The Future This Week, March 19, 2017

“There are nights when the wolves are silent and only the moon howls.”–George Carlin

The moon, and space exploration in general, continued to make news this week.  It seems the moon is just howling for some company.  Here’s what’s been happening during the current lunar phase.

Space Exploration–

 

Additive Manufacturing/3D printing–

  • In an interview on the Seeking Delphi podcast, Dr. Paul Tinari made a variety of bold statements regarding the future of 3D printing for everything from food to cars, homes, battleships, and even human bodies.  (YouTube link available at the bottom of this post.)

 

 

Biotech–

  • Gene editing startup eGenisis raised $38 million dollars in venture capital funding for its process to use CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing to grow pig organs for human implantation.  The company was co-founded by Harvard genetics guru, Dr. George Church and 30-year old Dr. Luhan Yang.

 

YouTube slide show: Podcast #7, 3D printing with guest Dr. Paul Tinari.  Also available on iTunes.

A reminder that the Seeking Delphi™ podcast is available on iTunes, and has a channel on YouTube.  You can also follow us on Facebook.

The Future This Week, March 12, 2017

“You affect the world by what you browse.”–Tim Berners-Lee

Ah, our automated future. http://www.savagechickens.com

The Tim Berners-Lee quote above is a sort of digital version of “you are what you eat.”  Perhaps, today, we are what we browse.  But what we browse is of deep concern.  Can we keep it private? Can others, particularly government, abuse our rights and destroy our privacy with what they know about our lives online?  That’s just one of the technology issues in The Future This Week.

Digital Technology–World Wide Web inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, had some chilling words about his digital offspring on its 28th birthday.  Speaking at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, he warned the web is in peril due to three troublesome trends.  Privacy of personal data, in the wake of the Wikileaks revelation of massive CIA cyber-spying, fake news that spreads like wildfire, and unregulated political advertising.  I welcome a discussion on these issues in the comments section below.

Speaking at Google’s Cloud Next conference, Alphabet CEO Eric Schmidt predicted that big data will become so important that nations will fight over it. “He who has the data can do the analytics and algorithms,” he said.  You can see his full speech on the Business Insider link here.

Digital Entertainment–Several sources reported that Netflix is delving into interactive story telling that enables the viewer to chose from diverging story lines.  This would represent a kind of digital video version of the Chose-Your-Own-Adventure kid-lit novels that were popular in the 1980’s. Actors would film multiple variations of story lines and viewers would be allowed to chose the direction of the story at various points.  The first series may roll out later this year.

Renewable Energy–Those hydrogen fuel-cell-powered vehicles discussed in episode #3 of the Seeking Delphi podcast may be one step closer to reality.  New work revealed this week by the energy department’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.  A big challenge is the extrication of  hydrogen from water., which, in itself, is an energy intensive undertaking.  The process Berkeley lab has been working on involves using special catalyst materials called photo-anodes to drive distillation of Hydrogen from water using sunlight.   Their scientists have identified 12 newphoto-anode substances in the past two years, more than doubling the previously known count.

Biotechnology–CRISPR gene editing pioneer, Jennifer Doudna, laid out her vision for the technology.  Speaking at the same South by Southwest conference that hosted Tim Berners-Lee, she focused primarily on the potential for eradicating genetic diseases.  Meanwhile, a Chinese team released results of the first CRISPR trials in healthy, viable embryos, reporting that they were able to correct genetic mutations in some of them.

Global Economy–A new report issued by The Brookings Institute projects a global increase in the middle class of 2.2 billion people by 2030.  The report also sees 88 per cent of this growth coming from Asia.

Hawking

Existential Technology Risks–Almost on cue for the most recent Seeking Delphi  episode,  physicist Stephen Hawking warned that establishment of a global government may be the only way to keep our technologies from destroying us.  He acknowledged that a world government could become a problem in itself–particularly a tyrannical one–but stated strongly that we need a means to identify threats, and act quickly to counter them in a unified manner.

A reminder that the Seeking Delphi™ podcast is available on iTunes, and has a channel on YouTube.  You can also follow us on Facebook.

The Bleeding Edge

“Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.”–R. Buckminster Fuller

“Engage your mind before you shift your mouth into gear.”–Unknown

My father used to warn me about talking before thinking.   This definitely applies to blogging as well.  One should cogitate before pushing the “publish” button.

I said in a previous post that I would present two major types of articles herein,  but I didn’t think before pushing that button.  As it turns out, there will be three.  As previously promised, the first category of posts in the How to Think About The Future category will summarize basic methods, philosophies and general assumptions about foresight.

The second, category, The Future of…, will tackle the future of various domains of human endeavor, such as education, politics, environment, economy, healthcare and various subsets thereof.

The third category, the one I left out originally, is The Bleeding Edge, which will delve into critical emerging technologies that may potentially upend the established course of human activities, for better or for worse, or probably both.   Here are some of the hot topics to look forward to,  hopefully in the not-to-distant future.

Gene Editing–Last November, a New York Times Magazine article,  aptly titled The CRISPR Quandary, was even more aptly subtitled A new gene editing tool might create an ethical morass–or it might make revising nature seem natural.  As this ground-breaking technology is advancing far faster than the ethical and regulatory guidelines to control it, it is well on its way to doing both.

Artificial Intelligence/The Singularity–While CRISPR has so far escaped broad public scrutiny,  Artificial Intelligence certainly has not.  With warnings of the potential dangers of strong AI from the likes of Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk getting big play in the media,  even while Ray Kurzweil waxes almost poetic on the virtues of an A.I. singularity.  The controversies continues to grow.

Robotics–The combination of robotics and A.I. is rapidly accelerating, offering the potential for great convenience and efficiency, but also wholesale upheavals in the world of work.  Some pundits project that automation of various forms may obsolete up to 50% of all jobs in the near future.

3D Printing–No field of work is more susceptible to job loss due to automation than is manufacturing.   And while the progress of 3D printing has been much slower than some other technologies, it still holds out the promise of an eventual sea change in the world of fabrication–potentially breaking up major national and regional manufacturing plants into hundred of thousands of small local sites.  The skills to design and run 3D printing applications are specialized and very different from those of traditional manufacturing.

Nanotechnology–If ever there was a double-edged sword in technology, this is it.  While the most optimistic prognostications outlined by Eric Drexler in his landmark 1986 book, Engines of Creation, are still a distant pipe dream,  progress is being made.   And while those optimistic dreams envision a world of unlimited abundance on demand, the most pessimistic counter views see the potential for catastrophic human harm, either inadvertently or by intentional malice.  Kurt Vonnegut warned of these dangers as long ago as 1963 in his sci-fi classic Cat’s Cradle.

Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality–Poised to become a hot new consumer electronics category, Virtual Reality devices offer a wide range of very useful applications, from education, to training and entertainment.  But there are downsides, too.  Will some people get so addicted to it that they lose contact with actual reality?  And at least one futurist has forecast a huge market for virtual reality porn.  If you’re not familiar with the concept of teledildonics, well, you might be in for a shock.

Blockchain–The shared public ledger technology that enables Bitcoin cryptocurrency is rapidly being advocated and to some extent deployed in a variety other domains including education, law and banking. It is massively distributed, open, and indelible.  But even this might have some downside.

The hope here is to cover these and many other emerging technology issues in the coming weeks and months.  Keep an eye out for an accompanying podcast as well, assuming I can get my technical act together.