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I work at an accelerator. My boss asked me to predict the year 2043 (raywu.co)
36 points by raywu on Feb 9, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments

Unfortunately, it seems like this was written by someone without a science or engineering background.

Here are some errors in content or presentation:

1. "Concrete jungle"... assuming gravity is supplied through rotation, the structure would be under constant tension, which makes concrete a very bad choice of material.

2. "Synthesized photosynthesis"... "Photosynthesis" is a process, "synthesize" is what you do to a substance. "Artificial photosynthesis" is the correct term.

3. "Renewable energy, however, will never live up to its promises. Hydrogen will be abundant from synthesized photosynthesis"... Artificial photosynthesis is a renewable energy source, so it is contradictory to say that renewable energy will never live up to its promises.

Here are some criticisms:

1. "AI" is a dream of the 1960s, we now understand that the problem with AI is that we don't understand "intelligence" with sufficient depth to describe what makes an AI different from an ordinary computer problem. I would say "automated mission to Europa" instead of "AI mission to Europa".

2. I don't think wired infrastructure will go a way. We are addicted to bandwidth and fiber is the way to get it. We will only use wireless at the bottom two levels or so.

3. Protein will be significantly less difficult to supply than suggested.

When I read this, I feel like I'm reading predictions of a global network of flying zeppelins from the early 1900s. That's not to say it's avoidable. It's not avoidable. We can only really predict what will happen in the absence of technological revolutions.

What's really missing is a description of what humans will do for a living. White collar jobs are getting automated, and everyone graduating collage is competing with the people who used to do what the computers do, except for the percentage of graduates in the non-automated fields (like software development).

You're right—I'm more of a software background—all this is from sci-fi; not grounded. Definitely things I don't know, and I really like your points. Thanks for reading, by the way.

To your point, photosynthesis—yes, it should be called artificial photosynthesis; I had linked to that wikipedia page—I'll strike out and change that on the post.

And Antarctica is unlikely to host many servers because it has long latency, no power generation, and an unclear legal environment.

Not to mention the environmental concerns with putting industrial complexes in one of our most pristine environments.

The legal environment could be cleared up, if nations had some motivation to do the negotiating and paperwork. Latency would matter less if lots of servers were all hosted there :) And as for power, there's no NIBMYs to complain about nuclear power down there!

latency matters if your users are all spread over the country, at the speed of light it takes at least 47.33 ms, I just went to speed test and my ping was 16 ms for a server 20-30 miles away. so you could use Antarctica for mass data storage or processing. so it would work for archiving

So you're saying Antarctica would be a good fit for Amazon Glacier (https://aws.amazon.com/glacier/)?

The problem with this article is that it was clearly written ~2013. It talks about all the current buzz words. Elon Musk. Google. 3D Printing. Tesla. Bitcoin. In 30 years these will be distant memories or absolutely commonplace / commodities hardly worth mentioning.

Put your money where your mouth is: http://longbets.org/

This is cool, never saw this before. There're some titans betting against each other. I'm not a betting man, but I see your point.

How confident are you that these will come to pass?

How confident are you that half of your predictions come true?

I'd like to find a way to remind myself of this piece by 2040 and see how far/close I am. It's incredible how some technology titans from the past were spot on with their predictions (Asimov, Tesla), and some we yet to see (Burke).

Ah, the poor people and their quest for affordable protein. Even in 2043, it should now dawn on people that the witholding of basic building blocs of life is the most efficient way to subjugate the lowered classes. In the meanwhile, there is a colony on the moon. TLDR: not much will change.

The one bet I'll make in the global protein race is that people will be consuming a lot more insects given how easy they are to farm/grow. I know some energy bars are already using cricket flour as a base and I recently had my first taste of some delicious insects at a street food fair and they tasted great.

LOL, do you like dystopian cyberpunk?

One thing I may add is the analytics of ones own health. Consider this...

2024: A person wakes up to a daily health report, an email with a daily breakdown of their health. Through the use of their smartwatches and other wearables, all kinds of analytic data gets streamed and analyzed automatically, blood pressure, heart rate, even analyzing a person's blood, all gets sent through algorithms looking for potential health issues. Those who are more affluent elect to have their data analyzed by a real doctor. Preventative medicine arrives.

2025: Thanks to intense lobbying all healthcare providers have now access to that data, too. All companies state that they will only use this in your best interest.

2026: In western countries the medical wearables are declared mandatory, because of all the benefits they provide. This is another major lobbying breakthrough for the healthcare industry, which stated that their data models will work much better if everyone provides data to be analyzed as input.

