Ten ideas that are going to change the world, again

The world is changing fast, but you haven’t seen nothing yet. The good news is, the world that we know is likely to morph into something quite different within our lifetime.

The mobile and internet revolution happened in our lifetime – it started in the mid eighties and has had a tremendous impact in the lives of almost everyone on the globe. Now the next wave shall be dominated by revolution in energy sector, biological sciences and of course electronics. But I will also nominate a social-science phenomena that I think shall be significant.

Futurologists are studying trends scientifically. But books by visionaries like Orwell (1984), H.G.Wells (The first man in the moon, The world set free), Jules Verne (From earth to the moon, Thousand leagues under the sea) and Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) were science fiction-y, bleak and quite accurate.

The ideas selected are just on the verge of practical application. For cross-verifying the truth, just research the internet – you would be amazed at the amount of information already available on these topics.

 1.           Cars will run on water

Ratan Tata dreams of cars running on water: Scientist
PTI, Jan 1, 2011
Tata Group Chairman Ratan Tata’s dream is to see cars run on water and he has invested USD 15 million in a start-up firm supporting research in the field, an eminent scientist said today. Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, Prof C N R Rao said one of his close friends and a professor in the famed Massechusetts Institute of Technology in the US has found a way to split water directly into hydrogen and oxygen….

The dream and hoaxes related to cars running on water have been with us for the last half century. The logic is simple – split water into hydrogen and oxygen and use them as fuels. It shall be the ultimate cheap and environment-friendly fuel. The problem has been, it was easier said than done. But now, I believe, with hydrocarbons reserves nearing their end, there shall be renewed effort to make the dream possible.

2.           Driverless Cars

The U.S. state of Nevada passed a law in June 2011 concerning the operation of driverless cars in Nevada. Google had been lobbying for driverless car laws. The Nevada law went into effect on March 1, 2012, and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles issued the first license for a self-driven car in May 2012. The license was issued to a Toyota Prius modified with Google’s experimental driver-less technology.

While on cars, here is another revolution in the pipeline – automatically driven cars. Google is investing in the technology and hopes for early commercialization.

The concept is not as weird as it sounds now – in fact, once driverless cars become a vogue, we would find the idea of ‘driving’ strange, barbaric  and cumbersome. Imagine, properly programmed cars, running efficiently as per traffic rules. DO NOT imagine bad programming, programme crashes or that the car computers ‘hangs’ in the middle of the road.

3.           Mind reading machines

Mind-reading breakthrough hailed by US scientists
February 02, 2012
A machine capable of deciphering people’s thoughts could become a reality thanks to a breakthrough by US neuro-scientists. Researchers from the University of California-Berkeley developed a technique to record and decode patients’ brainwaves and translate the electrical activity into words.

  

Radiotelepathy
Freeman Dyson, physicist at the Institute for Advanced Studies.
The futurist expects a burgeoning field of neurology to result in radiotelepathy, “the direct communication of feelings and thoughts from brain to brain. The ancient myth of telepathy, induced by occult and spooky action-at-a-distance, would be replaced by a prosaic kind of telepathy induced by physical tools.”

I expect the mobile phone industry to be the first to implement the thought reading technology. This is mainly because of the intense competition and money involved in the industry and also because of the strides made in neuro-sciences.

The implications are mind-boggling, but not all of them are pleasant. How, for instance, would you password-lock your brain waves. If, and I think there will be, there would be mind-reading machines, control over humans could be greater and intrusive.

 4.       Artificial heart

 
New lease of life: Plastic heart helps escape death
August 3, 2011 | PTI
LONDON: Surgeons claim to have carried out a ground-breaking artificial heart transplant operation on a 40-year-old man, suffering from end-stage failure of both chambers of his heart. During a six-hour successful operation, surgeons at Papworth Hospital in the UK replaced Matthew Green’s damaged heart with a device that they say will serve the role of both ventricles and heart valves.

 

Heart is actually a mechanical devise, and more readily created in the lab than other parts. The problem has been the human body, which rejects all external things. The scientists are fast overcoming this resistance, and like artificial valves and pace-makers, full artificial hearts are around the corner.

5.           Human Cloning, stem cell research and Cancer research

Scientists replicate natural cloning in world first
Breakthrough by team from Prague has human implications
May 2, 2012 Eva Peňázová
Scientists from the Czech Academy of Sciences have discovered the secret to natural cloning, a revelation that could have future implications for replicating human organs.
 

Medical science is on the verge of two important breakthroughs – victory over cancer and AIDS. Further ahead is the brave world of stem cell research and human cloning.

Cloning has been a morally contentious issue, and there are laws banning research in the field. But, going by the news items on the net, research in the field continues unabated. I believe, this technology is easy to master, and its implications are positive in the field of medical aid. These researches are likely to help us by the time we reach old age.

