atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,
atomic_fungus
atomic_fungus

#5981: Some exciting things coming, it looks like

I mean, let's look at what the future holds for us. And not a long way away, either, but soon:

1) A new battery technology that crams about 3x the power into the same space as the best battery we now have. It's developed and ready for manufacturing; eighteen months to two years separate us from having solid-state batteries in our hands, batteries which charge fast to boot. If true, it will make electric cars a hell of a lot more practical, but it will mean big advances in a lot of other things as well.

2) They've figured out how to get the pulp in a tooth to regrow. They can't get the enamel to grow over it (yet) but even getting the pulp back is a huge step forward. So instead of doing a root canal, they give you the treatment that grows back the pulp and then put a filling on top of it. You get to keep a living, healthy tooth in your mouth.

3) Related--a pharmaceutical company is starting a trial in dogs for a rejuvenation drug, something that will--if it works--keep dogs young longer. And that's the last step before trying it in humans. How long is it before we have "the fountain of youth"? I wouldn't mind being approximately middle-aged for another thirty or forty years before I started aging again. Being 85 and having the physique of a 50-year-old? Where do I sign up?

4) Using lasers to strip metal. I went over this one a couple of days ago, but it's so damned futuristic I just can't even. Instead of sandblasting, for example. I want that. So much so that I'm keep wondering whether or not I could build one. But it will get a lot cheaper, someday soon.

5) Privately-owned reusable spacecraft. SpaceX, for example. But they're not the only ones in the game; they're just the ones who are, so far, the most successful. And they're going to test their first heavy-lift booster soon.

6) Computers. This has been ongoing since the late 1970s, but there doesn't seem to be an end to it. Thanks to the advances in computing technology we have devices today which were impossible two decades ago. The modern smartphone can be used in the stead of half a dozen discrete devices (media player, still camera, video camera, telephone, personal organizer, and so on).

7) Related--telecommunications. Most anywhere in the US you can connect wirelessly to the Internet at a damned high speed. Not just voice, but data, and that access is built into smartphones. This includes video calling if you want it. In my lifetime we've gone from hardwired land lines which could do voice (or, with about $10,000 worth of equipment, data at 300 baud) to voice plus text plus data plus e-mail plus plus plus, all at a monthly price which would astound those who paid through the nose for CompuServe in 1979 at $10 an hour. This is all with current technology, the 4G system. They're working on 5G now.

8) Rapid prototyping. Manufacturing is getting more agile with the introduction of 3D printers; 3D printers cannot take the place of CNC machines and heavy industry, but they can certainly streamline how things are made. (There are some products which are 3D printed, but not many.)

No one can really predict how technology will develop, and it's impossible to know what new breakthrough is coming that will turn everything upside down. But let me make some predictions about what won't happen, too, at least not any time soon.

a) The robot apocalypse. People are worried about this, people who ought to know better.

Here's why:



That's the level best we can do with robotics right now, highly experimental lab stuff. Can they get a robot to climb out of a car without falling down and without preprogramming every last move? Yes. Can they get it to do so reliably, from any car? No.

But even mastering that hurdle--to have a robot which is dangerous to humans, they must be capable of more than getting out of a car. They need to know why and when to get out of a car, and having some kind of motivation for doing so wouldn't hurt. Right now, there isn't a robot or computer in the world which will do anything of its own volition. There's no way to program volition into them. We don't even understand what gives us volition, to the point that some of us deny that we even have volition.

Robots do not have volition, and there's no way for us to give it to them. They will not suddenly band together, rise up, and exterminate humanity. The Terminator is fantasy.

b) The Singularity. Otherwise known as "the end of the world as we know it", the Singularity is a point at which our capabilities change due to technology, and so drastically that we cannot, from here, know what comes afterwards. I don't see it for one reason: human beings have not changed materially in recorded history. We still need the same things we needed ten thousand years ago; we're better at making ourselves comfortable than we were. But even if we can augment our consciousness using computer technology, we'll still have to eat and drink and eliminate waste and breathe, and we'll still need housing and clothing and transportation.

c) Fusion. This is the shakiest "not anytime soon" prediction of mine, and I hope I'm wrong about this one. But sustained, overunity fusion has been "any day now!" for at least forty years. We do seem closer now than we ever have been--and the recent bit from Lockheed about a fusion reactor in a truck was exciting--but I won't believe it until I see it.

d) Routine supersonic travel. That was supposed to be commonplace by 1985, but Concorde was too noisy and too expensive. There has not been a supersonic commercial flight since 2003. We have the ability to do it, but not cheap enough to make it practical. The development of private space vehicles may change this, but not soon. I don't expect there to be, within my lifetime, the much-vaunted "New York to Tokyo in 40 minutes!" we've been promised was a mere twenty years away for the past sixty.

e) Ditto for inexpensive commercial space travel--meaning, affordable by the average person, not just multi-millionaires. I won't be buying a ticket to the moon. (Unless #3 above is very effective.)

f) A switch to all "renewable" power sources. It won't happen, because it can't. Solar and wind, and any of the others, they're too diffuse and too unpredictable. Even the new battery technology won't fix that problem.

* * *

All these predictions are, of course, subject to change without notice--because if that huge breakthrough that we can't predict happens, it changes everything. Antigravity. A terrestrial source of Helium 3. Contact with an alien race.

But that kind of game-changer is rare, and it's safer to bet those won't happen.

So, off we go.
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