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List of emerging technologies (wikipedia.org)
78 points by caustic on May 17, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 41 comments

I'm actually excited about... fake meat. I think this has huge potential to reduce the amount of land and resources we need to use for agriculture. Of course, with that, will probably come an explosion in population...

Any of the genetic/medical things will (IMHO) have annoyingly slow progress. The body is an incredibly complex system (duh), one I think that will defy efforts to "reverse engineer" is (so to speak).

Put it this way: we need massive amounts of computing power just to figure out the shape of proteins, which is important to figure out what they react to and how. Extending that to figuring out the interactions and it gets even more complicated.

I also believe that nothing will replace the convenience of (largely) non-volatile fuels to the point where considerable effort will be spent to make artificial fuels viable. Giant tubs of algae making them, fuel trees (Anathem), that sort of thing.

As much as I like the idea of a space elevator, I'm not sure how viable it is. Firstly, just to create a material strong enough to withstand the forces involved is still something largely theorized about (buckeyballs notwithstanding). It will also be incredibly costly to produce. Imagine what acts of terror could do to that.

I see the future of mass long-distance travel being underground vacuum trains. It's a huge engineering effort but would solve so many problems (eg air congestion, travel times).

And as much as it depresses me I don't see a big future in space. The economics are terrible (particularly for interstellar travel). IIRC I read that getting one ton of spacecraft to the nearest star system accelerating to 10% of the speed of light would require roughly 10^18 joules of energy or roughly 1kg (being 0.1% of the total mass) of matter being converted to energy perfectly. And this assumes you've solved the reaction mass problem.

You know, the ability to raise animals on marginal land, land that cannot be used directly for agriculture, has historically been something that allowed herding to be a moderately ecologically friendly activity.

Some folks blame not meat but factory farmed meat for the modern epidemic in heart disease (Eskimos had a mostly meat diet with no heart disease - at least at one time). It's hard to imagine vat-meat as healthier than factory farmed meat.

Another way of replacing meat(and maybe reducing the price of food 10x and land and water use) , is using synthetic biology to manufacture the basic components of food and combine those to create tasty food[1].

The effect of this technology seem both really exciting,and really frightening(millions of the poorest losing their job).


"I see the future of mass long-distance travel being underground vacuum trains. It's a huge engineering effort but would solve so many problems (eg air congestion, travel times)."

I don't think this will happen if the universe has taught me one thing its that things tend to take the least path of resistance. If anything I think the future will be a realized matrix, in that increasing the fidelity of the current internet.

Just to throw this out there: imagine the forces a space elevator would have to bear to be viable. Don't just imagine what acts of terror could do to it, imagine the amount of force they'd have to play with just to do anything directly to it!

"Great, now we have a space-borne cable slicing through the Earth's crust. Oops."

There's an amazing sequence in Kim Stanley Robinson's "Red Mars" describing the destruction of a space elevator in a terrorist attack: the cable digs a trench marking the equator of Mars as it wraps around the planet multiple times.

Why is "reducing air pollution" a potential application of driverless cars? The other benefits allow people to driver faster and safer on the same amount of roads, but I don't see how that would encourage less driving that would lead to less air pollution.

Faster driving = less gas mileage, and if driverless cars dramatically lowers the opportunity cost of driving people may be encouraged to put even more miles on their car. Wouldn't that all increase air pollution? Don't get me wrong, I think the other benefits are enormous, but am I missing something obvious?

Edit: Thanks for the great answers below.

Self-driving cars could form convoys to utilize slipstream. You could reduce the safety distance, because the reaction time compared to a human driver is massively reduced. Additionally, the driving style of the average driver leaves a lot of room for improvement.

Relatedly, the same thing that gives you slipstream (lower following distances at a given speed) increases car density on the road at any speed, which increases road capacity, which decreases congestion and idling. My guess is that this effect, not the aerodynamics, is the biggest benefit.

Also note that self-driven cars can park themselves and shut off the engine to avoid congestion instead of simply sitting in a slow-moving queue at a "metering light".

How big are those slipstream effects compared to speed scaling? Drag power goes as the third power of speed; take average urban speeds from say 30 mph to 300 mph, and the drag goes up a factor of 1,000x -- to on the order of a megawatt.

Less time sitting in traffic due to more efficient road usage could help maybe?

Also if self driving cars became the norm, I could see a lot of automobile usage becoming similar to a "taxi" situation where the nearest car picks you up, and you could opt for an economical plan where the car picks up passengers going the same way.

At this point it's just speculation because nobody knows what kind of novel usage patterns and macro effects we'll see if driverless automobiles become the norm. We just know it will be a huge net positive in the long run. If only for the millions of truck drivers who would be unemployed and hopefully quickly re-employed doing something else useful.

Its quite true that driverless cars per se would have just the effects you mention. But if driverless cars mean that suddenly nobody owns a car and just rents a car from the automated taxi fleet when they need a ride we'd probably see most of them be lightweight single occupancy vehicles, meaning less pollution overall.

Every time I see someone explain why they need a car they always mention big grocery trips and often taking kids somewhere or other. It doesn't seem like driverless cars will do away with those, and if they're really so necessary, most cars available probably won't be lightweight and single occupancy.

I'm sure that there will still be plenty of multi-passenger cars.

