The FUTURE: Possible Advances in Science & Technology

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This is now only maintained on my website at http://www.karangill.com/the-future.html.

These predictions were made as of 18/12/2009. Updates are noted with dates. This article is essentially speculation, the discoveries listed here may sound weird and strange, and for all I know could be decades or centuries into the future or even impossible. Nevertheless....

Oh and the images are random collages thrown together to break the monotony of text and provide further food for thought.




L to R: HAL from a 2001: A Space Odyssey, Cover from Frank Herbert's Dune, Cover from Isaac Asimov's Foundation, Cover from Foundation again, Helix Nebula

Genetically Modified Food Added 29th Dec '12.
Yes, this is already a reality, but it has not been accepted by people because of what it may do. I don't think this belief is founded in science. Anyhow, the reason this is listed is because, even though it is technologically a reality, in practice hurdles remain till the public accepts it fully. And there's no way of saying when that will happen if at all. But if it does, another Food Revolution could be underway.

A Shift to Nuclear Power
This is already happening, because nuclear energy appears to be the only pollution free source of energy that is reliable, has adequate capacity, has been deployed previously on a large scale (in other words is tested) and is price competitive with existing methods of generating energy.
UAE - http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/rss/-/2/hi/asia-pacific/8431904.stm
China - http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/16/business/global/16chinanuke.html
US - http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hx5wB6YEaAyHIpeDxx6ML-...
16/05/2011 - The Japanese earthquake and resulting damage to the nuclear plants along the shore were a PR disaster for nuclear power, and have turned public opinion just when it seems nuclear power was on the brink of a renaissance. It remains to be seen if the noises governments are making about looking more carefully at safety are just that or if the anti-nuclear sentiment persists.
04/01/12 - Austria & Czech Republic http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16359991

3 Dimensional Holographic Displays
When processors become powerful enough and optical circuits small enough, 3 dimensional displays will produced a new level of immersion simply unachievable by standard 2D displays. Or you can just choose to wear weird spectacles and buy the 3D TVs that are becoming available now. The Nintendo 3D is a display which heralds what will soon be available.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nintendo_3DS

A Portable cellphone/computer that do can everything
I think this would have to be full touchscreen based since keyboards take up too much space. Also it would have to be foldable or have two parts so you can use just the phone functions when you want too. I mean you don't want to hold a computer to your head to make a call. It could have a phone part that fits in your pocket, but which can also be joined to the computer part when say you want to watch a movie.
16/05/2011 - Yup every generation of cellphones is getting bigger and bigger, with larger touchscreens. I think a screen that folds out (like paper) and gives us the convenience of having a large screen anyway is what's needed. Here's something like it http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-13308452

Cheap Unlimited Storage & Fast Internet
While flash memory is rapidly increasing in capacity, it remains prohibitively expensive for secondary memory. Within a decade, we should see the development of the next generation of memory which would offer virtually unlimited storage. By then internet speeds and capacities would be greatly expanded. This could culminate in the cloud computing concept where everything is stored on remote servers and streamed, or if the memory is cheap enough, people could simply store anything that catches their fancy with their high speed internet.
High speed internet will come about once fiber optic cables become cheap enough.

Information Saturated Society Added 29th Dec '11
Examples are the traffic updates on Google Maps made possible by reports from people who possess phones with GPS sensors that tell Google they are driving through the traffic and concomitantly their speed. This is only possible because their phones have GPS sensors whose data Google can analyze. Another example, top of laptops have accelerometers to detect if they are falling so that moving parts can be turned off. These sensors can be harnessed to measure earthquakes and provide a cheap network of sensors. In this manner, from being data poor, our society will become data rich and the work will now lie in making sense of this data. This comes after cheap storage and fast networks because those are pre-requisites for moving data around and storing it. RFIDs are another example. The other day I was reading about a Brazilian project to track cattle using a RFID chip for each head of cattle.

Cheap High Efficiency Solar Cells
Solar range in efficiency from 20% to 50% depending on the cost. The ones on satellies work at 50%. Most other solar cells work at 20-30%. Solar energy is the easy to harness, the Sun is everywhere but doing it in a cost effective manner has eluded scientists till now. One way to bolster solar energy would be to raise the cost of electricity generated by coal, a 'coal tax' but isn't practical. We simply have to wait for solar cells to advance.
SciAM article

Recording Everything You See and Hear
If cameras & processors get small enough, and use less power, then along with the invention of a small, high capacity battery you could have a miniature camera fitted onto your person which would continuously record everything you do and send it to a secure, remote storage location. In event of anything untoward happening to your (like a crimes) this record could be accessed. This would make crimes like murders easily solvable. Of course you'd need appropriate privacy protections to ensure this isn't misused.

Bionic Organs and Limbs
This would be a combination of tissues grown on scaffolds and the latest in electronic miniaturization to create fully synthetic prosthetics that can interact with nerves to perform the same functions. For example, a device with a camera interfaced with the Optic nerve could restore sight. Taking this further, this could lead to information overlays. Say you're a tourist in New York, the overlay immediately brings up nearby places to eat, places of interest etc.. with directions and all this is superimposed on your normal vision because this vision is being passed through a processor.




