probably 6,000 years ago in the present day Iraq when humans first started to
store knowledge outside their brains in any meaningful way. Sumerian cuneiform
was written on wet clay tablets and then baked with fire. Before that all human
wisdom, experiences, stories and myths were mainly transferred by the word of
mouth, person to person. This new invention made it possible for us to speak
beyond the bounds of time and space. Other writing systems of the day like Egyptian
Hieroglyphs and Chinese Pictographs also used materials at hand. These were either
etched on stone or written on animal hides and tree barks (papyrus, bamboo).
Then in the 2nd century A.D. paper was invented in China.
Transmission of knowledge became much simpler with that as paper was quite
easier to produce and transport. Next breakthrough came in 1440 AD Germany. The
foundations of our modern era rest upon the mass production of books through
Gutenberg’s printing press.
creation of World Wide Web in 1990 is considered fourth such great leap forward
in human history. Availability of knowledge at the touch of a button is
hallmark of this era. This
transformation is barely 25 years old and the next revolution is already on the
horizon. Some experts believe that the
coming convergence of our mobile and social data with AI and big data
technologies will evolve us into Homo digitas. Humans, who will heavily rely
upon digital networks and augmented intelligence through wearable and implanted
devices. Others envision a future in which human intellectual and physical
capacities will be greatly enhanced using novel technologies. They prefer the term of
Transhumans for that. After all, we are already using Cochlear implants to
restore hearing to the deaf, retinal implants to restore sight, heart pacemakers;
technology laced functional limbs and artificial joints. Gamers are using tDCS
(transcranial direct current stimulation) to score higher. Students are using
memory enhancing drugs to concentrate better. Experiments to decode brainwaves
into recognizable visual fields have already been done.
forward to the future and neural interfaces, targeted gene editing and brain
implants are not unthinkable. Most of us would feel anxiety and alarm towards
such outlandish visions and would prefer to remain natural and unaltered. But
the temptations of perfect memory recall, seamless access to the internet and
instant mastery of skills would be too hard to ignore for some. Newer
generations would be much more comfortable with tomorrow’s technologies. Most
of our education is about memorizing basic facts. Actual learning and
creativity comes much later. Imagine what can be achieved if we can skip that
first part and jump straight into ingenuity and originality.
Intelligence programs are also becoming smarter with each passing year. Today’s
personal digital assistants like Cortana, Siri and Echo are going to evolve into
Iron man's JARVIS like partners. Ordinary human beings would be having hard time
functioning in that kind of world. Perhaps future belongs to the super smart
machines and hybrids human or post humans. Perhaps such developments would be
deemed too dangerous for the fear of hostile AI and dystopian future. Complete ban on such technologies is also
possible. We clearly don’t know about these things at this point in
time. Future is in the flux and it will take a course that our collective
wisdom would decide for us.
Twenty-five years ago, the world was technologically quite simple as compared to the present day. It was a place without the widespread use of PCs, internet, mobile phones, satellite TV, social networking and all things related. Politically, it was a very segmented, divided and fractured extent due to the existence of different blocks, curtains and walls. Now it seems quite hard to believe that at that time there was a rival superpower to the US; the mighty Soviet Union. For half a century after WWII, all global affairs were being governed through the interactions between these rival powers. Then within a span of a few years, Berlin wall came down, Soviet Union collapsed and iron curtain was lifted. Consequently, China opened up and decided to pursue a mixed economy. Coupled with the above mentioned technological changes in the 1990’s, the whole world became accessible to everyone. Smart nations and organizations took advantage of this changed scenario and forged ahead. In the words of Thomas L Friedman ‘the world became flat’.
So can we predict the shape of things 25 years from now? It is difficult to tell for certain. Perhaps it was Niels Bohr who said that “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”. Future slowly creeps over us in small increments and it is hard to discern its course. But it has not deterred anyone to prophesize about such matters. I am equally amazed by the human capability to assimilate new technologies and embrace new ideas. The things that are once the domain of science fiction; can easily become everyday stuff within a span of few years. Here is my take on the next 25 years.
In my view, the fields are Robotics and AI, Space Technology, Synthetic Biology, 3D Printing, Nanotechnology and Clean Energy are going to shape our future. I would like to speculate about few of these. By 2040, there should be permanent or semi permanent human settlements on Moon and Mars. Perhaps commercial asteroid mining would propel us deeper into the solar system. Bulk of this new age of exploration is expected to come from the private enterprises. If technologies like EmDrive hold some promise, then the whole solar system can virtually become a human playground. However, going beyond our solar neighborhood is not possible by any reasonable timescale through today’s technologies. Interstellar travel will require something above and beyond our present knowledge. There are also a number of places within our solar system that have huge reservoirs of liquid water. There is a chance that we might find some kind of extraterrestrial life within our solar system. Places like Jovian and Saturn Moons of Europa, Ganymede, Enceladus and Titan hold a lot of potential.
Robotic revolution is upon us and with the passing of each year it is going to infiltrate more and more spheres of life. Driverless cars are going to be commercially available in the next 2 to 4 years. By 2040, it is possible that human driving might become prohibited in the parts of the developed world. Similarly, driving, cleaning, cooking, care-takers and companions robots might become as numerous as today’s personal computers and mobile phones. Virtual and Augmented realities are in their infancy at present. By 2040, a fully immersive Star Trek like Holodeck is within the realm of possibility.
There is also a consensus around the world to adopt cleaner sources of energy. In the next 25 years, the era of fossil fuels should be coming to an end. This is not promising forecast for the oil export dependent monarchies and dictatorships around the world. The adaptation of these newer and cleaner sources would sound death knell for them.
The years to come are going to witness space tourism, space-based Solar Power, genomic medicine, 3D printed organs, anti-aging drugs, reading minds and photographing dreams, digital brain downloads, resurrection of extinct life-forms and creating new ones, implantable communication devices, universal translators, vertical Farms, robotic armies, quantum computers, fusion reactors, space elevators and much more. Seeds of all these technologies has already been planted. It seems that an era of explosive innovations is just ahead. It is going to lead us towards a new age of wonder where everything seems plausible.
But not all the future scenarios are rosy ones. There are a number of things that can go wrong. Things like global financial meltdown, severe ecological consequences, new cold and hot wars including cyber warfare can halt and may even reverse the march of technology and development. Still I am an optimist and I believe that human ingenuity can surpass these hurdles and built us a better future. 2040 would be a year worth living for.