the best data on our health. And the terrifying reality is that we don't know how securely those companies will be able to hold on to that information or what they plan to do with it.
To bring this all back to Dante. It's often been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It just so happens that our road is being constructed right now through an infinite combination of zeros and ones, and we just don't know where they might lead.