6.           Genetic engineering to stop aging

Scientists Find Genetic Engineering Technique Reverses Effects Of Aging In Mice
November 3, 2011
Darren J. Baker and Jan M. van Deursen working at the Rochester, Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic said they had succeeded in disrupting the natural aging of cells through a breakthrough in genetic engineering. In their work, the scientists affirmed they had manipulated senescent cells, which are believed to spur the aging of tissues. By cleansing the body of such cells, researchers are hoping they can stave off the deleterious effects of aging, The New York Times reports. 

It is hardly likely that the scientists are worried about the aging mice. You get the point – the break-though has a human implication. And given the desperate desire to stop aging, the commercialization of the techniques are likely to be faster than you think. I do not, however, expect popping pills or getting procedures done to stop the spread of my greying hairs. Or will I?

7.           Moon tourism

 A Desert Town on the way up
Kenneth Chang/The New York Times/ May 5, 2012
MOJAVE, Calif. The sign into town, slightly weathered, says “Gateway to Space!”
The mélange of small aerospace companies at Mojave shows that the ambitions of the New Space movement go far beyond serving as a delivery service for NASA.
Two of the companies are fronted by famous billionaires: Virgin Galactic is part of Richard Branson’s empire, while Stratolaunch is the brainchild of Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft. Stratolaunch is building two cavernous structures, a factory to build an airplane with the widest wingspan and a hangar to store it in. The airplane will be an airborne launching pad for a rocket.
 

A decade from now, the dream destination for the romantically inclined rich, is not likely to be beaches of Miami or the French Riviera – it will be Moon. Budget travel to Moon is the next logical step – be advised to take your own food as they will charge you a bomb on the rocket.

8.   Solar energy

 Better, Cheaper Solar Cells
The cost of photovoltaic cells (that turn sunlight into electricity) are coming down. In less than ten years the cost of solar energy could be at parity with the cost of electricity from the grid, and solar cells could be standard features in new residential construction. Your house could power itself about a third of the time.

 

Saudi Arabia Plans $109 Billion Solar Future
By 3p May 14th, 2012 
Saudi Arabia will seek investors interested in a $109 billion plan to generate power from solar energy. The ambitious plan calls for a long term goal of generating an entire third of the nation’s electricity from solar power by the year 2032.

 

The key point in both the news stories is that ‘one-third’ of all energy requirements shall be met by solar energy in the near future. Solar energy is the cleanest and shall have a positive impact on the planet. Also notice Saudis taking interest in the project – the hydrocarbon reserves are limited and shall end sometime in this century itself. The Saudis, with their deserts, are rightly positioned to keep dabbling in energy market.

9.           One world – decline of nationalism

Now for the social science break-through I promised. I shall not point towards any news story, but consider the following facts- increased global trade, increased global tourism, decrease in wars and success (yes, I stand by that) of European economic integration. Apart from the flashpoint of Middle East and Afghanistan, there are no significant ideological-political fault-lines to divide the world.

Internet and other communication technologies are bringing the people together. Rabindranath Tagore was pretty uncomfortable with the idea of nationalism – he found it divisive and limiting. Sri Aurobindo also predicted a global village, devoid of boundaries. But in reality, a global village shall not remain the dream of poets and mystics only.

I believe that even before we realize the change, we shall be living in a boundary-less village, with no global bureaucracy – and weak national governments.

10.               Digitalization of knowledge

With work going on to convert huge amounts of books and research papers into digital form, and because huge amounts of this digital data shall be freely available on the net, the pace of research in all fields of human endeavour shall increase exponentially. It will be like the invention of the printing press that changed the world surreptitiously.

However, to end, some words of caution.

  • There are some basic human factors like greed, hate, jealousy and love that will never change – ‘the more things change, the more they will remain the same’.
  • Not all changes will be good – many things will happen that will make us nostalgic for the good old days.
  • There would be disruptions because of climate change and increasing human population. There will be scarcity of drinking water in many parts of the world. Dissatisfaction over disparities will lead to greater localized violence.
  • Consider this from New York Times – “Albert Brooks, the actor and director, brought out “2030,” in which the nation’s economy is sent into a spin by seemingly good news: cancer is cured. The bad-news twist: the resulting drain on national resources by an aging population that no longer conforms to the actuarial tables and continues to consume resources at baby-boomer rates, and a rather literal twist on the notion of intergenerational warfare.”

Having said that, the balance sheet does not look too bad. The future is something to look forward to, if not downright rosy.

Do add to this list, or dispute the claims – it shall be fun hearing of more idea that will change our world, in our own lifetime!

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About Abhishek

I will let the blog speak for itself...or, at times, for me. View all posts by Abhishek

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