But to your point, most people who drive trucks actually use the bed maybe a dozen times a year, and many people who have high occupancy vehicles take far more trips with only themselves or 1 additional passenger than they do fully loaded.

Single occupancy vehicles aren't practical for most people because they need a larger car some of the time, but if you don't own it you're free to request whatever vehicle you need right then.

Going to work by yourself--lightweight single occupancy. Picking up the kids--minivan.

Right, I just realized I forgot another important effect if we go the autonomous taxi route. Currently we have somewhere around 5 parking spaces for every car. I bet we could at least cut that in half with autonomous cars, making it reasonable to develop more densely, meaning shorter driving distances, and making trains a more attractive option for some trips.

> Currently we have somewhere around 5 parking spaces for every car.

Not in the places with lots of population density.

For example, SF may have more cars than parking spaces. It certainly doesn't have 5x as many.

> I bet we could at least cut that in half with autonomous cars, making

almost no difference.

For example, I have two parking spaces. One on the street in front of my house and the other in my backyard. The latter isn't going away and the former won't make any difference.

Most people choose public transportation to avoid the agony of commuter traffic (mine is ~2hrs per day). Not only is it time consuming but you can't do anything else during that time other than get bored. If I had a self driving car, I could work during the commute, making the incentive for taking the train much lower.

It would take much analysis and user studies to see if effects like this that encourage people to drive more or car sharing effects will dominate. But reducing air pollution definitely is not a foregone conclusion.

One more: the taxi fleet model (fewer cars) makes it easier to replace cars with newer models, which tend to include more environmentally friendly technology.

A lot of fuel is spent on accelerating the vehicle, much more than to sustain the speed. That is why you spend more gas driving in the city with jams and traffic lights. If every car was driven by a computer, they could in theory form a network and do for example, the perfect meshing on the intersections without stopping, only accelerating or deccelerating a little. Computers could also drive big traffic slowly but steadily without lots of starts and stops.

It's interesting to note that GPGPU is on there but general-purpose computation on FPGAs isn't. It amazes me how the former has taken so much mindshare.

It's interesting to note that history shows that in general the cheap and nasty, simpler, consumer level technology often wins over more seemingly more appropriate technology. In hardware for example, see Ethernet winning over other stuff around at the time and commodity PCs beating "big iron" for servers.

I like FPGAs too though and am definitely egging them on, but winning may involve somehow smuggling them into something mass produced, which may be a problem since mass produced hardware will usually prefer an ASIC. We will see.

A much better article than I would expect, really.

Coolest technology I had never heard of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-reconfiguring_modular_robo...

The whole head transplant[1] has got to be the most disturbing thing on that list.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_transplant

I don't know; "Potentially marginalized technologies: Consensus reality" is pretty special....

you should see the movie eXistenZ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120907/

Disturbing, yes. But keep in mind that there are warehouses out there with people's heads cryogenically frozen. So there's a line of people queuing up, waiting for it to happen. :)

That may be true, but I was under the impression that cryogenic thawing wasn't necessarily a foolproof operation. That would seem to be to be the first step.

I was under the impression that cryogenic thawing has never been done on that level (human head).

I've only ever heard of it being attempted on animals.

every time i hear cryogenics, i think of walt disney. i was surprised to find it is just urban legend.

"A long-standing urban legend maintains that Disney was cryogenically frozen, and his frozen corpse stored beneath the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland.[102] In fact, Disney was cremated on December 17, 1966, and his ashes interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. The first known human cryogenic freezing did not occur until January 1967, more than a month after Disney's death.[102]"


Why do people always think that this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exocortex is far off?

The lady with the arm has a 96 electrode implant.. you could probably type with that many electrodes.

Seems to me its just a matter of getting more electrodes in there and/or doing more training in order to be able to interface with an exocortex.

I think if people are less afraid of sticking things in their brains, things would look a lot more like a cyberpunk novel already.

This should be a great source of inspiration for any budding scifi author.

I haven't kept up with science fiction recently but I'd be surprised if most of these haven't already been written about.

rec.arts.sf.* would be able to give book titles, authors, and probably page numbers too.

It'd be interesting to keep the article to read it in 5 / 10 / 50 years.

Here is a 4 years old version of the article:


My (tech/business) University has an obligatory seminar, where all students choose an emerging technology from a similar list and try to evaluate its path to reality, influence on markets and society, etc.

We all were in awe when hearing the amazing stuff the other teams where working on – definitely one of the coolest classes I have ever taken!

I'd love to see the space elevator come soon using carbon nanotubes. We could put nuclear (and other) waste on it and shoot it out into space. With such high costs in waste disposal, and how profitable such a device could be, you'd think it'd happen sooner rather than later.

More exciting than the moon landing or the Facebook IPO!

Have we hit a wall on increasing high temperature superconductors or is their graph out of date?

The graph looks accurate, there has been no real breakthrough since the copper oxides.

I thought memristers were further along. Aren't they going to be shipping this year?

What, no teleportation?

I work for a company working on RFID (radio frequency identification technology on the wiki) for the jewelry industry. Some of the biggest wholesalers on the planet have recently bought our system and we have had requests for proposals from Rolex and more. We're currently looking for paid interns in NYC, feel free to contact.

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