Future technological innovations

Given the state of technology in society and in various fields, what do you see as likely inventions to be produced in the next 5, 10, 25+ years?

I see a few things. First, I don’t think we’re very far from hand held computer pads, with T1 speed connections, that can function as a replacement for a book. Or rather, thousands and thousands of books. Anything you want to read, you pay for the DLing rights and now you have it wherever you go.

I also see an iPod/cd burner combination where a hand held laser can be swept across cds to copy them directly into your own private library.

25-50 years down the line my computer science friends say they’ll have significant progress made towards quantum computing. i.e. microchips where each section can perform multiple functions at the same time.

What makes this thread [sub]IMHO[/sub] not an IMHO thread is that anyone can debate the probability and feasibility of someone else’s suggestion ever coming to frutation.

I thought “quantum computing” referred to semiconductors that were so small they relied on quantum-mechanical effects to achieve their semconductor-ness – e.g. tunnel diodes.

Perhaps I am mixing up my terms, tracer. The person who explained it to me said he couldn’t even explain it well himself and so you see the conundrum I’m in.
But the gist of it is this: it’s a way to get around Moore’s “Law,” which must end within the next two decades. Moore’s Law says that every 12-18 months the processing speed of chips will double. It’s held fairly steady now for a long time but it simply must end when we produce chips that transmit at the speed of light. There’s simply no way to double that…unless the same circuit can do two things at once! Or three, or four…

It’s a long way off, but I’ve been told it’s possible to do.

Quantum computing goes beyond using semiconductors so small that they require quantum mechanical effects to do their job–due to the indeterminate state of “qbits”, parallel computation can (theoretically) be carried out on with the same qbits at the same time.

Something like that, anyway. A friend in CS was describing a professor’s work towards using QC to instantaneously crack encryption because the brute force work is carried out simultaneously in parallel. Instantaneous search of all possible combinations means no more encryption based on key complexity.

Anyway, I remember a sci-fi short story many years ago about a man who was frozen and thawed several hundred years in the future. He awoke to find himself crippled because everyone else had, from birth, been wired into an instantaneous access database of all human knowledge; since he hadn’t been raised on the system, he had no hope of learning it, and was effectively retarded since everyone else would always know everything.

It occurs to me that in 25 years, all of the information on the Internet will be so readily available as to approximate this, for a significant portion of the human population anyway.

Another quantum computing advance: scientists in Europe succeeded in transmitting information over 70 miles instantaneously by “splitting” a particle and sending the halves in opposite directions. At one end, the particle was either destroyed or let through; at the other end, the other “half” instantaneously mirrored the state of the first half because their states were linked by quantum effects. They’re working on increasing the distance at which this works. The ansibles in Orson Scott Card’s Ender series worked approximately this way, so in 25 years it’s not crazy to imagine instantaneous communication around the world and into space.

More practically, hybrid cars that get hundreds of miles to the gallon, with a concomittant shrinking of the vehicles to more personal sizes. GM, I believe, has a car “skunk works” designing pure electric vehicles. Eliminating the engine and transmission, replaced by small electric motors for each wheel, removes a large amount of the bulk in a car, leaving only what’s required for the cabin and storage space.

I’ll give it a shot. I don’t think your model of computers and networking will come to fruition, or if so, it will only be a passing fad.

First, I think input/output devices will become much more sophisticated. No more learning qwerty. Voice recognition, and later thought recognition, will be the primary input method. Output will be audio-visual in nature, initially something like eye-glasses with an ear piece, later it may be even more sophisticaed, feeding the images and auditory patterns directly into the brain.

These input/output functions will tie into a personal computing system, a small unit that handles the network communications and the processing for the input/output methods. This communications capability will go across wireless networks that far exceed the currently available 802.11a technology (much faster than T1, which is 1.544 Mbps, something well in excess of 1000 Mbps), with coverage wherever you go.

Most of the communication will be directly back to your own server (virtual or physical, I’m not sure it matters). Your “own” server will be pretty smart, too. It will learn. It will get very good at recognizing your speech, ascribing meaning and intent, and even eventually “reading your mind” (or so it will seem). Let’s call this server your butler.

