The Future This Week: July 17, 2017

“The moon is a friend for the lonesome to talk to.”–Carl Sandburg

I don’t know about the moon, but when it comes to Mars, it does not appear that NASA will be doing much more than saying hello in the foreseeable future.  It seems there’s this little problem of money.  On the other hand, it’s full speed ahead to the lunar surface for at least one private enterprise.

Space Exploration and Technology–NASA has finally admitted what experts have been saying for some time.  It does not have enough money to land astronauts on Mars.  They could get astronauts there and orbit, but not land.  So I suppose they could say hello.

Moon Express is full speed ahead on its own ambitious space project.  They recently announced plans to launch a series of robotic lunar mining missions, the third of which will bring back samples from the surface in 2020.  The company is racing four other enterprises as finalists for the Lunar X Prize of $20 milllion, which will be awarded to the first private venture to land a rover on the moon and send back high definition pictures.

eCommerce/Retailing– According to retail guru Brittain Ladd,  Amazon could become the largest U.S. grocery retailer by 2030, if their proposed takeover of Whole Foods goes through.   Ladd predicts Amazon will pass U. S. #2 retailer Kroger by 2025 and take over the top spot from Walmart sometime between 2027 and 2030.

Electric Cars–The greatest roadblock to massive roll out of electric cars may not be infrastructure, but batteries.  Volkswagon, says that as many as 40 new giga-factories may be needed to meet global demand by 2025.

Transhumanism/Brain interface–DARPA has awarded a contract to six organizations, to be led by the University of California, Berkeley, to develop implantable interfaces that could transmit images and sound directly into the brain.  The aim is to compensate for natural visual or hearing loss.  (Reference back: in Seeking Delphi™ podcast #10, on the future of cinema and digital entertainment, film maker Steven Katz discussed this possibility.)

CRISPR/genetic editing–A team of researchers from Harvard and MIT are casting doubt on an earlier study that found that CRISPR/Cas9 gene edits could introduce unexpected mutations.  The original study was done by Columbia University.  It should be noted, however,  that the Broad Institute, a joint venture of Harvard and MIT, is in a pitched patent battle with the University of California, Berkeley, for rights to various uses of the technology.   CRISPR gene editing has the potential to change the face of human health, and perhaps even enter the domain of trans-humanism.  See video embedded below.

In the meantime, researchers at UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley (no surprise there) say they have synthesized a protein they call anti-CRISPR which shut of mutations in CRISPR altered genes.

 

Robotics/Artificial Intelligence–It seems that a security robot has committed suicide in Washington, DC.  After sounding a security all-clear, it threw itself into a pool.

 

Coming Attractions:  I’ll be attending the annual meeting of the Association of Professional Futurists July 27-29 in Seattle.  More to come on that.

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

The Future This Week: July 10, 2017

“Tesla is becoming a real car company.”–Elon Musk

The stock market has considered Tesla almost more than a car company for some time now.  If you are concerned about its valuation, take a look back at Seeking Delphi™ podcast #4 on Technology Investing for The Future, and the Gartner Hype Cycle.  Whatever happens–and whatever you believe–Tesla made the first major step towards becoming a real car company this past week.  The public will vote with their wallets.  Stay tuned.

Electric Cars–Elon Musk tweeted photos of the new mass market Tesla Model 3.  Production has begun and is targeted to ramp up to 20,000 vehicles per month by the end of the year.

Tesla Model 3

Volvo announced plans to become the first premium auto make to abandon all-gasoline cars.  By 2019, all of its vehicles will be either hybrids or all-electric.

Artificial Intelligence–Wired Magazine reports that banks are increasingly resorting to artificial intelligence to detect currency transfers by terrorist organizations.  In the past, simple logic algorithms had been used to detect suspicious transactions.  But the increasing use of micro-transfers by ISIS and other groups has fueled the need for more powerful tools.

Virtual Reality–Swedish company Starbreeze is pursuing an ambitious plan to launch arcade-style virtual reality parlors.   Starbreeze is pushing ahead despite many previous retail VR disappointments by other companies.  The current venture, in partnership with Acer, will place these entertainment centers in IMAX theaters.

