Monday, February 5, 2007

2057 – A Review

Why I liked the series, or “What they got right”

First and foremost, LIFE WILL BE DIFFERENT! Nearly everything we do, nearly every experience we have, will be shaped by paradigm-shifting new technologies. Materials will be lighter, stronger, and functionalized. The way we work with information will be exponentially enhanced. Many things will be automated, including health monitoring and tracking. Should you choose, it will be an always-on interconnected society.

They also got right that privacy will be an issue. With the ever-decreasing size (and cost) and increasing functionality of sensors, it is absolutely believable that in 2057 we’ll be constantly surveiled, at home, at work, and in public. Is this a good or bad thing? I don’t know, although I tend to think it is something we should spend time considering, starting now. (1)

Screening, diagnosis, monitoring, treatment of disease, and emergency care will undergo a radical change in the next 50 years. Given the very rapid advances in the use of nanoparticles for medicine, I would be very surprised if by 2057 if cancers were not simple-to-treat short-term illnesses, like the common cold is today. In fact, I’d be surprised if this were not the case by 2020, given the pace of advances being made. (2)

What they got wrong

There was no mention of molecular manufacturing. My guess is they left it out because there is controversy surrounding the idea that we will soon be able to construct common objects using individual molecules (controversy which seems unreasonable given advances in nanoscale science). Omitting the likelihood that in 50 years we won’t have molecular manufacturing seems to suggest that they were avoiding the topic; there is ample science to support the idea that among the other advances depicted, molecular manufacturing should have been included.

Holographic pets: My friend (and futurist) Brian Wang says it this way: “I thought the holographic sharks would be visual pollution. They should have those only visible to the user. Feed the image to the retina or via some non-invasive communication feed to the brain. I also failed to see the economic benefits.” I agree. Can you imagine walking through a packed mall (will we still have them?) and everyone around you has a holographic projection following them?

Conspicuous by its absence was quantum computing (QC). As Brian Wang goes to great lengths to point out (in his blog) QC is happening now. When I asked him to speculate on near-future advances, he said “I think on the low end they should have thousands of qubits able to simulate thousands of quantum molecules (in the 3 to 5 year timeframe) against simulations of 50-100 molecules with similar precision.”

Hyper-efficient solar panels: This one seems pretty obvious to anyone tracking advances in this area. There are several technologies currently on the drawing board (or more precisely, in university and business labs) that look very promising. By promising I mean likely to achieve huge improvements in their sunlight-to-energy conversion rate. Today’s technologies allow for conversion rates that are almost good enough to compete toe to toe with coal, nuclear, and other traditional energy generation technologies. Were I a betting man, I’d place a large percentage of my dollars on photovoltaics (PV). In fact, of all the nanotechnologies, solar/PV is one of the areas where I will be placing my bets.

What I hope to see, or “wouldn’t it be nice, if?”

(And just as important, I also believe that these are likely, many of them earlier than 2057)

The Hand-comp (the 2057-version of the personal computer/cell phone/PDA)
Self-guided, networked cars
Custom-built organs from scratch
Space Elevator and tethered research stations
Smart Houses
Information transfer at predictable increases
Artificial blood

Things I am leery of, or “can’t we have all the rest, without this?”

An oil shortage that brings the US and China to the brink of war (and possibly beyond). How about, instead, we start funding alternate energy technologies at a rate equal to or exceeding that which goes towards supporting oil? As I said in my last post, can you imagine being free from the idiocy surrounding the use of petroleum?

In Closing

The last sentence on the 2057 “About the Show” page states: “This series is all about opening the window of our future based on science fact, not science fiction.”

Mostly I’d agree.

My bottom line in regards to this series: it was well worth the 3-hour watch. At worst, it will get more people asking questions about the technologies depicted; stimulating the debate by adding more stakeholders is a good idea. At best, it will get more people asking questions about the technologies depicted…

To learn more about possible futures, visit:
2005 BT Technology Timeline

And a nice collection at DMOZ

(1) David Brin presents an interesting and compelling argument with
The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom (I highly recommend this book.)

Synopsis: David Brin, in The Transparent Society, acknowledges that privacy, as we know it, is being slowly eaten away day by day. Entire cities are falling under the watch of surveillance cameras; "nanny monitors" that allow parents to keep an eye on the people who are watching their children are becoming more common in households with children. However, instead of calling for restrictions on this surveillance, he argues for a more open society from both sides -- one in which those in power would be required to adhere to the same "openness" standards as their constituents, where the authorities are monitored as well as monitoring.

(2) According to the National Vital Statistics Report (Vol. 53, No. 15, February 28, 2005), 13 of the top 15 killers in the US are medical related. I would be very surprised to see any of the 13 medical reasons in the top 10 in 2057 as anything other than a minor contributing factor. See

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