Most adults alive today grew up without the Internet or mobile phones, let alone smartphones and tablets with voice commands and apps for everything. These new technologies have altered our lifestyle in a way few of us could have imagined a few decades ago. But have we reached the end of the line ? What else could turn up that could make our lives so much more different ? Faster computers ? More gadgets ? It is in fact so much more than that. Technologies have embarked on an exponential growth curve and we are just getting started. In 10 years we will look back on our life today and wonder how we could have lived with such primitive technology. The gap will be bigger than between today and the 1980s. Get ready because you are in for a rough ride.
Ray Kurzweil, Googles director of engineering, predicts that by 2029 computer will exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to that of a human, and that by 2045 computers will be a billion times more powerful than all of the human brains on Earth. Once computers can fully simulate a human brain and surpass it, it will cause an intelligence explosion that will radically change civilization. The rate of innovation will progress exponentially, so much that it will become impossible to foresee the future course of human history. This point in time is called the singularity. Experts believe that it will happen in the middle of the 21st century, perhaps as early as 2030, but the median value of predictions is 2040.
The X Prize Foundation, chaired by Peter Diamandis, co-founder of Singularity University in the Silicon Valley, manages incentivized competitions to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. One of the current competitions, the Nokia Sensing XCHALLENGE, aims at developing a smartphone-like device that can test vitals like cholesterol, blood pressure, heart rate or allergies, analyse your DNA for genetic risks, diagnose medical conditions, and predict potential diseases or the likelihood of a stroke. All this without seeing a doctor. The device could be used by you or your relatives anywhere, anytime. All this is possible thanks to highly sensitive electronic sensors and powerful AI.
Google is working on an AI that will be able to read and understand any document, and learn the content of all books in the world. It will be able to answer any question asked by any user. This omniscient AI will eventually become peoples first source of knowledge, replacing schools, books and even human interactions. Just wonder about anything and the computer will provide you with the answer and explain it to you in a way you can easily understand, based on your current knowledge.
Once AI reaches the same level of intelligence as a human brain, or exceeds it, intelligent robots will be able to do a majority of human jobs. Robots already manufacture most products. Soon they will also build roads and houses, replace human staff in supermarkets and shops, serve and perhaps even cook food in restaurants, take care of the sick and the elderly. The best doctors, even surgeons, will be robots.
It might still be a decade or two before human-like androids start walking the streets among us and working for us. But driverless cars, pioneered by Google and Tesla, could be introduced as early as 2016, and could become the dominant form of vehicles in developed countries by 2025. The advantages of autonomous cars are so overwhelming (less stress and exhaustion, fewer accidents, smoother traffic) that very few people will want to keep traditional cars. That is why the transition could happen as fast as, if not faster than the shift from analog phones to smartphones. Robo-Taxis are coming soon and could in time replace human taxi drivers. All cars and trains will eventually be entirely driven by computers.
AI will translate documents, answer customer support questions, complete administrative tasks, and teach kids and adults alike. It is estimated that 40 to 50% of service jobs will be done by AI in 2025. Creative jobs arent immune either, as computers will soon surpass humans in creativity too. There could still be human artists, but artistic value will drop to zero when any design or art can be produced on demand and on measure by AI in a few seconds.
Once computer graphics and AI simulation of human behaviours become so realistic that we cant tell if a person in a video is real or not, Hollywood wont need to use real actors anymore, but will be able to create movie stars that dont exist and the crazy thing is no one will notice the difference !
3D printers are the biggest upheaval in manufacturing since the industrial revolution. Not only can we print objects in three dimensions, they can now be printed in practically any material, not just plastics, but also metals, concrete, fabrics, and even food. Better still, they can be printed in multiple materials at once. High-quality 3D printers can copy electronic chips in the tiniest detail and have a functional chip. High-tech vehicles like the Koenigseggs One:1 (the worlds fastest car) or EDAGs Genesis are already being made by 3D Printing. Even houses will be 3D-printed, for a fraction of the costs of traditional construction.
In a near future we wont need to go shopping to buy new products. We will just select them online, perhaps tweak a bit their design, size or colour to our tastes and needs, then we will just 3D print them at home. More jobs going down the drain ? Not really. Retail jobs were already going to be taken by intelligent robots anyway. The good news is that it will considerably reduce our carbon footprint by cutting unnecessary transport from distant factories in China or other parts of the world. Everything will be home-made, literally. Since any material can be re-used, or recycled in a 3D printer, it will also dramatically reduce waste.
3D printing is also good news for medicine. Doctors can now make customized prosthetics, joint replacements, dental work and hearing aids.
The other advances in robotics, AI, 3-D printing and nanotechnologies all converge in the field of bioengineering. Human cyborgs arent science-fiction anymore. Its already happening.
Regenerative medicine offers even more promises than artificial limbs and body parts. What if instead of having a robotic arm, you could regrow completely your original arm ? Sounds impossible ? It isnt. Lizard regrow their tails. Axolotls regrow severed legs. We now understand how they do it: stem cells. These pluripotent undifferentiated cells have the power to repair any body part. Using organ culture, stem cells can regrow any organ as fresh as new through. In the future it will be possible to regrow limbs or organs directly on a person, as if the body was simply healing itself.
Combing 3-D printing and stem cell regeneration paves the way to the printing of human organs, a field known as bioprinting (read articles on the topic in New Scientist and The Economist).
Genetics has progressed tremendously too over the last 15 years. From the sequencing of the first full human genome in 2003, we have now entered the era of personal genomics, gene therapy and synthetic life, and could be approaching the age of genetically enhanced humans.
Gene therapy is perhaps the most revolutionary of all the medical advances, as it will effectively allow to fix any disease-causing gene and to engineer humans that are better adapated to the modern nutrition, life rythmn, and technology-dominated lifestyle. Not only will all diseases and neuropsychological problems with a genetic cause disappear, but humans will also become more resistant to stress, fatigue and allergens, and could choose to boost their potential mental faculties and physical abilities, creating superhumans. This is known as transhumanism.
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