Predicting the Future | 50 Years

I remember watching Stanley Kubrick’s movie 2001 a Space Odyssey.  Sure, the International Space Station (ISS) isn’t quite what he had in mind for his commercial space station with its hotel and spacious accommodations.  And we don’t yet have a permanent base on our Moon.  But with Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk battling to be the first to achieve a permanent base on the Moon (and Mars), this part of Kubrick’s dream will soon be a reality, albeit a few decades later than he expected.

What’s interesting in his movie is the commercial and technology things that he missed.  Pan American World Airways, operator of Kubrick’s space shuttle, is long gone.  As a matter of fact, many of the companies he shows in his movie are long gone.

And where are the smart phones?

Kubrick’s 1968 film shows what he expected our future to be less than 40 years from the release of his film.  He got most of the details right, but was off by a few decades.  Of course, no alien artifacts on the moon have been discovered–as of yet.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict our future 50 years from now and 150 years from now.

Besides the details, I have relatively good confidence about the 50 year mark.  Why?  We’ve been making incremental improvements in our technology for the last 20 years.  And this looks to be the case for the next 50 years.  It just takes a long time to turn scientific research into functioning products.

Changes in our society?  That’s much more difficult to predict.  How will society react to technology changes?  And with most governments perpetually 20 years behind technology innovation, it’s impossible to tell what wrench they’ll throw into technological and societal progress.

Fifty Years in the Future

Computers

With the recent announcement by IBM that they’ve built a data storage system that holds one bit of information on one atom, clearly the cost and space required for storing information will continue to decline.  The real work in storage becomes access time.  My present computer system has tens of terabytes of inexpensive storage.  But the transfer rate is slow due to the data bus connecting storage to the bus of the CPU being slow.  No worries, this will likely improve soon due to advances that were made in supercomputer technology with the same issues two decades ago.

And about that CPU?  Quantum physics is leading the charge.  The days where a bit of information is either a 0 or a 1 will be long gone 50 years from now.  Qubits store both in the same space.  “In principle, a quantum computer with 300 qubits could perform more calculations in an instant than there are atoms in the universe.”

BioEngineering

With the foreseeable increase in computer horsepower and storage as well as our continued understanding of how DNA works, the question becomes:  what characteristics and knowledge would you like to have?  Or what characteristics and knowledge would you like your future child to have?

Today, many people’s first stop to understanding how something works is YouTube.  Two of my colleague in their twenties have left traditional universities after just one week because they can learn just about anything, given the discipline to study on their own, by reading and watching YouTube videos.

But why watch a video when you can have the knowledge downloaded directly into your brain?  Or better yet, be born with all the knowledge that humanity posses at the time of your birth.

Then you can spend your time on creating something new instead of learning the steps that our predecessors took to obtain that knowledge.  Sure, some people will say that the process of learning is as important as obtaining the actual knowledge.  I’m sure there will be a learning process video about that soon if there already isn’t one available.

But what physical vessel will you carry all that knowledge around in?  An upgraded biological system (the human body) or a robotic one that’s much less prone to failure.  Or when it fails, a replacement part is easy and inexpensive to install?  Upgrades?  No problem.

Energy

The ongoing joke about clean fusion energy, as opposed to our present fission nuclear powerplants, is that the commercial version of the technology is only twenty years in the future.  In perpetuity.

Fusion energy will arrive thanks to the people researching it in Europe and Russia.  Your decision will be:  should I connect to the power grid for almost free or use my hybrid solar/battery system at home to power everything that needs power.

Society and Technology

None of these fifty year predictions is particular challenging.  Yes, there remains a lot of engineering to be done to bring these technologies into practical use.  But it’s foreseeable what will be available.

How will our society react?

Here’s a scenario

Bill and Kate want to meet.

Bill’s brain is 150 years old but its been transplanted into an upgraded human form that’s 25 years old.  He’s had all of the genetic upgrades and fully comprehends all current events and is able to build anything.

Kate is conservative in the sense that she doesn’t like taking as many risks as Bill.  She’s had the entire contents of her brain (knowledge and consciousness) downloaded into a Mark V humanoid robot.  Note:  I’m not naming the company that developed the Mark V robot because, like Kubrick found, that company will likely not exist 50 years from now.

Question that Bob and Kate are pondering:  where will they meet and what will they talk about?  Will they want to meet and talk in the traditional sense?  I’m betting that extroverts are saying “…of course they’ll want to meet and talk, humans need personal interaction.”  Then there’s the technology people, many of whom are introverts, who will likely be running society from the Moon or Mars:  “…why would we want to meet in person?”

150 Years in the Future

Stay tuned for my future article.