Our overpopulated and uneducated world, where we are each struggling for survival while trampling nature, subscribing to selfish conspiracy theories, going through non-renewable resources with no care for coming generations, polluting with abandon, and reproducing like rabbits, is pretty depressing. I sometimes think of one of my favorite Hymns “Turn back, O man“. From an engineering perspective, our behavior is just not “elegant”. It is too late to revert to some (boring) bucolic luddite life in nature, we have opened Pandoras box. However, having been involved in the microcomputer and Internet revolutions from the beginning, I see exciting signs of certain new technologies that bode well. Here are a few predictions:
Fusion power will change everything, and soon:
Fusion power is now a certainty. No radioactive waste, no danger of meltdown, limitless fuel (water). Work at JET in Oxford, and other Tokamaks shows we know the basic physics. While ITER is too big, new ReBCO superconducting magnets are making clean limitless Fusion power possible on a practical scale. While we should keep pressing forward with wind and solar power, in my opinion they are anemic and will never provide sufficient base load energy to solve and reverse global climate change/warming, or fuel the future I would like to see, where love of nature and technical progress are complementary and in balance. Energy is key for much in our society; agriculture, construction, transportation, heavy industry (steel and aluminum), recycling waste, water desalination, residential heating and cooling, etc. Clean limitless power will enable and drive significant global changes for the better, eliminating oil politics, facilitating education in the developing world, catalyzing reduced population, reducing the abuse of nature for profit, etc.
To quote Dennis Whyte, Director of the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC):
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that economic fusion energy changes the world. It changes humanity’s relationship to energy and how we use energy. ”
Nice New Yorker article on Fusion:
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2021. Bringing Fusion to the U.S. Grid
An exciting example is the MIT SPARC project. SPARC is planned to be the first experimental device ever to achieve a “burning plasma” — that is, a self-sustaining fusion reaction in which different isotopes of hydrogen fuse together to form helium, without the need for any further input of energy.
(BTW, ReBCO magnets are also going to make possible MRI scanners in every doctor’s office… one day allowing a full body scan at your annual checkup, and thus early detection of cancer and other maladies that often go undetected until it is too late.)
The Internet and social media will improve:
The day of Internet giants such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon, who use our personal information for their profit, is limited. The Internet itself is an open technology, based on the IP datagram. In time technologies such as Block Chain Encryption, where no government, corporation or individual can control the “keys”, will break their monopolies because I believe people will naturally prefer services that preserve their own privacy. There is growing consensus that social media and search should be decentralized. For example the McCourt School at Georgetown, with Ford Foundation, and Aspen Institute, Project Liberty. Or the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Decentralized Social Networking Protocol (DSNP).
Tim Cook’s interview on the NYT “sway” podcast is interesting: Tim Cook on sway
Nice podcast on Crypto stuff and social media: A Crypto Optimist and a Crypto Skeptic Walk Into a Podcast Studio
Streaming Media will eventually reverse the dumbing down:
I have faith in people. Today, for profit linear television intentionally tailors its content offerings in such a way to maximize revenue by creating content that appeals to the widest audience. Video is becoming an extension of the web, and viewers will now have a choice of what and when they watch. I believe that in time, given a choice, the masses will evolve to watch higher quality more fulfilling content and tire of “least common denominator” commercial broadcast television.