Over at New Scientist, they’ve chosen five emerging technologies that may have a big impact on the future of humanity during the next 30 years and have asked their readers to choose which will be the most significant of all. I’d like to find out how our readers’ opinions would compare with theirs.
We asked a similar question a few months ago in one of our polls, but then the focus was only on this current decade, between now and 2020. IEET readers chose bioengineering for the #1 spot, followed by nanotechnology, and then artificial intelligence:
But again, that was only an evaluation of the next 10 years, and what New Scientist is asking about is the next 30 years, between now and 2040. They’ve also identified different technologies than we asked about in our poll.
Synthetic biology: Genomic tweaking and global change.
From the production of polymers, chemicals and biofuels to use as biosensors or even computer components: the engineering of microbial genomes and the complex biochemical pathways extending from them will have far-reaching implications. The bacterial conversion of cellulose into ethanol may end our dependency on fossil fuels, while the expense of drug production may become limited to the cost of maintaining a fermenter and raw materials to grow the engineered microbe in, making medicine cheaper worldwide. The very big changes about to happen to our world will begin with the engineering of the very small.
Nanorobots fight the medical battles of the future.
Say the word “cancer” and people are fear-ridden. Projects being undertaken to harness nanotechnology and develop nanorobots to enter into the human body and repair cancerous cells, without the need for life-changing, disfiguring and painful chemotherapy, will have the greatest impact in the next 30 years. Watching loved ones suffer will become a thing of the past as the robots aid speedy recoveries, mortality rates drop, and as the technology is used more frequently, so will the cost, that oft-deciding factor. An enormous step forwards for all mankind, in the form of a microscopic creature.
Remote sensing and presence.
In the next 30 years the user’s sense of realism when employing digital connections will converge on the sense of actually being there. Control of a machine on location will add a sense of presence. In effect, geography will increasingly lose meaning. This will have profound implications for our way of life, particularly on commuting and travel. Furthermore, locally there will be significant economic and legal ramifications. Internationally, change will be slower, but the nation state is in fact a geographic monopoly and will be challenged by this development.
Machine translation unites the human race.
The development of real-time automatic voice translation systems. Because for the first time in human history it will be possible for people from all countries to naturally and easily communicate with each other, without any barriers. People that were previously isolated within their own cultures will be able to understand and enjoy the cultures of many other nations. No longer will people speaking different languages misunderstand each other, or be unable to communicate effectively. For thousands of years humans have wanted to naturally speak with each other, and finally this dream will be a reality.
What could be greater than to replicate nature’s greatest feat of engineering? The possibility that, within the next 30 years, humanity will engineer the hardware and software required to build a computer that shows signs of consciousness. It is an idea explored extensively by science fiction, but given that the current scientific understanding of self-awareness resides in the actions of chemicals and neurons, should the development of a conscious computer be anything other than inevitable? This birth of a new, nascent, alien intelligence in the universe would have potentially the single most momentous impact on civilisation imaginable.
So, let’s do a comparison. The New Scientist poll runs until April 12, 2011. We’ll conduct the same poll for IEET readers between now and April 12 and find out if there is any difference between the opinions of our readers and theirs. Please cast your vote!