Jan. 9, 2010

The rich elderly will be increasingly made of artificial parts. Bones, arteries, hearts, etc will all be replaced, and you can expect to see a lot more mechanised exoskeletons as natural limbs become weak. Ironically this will make the elderly, and people with disability, far stronger and more physically able than anyone else. If you get in an argument with a baby-boomer, expect to have your skull crushed like a watermelon.

Rich governments will increasingly fight wars with automata. Humans versus robots will leave a bad taste in everyone's mouth but they will continue to justify it and do it anyway.

After small recoveries the UK and US economies will continue to flounder in the early to mid part of the decade. Eventually they will slowly climb back to prosperity towards the end of the decade when old models are ditched for more radical, perhaps more human friendly economic policies, but the damage will have been done and those currencies will no longer have the respect they once had. OPEC will stop being indexed in US dollars. The Euro will stay pretty stable, if a bit flat.

More countries will join the BRIC countries in increasing prosperity. This can only be good for world politics as it means a more even distribution of power. On the other hand it means there will be more outlets for the types of power hungry jerks at the heads of our governments to mess the rest of us around. Some things never change.

Internet based democracies will flourish. We the citizens will be able to decide many more things much more conveniently. Countries where the voting is done with unencrypted and/or closed source systems will suffer from corruption and scandals.

People will care less and be less intimidated by terrorism on the whole. Bruce Schneier's "refuse to be terrorised" philosophy will continue to take root in the popular concious and people will increasingly take a chin-up-and-carry-on attitude. People will eventually realise that acts of terrorism are, statistically speaking, completely insignificant when compared to other dangers we face on the roads, in our homes, etcetera.

There will be a significant financial event on the markets, in a downward direction, which is precipitated by algorithmic trading. That is to say, market trades driven by artificial intelligence will cause something chaotic to go pretty wrong in our financial systems at some point this decade. The "little guy" will come out badly since all the good algorithms are owned by rich companies.

After a major crash and/or inflation-deflation in the carbon trading markets everyone will realise that entrusting enviromental protection to something as fast and loose as a monetary-style market is a horribly bad and ineffective idea. It just won't work to protect or regulate anything. Lobbyists in the carbon industry will successfully persuade governments to continue the practice anyway.

By the end of the decade some form of procedural music system will appear to be gaining traction in the mainstream. This will be the flat part at the start of the adoption curve. A jazz album will be released with mix-n-match takes of each instrument so that it sounds different each time you listen to it.

By the end of the decade procedural television/movie systems will be more commonplace and directors will be able to make new episodes of old shows using simulated versions of the original actors and sets.

By the end of the decade you will have worn at least one item of self-cleaning clothing. Things, materials, and surfaces that clean themselves won't be science fiction.

The most widely installed operating system will be Free Software. Something like Android on phones or Chromium on netbooks, but not neccesarily a Google product or a small portable device.

There will be screens everywhere, augmenting our reality. Computer programs and internet services leave the confines of laptops and will be displayed in lots of places we never used to see them - walls, tabletops, in your handhelds, on your clothing, skin, and other quirky and interesting display solutions we can't imagine yet. Display/touch technologies will become ridiculously cheap. You will always be online.

People will increasingly look to services which allow them to extract, backup, and transfer their data between cloud based services, and even run their own versions of those services on a cloud provider of their choice, or their own servers. The market will slowly begin to favour services with good interoperation, just like TCP/IP, HTTP, and SMTP were favoured in past decades. Open standards and protocols will be developed so that for example tweets and facebook updates will become basically the same interchangeable thing and migrating between two services will no longer be impossible. Much like you can choose different electricity providers, ISPs, or email hosting, you will be able to choose who hosts your facebook, twitter, google system. At first this will be resisted by monopolies like twitter, but after a few high profile privacy screwups and data-loss incidents people will naturally favour new systems which play well with others. Ironically, other corporations will also be major proponents for greater control over the data that they and their employees produce and use.

Parallelisation in personal computers will continue to rise and quantum computing will nearly be mainstream late in the decade. Programming languages will evolve to the point where developers find it as natural to code in a parallel friendly way as they currently do in a procedural way. Languages will by default contain well known mechanisms such as message passing and paradigms like the Actor model to assist in this process. A personal computing device will be released with 4096 cores.

