Decades of future science


Science Cloud science? Solar-power primacy? Affordable clean-energy cars? Space colonies? Super-centenarians galore? These are some of the visions put forward for the next 50 years in science and technology. The past 50 years have set a precedent of sorts for the next half-century: Back in 1960, folks may have assumed their children would be riding rockets to other planets, finding signs of alien life and interacting with intelligent machines – all of which are featured in Arthur C. Clarke's “2010: Odyssey Two” as well as the film based on the book.

The issues that scientists and engineers faced from then up to now have turned out to be more complex than they seemed in 1960. Getting to the moon wasn't a sustainable proposition, and right now it's not clear when anyone will ride a U.S.-made rocket out of Earth orbit again. The evidence for life or even livability beyond Earth is still not in hand, although there have been tantalizing hints from Mars. And for better or worse, machines have not yet reached anything close to HAL 9000's level of intelligence. That doesn't mean scientists have been standing still: In some ways, we've come farther in the past half-century than we did in any previous century – as evidenced by this 50-year timeline of discovery. Among the leading fields have been medicine and genetics, information technology and cosmology.

In the next 50 years, we may well fall short of the breakthroughs we expect – but unexpected discoveries will pop up to keep life interesting. Here are a few of your predictions for the next decade and the next half-century:

Jeff Simmons, San Diego: Augmented reality (textual/graphical information superimposed over reality) will become an integral part of our lives. Once interfaces such as glasses, windshields and other mobile surfaces become display technologies connected wirelessly to mobile devices (think smartphones on steroids) we will come to depend on this flow of just-in-time information: Want to work on your car's engine? View a schematic that gives you the part's location and the steps to carry out. Looking at a product? See comparative pricing and reviews. Looking at a piece of art? Learn more about the artwork and the artist. Looking at a person you've met before? See their name, where you last met, birthdate, etc. … and the list goes on.

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