It is the confirmed belief of the writer that, the past 20th century’s remarkable technological progress notwithstanding, the 21st century will see a degree of progress that shall literally dwarf the changes just witnessed in the preceding century. Technological changes are coming, the magnitude of which the general public can only now but dimly appreciate.
Yet the coming scientific wonders, as profound as they most certainly will be, may well be inconsequential compared to the social and geopolitical changes looming ahead.
The G.R.A.I.N. Technologies; Genetics, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and Nanotechnology
How they will drive technological innovation and productivity in the future
Our Molecular Future:
We are 20-50 years away from a veritable explosion of productivity resulting from new technologies currently in development in our national labs. Productivity is the ratio of productive output compared to what is required to produce it. The higher the ratio of productivity, the greater the real wealth of a society. Medical advances in genetics, artificial intelligence in robotics and computers, and nanotechnology will be the primary drivers in a greatly expanded capacity for productivity and thus an improved quality of life for billions of people around the world
Our Molecular Future: How Nanotechnology, Robotics, Genetics and Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Our World “exponential changes that are about to be wrought by the nanotechnology and robotic revolutions, which promise to reduce the scale of computing to the nanometre, a billionth of a meter, while increasing computing power to almost unimaginable levels. The resulting convergence of genetics, robotics, and artificial intelligence may give us hitherto undreamed-of capacities to transform our environment and ourselves.”
Medicine and the New Genetics :“The potential for using genes themselves to treat disease–gene therapy–is the most exciting application of DNA science. It has captured the imaginations of the public and the biomedical community for good reason. This rapidly developing field holds great potential for treating or even curing genetic and acquired diseases, using normal genes to replace or supplement a defective gene or to bolster immunity to disease (e.g., by adding a gene that suppresses tumor growth).”
The very earliest ‘Intelligent’ Robotics have already arrived: Robot Scientist able to conduct research by itself. Semi-intelligent, self-directed robotic factory production will revolutionize material production. With little shipping costs to market and labor costs far below even China’s, manufacturing will have every incentive to return to the US or whatever market the manufacturer serves.
Robot builder could ‘print’ houses: “A robot for “printing” houses is to be tested by the construction industry. It takes instructions directly from an architect’s computerized drawings and then squirts successive layers of concrete on top of one other to build up vertical walls and domed roofs.
The precision automaton could revolutionize building sites. It can work round the clock, in darkness and without breaks. It needs only power and a constant feed of semi-liquid construction material.
The key to the technology is a computer-guided nozzle that deposits a line of wet concrete, like toothpaste being squeezed onto a table. Two trowels attached to the nozzle then move to shape the deposit. The robot repeats its journey many times to raise the height and builds hollow walls before returning to fill them.”
Advances in room temperature superconductivity will result in great benefits in applied science as well.
The Next Frontier: Expansion into space will be critical to expanding our production even further because of the little understood advantages it will offer. Manufacturing on the moon will offer unique manufacturing advantages due to the low gravity and ubiquitous vacuum, as well as providing a base for exploration of the solar system.
It turns out that The moon’s surface is full of the energy source helium-3, “If we could land the space shuttle on the moon, fill the cargo with canisters of helium-3 mined from the surface and bring the shuttle back to Earth, that cargo would supply the entire electrical power needs of the United States for an entire year,” says Gerald Kulcinski, a nuclear engineering professor and director of the Fusion Technology Institute at UW. (we don’t have fusion power yet but since its the process that the sun uses, its just a matter of time till we master it)
Fusion power will open the planets to exploration:
When we move out into deep space exploration of the solar system, an unimaginable amount of mineral wealth awaits; NASA reports that it has been estimated that the mineral wealth resident in the belt of asteroids between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter would be equivalent to about 100 billion dollars for every person on Earth today. Asteroid mining will be highly profitable; At 1997 prices, a relatively small metallic asteroid with a diameter of 1.6 km (0.99 mi) contains more than 20 trillion US dollars worth of industrial and precious metals. In fact, all the gold, cobalt, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, osmium, palladium, platinum, rhenium, rhodium, ruthenium, and tungsten that we now mine from the Earth’s crust, and that are essential for economic and technological progress, came originally from the rain of asteroids that hit the Earth after the crust cooled.
A comparatively small M-type asteroid with a mean diameter of 1km could contain more than two billion metric tons of iron–nickel ore, or two to three times the annual production for 2004. The asteroid 16 Psyche is believed to contain 1.7×1019 kg of nickel–iron, which could supply the 2004 world production requirement for several million years.
In 2006, the Keck Observatory announced that the binary Trojan asteroid 617 Patroclus, and possibly large numbers of other Jupiter Trojan asteroids, are likely extinct comets and consist largely of water ice. Similarly, Jupiter-family comets, and possibly near-Earth asteroids that are defunct comets, might also economically provide water. The process of in-situ resource utilization—using materials native to space for propellant, tankage, radiation shielding, and other high-mass components of space infrastructure—could lead to radical reductions in its cost.
Ice would satisfy one of two necessary conditions to enable “human expansion into the Solar System” (the ultimate goal for human space flight proposed by the 2009 “Augustine Commission” Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee): physical sustainability and economic sustainability.
Add all of these factors up and a ‘quantum leap’ in productivity is not a matter of if but of when productivity takes an exponential (1010) leap upwards.