PROSPECTIVE OF A NANOTECH FUTURE:
work in progress...
THE FUTURE OF THE 21st CENTURY
"What does not exist and never has existed, yet is our most precious possession, because it is all we have left?"
- Joseph Cornish (Three Paradoxes of Time)
The future is a period in time containing all events that have yet to occur. It is the time after the present and the opposite of the past. The future holds great importance to human beings because it is where we'll all be spending the rest of our lives. Prediction is our only window into the future that we are all headed for. Some aspects of the future can be known with great certainty; others with less. For instance, certain astronomical phenomena, such as galactic collissions or the death of stars, follow predictable laws of nature, and can be computer modeled with great accuracy as far as billions of years into the future. The interactions of conscious beings such as ourselves with a complex environment such as the Earth are much more difficult to accurately predict, however out of such complexity emerges remarkably regular trends which can be effectively projected past the present. By examining the anticipated interactions of these future trends with one another, it becomes possible to construct models of potential futures with varying degrees of certainty - generally decreasing the farther out you look.
Eminent Spanish philosopher, José Ortega Y Gasset once made an observation about the paradoxical centrality of the future in the human experience, remarking, "It is not primarily in the present nor in the past that we live. Our life is an activity directed towards what is to come. The significance of the present or the past only becomes clear afterwards, in relation to this future. Human life is 'futurition', largely determined by what is not as yet realized."
THE FUTURE IS NOT SOMETHING WE ENTER, IT'S SOMETHING WE CREATE
"The decade ahead is going to be radically, remarkably, dangerously different than any period you've lived through or have experience with. And it's going to offer opportunities that you cannot now anticipate. If you don't have a clear sense of where you are going and why, and are not prepared for the challenges we face and the opportunities ahead, you will be devastated by what's to come. Someone always benefits from change. Let it be you." - Richard Worzel
We have insufficient data regarding the past and present to perfectly predict the future, however much can be known with a great deal of certainty.
"Ray Kurzweil may be the closest thing we have to a crystal ball. And if anyone has the right to some credibility in the prognostication arena, this overachieving inventor can. With crackling speed, Kurzweil powerpoints through charts illustrating the growth of various technologies over the centuries. His main points: technology evolves exponentially; the rate of technical progress itself is accelerating, so expect to "see 20,000 years of progress in the 21st century, about 1000 times greater than the 20th century." Before you can say, "Hold your horses," Kurzweil is off and running."
"Say goodbye to cancer and heart disease within 15 years, and hello to living way past 80. And try to survive until the year 2029, which according to Kurzweil's mathematical models, represents "25 turns of the screw in terms of doubling the power of information technology in every aspect of our lives." We'll see reverse engineering of the human brain, and computers that "will combine the subtlety and pattern recognition of human intelligence with the speed, memory and knowledge sharing of machine intelligence." The marriage of nanotechnology and AI will bring us "a killer app"- nanobots that can keep us healthy from the inside. These will also enable "full immersion virtual reality from within nervous systems" and expand human intelligence, facilitating "brain to brain communication. As for human conflict, Kurzweil sees an end to starvation and energy concerns, but doesn't quite complete his utopia. New technologies may be used in anti-social ways, say, by a bioterrorist. "I'm less optimistic we can avoid all painful issues; we certainly did not do that in the 20th century," concludes Kurzweil." - MIT World
NUCLEAR FUSION POWERNuclear fusion is the single most likely contender for the future of power generation. Fusion is the process by which two or more atomic nuclei join together to form a single heavier nucleus, usually accompanied by the release (or absorption) of vast amounts of energy. Nuclear fusion creates the power that lights the stars. The sun provides the earth with a continual supply of solar radiation as a result of its continuous fusion reactions. Solar power is the primary source of nearly all forms of energy we have access to (including all fossil fuels.) In the short-term, our use of renewable solar power will continue to increase, as non-renewable energy sources decrease (and become depleated.) Longer-term, human-engineered fusion, (which has already been demonstrated on a small scale, for brief periods of time) may ultimately lead to an energy revolution, giving us access to a virtually unlimited, environmentally friendly supply of on-demand, clean electricity.
