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« A Thought for the New Year | Main | Essential Reading for the 21st Century »

January 02, 2009


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Tom Craver

I actually went through all the answers, listed them, and gave them a subjective ranking of impact multiplied by the likelihood of seeing that impact within 5, 10, or 20 years. Impacts ranked 1 to 1000, with 1 meaning "life goes on, a bit different" and 1000 meaning "maybe no human life as we know it".

There were a couple of common themes (internet, longevity, molecular manufacturing, understanding the brain, AI), but surprisingly large variation beyond that. A few odd answers, including a poem and a couple one-liners ("A VERY GOOD BATTERY").

"Earth-shaking" in my ranking (bad enough to worry about even if they're low probability) were :
- nuclear war
- EMP destroys all computers
- The Singularity (impact assumed equal to nuclear war)
- Human-triggered natural mega-catastrophe

Items I thought had the most chance of happening within the next 5 years (none over 30% chance, ~75% at least one of these four will happen):

- life logging becomes very common
- Quantum computing is widely applied
- gene-engineered organisms producing bio-fuel significantly impact the world's oil economy
- inexpensive e-texts have dramatic impact on education in 3rd world

Others, more than 50% likely in next 10 years:
- cheap mobile phone/computers bring Internet and good education to 3rd world - eliminating "birthplace" disadvantages for talented young people
- personal genome common, insurance system breaks down for diseases with a strong genetic pre-disposition
- disease treatment revolution due to stem cell knowledge and/or personal genome is widely applied
- remote-controlled weapons turned on the advanced nations that invented them, mainly affecting leaders and other public figures
- lots of small, on-going changes combine in life altering ways we don't yet anticipate

Other, items very high in impact and likelihood within 20 years:
- molecular manufacturing (50-50 chance),
- AI based on better understanding of brain and mind - low likelihood of human level AI, but sub-human self-directed AI would still be impactful
- understanding of the human brain allows far more precise mind alteration than present day drugs
- life span extension clearly accelerating toward year-per-year escape rate,
- genetic modification of human embryos
- synthetic life forms (low chance in 20 years, but potentially big impact).

A couple of modest world-changers I would add:
- personal stem cell banks for emergency organ repair/construction
- budget-strapped NASA turns to remote-controlled robots for their moon program - ultimately enabling cost savings that make human colonization far more affordable

Mike Treder, CRN

Great analysis - thanks, Tom!

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