About Twentyforty

Digital technologies have changed our lives significantly in the last twenty years. With the looming rise of artificial intelligence, virtual reality and data ubiquity, it seems evident that the biggest changes still lie ahead of us. What will the world look like two decades from now? How can society benefit from technology? How will we work, live, love, shape schools and governmental structures in 2040?

With our international essay competition twentyforty, we offered scientists a platform for imagining utopias beyond the usual research. The visionary stories address the opportunities and challenges that digital technologies present for society in the future of 2040. Researchers and thinkers were invited to submit their visions along five categories: love, live, learn, work and rule.  

Thirteen scientists were chosen by our project team and accepted our invitation to follow us into Berlin’s surrounding countryside to work on their stories together. The members of our group came from remarkably different backgrounds: a digital geographer, a computer scientist, two communication scientists, four legal scholars, a dementia researcher, three political scientists, and an educational researcher. There were authors from ten different countries, united by their desire to shed light onto the mysteries of a digital world to come.  

The end result is this book that is not actually a book. It’s a collection of thirteen extremely different stories. Thirteen utopias? Certainly not. Almost all of these visions arise from a moment of concern or critical reflection. Some stories even have dystopian traits. Yet in every single one of them, there is a spark of hope. And most importantly: they will all make you think.


Read the foreword “An Unlikely Experiment” by Benedikt Fecher, Bronwen Deacon, Timothée Ingen-Housz und Nataliia Sokolovska on the HIIG Blog, by downloading the whole publication from this website or through this doi: 10.5281/zenodo.3678207

 You can also order twentyforty as book on demand.



twentyforty – Utopias for a Digital Society has been initiated by the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) in cooperation with the Global Network for Internet and Society Research Centers (NoC). 

If you have questions about the project, please contact bronwen.deacon@hiig.de.





How will we get to know people? How will we stay in touch? What will define our relatiownship?

In the chapter “Love,” we discover various scenarios exploring how human relationships become entangled with technology. In “The End of Feelings,” Kamel Ajji explores how humans tolerate, challenge, and confront the algorithms that govern their choices and perceptions. We follow the main character’s struggle in deciding whether he should join a dating service or not. As the story goes on, we gain new perspectives on algorithmic matchmaking and its consequences for individual freedom and our concept of love. Burkhard Schafer’s “Digital Pharaohs” is a short play for the stage featuring a young couple living in a society determined by AI. The inhabitants of his world routinely train AI systems by feeding them with their personal preferences, ethical commitments, and normative inclinations. They do this in hopes of leaving behind a “legacy AI,” which is a remote presence trained to guide and advise the next generation.


How will we spend our daily lives and how will we allocate limited resources. How will we grow old and what will our homes look like?

In the chapter “Live,” the authors imagine what our daily lives will look and feel like in 2040. In “Everyone is a Narcissist Together,” Robin Tim Weis foresees visits to the bathhouse becoming a constitutional human right. Due to the rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and the resulting reduction of the working week to fifteen hours, humans overcome the long-held compulsion to view time in terms of productivity and allow new dimensions of self-experience to unfold. In her short story “Living in Togedera,” Ruth Bartlett pictures a society in which care homes for the elderly have become obsolete and senior citizens who need round-the-clock care can stay at home thanks to robots. Preeti Mudliar’s short story “In Mangal’s New World” invites us to discover the struggles of marginalized communities who are vulnerable to top-down technological diktats. Mangal’s rebellion ushers in a long-lasting socio-technical revolution that changes the way people live in 2040.


How will we learn in the future? What will we teach our children? What will schools and universities look like?

The chapter “Learn,” centers around educational questions. How will we teach and learn in the future? Grif Peterson’s piece, “Something I Noticed,” is a series of thirteen email threads dated between April 10 and May 9, 2040. Written in the form of a stylized leak, they reveal the internal sabotage of the largest US educational corporation, Kuneco. In her collection of short stories titled “The Translators,” Viviane Dallasta explores how values like autonomy, responsibility, and creativity will be rescued and empowered in a technology-savvy world. In his essay “Academic Complexity: A Sketch of the Next University,” Dirk Baecker looks back at the history of the university in order to design a blueprint for a new type of future institution that is designed to navigate various kinds of complexities rooted in practical, emergent, real-world-oriented situations.


How will we work in the future? How will work be coordinated and what forms of society will it produce?

The chapter “Work” presents stories that speculate on the nature of the future of our working lives and which forms of societal organization they may produce. In “From Dark Roots to Shared Routes,” Emma Beauxis- Aussalet explores a future in which Natural Language Processing (NLP) technologies, formerly used to manipulate people through commercial and political campaigns, are being repurposed for the greater good. Mark Graham’s “Platform Socialism” follows the lives of three ravers in three distinct moments in the evolution of the platform economy. Their desire for freedom initiates the beginning and accelerates the downfall of corporate power.


What will future policy-making look like? How will we value our privacy and personal data? How will we deal with AI?

The authors contributing to the chapter “Rule” explore what policy-making may look and feel like in the future. Isabella Hermann’s short story “The Manifesto” shows us how far AI has progressed in the year 2040. An entry in the official “European Political Information Service” reveals that it will no longer be used to augment or improve human life but to de-optimize it. Claire Bessant’s piece “What Would You Rather Be: A Privacy Have or a Privacy Have-Not?” discusses the concept of privacy in times of ubiquitous technology and social media. In her diary-like narrative form, she envisions a world in which privacy has created a wealth gap that divides society into two distinct factions (Privacy Haves and Privacy Have-Nots). In his story “Operation Beyond Fun,” Gianluca Sgueo speculates what effects changes in game design might have on participatory democratic processes.