The €20 billion International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) - the second largest international collaborative scientific project ever undertaken by humanity (the International Space Station being the first) - will be switched on in 2019, after more than a decade of construction. The reactor will simulate the conditions at the center of our sun by injecting minute amounts of nuclear (hydrogen) fuel into a torroid-shaped magnetized vacuum chamber where it will be heated to 100 million degrees, forming a plasma in which light hydrogen nuclei fuse together forming heavier hydrogen isotopes such as deuterium and tritium, along with neutrons, and a whole lot of energy. ITER is anticipated to eventually produce bursts of more than 500 MW of power, 400 seconds at a time. The previous world record for peak fusion power was set in 1997 by the Joint European Torus (JET) which produced 16 MW and lasted for just a few seconds. After another few decades of refinement to its design, such as improved superconducting magnets, advancements in vacuum systems, better chamber design, and an enhanced method for holding the plasma in location at critical temperatures and densities, commercial fusion generators may begin to become civilization's primary power source.
Another approach currently being investigated by scientists is to use focused laser energy to heat a hydrogen fuel pellet to over 100 million degrees, causing the nuclei of two hydrogen isotopes to overcome their repulsive forces and fuse together creating helium and energy in the form of an escaping energetic neutron.
The current strategy of using ever finer photolithography (nanolithography) techniques to etch circuits onto silicon chips will have run its course by roughly 2019, however Ray Kurzweil believes that current exponential increases in computing power will continue well beyond the current paradigm.
"Moore's law of Integrated Circuits was not the first, but the fifth paradigm to forecast accelerating price-performance ratios. Computing devices have been consistently multiplying in power (per unit of time) from the mechanical calculating devices used in the 1890 U.S. Census, to [Newman's] relay-based "[Heath] Robinson" machine that cracked the Lorenz cipher, to the CBS vacuum tube computer that predicted the election of Eisenhower, to the transistor-based machines used in the first space launches, to the integrated-circuit-based personal computer."
As semiconductor-based transistors get smaller and smaller, the effects of quantum tunnelling begin to limit how small they can be made. By the early 2020s, transistors will have shrunk down to the size of individual atoms, necessitating a switch from silicon to a sixth paradigm substrate. We live in a three-dimensional world, but we still build chips that are flat (2D). Carbon nanotube and graphene circuitry are a few of the current contenders for post-silicon computer processors. Kurzweil believes it is likely that a new technology (perhaps optical or quantum computing) will yet again replace current integrated-circuit technology, keeping Moore's law (or an extension of it) on track beyond the 2020s. Nanocomputers that are incredibly powerful and exceptionally small will be embedded in the environment, our clothing, and even us.
Supercomputers surpassed the petaFLOPS (one quadrillion FLoating point Operations Per Second) level in 2008, and the exaFLOPS (one quintillion FLOPS) barrier is expected to be reached by 2018. ZettaFLOPS (one sextillion FLOPS) supercomputers are anticipated around 2028, followed by the yottaFLOPS (one septillion FLOPS) level of performance around 2038. A zettaFLOPS (ZFLOPS) computer would theoretically be capable of full weather modeling, accurately covering a two week timespan.
There were 380+ million Internet users worldwide in the year 2000. By 2010 that number had jumped to more than 2 billion. Plummeting costs due to exponential technological improvements mean by 2020 a highly functional laptop computer will cost just $20 or $30, enabling many people in developing countries to access the web, and bringing the total number of Internet to over 5 billion (equivalent to the total human population on Earth circa 1987.)
3D printers and scanners will soon become inexpensive enough to be adopted by many consumers. With very little manufacturing being done in the western world anymore, many 'simple' items will start to be produced by 3D printing technologies. Over the coming decades, this technology will progress toward nanofabricators capable of constructing or copying objects with atomic precision in just minutes. Ultimately such technologies will evolve into matter replicators that can produce virtually any item (including food) almost instantaneously. Designs for products that can be built with these devices will be shared across the world as downloadable data files via the Internet, making information primary.
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