You won’t be surfing the web, looking up obscure quotes for citations on the SDMB - your butler will do that for you. Booking flights online on that travel site? Your butler will do that, too. And your butler will know your preferences (travel early in the morning, or go up the night before? full service hotel, or suite hotel?). Your butler will know your schedule, and prepare an itinerary without even asking. If you don’t bring it up soon, it will remind you to confirm your arrangements.

Your butler will have enormous control over your environment. It can adust the temperature, the lighting, or order a pizza, most of the time anticipating your needs. It will manage your bank account and your personal finances. It will let you know what you can afford, and what you can’t. It will argue bad decisions with you, in a helpful devils-advocate manner.

Your butler could have multiple personalities. It (or they) will be a companion. It can lift your spirits when it senses you are down. It will entertain you when you are bored. It will comfort you when you are scared. It will share in your accomplishments. It will know you. You will know it. Although it will be virtual, it will have a face. And you’ll empathize with it.*

All this starts within about 10 years, and could be completely in place in another 20 years after that.

And that’s just touching the pieces that affect everyone’s everyday life. Advances in fields like biology, agriculture, and robotics will be equally revolutionary.

  • [sub]Except when it crashes, and then you will have to reload Microsoft Personal Butler 2022, cussing the whole time…[/sub]

Almost time for bed, but here is my 2-cents…

I doubt that datapads. tricorders, or any other technological gizmos will ever fully replace dead-wood books. It’s just hard to imagine curling up with a good tablet-pc.

Also, ‘The Internet’ is still in its relative infancy. 10 years ago, outside of universities, few have heard of the net. (Sure, AOL, Prodigy, etc, were getting close, but no cigar). The next decade or two will see net access truely mature. It will be interesting (or scary, or good), to see how that shakes out.

All these sorts of predictions about future technologies are notoriously bad because, as James Burke explained, you’re basing your predictions on the present. Before electricity, people imagined advanced communication to be shooting letters through pneumatic tubes.

It’s hard to know what future zeitgeists will be like. What will matter to people? What events will necessitate invention? What will connect to what and when?

I remember an old Life magazine from the 1930s about the future. At that time, everyone was gah-gah over the new plastics. I’ll never forget one of the drawings of a woman with 30s makeup who looked something like a conehead. The caption read: “Women of the 1960s will wear helmet shaped hats made of celluloid.”

“”“What events will necessitate invention?”"""

I personally don’t think we’re too far off from inventing invention itself. What will life be like when entire resources are collapsed to clerical observation?


–The cognitive space to concieve your own superiority, is a gift from those who labor so hard as to not have the luxury. Why one holds onto money on top of this; is incomprehensible.

hansel, actually Ursula LeGuin came up with the idea of the ansible first, though Card was probably the one who popularized the idea. Will we create faster than light communication? I have no idea. The idea doesn’t seem inconceivable.

AZCowboy, I think improvements in voice recognition software will be a major step in computing. I’ve got a program now and, when it doesn’t slow my computer down to crawl, it’s highly inaccurate.
Your other suggestion about circuitry in the brain may come to fruitation, but I do not see it happening at all in the next10,20 or even 50 years.
Psychology itself is just now gaining respect as a legitimate science and we really do not understand the brain at all. To say that in a decade we’ll not only understand it, but be sticking things into it so as to log onto the net…well, it seems a bit farfetched.

brutus, you’re right that books won’t be replaced. But they can be substituted.

No. Moores law is limited because at there is a minimim density of circuits and whatnot that can be built on a chip. That density is dependent on the size of an electron, not on transmitting at the speed of light.

Predictions for the next 25 years:
More medical advances resulting from genetic research
Improved materials - carbon fibers, etc
More computer stuff
Robotics - We already have robots that can walk around. The next step is to make them our slaves

25 years is not that long so don’t expect flying cars, FTL space travel or clone armies or anything. Yes there have been some pretty cool advances in electronics/computers and yes there have been some pretty cool discoveries but I’m guessing that we aren’t going to see anything that fundamentally changes society as we know it.