L to R: Visualisation of particles colliding in an accelerating, artist's imagining of nuclear fission, another rendering of High Energy Particle Collision

Quantum Computing
Quantum computers can work through solutions to several problems much faster than present computers can, because they compute such that every possible value of the variable is worked through simultaneously. The power afforded by quantum computers will make a whole host of processes work faster, and simulations and modelling will become much, much easier. The downside is that encryption will be broken. This means, someone could record your data now, and break the encryption when quantum computers come along.




Images from the Matrix film trilogy. L to R: Zion, the machine city, Matrix Data

Super Cities
Simply an extrapolation of natural trends, continuing migration to urban areas should lead to the development of super cities, for examples places like Mumbai, New York and Shanghai

Gene Therapy
Viruses can be used to deliver genetic payloads to cells to alter genes.
19/Sep/11 - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14919539
15/Oct/11 - http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature10424.html or http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15272081

Commercial Fusion Reactors
This is decades off, depending on whom you ask, but its the Holy Grail for the energy industry, limitless pollution free power.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Ignition_Facility
03/09/2011 - http://www.economist.com/node/21528216

Room Temperature Superconductors
This would be a massive advance, conductors with zero resistance would revolutionise...well...everything.
17/05/2011 - http://www.nature.com/news/2010/101008/full/news.2010.527.html




Artist's rendering of human colonization of Mars

A Permanent Inhabited Base on Mars
Way off into the future, this point is inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy.




L to R: Neurons in the brain, Brain Computer Interface, Data & Circuits, Large Scale View of the Universe

Understanding the Brain
A complete understanding of how the brain works could help in fabricating chips that assist the brain by providing what it is lacks. We all have experienced times when we wished we could remember something but we couldn't. If the brain is understood, electrodes can be placed on the skull that decipher what you are thinking of, and relay this information to memory circuits which are interfaced to your brain. These circuits immediately send the data you need, so you'll never forget a thing. Or maybe you want information on a subject, this thought is detected, say the Wikipedia entry is looked up and the information directly relayed to you.
16/05/2011
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=e-zimmer-can-you-live-f...
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=single-worm-neurons
10/09/2011
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-15200386

Human Society forms a Hive Mind (Added 3rdSep2011)
With biochips that interface between neurons and electronics, our brains are directly plugged into the internet, information can be recalled at the speed of thought, and communication is instantaneous. At the same time, we will modify and manipulate our neural networks into working faster. This increase in the brain's processing speed along with the ability to communicate instantaneously will lead to an unimaginable jump in human society's information processing power.

Artificial Intelligence
Personally if you ask me this is never going to happen, at least not with the current thought process regarding coding a supercomputer or a hive of computers. If you don't know programming, ask anyone who does, you need to tell a computer how to handle every little situation. Without humans to tell the computer how to think, they're just empty boxes.

Terraforming of Mars
Again inspired by The Mars Trilogy, this would be the biggest step for civilisation since the formation of permanent, agrarian communities.

Teleportation
This is just a dream and will possibly remain so forever, but if and when the instantaneous movement of matter is ever achieved, it would mean that we have nothing left to discover.



Clockwise: Robots in I, Robot. Nuclear power plants. Covers of the Mars Trilogy books. Visualisation of the internet. Cover of William Gibon's Neuromancer. Visualisation of a modelling of the universe "Millennium Run".

Understanding the brain is a fascinating field of inquiry. The problem with that understanding, as most scientists realize, is that there is a large division between function and form in this area. Although we can chart synapses, find specific areas in which certain emotions are quantified, etc. we cannot as yet understand what creates the function. Hence the problem of consciousness. Reading into the fields that study this subject a person can realize that although science gives certain functions of the brain names, they understand very little of their meaning or purpose.

What I get from your reply is that while we can figure out the basic physical processes, we cannot glean from them how the higher order mental processes arise. That's true, the brain is vexing

As far as I understand, one line of attack being pursued at the moment is using very powerful computers to simulate more and more complex neural systems and see how close these simulations come to the brain activity actually observed. Of course it is well nigh impossible to simulate the complexity of a human brain, but progress is being made.

Some articles of interest are -
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=e-zimmer-can-you-live-f...
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=single-worm-neurons

Yes that is the gist of my comment, although even the basics give scientists problems since every experience can stimulate different parts of the brain depending on the person. Great articles, thanks. The singularity has it's roots in science fiction literature, Orson Scott Card explored this idea in the Ender series and the metaphysics and quantum physics of the 90's were interested in computer consciousness and how that connects to the idea of a soul. An interesting point concerning these ideas is that early religious texts such as The Upanishads think of consciousness as a well from which we draw individuality. Completely off subject, science began as an aside to theology and philosophy and through church persecution separated into a distinct field of inquiry. The problem with that split is that early spiritual records afford some understanding to the building blocks of consciousness.

I know nothing about early spiritual texts. So while it might well be true that early spiritual texts connected the dots between ideas such as consciousness and individuality, my interest would be piqued only if there was some clue as to how consciousness arises from the activity of individual neurons. I guess the (rather obvious) line of attack is to understand the simplest neural networks and build up from there. It depends on what your model of a brain is, but I have the deterministic view of the brain, that it's simply a hugely complicated network that processes information through neural circuits and gives outputs.