Recently, members of the World Futures Society were asked to submit and vote on the top forecasts for the next 25 years. You can read the resulting summarised report here.
Without any explanation or detail, here is the list in bullet format:
- Forecast #1: Hydrogen fuel cells will be cost competitive by 2010. The cost of power via fuel cell is dropping rapidly—from $600,000 per kilowatt-hour in the 1970s to $1,200 today. By 2012, fuel cell power is expected to cost around $400 per kilowatt-hour. It would then be competitive with every type of power. Fuel cells will power cars and allow each home to have its own non-polluting electricity generator.
- Forecast #2: The era of the Cyborg is at hand. Researchers in Israel have fashioned a “bio-computer” using the DNA of living cells instead of silicon chips. This development may soon allow a computer to connect directly with a human brain.
- Forecast #3: By 2015, New York, Tokyo and Frankfurt may emerge as hubs for high-speed, large-capacity supersonic planes. NASA’s X-43A Scramjet recently flew at 7,000 mph (nearly ten times the speed of sound). These hyperspeed planes will whisk passengers across continents in the time it takes most people to drive to the airport.
- Forecast #4: Schools based on classrooms and a human teacher will dwindle over the next 25 years. Why sit in a classroom when you can visit virtual worlds and experience your subjects? An “avatar,” a personalized interactive guide, will answer all of your questions and help you pose new ones.
- Forecast #5: Speculation in hydrogen energy stocks could create an investment bubble, as happened with the Internet. When investors see the huge potential of hydrogen energy, the stocks of companies with promising technologies may skyrocket to unsustainable levels.
- Forecast #6: Ocean Currents May Surpass Wind as an Energy Source. Turbines driven by ocean currents could generate four times more electricity than windmills. At one site alone—in the Channel Islands off the coast of France—the potential electricity could match that produced by three nuclear power plants.
- Forecast #7: A snail may save your life. A non-addictive painkiller one thousand times more potent than morphine could soon be on the market, thanks to research on conotoxins, the distinct set of chemicals found in tropical cone snails. Future medicines from the snails may help treat heart disease, depression and spinal cord injuries, among other ailments.
- Forecast #8: Weapons of mass destruction will be even easier to obtain over the next 15 years. Terrorists may move from bombs to creating havoc on the cellular level. The weapons of the future—genetic engineering and nanotechnology—require neither large facilities nor mass materials.
- Forecast #9: The convergence of genetic engineering, nanotechnology and robotics will allow humans to change their bodies in profoundly new ways. In the next 15 years, people may be able to rearrange their genes to change their physical features, extend their lifespan, merge their brains with computers and their bodies with robots, among many other remarkable developments.
- Forecast #10: Robots and smart environments will improve care and independence for the elderly. Intelligent walkers will help seniors get around while sensors on the handlebars monitor their vital signs. Handheld devices will track senior citizens’ movements and guide them around town, keeping people mobile and independent.
Nanotechnology Breakthroughs of the Next 15 Years
Nanotechnology — the manipulation of materials and machines at the nano-scale — one billionth of a meter — promises exciting new developments. Interviews with a group of nanotechnology experts yielded this list of likely developments:
Two to five years from now:
1. Car tires that need air only once a year.
2. Complete medical diagnostics on a single computer chip.
3. Go-anywhere concentrators that produce drinkable water from air.
Five to 10 years
4. Powerful computers you can wear or fold into your wallet.
5. Drugs that turn AIDS and cancer into manageable conditions.
6. Smart buildings that self-stabilize during earthquakes or bombings.
10 to 15 years
7. Artificial intelligence so sophisticated you can’t tell if you’re talking on the phone with a human or a machine.
8. Paint-on computer and entertainment video displays.
9. Elimination of invasive surgery, since bodies can be monitored and repaired almost totally from within.