Think of it this way, if someone from 1977 showed up here in 2002, how long would it take them to adjust? TV is still TV. Cars, although more complicated internally, still drive the same. You could show them how to use the Internet in about an hour. People still live in recognizable buildings and houses.

Compare that to someone showing up from 1802 or even 1902. That person will probably shit themselves the first time they see a jumbo-jet fly overhead or be entertained for hours by a $12 laser pointer.

You’re right that a measurement on one particle will instantly determine the state of its twin entangled particle, no matter how far away they are. The problem though is that you can’t send information via this technique. All attempts to get around this restriction have failed and thus the speed of light is still the ultimate speed limit for information transfer and unfortunately will remain so.

My tuppence worth:

Robots – we’ll never have walking, talking Asimovian robots. What would they do? Why buy a robot when an illegal immigrant is cheaper to run? Instead, more and more computing power will be placed in devices, tools, clothing, whatever. I.e. specific processing power for specific uses. Cheaper and easier to make and probably more useful. Besides, as soon as an Asimovian robot is made, some civil rights group will be jumping up and down about slavery.
Medicine – as the cost of advanced medical treatment increases faster than the rates of inflation, medical treatment will vary depending on wealth, either of your country of residence or your own. With some of the more exotic treatments already costing tens of thousands of dollars a year, societies will be faced with some pretty stark choices on how to pay for and who should receive expensive medical treatment. The rich will live a lot longer, the rest will make it past 100 as infrequently as we do now.
Bio-engineering – modern GM foods are nothing compared to the potential range of outcomes. How about a uni-crop in your garden? Roots like a parsnip, leaves like spinach and a couple of different edible products, say a grain (rice, wheat) and a fruit (aubergines). Ideal for colonising Mars. Cloning looks more difficult than originally expected due to the effect of the cytoplasm on the transferred nucleus. I think we have to learn an awful lot more about developmental biology at the biochemical level before achieving successful cloning.
Nano-technology – be afraid, very afraid. So we make useful little nanobots for clearing arteries, dissolving plastic, cleaning up the environment. But dissolving plastic in a landfill site is the same as dissolving plastic in your car. A nanobot that cleans arteries could as easily block arteries or drill holes in the artery walls. Breaking down oil could as easily be done in a Saudi oil well as in a landfill. Making use of nano-technology has frightening potential for unintended consequences.
Internet – will become overloaded with advertising and an evolutionary arms race will develop between insidious advertising (spam, viral) and anti-ad defence mechanisms. More and more devices that are not recognisable as computers by today’s definition will be available to access the internet as a universal means of communication both hard-wired and wireless. For example, clothes, jewellery, credit cards, soft furnishings (e.g. a baby-sitting internet enabled blanket, informs you of the state of you baby while you’re next door partying).

Enderw24, I don’t know which voice recognition program you use, but some of the new ones are VERY good. They all suck initially, but with a “learning” capability, they only get better and better. The biggest problem with many production systems is that they are trying to understand everyones voices, which is MUCH more difficult than learning a single individual’s voice.

I wasn’t referring to circuitry in the brain. I, also, don’t see many signing up for such surgery. But I think it may be possible, very soon, wearing some kinda “hat” or “glasses”, that devices may be able to induce optical and auditory nerves to mimic actual sights and sounds. OK, so maybe that is still out there a bit, but even with just eyeglasses with a monitor projection (available today), ear pieces (available today), and good voice recognition (getting better everyday), I think our whole notion of input/output will change significantly - in the near future.

One other thought on the issue of the speed of information transfer (communications): Speed isn’t so much the issue. Using electro-magnetic waves, or optical fibers, we are quickly approaching speed-of-light (in a vacuum) sorts of speeds. In communications networks today, delay (latency) isn’t much of an issue on point-to-point transmission systems (much of the delay comes from the electrical processing at intermediate nodes). The issue is bandwidth.

As a physical analogy, imagine trying to get from NYC to LA as quickly as possible. Imagine your only options are either a Ferrari or a plain old yellow schoolbus. You would pick the Ferrari, right? Well, if you only wanted to move one or two people. Now imagine that you need to move 50 people. Which do you chose now? Now, in this analogy, replace “people” with “MegaBits”, and you’ll see my point.

