Informal talk given in 2005 and 2006 for high school students (age 13-16) at
What are scientists currently working on?
What is already technologically possibly?
What will enter our everyday life in a couple of decades?
Below I present a list of changes that many people find
surprising, scaring, or unbelievable. Potential reasons are:
fear of change, indifference, or lack of imagination.
The school system is a main reason for that.
For many years kids have to
attend history courses, but there are no futurology courses.
Why do educators care so much about the past and so little (not at
all) about the
Probably for the same reasons as above:
fear of change, indifference, and lack of imagination. It's also
much easier to grovel in the past than to think about our future.
But it is important to imagine our potential futures, since we will
soon live in one of them, and we can (to some extend) influence the future,
while the past is fixed and dead. The primary function of history should be to serve
as inspiration for the future; e.g. to avoid making the
same mistakes and as a means of extrapolation
(e.g. Moore's law
or the technological singularity).
The most pleasant way to broaden your mind is to watch or read
Better read the online science News for Nerds
for state of the art developments or e.g. the recent
ebook by Ray Kurzweil Reader about our future.
Note that many of the following future inventions will have severe
social, ethic, environmental, philosophical, and legal consequences,
too numerous and complex to be discussed here.
Since 1969 men have landed 6 times on the moon,
since about y2000 there is an International Space Station in the earth orbit that even (rich)
tourists can visit,
thousands of satellites orbit earth,
passed by nearly every planet (>9) and moon (>40)
and left our solar system, and landed on some of them
(e.g. Mars rover).
Some planets and
have climates with oceans, atmosphere, storms,
[Watch some of the over 700
episodes, if you like space exploration.]
Wormholes, parallel universes, time-travel, etc.
Einstein's special relativity
allows time-travel into the future.
His general relativity theory may allow
via wormholes time-travel into the past.
Quantum theory implies that there are zillions of
Most of these physical possibilities
will probably not be technically realizable (soon),
partly due to technical difficulties, partly due to immense costs.
Practical space-travel will be confined to our solar system,
nearby stars, and mostly unmanned. New species or individuals may occasionally
settle on new planets, but active planet tourism is unlikely.
[Nevertheless, the movies The Black Hole,
Back to the future, and (with restrictions)
the Star Trek series Deep Space Nine are fun.]
Exoskeletons and Cyborgs.
Do you remember Ripley in Alien 2
fighting the alien in the
The military already constructed exolegs which
allow you to walk with nearly no effort (like power-steering)
for a whole day while carrying heaviest backpacks.
More immersive nerve-controlled artificial protheses already exist.
The more we get used to replacing malfunctioning
vital organs by synthetic ones (limbs, hearts, lunges, are already possible),
the more open people will become to enhancing their body.
The transition to becoming a cyborg
(and ultimately completely artificial) is smooth.
[A quite frightening vision are the Star Trek Borgs]
Professional flight simulators
for pilots immerse you quite well
into a virtual reality (VR).
Many video (in particular shooting) games
also give you a good feeling of being in the virtual world. VR
glasses, gloves, and suits make the illusion even better, but it's not perfect.
Connecting your brain (sensoric and motoric regions) directly to the
computer would make the illusion perfect
(like in the movies eXistenZ
Currently one can
implant electrodes into paraplegics so that they can control e.g.
a robotic hand by pure thought.
But why create fascinating virtual realities, while you stay
real. The next step in the future is to completely
scan your brain and simulate
it in the machine too. You can choose to live in VRs that
are close to real or in arbitrarily bizzare
And if you like the virtual world better
than the real one, and someone maintains the computer for you, you (or a copy of you)
could stay virtual forever.
[The first virtual reality movie of this kind was
Nanotechnology and Nanobots.
are tiny robots at the size of nanometers to size of viruses. While no real nanobots exist now, there
are already e.g. centimeter capsules you can swallow with cameras and senders
moving through your digestive system. Next are capsules so small
that they can move through your veins (e.g. as in the movie
Fantastic Voyage but unmanned).
The ultimate goal is to
(self)produce nanobots in masses that collectively perform some
task (like ants, or in the
Instead of using mouse and keyboard it is more convenient to simply
talk to the computer. This
technology already exists and is used e.g. for telephone applications,
by paraplegics, and some book authors. Every computer
with Windows XP is already equipped with a rudimentary speech recognition
system (go to start -> control panel -> speech). In the next decade
will be perfectionized to such a degree
that this will be the default interaction mode with machines (like in nearly all science fiction).
The reverse, talking computers, are already omnipresent.
The grand goal of Artificial Intelligence
is to create computers or
that are smarter than humans. The most straightforward route is as
often in science to learn from nature, e.g. create an
or simulate the whole evolution.
Another approach is to create intelligent systems from rigorous principles.
One such approach develops a
mathematical definition of "intelligence".
[Nearly every science fiction contains some artificial intelligences, e.g. movies
Hal in Space Odyssey,
Star wars, ...]
Genetically designed children.
The whole human genome
has been sequenced. The functionality of
many genes has been identified. Plant genes are systematically
modified to create "better" or "nicer" plants. Progress is even faster
here than in the development of the computer. It is just a matter of time
until parents can design their children, e.g. ask doctors to modify
the genes to get a more healthy, smart, good-looking, etc. child
(like in the movie Gattaca).
will be replaced by
Many other developments have not been mentioned, e.g. on
search for extraterrestrians,
and topics like
theory of everything.
| © 2000 by ...
||... Marcus Hutter