2027-2032: Healthcare providers start to use the mandatory data to predict your value for society. You didn't do enough sports last week? That's bad. Thanks to the new unified healthcare data model (UHDM) you are now demoted into category 2, which excludes you from almost any job, because you could be a 'risk' for prospective employers.

2033: The world is parted into category 1 and category 2 people with no way to go back up from 2 to 1. Even living a perfect healthy life (according to the 'guidelines' provided) doesn't help as the UHDM says that any category 2 person is damaged beyond repair. Category 1 people live in constant fear of doing anything not according to the guidelines helpfully provided by those in charge.

I definitely overlooked the Quantified Self/Health amidst all the excitement.

A blind eye turned to medicine there, the most important technology. Also one of the most likely to produce disruptive, revolutionary advances in the next couple of decades, given the relationship between computing power and the life sciences.

Completely overlooked. Thanks for pointing this out :)

Three machines. How could you overlook the three machines that will change our future forever?

One to extract food from the soil. One to extract water from the air. One to extract energy from the sun.

With these three machines we will free human beings from the scarcity problem leaving plenty of time to pursue more gratifying endeavors like terraforming the moon.

Are you referring to James Burke's post-scarcity economy?

Let's look back 30 years... 1984

Since then: Transportation, air ground and sea, virtually the same. Personal computers were there. Cell phones were there (larger, more expensive). Space program maybe in a better state. Space shuttle. Medicine hasn't fundamentally changed our quality of life.

What has changed? Not that much. We have progresses but not much in the way of revolutions.

The earth's population has grown, a lot. Computing devices are more ubiquitous and the Internet. The world has become a smaller place and people are a little less different. The Berlin wall has fallen. 9/11. Those of us with jobs are working harder. Gaps are growing between rich, middle class and poor.


Climate? Population? Super bugs? We are likely to be closer to a "world state" but there's always a chance of some major war. Nuclear weapons? Major disasters?

Technology wise we will probably get self driving cars in this time frame. Maybe space exploration will advance but I don't believe in any major way, perhaps the ground work would be laid for some more major shift there. Life expectancy will probably increase somewhat. In many areas we are hitting some system complexity limits in being able to make major progress. This has been happening already. We'll get more bandwidth to our homes, have somewhat faster and smaller computers, and likely new display technologies (3d/VR ...) We will have more robotic devices around performing various functions but nothing like Asimov's world... I think client vs. server will shift back to more client side similar to the mainframe->PC shift...

> Medicine hasn't fundamentally changed our quality of life.

Maybe not for you, but I think many current and former developing countries would strongly disagree. Take a look at this: http://annualletter.gatesfoundation.org/#section=home

For sure there have been a lot of changes but my intuition says progress over the last 30 years wasn't so great. I'm pretty sure the spread and severity of Malaria has grown. HIV. Air pollution in China.

Let's look at the link:

- It looks at 50 years, not 30 years.

- Very anecdotal. With regard to Mexico I'm not sure if it's better off than it was 30 years ago. What about the drug wars?

- Seems to equate more money with better outcome. High-rises and modern bridges = progress.

- "more than one billion people in extreme poverty," - today

- "Income per person has in fact risen in sub-Saharan Africa over that time, and quite a bit in a few countries", inflation adjusted? Doesn't look like it is. I was just looking at Wikipedia's Health in Kenya article: "The 2010 maternal mortality rate per 100,000 births for Kenya is 530, yet has been shown to be as high as 1000 in the North Eastern Province, for example.[5]This is compared with 413.4 in 2008 and 452.3 in 1990"

All that said, the world is hopefully moving towards a more stable population and a larger middle class (percentage wise) but I would need to see a lot more data before being able to say a lot more for sure about changes over the last 30 years.

Thanks for sharing the link. Very cool

Great to put things into perspective. I do believe in autocatalysis (innovation cycles become shorter and shorter because each stage is the foundation/catalyst of the next). Danny Hillis has a great talk on this.

This is the problem with futurism, it becomes a projection of the small unit of time we currently reside in.

Reading Brave New World in an updated edition, the preface was about the nuclear arms race and how Huxley wished he had focused more on that as threat. Since I was reading that in 2002 or so it seemed that elements of the book itself were more relevant.

To solve this we would have to figure out which technologies have a future trajectory, try to ascertain what that is, and also predict unexpected events that would change those trajectories.

