If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run – and often in the short one – the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.
- Arthur C. Clarke – The Exploration of Space, 1951
Consider the humble cell phone. Do you realize how much that has changed the world? You might not notice it depending on how old you are. If you are more than 30 years old you might notice it more, but it has happened over a decade so you might not realize it.
For example, one change in our society is when you go to the mall with a group. Remember 15 years ago when nobody had cell phones? When the group wanted to split up what happened? You had to arrange a time and place to get back together. Today you just say “ok, call me when you are finished”.
Ok so that is cell phones. Let me talk about 5 technologies on the horizon that each can change the world at least as much as cell phones.
1. Room Temperature Superconductors. What’s that right? Modern society runs on energy. That’s a fact. Standard of living is directly tied to energy, both price and availability. The way things work right now energy is produced somewhere else in a power plant then transmitted over power lines to your house. The problem is about 7-10 percent of this energy is being lost due to resistance in the lines. There is a type of material called a superconductor that has zero resistance. Right now you have to cool these materials for this to happen but scientist types are working to find a way to have it work at room temperature. Once this happens, every electronic device we have will be dramatically more efficient. We won’t need as many power plants.
2. Solar Energy. One way to avoid the whole energy problem is to produce the energy closer to home. There is way more energy hitting the surface of the earth than we currently use. Solar panels can convert some of this energy to electricity but right now the process is inefficient. Even the best solar cells are only hitting 42.3% efficiency. Once that increases they will be more useful. I also read about a technology where you can embed a solar cell into a window. It’s still clear but it can generate power. Imagine no power bill at all… Once you pay for the solar array, that’s it. You can charge your electric car and such.
3. Augmented Reality. I have talked about this a great deal in the past year but really this technology is not too far off. Right now you need to use a smartphone but in a few more years you will be able to get glasses that have displays built into them. It will bring the virtual Internet into the real world. People will be able to live in alternate realities.
4. Bio Technology. There are amazing advances being made in medicine now. Our understanding of the body has reached the point where we can start to make improvements, both through artificial implants and soon through bio engineering. Already there are experiments to grow replacement organs based on your own DNA. These would not have any of the rejections problems from organ donors because it’s your own organ! This alone promises to extend human lifespan tremendously. Barring accidents I fully expect to live to at least 100 and possibly far beyond that.
5. Artificial Intelligence. This is the big one. Everything we have talked about so far has come from the mind of man but once we get thinking machines it all changes. Ray Kurzweil has written a lot about this and says that by 2029, we will create a machine that is smarter than a human being. That’s called the Singularity. Once that happens we don’t know what is next because all of our visions of the future assume they are being conjured up by human brains.
So does anyone think that in 20 years we will be teaching kids by grouping them by age, putting them all in a room in rows of desks and have them listen to their teacher?
Of course all of this is just speculation. Others have speculated before: