But the children of the future had learnt the arts, Immunity of mind, body, spirit and hearts, They kept on evolving ’til they the reached the stage, When the children of the future finally came of age. For death had taught them what life was worth, And had prepared them for the task of leaving planet earth. Then a starship came from deep within outer space, And took the children of the future to join the cosmic race. - Apollo 440, Children of the future
As some of you may have gathered it has finally come to this; I’m going to be a father now. I’m not planning to bore you all with sappy thoughts on fatherhood and sound-echo-images of the child; but I have been thinking about the world and especially the future that my daughter will be entering.
Believe it or not, I’ve been thinking long and hard about this post. Even asked a lot of people their thoughts on the subject, and found that the future is always in motion. The question I’m proposing here is simple. What kind of world will my daughter grow old in. What will be the current state of affairs somewhere near 2112 ? And of course this all was written to have a good laugh somewhere near 2040.
Before thinking about the future, one has to think about the past first, so I compiled a little list of technology that has been invented the last 100 years:
1900 - Flight, vacuum cleaner
1910 - Radio tuner, Motion Picture
1920 – TV, Penicillin, Jazz
1930 – Radio telescope, Tape recorder, Jet engine
1940 - Color Tv, Computer, LSD, A-Bomb, ( hypertext ), Microwave
1950 - Videotape, Credit Card, H-bomb, Pill, Synthesizer, Solar Cell, Optic fiber, fortran, modem, laser, microchip
1960 - Moon Landing, audio cassette, practical computing ( like the game spacewar, the Basic programming language, the Computer Mouse, RAM, arpanet and the barcode), Compact Disk prototype
1970 - floppy disk, LCD, microprocessor, VCR, pong, ethernet, MRI, cell phone
1980 - home computer, CD-ROM, mobile phones, doppler Radar, HDTV
1990 – WWW/HTML, Java, Human Genome sequenced
2000 -the Social Web, lab-on-a-chip
2010 - Interactive Television, Mobile Computing, Emergent Nanotechnology
Keep in mind that the development of technology is actually accelerating, which means that we will be making the same technological process of the past 100 years, in the next 50 years, and again in the next 25 years and so on. Here is a graph showing how that works for computing power:
So the next 40 years will be relatively easy to predict technologically, as the basis of these technologies are already here.
The single most important development in the next 30 or so years, is a technology that is already emerging and is called 3D-printing. The significance of being able to print anything, everywhere can hardly be over-estimated. Especially considering that the printing of human tissue like meat and bone is just around the next step (also being experimented with, with great success).
2020 - 3d printing, The Web of things ( also called 3.0) , self-driving cars, quantum computing
2030 - AI reaches human levels ( Robots do everyday tasks ), Mind/Machine interfaces, Holographic television, vat-grown meat is becoming commonplace
2040 – Nanotechology becomes widespread, (human) tissue regeneration, lucrative mining missions to nearby asteroids, Y2K38-Bug
And this is where things get difficult, we will probably reach what some call ‘the singularity‘ in 2045, incidentally, by that time my daughter will be the same age as I am now.
You can follow the links and read up on what that means, but in short there is a fair estimate that humans will no longer be the smartest things on the planet. Computers and artificial intelligence will outsmart us by far, as a $1000 dollar computer will have the processing power of all human minds combined. Nobody exactly knows what this means, but we will be able to process and generate more information in seconds, than we have generated and processed in the 5000 years before. This too is a logarithmic scale.
After that, what happens is anybodies guess, but for the purpose of this article, I’ll assume that we just go on living and are able to keep on to an ever accelerating pace of technological advancement.
Now there are three ‘black swans‘ in the coming years, actually there are many more, but the problem with black swan events is that they are hard to predict. So here goes:
Faster then Light Travel
We currently assume that the fastest way that anything can travel anywhere is at the speed of light. This means that reaching the nearest star ( Alpha Proxima Centauri, 4.22 LY) or at least the nearest star of which we know has a planet ( Gliese 581, 22 LY ) takes at least 4 and 22 years. As we are unable to actually reach the speed of light the duration of a trip to any of these stars would take hundreds or even thousands of years on known propulsion methods. Even if we perfected our most promising propulsion methods, like solar sails and nuclear fission, we would at best reach something like 10% of speed of light. Proxima Centauri would still be 40 years away at that speed, and Gliese 581 would still take well over 200 years to reach.
