Passwords will be obsolete. IBM says it will happen in five years. Who are we to disagree? Apple and Google are designing face-recognition software for cellphones. DARPA is researching the dynamics of keystrokes. Others are looking into retinal scans, voiceprints, and heartbeats.
Drones will protect endangered species. Guarding at-risk animals from poachers with foot patrols is expensive and dangerous. This summer rangers in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park previewed a savvy solution: Hand-launched drones armed with cameras and GPS provided aerial surveillance of threatened Indian rhinos.
Vegetarians and carnivores will dine together on synthetic meats. We’re not talking about tofu. We’re talking about nutritious, low-cost substitutes that look and taste just like the real thing. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has already invested in Beyond Meat, which makes plant-based chicken strips so convincing they almost fooled New York Times food writer Mark Bittman.
Contact lenses will grant us Terminator vision. When miniaturization reaches its full potential, achieving superhuman eyesight will be as simple as placing a soft lens on your eye. Early prototypes feature wirelessly powered LEDs. But circuits and antennas can also be grafted onto flexible polymer, enabling zooming, night vision, and visible data fields.
All 130 million books on the planet will be digitized. In 2010 Google planned to complete the job by decade’s end, but as of March it still had 110 million tomes to go, so we’re adding wiggle room. You might use the time to shop for storage, because given today’s options and the average size of an e-book (3 MB), you’ll need 124 3-terabyte drives to carry the library of humanity with you. It won’t fit into a backpack, but it’s small enough to schlep in a hockey bag.
The refrigerator will place your grocery order.
The carpet will detect intruders and summon help if you fall.
Lawn sensors will tell you which part of your yard to fertilize.
The electric meter will monitor local power consumption and help you make full use of off-peak rates.
An ion engine will reach the stars. If you’re thinking of making the trip to Alpha Centauri, pack plenty of snacks. At 25.8 trillion miles, the voyage requires more than four years of travel at light speed, and you won’t be going nearly that fast. To complete the journey, you’ll have to rely on a scaled-up version of the engine on the Deep Space 1 probe, launched in 1998. Instead of liquid or solid fuel, the craft was propelled by ions of xenon gas accelerated by an electric field.
Scientists will map the quadrillion connections between the brain’s neurons. Quadrillion sounds like a made-up number, but we assure you it’s real. Those connections hold the answers to questions about mental illness, learning, and the whole nature versus nurture issue. If every one of them were a penny, you could stack them and build a tower 963 million miles high. It would stretch past Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn and stop roughly halfway to Uranus.
THE PM BRAIN TRUST SAYS:
WITHIN 20 YEARS…
Self-driving cars will hit the mainstream market.
Battles will be waged without direct human participation (think robots or unmanned aerial vehicles).
The first fully functional brain-controlled bionic limb will arrive.
WITHIN 30 YEARS…
All-purpose robots will help us with household chores.
Space travel will become as affordable as a round-the-world plane ticket.
Soldiers will use exoskeletons to enhance battlefield performance.
WITHIN 40 YEARS…
Nanobots will perform medical procedures inside our bodies.
WITHIN 50 YEARS…
We will have a colony on Mars.
Doctors will successfully transplant a lab-grown human heart.
We will fly the friendly skies without pilots onboard.
And renewable energy sources will surpass fossil fuels in electricity generation.
WITHIN 60 YEARS…
Digital data (texts, songs, etc.) will be zapped directly into our brains.
We will activate the first fusion power plant.
And we will wage the first battle in space.
WITHIN 100 YEARS…
The last gasoline-powered car will come off the assembly line.