Tag Archives: futurology

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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What is the next big idea that will move the world: A yet another top-ten list!

Tintin's illustration

 

The thesis of Clash of Civilizations and such other paradigms (there cannot be a ‘fraud-intellectual’ paper without the word paradigm) having failed to predict the next-big-idea that shall move the world, it is now up to me to give it a try. I shall not shy away from this duty. But to do so, I must, as a student of history, first make a top-ten list of the ideas that moved the world so far.

“Why a top-ten list,” you ask? “Why not,” is my answer. I love top ten lists.

Anyway, enough arguments. We must get to the brass-tacks now. Here is the list, in chronological order:

  1. Survival: For long this big idea ruled the world. It still does, but not as a ‘top-of-the-mind’ motive that drives the world. It was in the stable city states that came up after the creation of an agricultural surplus that gave man the luxury of indulging in the next big idea, which was…
  2. Religion: Or, to be more exact, an organized idea of religion with a priestly class. Religion, as distinct from God, is a creation of man (a well-fed idle man), who wishes to explain the world and predict the future (like me). The gathering riches in the temples and churches of early city states, and the war between the city-states led, slowly and inevitably, to creation of armies, which led to…
  3. Royalty: This simple but awesome idea was also supported by those motivated by survival and religion. It seemed to answer the question, ‘how to discipline the society’. From attributing Divine essence in the kings to justifying it through social contract theory, the idea and legitimacy of royalty had to be intellectually protected at various times. The bards sold themselves for a handful of silver, the priests sullenly agreed to cede top space in face of the armies, and the common people (who often got fed up with the royals) were sometimes suppressed and sometimes pampered. But the space at the top was too narrow. Poor man-management by the royals, sibling rivalries and the instigation of the priests led to the idea of…
  4. Feudalism: This gave more space at the top, though it fragmented the state from the size of a powerful empire to small states (sometimes under a benign umbrella of a weak empire). The feudals merrily fought each other (playing ‘battles’ was their hobby), exploited the serfs and kept the priests in good humor. An unforeseen result of this was the creation of too many aristocrats who had nothing to do between battles, and it was they who advocated the next big idea, which was…
  5. Enlightenment: Humanism, Scientific enquiry, resurgence of interest in arts and learning and books…the world went crazy for the intellectuals. Leonardo and Galileo, Erasmus and Voltaire…they were the pop stars of the late middle ages. They worked in Sanskritised languages like Latin or in the local dialects, leading, unwittingly, to…
  6. Nationalism: The idea of a country, so popular now, was not something that kept people awake even a few hundred years ago. Nowhere in the world was this idea popular, or seemed likely to attract much traction. And yet…It was the question of reorganizing the society in terms of identities that would help the royals once again free himself from the clutches of the other royals and the priests, that made nation states popular. Modern world starts with this mess. So powerful did the idea become, unchallenged as it was at the nascent stage, that it led to wars and something more powerful, that is….
  7. Greed: Or, to give its respectable name, the economic idea. Wealth of nations, colonialism, centralized banks, money economy…all the trappings of the modern world were quickly put into place by the advisers of the royalty, who, poor sods, believed that they would be getting more and more powerful with the gold that was being hoarded in the central treasuries. However, education was playing its insidious role of provoking an ever increasing numbers of the middle classes. They struck back into many forms, and as a generic title we can call the movement…
  8. Socialism: From strong move towards democratic ideals to ‘power back to the society’, the idea of society organizing itself without a royal at the head, took many shapes. Marxism to mild democratic socialism was the death-knell of the royals, but not of nationalism (Though Marxist-Lennists did try that hand). The fight for supremacy between nationalism, greed and social compact raged throughout the twentieth century in form of the Cold War, but with diminishing returns. Higher education, and mass media sought to bring back the ideals of the age of Humanism and Enlightenment, but the hotchpotch actually led to the age of the…
  9. Hippy: Rebelling against everything was the rage. Peaking during the second half of the twentieth century, the pop stars, the novelists, the intellectuals, the college students…in fact all those who did not have to worry about their next meal, indulged in rebelling against establishment, and in favour of…well anything. The youth, goaded on by the professors, rushed in to save the women, the environment and everything else that came in sight. They lived a life of ‘poverty-ridden hedonism’ a very original concept, since it suited the poor-rich generation. But soon they were bored and slowly turned to…
  10. Individualism: The individual as the centre of universe is not a new idea, but technology, security and adequate surpluses in the system gives us an opportunity to live out this idea too. Loyalty towards none but the self is the motto and the religion. It is an unabashed declaration of independence of individual from any institution. Live in relationships, individual greed, cross-national lifestyles – in short loyalty towards none.