FTL space travel and clone armies are probably out, but we could make a flying car right now. (That is, if you allow for a “car” that had airplane wings you could fold up when not in use, and a propeller.)

Bureaucratic gridlock?

My two kopecs:

  • I think 25 years forward is a bigger cahange than 50 - 100(?) years backwards.
  • I am also worried about nanotechnology as someone else was.
  • I think that there will be a totally new “race” = the guys with the knowledge how to put together knowledge. The knowledge is the main in any business or activity today.
    Or the knowledge how to cross some pieces of information.
    It is a long story, but let me just simply state that a guy that has all the info, in a computer, that we have today through InterNet, and if we others could not combine it, has a big advantage in the stock market.
    If You then take the steps down from the stock-market to some more “traditional” business, there is still the question, who knows what and can combine it.
    Now the business will be more world-wide and to know languages is very essential… Well, how many guys speaks e.g. 4 - 5 languahges?
    If You take the old concept where the “big director” flies to another continent with his secretary and/or intepreter, is completely history, when people begins to accept just talking with the picture on the screen of the guy You make contracts with.
    Naturally there will be very accurate translating programs and so on for these things, but…
    What I mean is that now only North America, some European countries and Australia are basically ready to work in big scale through InterNet.
    Here in Russia where there are the biggest resources of natural material in the world, whatever You need, the business is just on the stage of early last century.
    The future developement together with the new technology will put many big firms on their knees etc.
    Everything will move faster and faster.
    The technology, how it will develope, will be very depended on how the world will develope. That is why I see these things together.
    I belive the robots will change our daily life, the industrial robots, but the big bang will be in the fields of biological whatever and nanotechnics.
    And in those fields I am completely out.
    Just imagine those guys that are not. They will have power behind our so dear “money power”.
    First they make money, then they make whatever, or we can try to stop these “Second or Third generations of Bill Gates”, if we just have the information. (Personally I have nothing agaist Bill Gates, he is just such a good example).
    I have to say, that I will certainly not have that information, but maybe a micro-chip somewhere inside my blood-system so that it be screened where I am located each time this knowledge is needed.

OK, this was not an answer, it was a rant about that I am still afraid in the future…, more than ever… Where are we going?
Who will really keep the strings (of man and technology)?

I would expect robots to be in the military. How long would 20 soldiers with machine guns last against a 10 foot, 600lbs, bullet proof robot with a variety of weapons at its disposal? Its would probably cost less than training those 20 soldiers and arming them (last I heard its costs $2200 to fully arm a soldier, $44,000 for 20 in equipment alone. Plus you don’t have to feed the robots, just maintanence) Plus if a project like that gets going there’ll be factories mass producing them, then you just download programs into them and tell it what you want to die. They could also be part of search parties or escorts.
I think more non lethal weapons will develop. Things like long range semi automatic tazers. Like the stun setting on Star Trek. They would be given to police, so when aprehending criminals they don’t have to chase them. Just shoot them and wake them up for questioning.

I think the next major paradigm shift will not be computer-based, but biological. Some people have mentioned genetic engineering, but there’s a specific aspect to it I think deserves focus.

We have ongoing, presently, a number of concerted and detailed examinations of the human genome. It’s certainly true that your genes don’t dictate a hundred percent of who you will become, but it’s inarguable that they’re a strong starting point. Look at the studies about identical twins separated at birth; the two people go off and create separate lives, but among the differences there are some, and occasionally many, eerie parallels.

There are also millions and millions of individual genetic controls in our chromosomal makeup. We know what some of them do, but the overwhelming majority are a mystery. This, I think, is the Holy Grail: Now that we have the genome mapped (in the broadest possible view), what do all of the genes actually do, individually and in combination with others?

Here’s where I’m going with this: How long will it be before a pregnant woman can go to the doctor, have an amniocentesis or equivalent procedure, and then go back two weeks later for a prenatal genetic probability report?