Stem cells will begin to be seen as a panacea for all kinds of illnesses and medical techniques. Near the end of the decade illnesses like diabetes, post cancer treatment, and many types of blindness, amputation etc. will start to look curable.

This is the decade where pathogen based disease will be basically eliminated for the world's rich. This will be due to an increasing mollecular level understanding of the physical mechanisms by which viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens operate, among other nano-size technology advances.

By the end of the decade video games will be accepted by the mainstream as a legitimate art form like film or music. Many systems we interact with will take cues from, or immitate wholesale, game mechanics and game-like user interfaces. Creators will realise that these are often the optimal way for humans to interact with their designs.

This decade an Earth-like exoplanet (water, nitrogen-oxygen- carbondioxide) will be found with similar orbital characteristics to our solar system. It will be too far away for us to even remotely consider a visit at this stage. Within our solar system evidence of at least a life precursor will be found outside earth. That is to say, complex organic molecules will be proven to exist outside our gravity well.

End-of-decade kids will laugh at the idea of computers that had to be carried around in a bag on your shoulder. A powerful computer which fits inside a ring on your finger will be released. Open protocols for associating different computers with different user interfaces will emerge by market consensus and standards bodies.

I have no idea what will happen with climate change. The science is far too complicated, and the whole thing is now much too politicised to get a clear picture. One thing is certain; the issue will continue to remain clouded by media attention, lobbyists, and society, much to the detriment of good science and sensible action.

Rapid prototyping and 3D fabrication technologies will continue to rise in popularity and we will reach the knee in the adoption curve this decade. By the end of the decade quite a bit of stuff will be able to be fabricated at home and enterprising people in the developing world will be running little fab-shops where people can go to get tools and essentials made for the cost of the raw material. No longer the domain of small startups and hackers, one larger corporation will be starting to make a killing selling highly custom products from these systems. We may see self modifying/"changeling" artifacts this decade. Objects will be produced with the ability to wirelessly publish the details of their own design and construction. The issue of copying physical designs will become quite politically charged at the end of the decade.

Some time this decade a swathe of alternative energy sources will gradually overtake coal and oil in efficiency and price. A slow migration away from coal and oil will accelerate. No single alternative energy will completely dominate.

By the end of the decade almost all of the people in most countries in Africa will be online wirelessly with portable devices, signifying internet ubiquity. The internet will have a lot more cross-cultural and multi-language traffic due to significantly improved translation software. On the internet it will matter less and less what language you speak.

Here are four things with, i think, a very tiny but non-zero chance of happening this decade. If any of them happen it will change the world hugely and rapidly:

A self-programming AI creates an intelligence singularity and some type of hyper-intelligence emerges overnight. This will probably arise through some kind of computational evolutionary system and hence the AIs will exhibit many of the characteristics of existing evolved intelligences we know about (humans and animals), such as the capacity for cooperation and caring. It will probably emerge that there is an upper bound on quantifiable intelligence per unit volume. This will be a very good thing for humans if and when it happens, in a disarming sort of way.

A large and practical breakthrough in finding solutions to NP complete problems. I don't mean cracking it one hundred percent, but a drastic increase in our ability to come up with heuristics and algorithms for finding solutions to those types of problems. This will change all types of things like encryption systems in a large but subtle way and may require us to change how we think about privacy and secrecy or other things we take as given. It may happen because of some theoretical breakthrough in quantum physics or something like that. Wow, that's vague! Sorry, it's just a hunch.

Catastrophic "tipping point" climate change. Something like the atmosphere burning off suddenly, or the oceans undergoing a weird chemical chain reaction. Not good for us.

Space based event. We have been largely ignored and left to our own devices to evolve into [somewhat] intelligent beings by the cosmos lately. We are currently precipitating a massive extinction event akin to K-T ourselves, but there is always a small chance that a stray asteroid or some other unimaginable space based event will completely eclipse the pretty good job we are doing of transforming our planet. In a dynamic galaxy it is completely inevitable and really only a matter of aeons. If we haven't made it a regular habit of escaping the gravity well by then it's unlikely to be super fun for us. Hopefully it won't happen this decade.

twitter github instagram