There is however a rather serious proposal of sorts called the Alcubierre Drive ( basically a Warp engine from Star Trek ) and a more exotic theory proposed by a German fellow named Heim Theory, explaining how space-time might be expanded and contracted to actually build an Alcubierre Drive using massive magnetic forces.
Now if somewhere, someone comes up with a workable theory or prototype to reach faster-then-light speeds, within the coming decades, that would mean all bets are off instantly. If distances of say 10 lightyears could be travelled in months rather then decades, we would be able to visit nearby stars and explore and colonize our own solar system with ease. Hell, at those speeds we could travel across the milky way within 1000 years!
In this article however I’m assuming that we do not come up with a workable solution for the FTL problem, and base all forecast involving space travel, on the axiom that we only perfect existing means of space travel (ie. solar sail, nuclear propulsion etc.)
Understanding of Gravity
It’s almost incredible when you think of it, but science can’t make heads or tail of this crazy little thing called Gravity. Yes, we know that mass generates gravity, and since Einstein we know that this is probably caused because (large) mass disturbs space-time. And that is about it.
We know what it does ( keeps planets in orbits, pulls us towards earth etc. ) but we have no clue as for how and why. If somebody somewhere was to postulate a coherent theory for gravity, allowing us to manipulate and generate gravity we can start building flying cars, faster-then-light engines ( see the prior paragraph ) and start generating almost infinite amounts of energy.
This is actually a no-brainer, but alien contact, like an epidemic or a world-war would alter our flow of technology. Even if the aliens were just far away and we only got a glimpse of them, we’d probably start making rockets real fast. If they were to visit us however, we find ourselves making weapons on a massive scale, real fast. Finally if they are just here, to run a galactic super highway right through our planet… well, we would be fucked.
To finish it of, alien contact, like all black swans in the list, could have happened yesterday and throw of every reasonable prediction of future technology. If no black swan occurs, these predictions might carry out in a reasonable fashion. It was quote doable for Jules Verne to predict a moon landing and a sub-marine. The internet and the rise of the information age was also quite predictable in the late 19th century. As were flight and the automobile.
The only problem is that although the concept of future technology may be right, the actual implementation and utility is usually way of. Leaving the people in the future to have a good laugh at your expense.
So for the remaining 70 years I’ve tried to incorporate some black swan-events on the list, extrapolated other technological trends that seem reasonable for the late 21st century.
2060 - (Commercial) Space exploitation takes of, Permanent Human presence on the Moon, Mannend mission to Mars, Man/Machine merger. Completely customized designer babies for the rich. Teleportation of molecules.
2070 - laser powered nuclear fusion, Unmanned probes to Sedna and the Kuiper belt, Replicators become common.
2080 - Picotechnology leaves the prototyping phase, Antartica becomes habitable, break-troughs in our understanding of Gravity
2090 - Manned missions to the Jovian system, Teleportation or larger objects leaves the prototyping phase
2100 - Manned mission to Saturn, Contact with an alien civilization
2110 – Invention of an FTL drive, moving into a type I civilization
Note that I’m focussing solely on technological advancements. I especially left any social, political, environmental and demographic influence out of the list, as they tend to over-complicate matters and are harder to predict with any accuracy.
A final thought
So, what kind of world will my little girl finally grow old in ? Chances are it will be a cleaner and more healthy world. There is a fair chance that limbs and other body parts can be grown back and that most common diseases are treatable. Also the life expectancy will probably be much higher.
We have left the days of the information age well behind us, the web and screens will feel the seem way old radio’s and photographs feel to us now. Computers are as inspirational and fun to be around as regular people, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we had implemented some form of equality act for robots and other intelligence, artificial or otherwise.
In this new age of abundance of information, instantaneous experiences through virtualisation and communication, our last real effort is exploration of the stars.
Unless we all go out blast to bits by an anti-matter bomb or sucked in to a rogue black hole.
This entire post was an elaborate scam to post pictures of my adorable daughter, but you knew that, right ?
Categories: media, nerd, philosophy, propaganda, research, technology, weird
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