1. The Rise of Citizen Science – Public participation in scientific research will become increasingly popular. Amateurs will see and seek out greater opportunity to gather data, participate in collaborative studies run by both professionals and amateurs and lend their computers to large scale ‘grid computing’ efforts such as SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence).
2. NBIC-convergence: The convergence of the domains of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technologies and cognitive science offers the potential for truly transformational scientific breakthroughs in fields as diverse as brain science, energy, environmental protection and food production.
3. Synthetic Biology: Synthetic biology involves designing and building basic biological building blocks that can perform functions as diverse as cleaning up toxic waste, growing electronic circuits, and producing artificial drugs food and fuels.
4. Personalized Medicine: Commercial services are already available that can read and map the bulk of an individual’s genome for less than $10,000 in a matter of days. Advances could see the price fall to around $100 to sequence our entire genome in eight hours or less. This would enable medical treatments to be tailored to our unique genetic profile.
5. Novel Energy Sources – As the level of government and private venture capital funding for green technology increases, so the range of candidate technologies will grow. Expect to see regular coverage of ‘breakthrough concepts’ as diverse as energy producing kites, liquid and printable batteries and a variety of initiatives attempting to capture energy from human motion.
6. Food Production Methods – A variety of approaches will be discussed for closing the gap between production and demand. Expect to see Genetic Modification back under the spotlight along with concepts such as vertical farming, salt water farming, precision farming using satellites to optimise seeding and harvesting and artificially reared meat.
7. 3D Printing / Personal Fabricators – Three dimensional printing techniques have been used for some time in manufacturing to create 3D items by bonding particles together layer by layer. As the costs and footprint of 3D printers come down, so the potential emerges for ‘print on demand’ fabricators to be deployed on the high street – enabling stores to offer a far wider range of products while reducing the physical stock holding. The ultimate would be the personal fabricator which sits at home next to the washing machine and which enables us to print items (for example a plate) locally – using ‘recipes’ we have purchased and our own designs.
8. Ambient Intelligence – The expectation is that everyday objects from wallpaper to carpets, furniture and our clothing will all have embedded intelligence and an IP (Internet Protocol) address so that our environments can interact with and adapt to us. For example, picture the scene, we are having a stressful phone conversation, our mobile phone picks this up and responds. It communicates to our clothes to increase the air circulation around our body, requests the wallpaper to display a brighter tone and instructs the photo frame to display a happy or uplifting image. While all of these may sound far fetched, each development is already being worked on in the labs and ambient intelligence is seen as the glue to help link these developments together and shape the environment to the needs of the individual.
9. Self Replicating Artificial Intelligence (AI) – Real world applications of AI surround us – from satellite navigation to aircraft autopilots and washing machine control systems. The next generation of AI programs to emerge from the labs will demonstrate ever greater capacity to learn, adapt to their surroundings and even replicate themselves.
10. The Singularity – The basic concept was popularised by futurist Ray Kurzweil. He argues that we can expect the continued application of Moore’s law – the doubling of computer power every 12-18 months – for many decades. Moore’s law coupled to advances in AI will lead to a point around 30-40 years from now when devices will have so much computing power that machine intelligence will exceed human intelligence. A film on this concept is scheduled for release at the end of 2009 and will lead to widespread debate on the issue.
FutureScape Issue 7: October 29th 2009