The World As I (will) See It – Ten Paradigm Changes I’ll Live to See

I’ve been reading a lot of futurist articles, science fiction, and thinking about the future of humanity and all that science and technology have yet to offer us. Here are ten things that seem incredibly far-fetched today that I believe I will live to see, my prediction for when they’ll be widely available, along with their descriptions from Wikipedia:

Augmented Reality (2010 – 2020)

Augmented reality (AR) is a field of computer research which deals with the combination of real-world and computer-generated data. At present, most AR research is concerned with the use of live video imagery which is digitally processed and “augmented” by the addition of computer-generated graphics. Advanced research includes the use of motion-tracking data, fiducial marker recognition using machine vision, and the construction of controlled environments containing any number of sensors and actuators.

Development of a space elevator (2015 – 2025)

A space elevator is a proposed megastructure designed to transport material from a celestial body’s surface into space as a way of non-rocket spacelaunch…The most common proposal is a tether, usually in the form of a cable or ribbon, spanning from the surface near the equator to a point beyond geostationary orbit. As the planet rotates, the inertia at the end of the tether counteracts gravity, and also keeps the cable taut. Vehicles can then climb the tether and reach orbit without the use of rocket propulsion. Such a structure could hypothetically permit delivery of cargo and people to orbit at a fraction of the cost of launching payloads by rocket.

Practical robotics (2015 – 2025)

Robots may soon be everywhere, in homes and at work. They could change the way humans live. If this happens, it will most likely raise many philosophical, social, and political questions that will have to be answered. In science fiction robots become so intelligent that they decide to take over the world because humans are deemed inferior. In real life however they might not choose to do that. Robots might follow rules such as Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, that will prevent them from doing so. If the Singularity happens robots will be indistinguishable from human beings and some people may become Cyborgs, with some parts half biological and half artificial.

Nanotechnology / nanorobotics (2020 – 2030)

Nanorobotics is the technology of creating machines or robots at or close to the microscopic scale of a nanometres (10-9 metres). More specifically, nanorobotics refers to the still largely hypothetical nanotechnology engineering discipline of designing and building nanorobots. Nanorobots (nanobots, nanoids or nanites) would be typically devices ranging in size from 0.1-10 micrometers and constructed of nanoscale or molecular components.

The singularity / self-improving Artificial Intelligence (2030 – 2040)

The technological singularity is a theoretical future point of unprecedented technological progress, caused in part by the ability of machines to improve themselves using artificial intelligence.

Statistician I. J. Good first wrote of an “intelligence explosion”, suggesting that if machines could even slightly surpass human intellect, they could improve their own designs in ways unforeseen by their designers, and thus recursively augment themselves into far greater intelligences. The first such improvements might be small, but as the machine became more intelligent it would become better at becoming more intelligent, which could lead to an exponential and quite sudden growth in intelligence.

Widespread fusion power (2030 – 2040)

Fusion power would provide much more energy for a given weight of fuel than any technology currently in use, and the fuel itself (primarily deuterium) exists abundantly in the Earth’s ocean: about 1 in 6500 hydrogen atoms in seawater is deuterium. Although this may seem a low proportion (about 0.015%), because nuclear fusion reactions are so much more energetic than chemical combustion and seawater is easier to access and more plentiful than fossil fuels, some experts estimate that fusion could supply the world’s energy needs for centuries.

Radical life extension by slowing or reversal of aging process (2030 – 2040)

Life extension refers to an increase in maximum or average lifespan, especially in humans, by slowing down or reversing the processes of aging. Average lifespan is determined by vulnerability to accidents and age-related afflictions such as cancer or cardiovascular disease. Extension of average lifespan can be achieved by good diet, exercise and avoidance of hazards such as smoking. Maximum lifespan is determined by the rate of aging for a species inherent in its genes and probably by certain environmental factors. Currently, the only widely recognized method of extending maximum lifespan is calorie restriction. Theoretically, extension of maximum lifespan could be achieved by reducing the rate of aging damage, by periodic replacement of damaged tissues, or by molecular repair or rejuvenation of deteriorated cells and tissues.

Simulated reality (2040 – 2050)

Simulated reality is the proposition that reality could be simulated—perhaps by computer simulation—to a degree indistinguishable from “true” reality. It could contain conscious minds which may or may not know that they are living inside a simulation…This is different from the current, technologically achievable concept of virtual reality. Virtual reality is easily distinguished from the experience of “true” reality; participants are never in doubt about the nature of what they experience. Simulated reality, by contrast, would be hard or impossible to distinguish from “true” reality.

Space colonization (2050 – 2060)

Space colonization (also called space settlement, space humanization, space habitation, etc.) is the concept of autonomous (self-sufficient) human habitation of locations outside Earth. It is a major theme in science fiction, as well as a long-term goal of various national space programs.

Terraforming (2100 – 2500)

The terraforming (literally, “Earth-shaping”) of a planet, moon, or other body is the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying its atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology to be similar to those of Earth in order to make it habitable by humans.

Bonus: Two paradigm changes that I hope I’ll live to see, but may not even be possible

Interstellar Travel (2500 – ??)

Interstellar space travel is unmanned or manned travel between stars. The concept of interstellar travel in starships is a staple in science fiction. Interstellar travel is tremendously more difficult than interplanetary travel…Many scientific papers have been published about related concepts. Given sufficient travel time and engineering work, both unmanned and generational interstellar travel seem possible, though representing a very considerable technological and economic challenge unlikely to be met for some time, particularly for crewed probes. NASA has been engaging in research into these topics for several years, and has accumulated a number of theoretical approaches.

Contact (???)

Extraterrestrial life is life originating outside of the Earth. It is the subject of astrobiology, and its existence remains hypothetical. There is no credible evidence of extraterrestrial life that has been widely accepted by the scientific community. There are several hypotheses regarding the origin of extraterrestrial life if it exists. One proposes that it may have emerged, independently, in different places in the universe. An alternative hypothesis is panspermia, which holds that life emerging in one location then spreads between habitable planets. These two hypotheses are not mutually exclusive. The study and theorization of extraterrestrial life is known as astrobiology, exobiology or xenobiology. Speculative forms of extraterrestrial life range from sapient beings to life at the scale of bacteria.

Crazy?  Perhaps.  But before you reject it all out of hand, think about the world today and what someone would have thought about it all 500 years ago.  And then pick up a copy of this book and prepare to have your mind blown.