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Saturday, September 25, 2010

8 Reasons to Not Die

If you’ve been considering dying recently, I strongly urge against it.  First of all, it’s far more expensive than you think.  But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it turns out that you’ve selected an unbelievably cool time to be alive.

This exists.  The future will look even cooler.
Science is moving so fast now that we’ve almost become numb to the pace of innovation.  Every few months a new revolution in consumer technology appears.  It seems in the past ten years we’ve experienced more breakthroughs than we saw in the previous fifty.  Of course, that half-century had already seen more breakthroughs than the human race managed in a quarter of a millennia so it seems fair to say that there is something of an exponential increase going on here.

So what wonders lurk beyond the thin veil of the future?  It’s impossible to say, of course, but there are technologies in existence today that inch closer and closer to the mass market with each passing minute.  Here are a few examples of the futurey awesomeness that might await:

If you survive until 2011, you might see…

 #1:  The Kinect 

Alright, so this is sort of the low hanging fruit of futurism.  After all, the Kinect is already being manufactured en masse with an eye toward a consumer launch in early October.  You might not have to make it until 2011 to see them, but considering the tortuous lack of availability that seems to accompany major revolutions in home video game technology, most of us will be waiting a few extra months.

So what is the Kinect?  This is the X-Box component that will allow players to stand in front of their televisions while a camera captures their movements and uses them to direct the character within the game.  In other words, if you’re playing a fighting game, you will actually have to punch and kick to defeat your opponent.

How the heck do you suppose they keep
that white room so spotless?
We’ve been moving in this direction for quite some time, but this might offer the first real opportunity to play a hands free video game.  It will also allow guys all over America to finally answer that nagging question about how they would fair if suddenly attacked by a random group of ninjas.

If you can survive until 2012, you might see…

 #2:  The Application Phase of the Human Genome Project 

The Human Genome Project is likely the single most mind-boggling undertaking in the history of human thought.  Identifying the 20,000-25,000 genes in human DNA and determining the sequence of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make it up was only the beginning.

Many have been led to believe that this event was oversold since the actual mapping of the genome was completed almost ten years ago.  Those who expected immediate breakthroughs were disappointed to learn that going through the data might take as long as gathering it.

This actually has nothing to do with the Human Genome Project,
but it looked sufficiently complicated to make the point.

But now even that phase in nearing completion and already practical applications for the information unearthed are being tested.  While nobody can say for certain what specific benefits will arise from these continued research, scientists speculate that we will discover new and more effective ways of diagnosing, treating and outright preventing thousands of the diseases and genetic disorders that afflict us, but that is only the beginning.  In addition to health-care, this research will almost certainly lead to revolutions in agriculture, energy production, anthropology and forensics.  No word yet on whether or not it will help us understand German humor.

If you can survive until 2015, you might see…

 #3:  Genuine Jetpacks 

Yes, I’m talking about the ones they promised us back in the eighties.  And we’re also not talking about those underwhelming stunt packs that can carry you some eighty feet in the air and stay afloat for twenty five seconds either.  We’re talking about functional, commercially available jetpacks.

I know this is a tough one to believe because it has been a favorite of futurists for so long.  I would not have included it all except for the fact that they already exist.  The Martin Aircraft company has a working model (not a prototype) that will take you 8000 feet in the air and hold enough fuel to fly for thirty minutes at upwards of sixty miles per hour.  They run on regular unleaded and they are available to buy right now for the surprisingly reasonable price of $86,000.

Buy one quick before the FAA
starts regulating them!!
So why do you have to wait until 2015?  Well, you actually don’t.  Not only could you go out and buy one of these bad boys right now and you don’t even need a pilots license to fly it.  Of course, most of us are not going to spend eighty-six grand on a jetpack, but it seems a safe bet that sometime very soon you will start seeing recreational jet-pack parks popping up.  It might cost you a few hundred bucks or even a few thousand, but in the next five years you could be renting a jetpack on vacation instead of a jetski.

If you can survive until 2020, you might see…

 #4:  Quantum Computers 

Again, this is a technology that already exists on the small scale.  While it is not commercially feasible just yet, the concept has been proven to work and functional prototypes already exist.  I cannot begin to understand how and why such surreal concepts can work in the real world, so short of copying and pasting a technical explanation, I can’t offer you much insight on how this revolution is taking place.

But I can give you an idea what the consequences will be.  Traditional computers are getting about as small as they can get.  The microchip can’t get much more micro without being too small to get single electrons through its wiring without hopping over and shorting the whole thing out.  Quantum computers promise to solve this problem by using ‘quibits’, which, by my reading seem to be magical particles that consist of fairy dust and unicorn tears.

They look like this, I think.

The point is speed.  These suckers are so fast that they will be measured in something called (I swear I didn’t make this up) ‘teraflops’ (as opposed to the mere ‘gigaflops’ that you’re computer is measured in now).  We’re talking about the ability to increase the processing speed by four or five orders of magnitude.  One summary suggested that the data that could be calculated by a quantum computer in a few minutes would take a digital computer as much time as it took the universe to get from the big bang to the Sham-Wow. least I didn't make another Snuggie joke.

