The Year Formerly Known as the Future, 2000

David Bauer pens a great post on how far distant the year 2000 seems to be when we consider the details:

On your way to the office, you make a quick stop at a café to meet a friend (the only digital certification of your friendship being the fact that you are in each other’s limited contacts on the mobile phone).

She tells you about this great band she discovered yesterday (no, not from Brooklyn — even hipsters yet had to discover them). She pulls out her phone to show you a video of the band. Actually, she doesn’t, video doesn’t look so great on a 84×48 pixel monochrome display. Also,YouTube was far from invented.

«No problem, I already have it on my iPod», she says. She lies, to be precise. The iPod doesn’t exist in 2000, either. If you had an Mp3-Player in 2000, it was probably a Rio and looked ridiculous.

Well then, you pull out your laptop to check for the band on Napster, because this, after all, exists (and soars) in 2000. Too bad the café doesn’t have WiFi (you own one of the first laptops that would support it). Turns out, in 2000 cafés either offer coffee or internet, but rarely both.

Your friend promises to burn you a CD with some of the band’s songs and bring it along next time you meet. To send them over email is not possible because the files are too large. And it’s not like there a simple service to transfer them online (your idea of inventing Dropbox before someone else does seems even brighter now).

My favorite bit was about relying on Encarta to get your encyclopedia knowledge! So true (and I loved using Encarta). I still have the CD version of it in my attic. Anyone remember playing through the awesome MindMaze game built into Encarta? Those were the days…

Speaking of the year 2000, the TV show Beyond 2000 was one of my favorites in the 1990s.

Our Underground Future?

Buried nuclear plants? Underground stadiums? The next great frontier will be underground, especially if the human population can’t find a way, above ground, to house the estimated 9.3 billion people by 2050:

The federal government has taken an interest, convening a panel of specialists under the banner of the National Academy of Engineering to produce a report, due out later this year, on the potential uses for America’s underground space, and in particular its importance in building sustainable cities. The long-term vision is one in which the surface of the earth is reserved for the things we want to see and be around—houses, schools, yards, parks—while all the other facilities that are needed to make a city run, from water treatment plants to data banks to freight systems, hum away underground.

Though the basic idea has existed for decades, new engineering techniques and an increasing interest in sustainable urban growth have created fresh momentum for what once seemed like a notion out of Jules Verne. And the world has witnessed some striking new achievements. The city of Almere, in the Netherlands, built an underground trash network that uses suction tubes to transport waste out of the city at 70 kilometers per hour, making garbage trucks unnecessary. In Malaysia, a sophisticated new underground highway tunnel doubles as a discharge tunnel for floodwater. In Germany, a former iron mine is being converted into a nuclear waste repository, while scientists around the world explore the possibility of building actual nuclear power plants underground.

Very interesting, but consider the criticism:

But even the most avid proponents of underground development agree that it’s unlikely that underground housing or even office space will become common any time soon—too many people feel unsafe, claustrophobic, or disoriented spending extended periods of time underground. Indeed, being in a confined space can be risky when something goes wrong. One study found that although traffic accidents are less frequent in tunnels than on open roads, the chances of being killed in such an accident are higher. Fire can also be particularly perilous when it breaks out underground—a 2003 arson incident in a Seoul metro station left almost 200 dead—which means it’s crucial to have in place powerful ventilation systems, well-defined emergency procedures, and a high degree of compartmentalization, to prevent the spread of smoke and flames.

As for the more psychological effects of underground life, engineers and designers are chipping away at the problem of how to make underground facilities feel less alienating. Working on the design of an underground research laboratory in South Dakota, where scientists would be spending long hours 8,000 feet under the earth’s surface, Craig Covil—a principal at the engineering firm Arup, who is also working on the LowLine—said he and his team considered imaginative design techniques involving air flow, acoustics, and light that would essentially “trick” people’s senses and reduce the discomfort they might otherwise feel.

Good read.

Innovations That Will Change Your Tomorrow

The New York Times has an excellent infographic showcasing 32 inventions that “will change your tomorrow.” The presentation and text behind the inventions is excellent. Here are the ones that stood out in my mind:

#10: Doctor on Board.Your car is already able to call for help when an accident occurs, but within a few years, it’ll tip paramedics off to probable injuries too. E.M.T.’s would know the likelihood of internal bleeding or traumatic head injury, for example, before arriving on the scene, which would help them decide whether to move you to a Level 1 trauma center or a standard emergency room.

This one is a real surprise to me:

#16: Your Body, Your Login. A team of Dutch and Italian researchers has found that the way you move your phone to your ear while answering a call is as distinct as a fingerprint. You take it up at a speed and angle that’s almost impossible for others to replicate. Which makes it a more reliable password than anything you’d come up with yourself. 

Is a world without hangovers a good thing?

#20: A world without hangovers. Researchers at Imperial College London are closing in on a formula for a new kind of booze — synthetic alcohol, it’s called — that would forever eliminate the next morning’s headache (not to mention other problems associated with drinking). The team, led by David Nutt, a psychiatrist and former British drug czar, has identified six compounds similar to benzodiazepines — a broad class of psychoactive drugs — that won’t get you rip-roaring drunk but will definitely provide a buzz.

Fire extinguishers contain toxic chemicals, so:

#27. A new firefighter.According to the program’s manager, Dr. Matt Goodman, an electric field destabilizes the flame’s underlying structure rather than blanketing the fire to smother it. Eventually, the technology could be used to create escape routes or extinguish fires without damaging sensitive equipment nearby.

See all of the 32 inventions here. Excellent list and food for thought.

Predicting the Future of Computing

The New York Times has a fascinating interactive post on where you, the reader, can submit snippets on what you expect to happen in the field of computer in the near (and distant) future.

Here are some predictions I see, as of current viewing (readers can vote the prediction up or down in terms of when they think the event will happen):

2015: The price and availability of computers will be such that more than half of the world’s people will have one.

2017: Mobile web browsing on phones surpasses desktop browsing.

2019: Irrefutable evidence will show that computers consistently make more accurate diagnoses than specialists in all branches of medicine, including psychiatry.

2023:  The most common forms of cancer will be treated with a personalized therapy based on genetic sequencing. A patient’s therapy will be retargeted every six months as a result of resequencing the cancer to track its inevitable evolution.

2029: Your entire medical history from birth till death will be collectively combined in one universal system and available to all your different doctors.

2035: Most people will own and use a Personal Life Recorder which will store full video and audio of their daily lives. This will be a fully searchable archive that will radically augment a person’s effective memory.

2041: Cash will become illegal, replaced with electric currency. [Bizarre prediction!]

2071: Humans will be able to implant their dogs’ brains with a neurological device such that the images of what the dog is thinking appear on a special contact lens the dog owner is wearing.

2106: Medical advances will permit the first human to live for a period of 200 years or more.

2154: Humans will become so integrated with electronics that more people will die from computer viruses in a year than from biological viruses.

2180: Old knowledge will not have to be learned; only new knowledge will need to be created. Learning will become obsolete. All known knowledge will be contained on a super computer. Individuals can download all known knowledge pertaining to any subject directly to the brain as desired.

2225: Artificial Intelligence is awarded full citizenship.

2283: Abundance happens. Digital and physical sciences produce abundance so great that wealth becomes meaningless as a difference between people.

2416: Thought-based communication surpasses spoken and typed communication.

What do you think is the coolest prediction from above? Which one is unlikely to happen in the next 400 years?

If you have a New York Times account, you can submit your own predictions. You can vote up/down predictions without an account. It’s a fascinating experiment!