The Coming Thing

In your opinion, what are the most interesting possibilities coming up in science and technology? With an emphasis on things that have practical value. Two categories: Biology and not-biology. Show your work. Be prepared to argue, as always.

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111 Responses to The Coming Thing

  1. JayMan says:

    Gene hunting, gene-editing, and peering into history with genetic data. I think much has been said to these ends around here and on the innerwebs, or did you have something more specific in mind? 🙂

    • (Jayman): “… peering into history …”
      Perhaps statistical analysis could find bottlenecks at different times for different regional varieties of human. Perhaps some regional varieties of human adjusted to shifts in available nutrients at different, identifiable times. Could shifts in immune system regulation identify prehistoric contact between different human populations (e.g., did Africans or Polynesians make it to the Americas before 1492)?

  2. DdR says:

    I wish you’d give more thought to the aging question. Your few posts concerning this topic have been enlightening and beg a lot of questions. Why doesn’t the U.S. create a Manhattan Project for aging? Would it be that much more difficult to unearth this mystery versus an atomic bomb? And most chronic diseases are those of an aging body, e.g., heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, etc. Yet, instead of getting to the root of the problem, we divert a tremendous amount of resources to treat the symptoms with middling success.

    In biology I would argue the discovery of senescent cells and consequently the development of senolytic drugs may prove to be low-hanging fruit that would yield improvements to an aging population suffering from chronic diseases.

    • Ursiform says:

      “Why doesn’t the U.S. create a Manhattan Project for aging? Would it be that much more difficult to unearth this mystery versus an atomic bomb?”

      I think they are very different things. The Manhattan project was tasked with figuring out how to take a known physical process, fission, and make a bomb out of it. A huge technical challenge, but with a clear starting point and a clear goal.

      A project for aging would be more like the (failed) war on cancer. Cancer turned out not to be a thing to be cured, but rather a collection of things requiring different cures. Aging has many aspects, and probably would require many approaches. A centralized project probably isn’t the answer.

  3. saintonge235 says:

            Really fast and cheap genetic sequencing, combined with in vivo gene editing.

            Reasons: first, it will do an end-run around the blocking of research into biological causes of human difference.  When you can show that gene X, or gene combination X,Y, and Z is means a very high/low level of some capability or high/low likelihood of behavior, the truth will get out whether the research funders like it or not.

            As for in vivo gene editing, see this story from Britain.  Children were tested at three years old for intelligence, language and motor skills, &ntheir levels of tolerance, restlessness, impulsivity and social disadvantage.  The one fifth with the lowest scores grew up to receive “81% of criminal convictions; ; three quarters of drug prescriptions; two thirds of welfare benefit payments and more than half of nights in hospital.”  The people who did the study say they had “mild neurological deficits.”  Here we probably are seeing the results of a large number of slightly defective genes, as you mentioned in the
    “Too Much Diversity” and “The Genetics of Stupidity” posts.  Potentially a huge drop in the number who are “drains on society.”

  4. Greying Wanderer says:

    not biology

    something pioneer and syfy looking that might inspire youngsters like
    (prototypes of)
    – underwater city
    – floating city
    – city inside a mountain
    – antarctic city
    – orbital city
    – moon base
    probably best if it could be spun as green in some way



    go through every failed and successful drug trial and check if particular side-effects correlate with individual genes

    • Ursiform says:

      What would be the real goal of any of those types of cities? If we need more cities, there are lots of places left on Earth where it is easier to build a city than any of those. You seem to be proposing large engineering programs for the sake of large engineering programs.

      North Korea already pretty much has a military industrial complex inside a mountain, by the way.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        i think inspiration is a thing in itself so something large and syfy looking but yes the real reason would be practise for space

        “North Korea already pretty much has a military industrial complex inside a mountain, by the way.”

        yeah i wasn’t thinking military bunker-like – i was thinking apartments around the outer edge with giant windows and views and lots of light shafts and mirrors internally – work areas in the middle etc – like a rock sky scraper

        maybe Japan – they need living space and have lots of mountains

        • Ursiform says:

          The population of Japan is shrinking. They don’t need new cities.

          • Greying Wanderer says:

            and maybe part of the reason the population is shrinking is they don’t have enough flat land

            • Ursiform says:

              Villages are turning into ghost towns because no one wants the houses already there. So, no, I don’t think so.