If you can survive until 2025, you might see…

 #5: Domestic Robots 

Again, we’re talking about a technology that already exists on some levels.  It is estimated that by the end of 2009 there were nearly 4 million domestic robots already in use.  Of course, these numbers are for things like the Roomba.  I’m talking about things like Rosie from the Jetsons.

So what can we realistically expect robots to do for us in 2025?  They can already sweep and vacuum and robots that gather and load laundry are already in limited use (nothing to get too excited about, they don’t work very well).  But given the advancements in robotic locomotion demonstrated by Honda’s Asimo and DARPA’s Big Dog, it’s pretty easy to imagine a robot that can move through your home with the same ease that you do (when you’re on the wagon, that is).

The locomotion was the big issue.  Voice recognition technology is advancing in leaps and bounds, facial recognition software is nearly perfected and computers already have plenty of processing power to store all the functions you would want from your maid-bot from loading your dishwasher to cleaning your windows to changing your baby’s diaper… or your diaper depending on your age.

This robot is free to change my diaper any time.

If you can survive until 2030, you might see…

 #6: Capes come back into style 

Clearly, this one has nothing to do with technology.  But who doesn’t want to wear a cape?  Why else would we have Halloween?  At some point in the future somebody cool enough to be the trendsetter is going to go cape and the world will never go back.

Capes have been a part of the human wardrobe on and off for at least eight centuries and are long overdue for a comeback.  We should try to keep perspective on this.  It has only been over the last sixty or seventy years that capes have become the sole domain of superheroes, nerds and other people who wear their underwear on the outside of their pants.  Until then they were symbolic of royalty, high birth or being a vampire.

But somebody has to be the brave pioneer and it can’t be a skinny 35-year old white dude (otherwise I’d be so on this).  Someone who has already achieved some sort of style credibility will have to risk it on the cape for this dream to be realized.  I suspect this will probably take at least twenty years.

This guy certainly isn't helping.

If you survive until 2040, you might see…

#7: Lunar Tourism

The absolute pinnacle of awesome-ocity, the ability to vacation on the moon is surprisingly possible.  The technology to establish a permanent and eventually self sustaining colony on the moon already exists and while the US has largely ceded space exploration, there are plenty of Asian nations happy to pick up where we left off.

In order for a lunar colony to work, it would have to be profitable.  Solar energy production, scientific research and mining are all promising exports for the moon, but these all pale in comparison for the potential profitability of tourists on the moon.

Why would you be reading this caption?
Look back at the picture.  It's awesome!

Sure, moon people would then have to put up with folks stopping at the top of escalators to take pictures, but think of the potential.  On the moon you would experience one seventh of the earth’s gravity.  You could hop off of the equivalent of a four-story building and land comfortably on the ground.  A trampoline would bounce you sixty feet in the air and not turn you into a gruesome pancake if you missed the landing.  And that’s after the weightless ride to and from!

If you survive until 2050, you might see…

 #8: Invisible Airplanes 

Okay, okay, so you wouldn’t see the invisible airplanes, but you may well ride in one.  If you can believe this, Airbus is touting this as an honest-to-Google possibility as early as 2050.  And we’re talking about full-blown Wonder Woman style invisible jets here.

Artist's rendering.

Your first thought might be “what the hell is the point?” but consider how incredibly cool it would be to get on a regular airplane, board, take off and then, at 30,000 feet, the pilot hits a button and suddenly you’re staring out the side of the plane with an unobstructed view of the ocean (providing they’ve also found a way to make the fat, smelly, talkative guy next to you transparent as well).  If that does not impress you consider the same scene at night.

Now, like all of these things, I don’t know if I completely accept the whole invisible airplane notion.  If these predictions are anything to go on, futurists have been getting it wrong for a long time.  But there is one thing I can say for certain.  If you see the next forty years of human history you will see technology that not even the most creative of minds can yet conceive.

It is truly an incredible time to be alive.  If you look hard enough for it, each day you can find a new boundary of knowledge giving way, a new technology emerging, a convenience undreamt of a few decades before.  We have scarcely scratched the surface of the advancements that nanotechnology, microbiology, robotics, genetic research and medical science have to offer us in the coming years.

Awesome new stuff you can't afford.
And if that’s not enough to convince you, consider that all the awesome new stuff that you can’t afford will soon be awesome old stuff that you can afford.

Aaron Davies

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  1. I remember that song "2525". It sounds like it's coming true a lot sooner than any of us could have imagined.
    I really do enjoy reading your blog. You have a truly slanted view of the world and I find that intriquing. I keep waiting for you to really spread your wings. You should achieve heights that you've only glimpsed so far.
    Keep it up, you're doing fine.

  2. I want to wear a cape.. lol