Global Economy–The IMF’s latest projections say China’s purchasing power parity GDP will surpass that of the US, Germany and Japan combined by 2022.  Their per capita purchasing power parity GDP will still be far down the list of countries, and GDP in total nominal dollars will still trail the U.S.

Robotics/Automation– An Australian firm Fastbricks Robotics has announced that it is being backed by Caterpillar to develop a home-building robot.  Its Hadrain X can lay down 1,000 bricks and hour a construct an entire home in two days.

Science fiction author Will Mitchell discussed the prospects for deployment self-replicating machines, to aid in the exploitation of space, on Seeking Delphi™ podcast #14.

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

The Future This Week: July 3, 2017

“If you die in an elevator, be sure to push the Up button.”–Sam Levenson

On more than one occasion, I have traveled in an elevator that could move horizontally as well as vertically.  How did I manage that?  It turns out I was dreaming–and I must admit I experienced a bit of a disappointment when I woke up.  Honestly, the feeling of moving sideways in an elevator was just, well, cool.  Now, though, a new technology might actually make that feeling possible.

Elevator Technology–Thyssenkrupp Elevator Technology, of Berlin, Connecticut, USA, has developed and, in fact, installed the world’s first cable-free horizontal-vertical elevator in a  test tower in Rotweill, Germany.  (See YouTube video embedded at the bottom of the page).

Space Exploration and Technology–In what appears to be an Asian reboot of the U.S.-Soviet 1960’s space race, Japan has announced plans to put a man on the moon by 2030–and beat China to the punch.  JAXA,  the Japanese space agency, recently announced the plan, thus throwing themselves into a multi-national Asian sprint to the lunar surface.

NASA announced plans to revive a dormant plan for developing nuclear power for space colonies.   Originally envisioned some 50 years ago, it aims at building a mini-fusion plant to provide electric power for bases on the moon and Mars.

Internet of Things–According to a report in Business Insider there will be 24 billion devices, globally, connected to the Internet of Things by 2020.  I feel like there are nearly a billion in my house, alone.

Computer Technology–As silicon technology nears the limits of Moore’s Law, IBM scientists say they have created carbon nano-tube transistors that are smaller and faster than silicon.  No timetable has been set for scaling up to the level of practical, useful devices.

How real is it?

Virtual Reality–The Japanese firm, Futureleap, claims to have invented the virtual girlfriend. Apparently, one can not just view, but actually feel sensations of an imaginary friend breathing down your neck.  Not tonight dear, I have some corrupt code.

 

 

 Be sure to stay tuned for the next Seeking Delphi podcast, on self-replicating machines, with science fiction author Will Mitchell.

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

The Future This Week: May 15, 2017

“‘Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”–Douglas Adams

If Douglas Adams were still alive today, he might be pleased to find that little yellow sun getting more and more regard every year.  Solar industry jobs grew at a rate 12 times faster than that of overall economy in 2016.  Solar panel installer was the single fastest growing job description in the U.S. between 2012 and 2016.  More respect for the sun, please.

Clean/ renewable energy– According to a report in Business Insider, findings by the Global Alliance of Solar Energy Research Institutes suggest that improved solar cell efficiency  and cheaper storage batteries will allow solar to surpass traditional fossil fuel production in cost-effectiveness by 2020.  Further, the report states that the entire electrical grid, as it now stands, may become obsolete by 2030 due to widespread localized production.

Biotech–A 24-year old doctoral student from Oxford University has created a prototype for an artificial retina.  It is thought to potentially be an improvement over the artificial retina that was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2013.  It represents the first use of synthetic tissue and is seen as possibly revolutionizing the bionic implant industry.

Jeff Boeke, one of the lead scientists in the Human Genome Project-Write (GP-Write), thinks that human genes will be able to be created synthetically within 4-5 years.  Boeke, who is director of the Institute for Systems Genetics at New York University, was speaking at a recent meeting of 250 genomics researchers and bioethicists  in New York.

Flying Cars–Toyota has entered the race to build flying cars.  They are backing a project called Skydrive,  which is developing a vehicle that can fly at 100kph (62mph) at a height of 33 feet.  They are hoping to commercialize it in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Robotics–If your worried about losing your job to a robot, consider the problem Japan has.  Their shrinking workforce is forcing firms to replace workers with robots.  So reports Daily Mail.com.

