Posted: 4/23/2012 1:24:41 PM
|Well, I see a couple big changes coming. Aside from small-scale improvements in technology performance and scaling that make technology easier to use and more ubiquitous, there are some major changes coming, two of which I am especially looking forward to.|
The first is the development of a fully-functional fusion reactor, by EMC2 Fusion Development Corporation. They're currently being funded by the U.S. Navy, developing Polywell or "Wiffleball" fusion reactors, which are much more compact and much more promising than the tokomak design the big Iter reactor being built in France is based on. The Navy wants the technology for obvious reasons, and they're keeping EMC2 pretty hush-hush on their progress, partly because they want the U.S. to maintain control of the technology, and partly because they don't want to generate a lot of hype in case things don't pan out. EMC2 is still allowed to do some reporting on their progress, however, and most of their Navy funding has come through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which also requires them to make quarterly reports on the status of the project (reporting page found here: http://www.recovery.gov/Transparency/RecipientReportedData/pages/RecipientProjectSummary508.aspx?AwardIDSUR=46419&qtr=2011Q4 ). They are currently in the process of testing WB-8.1, the 8th and final small-scale prototype, and are on-track to finish testing this summer. After they finish testing, it's just a matter of getting the funding ($200 million), and cutting through the red tape to build their full-scale prototype reactor, which will be about the size of a 2-bay garage, cubed, and generate 100 MW of net power. The EMC2 website projects having this completed by 2020, but at their present rate, even allowing a couple years to get the funding, cut through red tape and any unexpected delays, they'll have the prototype completed by 2018. If everything goes really well and there are no serious delays or complications, we could see a full-scale prototype fusion reactor operational by the end of 2016.
The advent of fusion power will be a MAJOR revolution. It will take several years to completely convert our power grid to fusion power, but it will all but end our dependence on coal and oil and other fossil fuels for power generation, and in combination with advancing battery and electric engine technology, we could be almost completely free of fossil fuels in a couple decades after the first prototype is complete. Electricity will also become stupidly cheap, and potentially so cheap that it might as well be free. This, too will have a major economic impact, causing a major shift towards electrically-powered systems, especially for heating, as it will be much cheaper than gas or coal, etc. By 2050, with abundant energy, we'll probably be taking our first real steps towards a post-scarcity economy.
The next major technology revolution that I am really looking forward to is the advent of reality-enhancing neurological implants. We already have smartphones and PDAs and computers that assist us in our day-to-day, vastly expanding our capabilities beyond even some of the wildest imaginings of 50 years ago, and Google is already working on a wearable reality-enhancing computer system built into a pair of glasses. The next step beyond that is direct neural interface. Headsets that give remote connection and even implants that hardwire super-PDA smartphones directly into our brains. We already have the early stages of that technology, both in scanning and reading neural data from the brains and translating it into computer/machine actions and commands, and in translating computer data input into neural signals our brains can understand. OCZ already has a first-gen neural interface control device on the market, the OCZ Neural Interface Adapter, which is a headset that literally scans your brainwaves and inputs specific brianwave patterns it detects into the computer like it would the movement or click of a mouse or tap of a keyboard, and scientists have been implanting sensors into the brains of Monkeys that allow them to control robotic arms with the fine precision and natural control of their own natural limbs for years. The key limitation there is that the sensors implanted into the monkeys' brains degrade after a month or so and have to be replaced. Once that is refined, and the technology to detect and decode neural signals advances, we will see neural implants that can turn thoughts into actions and commands, both for prosthetics and computer control (imagine surfing the web with a thought, instead of the click of a mouse or the tap of a touchscreen, or making a note for yourself by thinking it into your implanted smartphone). Combine this with refined technology to convert computer signals into understandable neural impulses, and we'll eventually have implants that send images directly to our optic nerves or other nerve clusters that input audio and smell and touch and other sense data into the brain. We'll be able to look at someone, have the images that our eyes see run through facial recognition software in our implants as well as our own natural systems, and display their name and other relevant information about them in little blurbs above their heads, sent straight to our brains through our optic nerves. You'll see that distant cousin and not only have their name displayed over their head for you, so you don't have to play the "I don't remember who you are but I'm pretending I know you" game, but you'll also get a note that she just had twins a few weeks ago, and a reminder that your aunt was looking for her 30 minutes ago.
I can't wait to have this last technology especially, because I'll finally be able to remember things and keep people's names straight... And be able to look up things that I don't know off-hand on the web on the fly without having to cart a computer or cellphone around.