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On the Horizon: Futures Report

Posted in Key Findings, On the Horizon

CyborgThe U.S. Intelligence Community Sees Cyborg World Ahead

Man-machine interfaces in the form of artificial limbs is just the beginning of what The National Intelligence Council is predicting for our world in 2030. People may choose retinal eye implants that enable night vision, or neuro-enhancements that provide superior memory recall or super fast thinking; brain-machine interfaces may give people super-human strength or speed, or new functions yet to be invented. (Was Lance Armstrong just ahead of his time?) In its Global Trends 2030 report, the council explores a variety of alternative worlds of the future where humans may embed themselves in robots; nation-states lose their oomph, giving way to “megacities,” many of which may materialize from scratch; and advances in synthetic biology pose threats of biohacking, bioterror, if not bioerror. Most future scenarios are apolitical bets on which technology will leap ahead of others over the next 17 years. (www.wired.com)

soybeantires.183905“Coolest Thing Seen in Chemistry in Long Time:” Water Purified with Soybean Oil

On the list of Scientific American’s World Changing Ideas of 2012 are a number of practical breakthroughs (not pie-in-the-sky notions) proven or prototyped, and poised to scale up greatly according to its editors. One such discovery by MIT Ph.D. candidate Anurag Bajpayee, is a simple process that uses an unusual class of oils to remove contaminates from water and promises to be a real game changer for water treatment. The process, still being refined, could be a major boon to cities, industries and agricultural operations that produce huge amounts of dirty water — offering new less-energy intensive and cheaper methods of cleaning that water. The key is the carbon backbone of the oils, a fatty acid, or more precisely, one end of the molecule known as a carboxylic acid group that forms a hydrogen bond with water. “It surprised me that it actually works,” says organic chemist Jean-Claude Bradley of Drexel University. “It’s the coolest thing I’ve seen in chemistry for a long time.” Bajpayee is now focused on a decanoic acid which occurs naturally in milk and turns even the saltiest brines into fresh water. Targeting the mining and oil and gas industries, including fracking, that produce nine billion liters of contaminated water daily, Bajpayee is on a mission “to beat the cost of the cheapest alternative, which right now is dumping.” (ScientificAmerican.com)

what-future-be-like-vi.183848What is Your Vision of the World in 2112?

Average readers of the BBC’s news magazine were asked to predict life 100 years from now. The publication boiled down all suggestions to a top twenty list and then let two experts on the future (futurologists Ian Pearson and Patrick Tucker, World Future Society) weigh in on the predictions. Here are some that were deemed a good chance — oceans will be extensively farmed and not just for fish; we will communicate through thoughts; advances in robotic engineering and DNA access, humans will be incredibly intelligent and immortal; and we will control the weather. Predictions that have a lesser chance: there will be a single worldwide currency; women will be routinely impregnated by artificial insemination rather than by a man; marriage will be replaced by an annual contract and sovereign nation states will cease to exist. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16536598)

Curated by Pamela McConathy Schied, MS, Futures Studies in Commerce, College of Technology, University of Houston; Principal, Foresight Communications Group, pam@thinkforesight.com

Bullets

  • Prepare to relate to your laptop and smart phone in a whole new way. IBM predicts that by 2018, we will enter an era of cognitive computing where your computer will be able to hear you and know you are talking to it. Computers will also be able to smell, see and understand images, and taste and even predict what kinds of food you like based on your eating habits. Cognitive technologies will also enable you to touch objects through a smart phone. “The point isn’t to replicate human brains…rather, humans and machines will collaborate to produce better results,” says IBM researchers. (www.dailymail.co.uk)
  • Some schools now track students via ID cards embedded with RFID chips. While not yet in broad use for tracking people, Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFIDs) are beginning to be used to track students on campuses throughout the U.S. Mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to monitor livestock, RFIDs are fast becoming a part of passports, libraries and payment cards. Several schools in California and Texas, including the Spring Independent School District near Houston, are currently using RFID-chip-embedded-student-ID-cards for safety reasons and to measure average daily attendance tied to state-funded budgets. (www.wired.com)
  • Are we living in a massive computer-generated universe? It’s a concept that’s been debated for centuries, from Plato to Descartes, who hypothesized the world we see around us could be generated by an ‘evil demon.’ The concept is still alive today and most recently associated with computer simulation and a 2003 paper published in Philosophical Quarterly by Nick Bostrom, philosophy professor at the University of Oxford. As Carl Sagan said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. (www.dailygalaxy.com; New Scientist; and technologyreview.com)
  • This concrete gives new meaning to green building construction. Researchers at Barcelona’s Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) have developed a biological concrete engineered to easily grow vegetation. In recent years, green building construction has included various techniques for growing vegetation on buildings to capture CO2, provide insulation and for esthetic reasons. However, such designs required added support structures and additional maintenance. The new product is regular concrete with some ingredient tweaks, uniquely layered to capture rain water and needs no additional support or maintenance. (http://www.fastcoexist.com)

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