Augmented Reality (AR)–Cirque de Soleil has partnered with Microsoft to use its Hololens augmented reality device to visualize stage setups and choreography.  The technology was unveiled onstage at the recent Microsoft Build developers conference.

 

 

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

Podcast #10: Lights! Action! Camera! The Future of Cinema and Digital Entertainment

“Movies are a fad. Audiences really want to see live actors on a stage.”–Charlie Chaplin

How wrong could Charlie Chaplin have been, over 100 years ago, when he made that statement?  He was in the nascent stages of a film career that would make him one of the most iconic figures in the history of cinematic arts.  Yet, even in the middle of a major communication revolution, he couldn’t see the forest for the trees.   Today, technology changes that used to take decades, take barely a few months.  Can we be any better than Charlie Chaplin at foreseeing which of today’s new media technologies will be the long term winners?  For that matter, will anything last long enough to be considered “long term?”  In Episode #10 of Seeking Delphi, I talk to author and filmmaker Steven D. Katz.  He was writing about technologies like CGI and digital media for Millimeter Magazine before most others in the industry were even noticing them.  Steve acknowledges that the traditional large-screen movie house will have to continue to up its game to compete with home technologies and distribution options that keep on getting better.

Links to relevant stories appear after the audio file and embedded YouTube video below.  A reminder that Seeking Delphi is available on iTunes, and has a channel on YouTube.  You can also follow us on Facebook.

Film Directing Shot By Shot
by Steven D. Katz
One of the best-selling film making textbooks of all time.

Episode #10: The Future of Cinema and Digital Entertainment

 

(YouTube slide show)

 

Books by Steven D. Katz

Hyperloop One finished its test track, and narrowed down the candidates for the first two systems to be built in the U.S.

Boeing and Jet Blue have backed a venture aiming to deliver hybrid electric commuter jets by the early 2020s

The U.S Air Force is developing hyper-sonic attack drones for the 2040’s.

No, I didn’t make this up.  A Chinese engineer married his robot wife!

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The Future This Week, February 26, 2017

“I would like to die on Mars.  Just not on impact.”–Elon Musk

cropped-mars.jpg

Surprisingly, there is no new Elon Musk news this week.  In an even bigger surprise, Mars was in the news, but without Elon Musk–at least not by name.

Space Exploration–

  • The United Arab Emirates unveiled a 100-year goal to colonize Mars with 600,000 people.  The public announcement of the Mars 2017 Project came at a World Government meeting held in Dubai and was made in a speech by sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, in which he emphasized his nations long-term commitment to space exploration.

 

  • In plans that are much nearer in time and space, the Russian space agency Energia announced plans to send tourists to the moon by 2022.  They say they will sell nine places on its Soyuz space capsule, as soon as this spring, for flights as soon as 2022.  The craft that will loop around the moon before heading to the International Space Station.  This represents an aggressive upgrade from its previous plan,  originally projected to be launched in the early 2030’s.  No indication of price or selection process for tourists was given.  Start saving your Aeroflot frequent flyer miles now.

 

  • SpaceX (okay, that is an Elon Musk story, at least indirectly) announced a new target date of 2020 for landing a robotic probe on Mars.  This represents a setback from the original target of 2018.

Biotech–

  • Market Research Future released a study projecting that the global bioprinting market, estimated to have been worth $570 million in 2015, will grow at a compound annual rate of 25-27% through 2022.  At present, they estimate that North America holds a 40% share of this market.

 

Robotics–

  • The private sector is not the only place where workers are being replaced by AI and machines.  The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the U.S. military is in the process of developing and deploying automation to streamline its support operations and even reduce personnel on the front lines.  Some of the concepts include driverless combat vehicles and robotic frogmen.

 

Structural engineers may soon be able to determine if London Bridge is falling down--without actually visiting it.

Structural engineers may soon be able to determine if London Bridge is falling down–without actually visiting it.

Virtual Reality–

  • World Architecture News reported that a joint project of Microsoft and the University of Cambridge aims to enable structural engineers to inspect bridges using the Hololens virtual reality headset, rather than traveling in person to the sites.  This would be accomplished by creating a combining composite of photos taken locally by non-experts, allowing expert engineers to zoom in and out and take a virtual walk-around of a structure. The idea is to save the time and cost of travel.

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.