“Based on your child’s chromosomes, we estimate a 90% probability that he will have blond hair, and 85% likelihood of hazel eyes. He will almost definitely be between five-foot-seven and five-foot-eleven as an adult, with a 75% probability of his being either five-nine or five-ten.” As the years go by, the predictions will get more specific, in the same way that meteorology benefits from an always-increasing body of knowledge as foundation; but just like weather forecasting, there won’t ever be anything more than a probability and a margin of error, because it’s known that environmental factors can confound genetic predilection. In any event, it’s not unreasonable to think that genetic analysis may eventually be able to offer at least rough estimates of likelihood for amount of muscle mass, math and spatial aptitude, musical ability, or whatever, in the child and eventual adult.

So then what happens when gene therapy becomes common? How far away are we from a parent being able to tweak a fetus in the womb? Given a set of genes that will probably create a high-athletic-stamina child, what’s to say some minor adjustments couldn’t increase the probability, or the degree of the characteristic? Honestly, what parent wouldn’t want to take advantage of any opportunity to make his or her child “better” in some way, and therefore more likely to succeed?

Obviously, when this new technology is developing, there will be a huge amount of fear and mistrust, like we see with today’s debates about the relative merits and dangers of cloning. At the moment, we think it’s risky and immoral, and there are very good science-based reasons to feel that way (e.g., the number of embryos that are required to produce one viable fetus). But if you think that, for most people, the debate centers on those scientific facts, you’re fooling yourself. The vast majority of people don’t know anything about cloning, and think it’s “icky” that “another me” might be running around; they assume from several decades of speculative futuristic storytelling that a clone can be grown as an adult and then inserted into the original person’s life for nefarious purposes. And even so, there are some scientists who push ahead with research into cloning people; whether you regard them as pioneers or madmen depends on your point of view.

So extrapolate forward – fifty or a hundred years to be safe, or perhaps twenty-five if there’s some radical unforeseen breakthrough – from two basic principles. One: We will know the human genome well enough to make informed predictions about the characteristics of the eventual adult based on a small sample from the developing fetus. Two: We will have the capacity to apply gene therapy to repair known genetic defects. It seems reasonable to assume that some parents – underground at first, or in renegade nations – will want to use the techniques of the latter to make modifications in the former.

This, more than anything else, I think, will revolutionize human society. Consider the implications: The first generations will be done in secret. The first kids will labor under the stigma, the suspicion that they “ain’t normal.” The next time a Michael Jordan or Lance Armstrong rises in the sports world, he’ll be viewed askance; do his athletic records count if his physicality isn’t what he was “conceived with”? Can he be blamed for the actions and choices of his parents while he was a barely-differentiated clump of rapidly-dividing cells? Can he sue his parents? How will the world’s religions react? If he’s been altered in the womb, what does that mean about his “soul”? And then, after the first few major success stories, how will the initially-defensive anti-GM legislation withstand the assaults of parents desperate to obtain for their own future children the obvious advantages of the new role models?

More than fast Internet connections, more than astoundingly miniaturized devices, more than instantaneous long-distance communication, I think humankind will be entirely and irrevocably different within a hundred years of the widespread adoption of elective genetic customization.

Just my two cents.

I think you’ve misinterpretted what I posted. The article I read stated (unless I misunderstood) that information was transmitted. It wasn’t the act of observing the particle at one end, causing the other particle to have a determinate state; it was whether or not the particle was allowed through a gate (and thus collided with the barrier or not, which altered some state. By opening and closing the gate in a binary pattern, the same pattern was available at the other end–information was transmitted instantaneously.

I’ll keep looking for the article, but I recall it was in a relatively reputable outlet.

This is a subject matter I devote a lot of thought to.

  1. Virtual Reality- All five senses fully stimulated ;), and extremely realistic worlds to explore. VR might even get to the point where it’s indistinguishable from reality. I think web sites of the future will each be a virtual location you can actually walk, fly, swim, travel at lightspeed, etc. through.

  2. Gene Therapy- Pills, creams, sprays, and many other methods of altering your DNA for all manner of purposes medicinal, cosmetic, amusement, and lord knows what else. Hopefully, the FDA or some new regulatory body will keep things relatively safe.

  3. Grid Computing- Why have several million weak nodes that can only communicate with each other when you could have every computer on the internet pool its resources and create one ultra powerful machine that all can tap into. I’m using a fraction of my system’s resources as I type this post, it would be more efficient if someone else were using my unused cycles. The SETI@home program may be remembered as the first popular attempt at internet-wide grid computing.