              • Greying Wanderer says:

                rural areas depopulating isn’t the same thing imo

                generally major cities aren’t built near mountains but given the topography of Japan

                there’s bound to be a city somewhere that’s crowded and can’t expand easily in a particular direction cos there’s a mountain in the way

                so i don’t know but a hollowed out mountain with guttering and a reservoir at the top to collect all the rain water, apartments on the outside face with a spectacular view, a spiral road leading down to the base and 10 minute commute to Tokyo sounds fun to me.

              • ursiform says:

                WOW! You are really desperate to believe that the Japanese decide not to have babies because of a lack of cities dug into mountains, aren’t you?

      • engleberg says:

        Since our southern neighbours stopped cooperating with catch and release, we’ve had a choice between building giant prisons and accepting massive illegal immigration. It would take huge arcology-sized prisons to hold ten million people. William Gibson liked the ‘proles stuck in a crappy arcology’ storyline.

        If I ran Brazil or Mexico City, or any third world capital with a bunch of starving poor people living off welfare for suburbs, I’d look hard at Arcosanti. Sustainable utopia, prison city, tomatoe, tomahto.

        • Greying Wanderer says:

          yes, you’re probably right

          the inspirational aim of the above list was meant to inspire Darwin 2.0 type thoughts of create any environment you want

          but i guess welfare prisons counts 🙂

        • cato says:

          Rent an island, from someplace like Haiti. Every border jumper or failed asylum seeker (and most should be failed) will be given the option of returning to their land of origin or accepting refuge on the island. Something like what the Australians and the Israelis currently do. But the twist would be that this would be a laboratory for social experimentation–fields as different as civil engineering, architecture, economics, psychology, pharmacology, would be involved, all competing for grants. The goal would be to make life as pleasant as possible, and sustainable, for the settlers. It would be so humane that we would probably have to rent additional islands. And we could learn something.

          • engleberg says:

            ‘make life as pleasant as possible, and sustainable, for the settlers.’

            Pick one. Is my life pleasant, or is it nit-picked by busybodies who decide for me what might not be sustainable? If the power dies every time the wind dies, the wait for free health care extends to the hereafter, I live inside acres of freshly manured compost, I am saved from fake news by busybodies, and the cops won’t let me leave? Not pleasant. Does sound like Haiti though.

  5. Bob says:

    Autonomous Cars put paid to passenger rail. By 15 years from now the insurance cost difference based on autonomous vs. human accident rates significantly remove humans from the equation by 25 the only place a human drives is private property and wilderness

  6. savantissimo says:

    Self-reproducing* factory toolsets. Factories with many co-located despecialized adaptable machines** owed by many different people who bought them on machine-secured credit and trade nominal hours on each others’ machines as a new currency, multiplying their effective real capital, producing complete items without a succession of overheads, profits and taxes every time parts change hands. Re-specialization of tools as the factory system expands and integrates more production processes.

    ** CNC, robots, 3D printing, more exotic programmable production methods

  7. savantissimo says:

    A national software and patent pool, with national priorities.

    Patents and software source copyrights automatically licensed, no paperwork, domestic creators paid at a government-subsidized rate (though still a fraction of the value of the creations to increasing tax revenues.) Foreign users pay higher license fees.

    It could be seen as a Communist policy for non-rivalrous goods, “from each…to each…”, but it could also be seen as lowering barriers to entry, enabling more people to produce as real old-fashioned goods-producing capitalists.

    Information that isn’t used, that risks lawsuit hell for using, isn’t worth anything. Freely and automatically licensed, it has value commensurate with its actual use, which is sometimes more than zero, so infinitely more.

    This could be done without government, aside from the subsidization, but government would be able to capture and reinvest more of the systemic benefits of reducing IP licensing costs and encouraging the use of IP than a foundation or industry group would be able to.

  8. dearieme says:

    I’d settle for the gyrocopters and moving pavements that I was promised, in my childhood, would carry me to work when I grew up.

    Or even the fusion reactors that are always just forty years away.

    But seriously: the US developing technologically-advanced fighter aircraft that actually worked. It might prove a challenge ……

    • Sandgroper says:

      You will find those moving pavements in the airports in Singapore and Hong Kong. And you need them – it’s a really long way to some of the gates.

  9. dearieme says:

    Some way of networking together human brains – say when people are asleep – to let them be used for problem-solving where the computational burden is mostly spent on pattern recognition.

  10. Anonymous says:

    tailored bioweapons

    • another fred says:

      Yeah, but that’s after “next”. Those will be the “last resort’ things we talked about in an earlier post. The stress level will have to get much higher before they are loosed.