Now that we have reached the present, we come to our basic question, what next?

An easy answer would be that since all the above tendencies simultaneously exist in the society today, and are vying for supremacy, one or the other would make a comeback of sorts. Now you understand why I said Clash of Civilizations idea was a flop? It was another rehash of old battles, and was not the next-big-thing. But that answer would hardly be intellectually satisfying.

I must admit that, as of now, I do not know. I assure you I will keep my eyes open, and, as soon as something interesting comes up, I would let you know. In the meanwhile, we may, if you wish, add to this awesome top-ten list, by filling in the gaping holes. Or give me an idea for yet another top-ten list.

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Top ten best / worst doomsday scenarios

 

Since the futurologists are laughing all the way to the bank, promising various doomsday dates, it flashed to me that I can also rake in with a few likes.

So here are the top ten best doomsday scenarios (you can add more, if you too are feeling doomsy):

10. Pakistan is on the verge of a Cricket World Cup Final win against India, when suddenly the doomsday strikes, cheating Pakistan of a famous victory.

9.  Doomsday strikes early morning when everyone is sleeping. People wake to find themselves already in the Garden of Heaven with all their near and dear ones.

8.  Doomsday strikes, but just in the nick of time small green Martians come in hundreds of spaceships for rescue. They are so impressed, that they decide to make Obama the President of United Peoples’ Republic of Mars.

7.  Doomsday is selective – it strikes through an unidentified AIDS-like virus that kills only the rapists.

6.  Doomsday strikes and neatly removes all material existence from earth, leaving behind conscious souls. In other words, we all are left here, fully conscious, but without the bodies that age and die. We also meet all souls, who had died earlier. Only those with Swiss Bank accounts are depressed.

5.  Doomsday is Buddhist in nature – there is a sudden and total oblivion or nirvana. No scope of a good or bad scenario here.

4.  Doomsday strikes, and it is revealed that our final destination would be as per our fantasies (it is a benevolent-liberal regime up there). Most people land up in harems, casinos, and luxury yachts – only a few end up in heaven. The lawyers reach a giant court-room where they will argue their cases brilliantly – till eternity. The super-beautiful girls land up in front of a mirror.

3.  The world is ruled by a council of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, ancient Indian and Babylonian sages, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and one hundred other chosen souls. Politics is banned.

2.  Doomsday strikes, and all the men dissapear from earth. Only women are left in the world…Need we say more?

1. Doomsday strikes. We all reach heaven. But due to the sudden catastrophe, all our Good-Evil record is lost (it was kept somewhere on earth). Due to the goof-up, everybody is allowed inside the pearly gates.

And now for the ten worst doomsday scenarios:

10.  The doomsday is Biblical. There shall be ten plagues in the world lasting for a hundred years, the land shall be full of frogs, and there shall be famine and misery lasting for another hundred years….. In short, a long drawn programme.

9.  Doomsday strikes, all reach the gates of Heaven, are queued up (in order of age), and the Judges at the gate are issuing entry passes strictly on basis on goodness record. There is no politician to bribe your way through. AND there is no money to bribe them with!! (There are no cell-phones to call anyone to pull strings.)

8.  A literary agent from New York calls me late in the night – he has just seen my blog, and is impressed. He is about to offer a fat package for my first novel, when the earth starts shaking, and he shouts in the phone – “That damn movie was right. It does start from New York…”

7.  Doomsday strikes, but it is not the way people anticipated. It is just the end of human dominance – Super intelligent cockroaches take over the world and make humans their slaves.

6.  Doomsday strikes. It is a ‘science-fictiony’ doomsday, where space-time is warped in such a way that all of us become infants again – we have to go through school, exams, growing up, pimples and heart-burns again.

5. Doomsday strikes. We all reach heaven. It is nothing like anyone had anticipated – Heaven is an exact replica of earth!!

4.  Doomsday strikes and it is a Matrix like scene. Geeks rule the Cyber-Heaven, and change all rules, everything, every fifteen days. There are frequent crashes, bugs and viral attacks. Cyber-Heaven is divided into two camps, and a Cold War is going on. The President of one faction is Bill Gates and the Chief Patron of the other is Steve Jobs.

3. Doomsday strikes. We all reach heaven. But there also they are experimenting with democracy. The doomsday only adds about hundred thousand more politicians to the already crowded heavenly Parliament. People grumble that things are not as they were earlier.

2.   Doomsday strikes only women. Only men are left in the world…Need we say more?

  1. Doomsday strikes. We all reach heaven. Heaven is being ruled by Osama bin Laden.

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