  4. Nanotechnology- Go alien, you ain’t kidding, this shit is scary. If microscopic automatons become as cheap, efficient, and reliable as predicted things are going to change in ways we can’t even imagine. Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” He was smart enough to foresee the use of geostationary satellites but I don’t think even he could conjure up the full implications of an invisible armada of machines that can assemble and disassemble matter at the molecular level.

  5. Artificial Intelligence- The ‘Butler’ described by AZCowboy pretty much sums up my thoughts. Personally, I’m disorganized as hell and can’t wait for a customized computer pal to deal with all the trivialities in life. One other implication of true A.I., if it’s ever fully realized, is a being that is so damn smart it develops insights beyond our own comprehension. Of course that leads to…

  6. Cognitive Augmentation- Rather than let the creation outthink its master, we might have neural implants, new learning techniques, and possibly even a variant of Matrix-style knowledge downloading.

  7. Retinal Displays- Eyeglasses and other devices that safely draw images directly onto our retinas. All manner of cool things could result from this technology including seeing in other spectrums of light such as UV and IR, heads up display of information relevant to what you’re seeing or doing, even the proverbial eyes in the back of your head with the help of camera on the back of your shirt. A company called Microvision is the current leader in augmented vision displays.

  8. Audio Spotlights- The Dodge MaxCab concept truck supposedly features this technology developed at MIT. Audio signals can be directed as precisely as a beam of light meaning each passenger in the vehicle can listen to different audio sources without disturbing each other and without headphones.

  9. e-Paper- Flexible materials that mimic the texture, weight, resolution, and cost effectiveness of wood pulp paper and that can display color video, be wired to networks and be reused. Several companies have working prototypes of electronic paper notably, E-Ink.

  10. Clean(er) Power- Fusion power is the holy grail I think of power generation but as its still unproven there are many other ways we could supplement current methods, including piezoelectric materials that generate a charge when flexed (these have already been placed in the soles of shoes), turbines powered by wave motion, and flywheels that store the energy normally wasted by braking a car or train. I’m truly praying that in the next 50 years clean technologies will become the standard not the exception in power generation.

  11. Space Elevators- This one would be really neat. Instead of inefficiently blasting ourselves into space in a manner prohibitively expensive to all but the richest governments, an ultra strong nanotube tether connects the ground floor (Earth) to a stationary satellite, and a capsule transports passengers up to a ship docked at a space station for travel to the cosmos! Or something like that…

  12. Robots- Sony’s cyber pet aibo sold so well, they’ve already developed a humanoid robot that they bring to tradeshows. NEC and Honda also have extensive robotics divisions that have been expanding. Robots with your A.I. Butler installed my perform menial labor and other tasks. Until they revolt and kill us all of course. :smiley:

  13. Networked Everything- Our homes, cars, appliances, clothes, possibly even our bodies will have computers integrated into them and be organized into networks. I think by 2050, if its midnight and you don’t know where your kids are you need just switch on the locator. Of course the Big Brother implications are staggering, which is why the libertarians out there will have to be constantly lobbying to keep our privacy private.

The X Factor: The Singularity- Some science and technology prognosticators think that in the next 50 to 100 years (or even sooner) a totally unique phenomenon in history will occur that will permanently alter our civilization. The theory is that the rate of human technological progress has been increasing exponentially, and eventually the rate of change will be so fast that inventions of the Guttenberg moveable type and assembly line magnitude will be occurring around the planet every single second. Will it happen is anyone’s guess, but if it does there is absolutely no way to know what life will be like afterwards. Maybe it’s utopia, maybe apocalypse, or maybe nothing at all (shades of y2k bug). It sounds like religious prophesizing to some, but faith plays to no part here, and I for one am curious, more curious than anything else I can think of, including whether we’re alone in this universe and what happens after we die, as to whether the singularity is real and what it will be like if it occurs.

Of course, all of the above assumes that we don’t manage to somehow wipe ourselves out in the next 50 years. Frankly, I wouldn’t put it past us to trip at the finish line.