Let's say that we think electric/autonomous cars will become a majority. We first have to figure out the factors that will drive that, whether it is ecological consciousness, the price of fuel, simple competition between established car markers confronting upstarts, safety concerns, etc.

We also have to consider the darker sides of human nature, and the intervening events that may shape the years between now and then.

Most long-term predictions tend to be made by people living in pockets where the future has already arrived, but it seems appropriate to recall Gibson's prediction about uneven future distribution. Trying to extrapolate based on local maxima will always produce a trendline that outpaces reality. To his credit, I don't see any flying cars here; the author bases many of his predictions on innovations and trends that are already to some extent or other in progress. But in order to bring a change from possible to widespread, it has to be commercialized first, and I struggle to see a profit motive for some of these things, even in the next 30 years - i.e. energy consumption monitoring by Google when electricity is cheap thanks to nuclear fission, etc.

Very insightful! Thanks for mentioning: Gibson and local maxima. I completely agree with your view on commercialization; in terms of monitoring consumption: I think there will be money in analytics/data that help us push forward ubiquitous computing (even if electricity is cheap)

I'm not sure about Google getting specifically into power monitoring. After all they already tried that with Google PowerMeter and stopped in 2011. I think the Nest purchase was more about getting into the internet of thing/connected devices market and all the different types of data they can capture.

Ubiquitous computing…but I'm guessing it's the data that's important?

The odds that anyone will think "The Third World" is a good name for their virtual reality seem minimal at best.

What's your take?

hey Ray - just came here to say it was a brave attempt at near-casting.

About your "Third World", have you read D Suarez's "Daemon"? He develops a darknet which is FB on steroids (to put it mildly).

Also, you didn't manage to address the issue of climate change and global warming. I'm rather pessimistic on those counts.

I haven't, thanks for the rec! That's really cool.

Yes, I overlooked that, too (along with personal health). We probably won't move away from coal and crude oil economies soon enough (even as we adopt more nuclear) for earth to avoid a climate disaster in the next 30 years.

Great read!

With your article in mind, what would you guess are the best investments following the same timeline?

Thanks! I'm still developing an investment thesis. In the software world, I believe platforms that own transactions will have a chance to transform into new "standards" and push us towards true internet economies.

To your question, if I were to dream about 10 investment/innovation: • artificial photosynthesis • contour crafting • hydrogen combustion • new simulated reality (IMVU/Second Life—perhaps Oculus Rift) • embedded chips (in human body) • ubiquitous computing (Nest, fridge and appliances that talk to each other) • IPv6 privacy • consumer grade Bitcoin • robotics/humanoid • semi-autonomous AI

Even if you know the industries that will grow exponentially, it doesn't guarantee stock success. I've just recently seen an episode of Haven, where one guy gets sent into the past and tells his grandpa to "invest in the microprocessor". I immediately thought "what does that mean?! Invest in Intel...or VIA?". What he said would is no different than saying a few years ago "invest in smartphones".

So if I tell you nanotechnology, biotechnology and 3d printing are "the future", in which company do you invest now?

I don't know if you're right about this. If you know which industries will beat the market at large, then you could make money by getting a loan and investing it in that industry, spread across all the companies, and weighted by doing some due diligence on the companies (basic financials, how close they are to mass market, team, product-market fit, etc)

Industry specific index funds?

That's true; but that's what VCs do, right? Bet on the team.

history tells me that big companies like Google and Toyota are unlikely to still be around making a huge impact. A newer, younger company is more reasonable

I hope so, too

fascinating. wish this were a movie! just one question: why exactly do you believe intercontinental travel will become more expensive?

I was always afraid that we'd have to choose a place to settle down permanently as a kid.

It's the oil price (current combustion systems) that I think will render traveling economically infeasible—temporarily, until new energy source gets implemented.

Great vision! Like your vision on energy usage

I actually thought his energy vision was pretty off the mark. Oil won't peak when when we'll be able to extract less than before. It will peak when electric cars will start becoming mainstream, and I expect that to happen at least a decade earlier, with most cars "in production" being electric cars happening about 2 decades earlier (so about 10 years from now).

He completely dismisses solar power, even though it has seen accelerated decrease in price/Watt already, in some countries/regions even surpassing coal-based energy in price, and it's still very early days. I also have quite opposite views about fission. If we figure out fusion, we might use that quite a lot, but I really doubt everyone will use an order of magnitude more fission reactors than we do now to power the 3d-printing and space economy.

That's a good point: peak when electric vehicles become mainstream. Is transportation the main driver for crude oil? How about plastic?

