Welcome to our high tech future!
Thirty years ago, people conceived of a world where everyone flew to work in their portable jet-packs and where robotic servants catered to our every whim. They might have gotten those advances spectacularly wrong but the actual reality thirty years later is probably even more mind-boggling. Who could have imagined portable and affordable communication devices that allow instant communication between any two spots on the planet? Or that some of those devices would pack more computing power than the biggest and most powerful computers from just a few years ago? And that you could use those same devices to order and pay for virtually every product.
Can we make some predictions for the near future without getting them spectacularly wrong like our 70’s forebears? Probably not, but let’s try anyway.
Computing on the go
First, something that’s just over the horizon: wearable computers. No, not cardigans with USB ports (though that might well happen). Rather, things like Google’s Project Glass, which is an augmented reality head-mounted display.
Initially, the computer will be your mobile phone but will eventually become small enough to be embedded inside the glasses themselves. Over time the glasses would get smaller and smaller until they were just a monocle. Eventually they could conceivable be inserted into the eye and worn the same way people wear contact lenses today. Or they could be permanently installed into your cornea. That brings us to another interesting area, that of human-computer interface or to use the more colourful term…cyborgs. Humans and machines are interfacing in lots of inefficient ways nowadays. The typical communication happens from brain to nerve system to fingertips to keyboard to wires to motherboard to CPU to wires to screen to eyes and back to brain. The computer part of the wearable computing equation could eventually shrivel up and become a tiny chip that could be carried around embedded under your skin or inserted into your skull to make direct chip-to-brain connections.
Humans will interface with machines in others ways as well. Disabled people are using prosthetics and exoskeletons to re-gain the use of their limbs. Oscar Pistorius is just the tip of the iceberg. People paralysed from the chest down have already been helped to walk again with the aid of robotic exoskeletons. Over time the clunky exoskeletons will evolve to become endoskeletons. It won’t be long before able-bodied athletes and lay people start using the same technology to boost their own abilities and powers. Imagine a world where everyone can jump as high and run as fast as today’s best athletes.
Hologram technology sounds far-fetched but has been in existence for many years already. Recently, long-dead hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur was brought back to life again using ‘hologram’ technology and performed together with live artists at a recent concert.
We can expect to see this technology filter down to video-conferencing applications and eventually into all voice and video communication devices.
The UN predicts that we will reach populations above 10 billion people sometime this century. How will be planet feed itself? Well, some people think artificial meat is one answer. Several teams of scientists are hard at work creating lab-grown meat. That’s edible material that is indistinguishable from meat derived from live animals.
The present technology works but the meat produced is still too expensive for widespread use. We can expect to see costs come down and widespread adoption. This will be fuelled by the rising cost of producing “real” meat.
Human genetics is another burgeoning field. Much has been written about genetic advances allowing us to detect or treat diseases. What many don’t know is that widespread and relatively cheap genetic testing is already with us. 23&me is a US start-up run by Sergey Brin’s wife, Anne Wojcicki. The company sells a genetics self-test kit. You take a spit sample and send it back to them for analysis which they do through a process called genotyping. You then get back data on your genetic ancestry as well as data on your risk for various medical conditions and diseases. Soon the time will come when most people will know their own genetic information.
Some of these advances might seem far-fetched, others inevitable. You might agree with them or you might not. But one thing is probably guaranteed. Our world will be quite different just a few short years from now.