I'd love to see solar take a dominant role in energy—the question I have is will PV technology and geographic climate constraints push solar forward fast enough?

Writing a response to you also made me think about energy storage. I think that'll play a much larger role and I didn't think of it earlier.

The energy storage issue for renewable energy can be solved with today's technology just by making the grid bigger. Think of distribution networks spanning multiple timezones and geographic region.

For plastic i believe the recycling rate is already very high.

That's interesting, I didn't know; what are some companies betting on energy storage?

More than 80% of U.S. petroleum consumption is transport fuel:


Thanks for this—I need to read up!

If it is a major economic activity, it is a safe assumption that the U.S. gov is collecting statistics on it. The pain in the ass is finding where they publish them.

Thanks, really appreciate it! Would love to see an hydrogen economy.

My own assertions about 2043, for what they're worth.

Space is going to continue to be a novelty as far as Joe Public is concerned. If space-hotels exist, they will only be available to the very rich. There will be no "Elysium" space city or prototypes thereof. Mining of non-terrestrial resources is a somewhat unlikely possibility; if it is done, it will be done with robots.

People will not share driver-less cars, although driver-less taxi services will be cheaper and more convenient than the current taxi system. Driver-less cars will cause some big shifts in entertainment. Music consumption (esp. via radio) will no longer be the only thing you can do while traveling in a car; radio's listener-ship will decline.

VR telecommuting is farfetched, it would definitely be possible but no one would use it outside of small tech companies. We will be making good progress on direct brain<->computer interfaces but they will not be mainstream yet. Using them will require training, and the limited functionality they provide will make that training unattractive to anyone other than technophiles or people with disabilities. There are some who are interested in testing them in children, but this is... unpopular.

Sensory augmentation will be entering the public consciousness. Devices like cochlear implants will have reached parity with our natural senses, some people will be getting elective implants.

I shudder to think what would happen if an unregulated crypto-currency became the de-facto currency of a country or several countries. The sci-fi fan in me thinks it would be cool, the scientists in me wants to see what would happen, but the realist in me thinks that the results would probably be really unstable economies that would hurt the participants.

Countries that are traditionally thought of as "3rd world" will continue to improve, and the world as a whole will continue to grow more peaceful. The US will continue to lose its superpower status.

3D printers will exist and be adopted beyond makers and techies. Most people will use them to make key fobs and whacky utensils for parties since they don't know how to do their own 3D modeling. Some companies permit their customers to print replacement components, others attempt to remove 3D models of their parts from the internet. Food printers are a possibility, but there will not be much use outside of confections. The medical and industrial use of 3D printers will be somewhat common, and increasing.

Artificial meat will receive serious consideration for use in the fast food industry; whether it takes off or not is a matter of politics, not technology.

The US's energy infrastructure will limp along for the foreseeable future. Coal power will slowly lose out to natural gas. Solar panels will continue to become more economically attractive. Batteries become better as well, leading to more and more houses to go completely "off the grid." (There may be some interest in wiring such houses for DC power only.)

Global warming will not have been addressed in any meaningful manner. There are some buds of interest in geo-engineering as way to avoid the consequences.

There will have been no "miracle cure" discoveries for diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's, or diabetes. Significant progress will have been made on prevention, but the treatment options will only be slightly better.

People will not be afraid of AI, they will like that they no longer have to wait to speak to a support person. AI will not be delivered as such, it will come in bits and pieces; by the time people realize we are leaving too many tasks up to computers, they will be too comfortable to want to change back. Some examples of the "bits and pieces" we are likely to get:

Medical judgments. Doctors and pharmacists will still be busy, but they increasingly leave diagnosis and treatment decisions up to their computers.

Literature review. Researchers use computer analysis to identify gaps or inconsistencies in the scientific literature without having to read or understand the literature themselves. The computer can even suggest what procedures and statistical analysis would be best to use. Lawyers can also discuss their case with a computer and have the computer provide relevant laws and precedents.

That seems extremely conservative. Many people are predicting the singularity around the 2040's. Even current AI is starting to revolutionize the world and allow for robotics and automation almost everywhere. Many of the technologies you mention already exist, it's just a matter of how quickly they will be adopted (which is happening faster than ever http://cdn.theatlantic.com/static/mt/assets/business/technol...)

It's smart to be conservative, in my opinion. Although technology is developing at an ever faster pace many people still overestimate what will be done within decades. There are surprisingly few accurate predictions from 30 years ago and most of them then thought we'd be a lot further than we are.

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