  11. jasonbayz says:

    Lie detection. Accurate lie detection, not the daytime TV fodder we see today. Not saying this will happen soon, it doesn’t appear anybody is investing significant resources in it. But I see no scientific reason to assume it would be impossible. Already we see technology which can “read minds” at a simple level. Maybe there’s a lab somewhere secretly focused on it, working as we speak….

    • jasonbayz says:

      Also, there’s this:

    • engleberg says:

      According to Paul Ekman, Telling Lies, we don’t have good lie detectors and never will. We have good emotion detectors; we can see electric signals preceding the gross physical signs Darwin wrote about in The Expression of the Emotions in Animals and Man . We are good at that now. Give a confident police interrogator a good emotion detector and he will confidently claim he can detect lies, but against a good defense attorney his mileage will vary. Lies are iffy.

      I’d like to see a good emotion detector that could transmit as well as detect. Of course, lovers who say afterwards ‘We jacked, straight across’ might find out things they don’t like. But maybe they’d find wonderful things. Knowledge is good.

      • Jim says:

        “P” is true if P.

      • jasonbayz says:

        According to Errol Morris, after convicted murderer Jeffery MacDonald passed a lie detector test, the excuse they gave was that he really did believe that he didn’t commit the murder. He was just that kind of psychopath.

        I’m skeptical. People are good at justifying their actions to their conscious minds. But can they commit a murder or sleep with someone or take a bribe and then really convince themselves it didn’t happen? Not ordinary, sane people.

        • gcochran9 says:

          It’s as common as dirt, from what I’ve seen. Lots of people believe that it’s always someone else’s fault: they rewrite their personal history as needed.

        • ursiform says:

          The key to people like that is that they innately believe that it is OK to say whatever benefits them. They don’t view truth and falsehood the way most people do.

          • melendwyr says:

            Most people believe that, but some of those have senses of guilt, which activates conditionally.
            There are plenty of cases where people believe their lies are fully justified. I doubt those lies can be picked up by anything short of sophisticated neurological activity scans.

        • R. says:

          Can’t use lie detectors on psychopaths. They show anomalous reactions to stress.

  12. Not too remote, and the implications are huge.
    1. Cheap desalination of sea water and separation of dissolved minerals.
    2. Cheap power (fusion reactors, fission reactors powered by uranium and thorium from sea water).
    3. Portable high-density power (fuel cells, batteries).
    4. Cheap enough community-scale power generation. Freeman Dyson says this is already possible with gas turbines.
    Organic: :
    1. In-house wastewater treatment.
    2. Cloned replacement organs (no rejection issues).

    • Gkai says:

      Agreed with 3:
      There is a huge need to better store electrical energy, and promises for better battery technology constantly pop out in the press, without any actual commercialization. We are squeezing less and less of lithium chemistry refinements.
      A real breakthrough, for example a commercialized supercapacitor, stable and safe (well, safe in not releasing energy other than electric, given the instantaneous power than you should be able to pull it’s as dangerous as you want 😉 ), charging ten or more times faster than best lithium tech, 10 or more times more cycles, and 2 or more times the power density, and made from cheap materials will be huge in practical applications already. And having such a thing with continuous significant improvements for a while (in term of power density especially) will keep new applications coming…

    • teageegeepea says:

      I’m reminded of something Robin Hanson noted: we think a lot about cheaper sources of energy, but the percentage of GDP currently devoted to that isn’t that high. His takeaway is that automation replacing labor would be a much bigger deal (possibly setting a bar too high for this question), but one can apply similar logic to determine how huge the implications of decreasing the cost of something might be (although I suppose that could be misleading if a factor of production was currently so expensive that it wasn’t yet efficient to use much of it, as I’d assume was the case with computational power). I know various prognosticators were predicting that there would be wars over control/access to water, which doesn’t appear to have happened. At the same time we don’t have a standard water price comparable to the international one of a barrel of crude.

      • El Bow says:

        He’s got it ass-backwards. Energy costs have stagnated in the past seventy or so years, at least on an order of magnitude basis. This has lead economists to suppose that this is because there really isn’t that much that could be done with drastically cheaper energy, so there has been little effort put forth into making it cheaper. This is just the sort of idiotic reverse-thinking that economists peddle as deep wisdom. In fact, there are wonderful and amazing things that could be done if electricity were cheaper. People have only lost sight of this because they are stupid and have no imagination.

        Look at a chart of the occurrence of elements in Earth’s crust by mass. Titanium is #9. Why the hell aren’t we building gigantic skyscrapers and corrosion-resistant underwater structures out of titanium? Well, obviously because it’s too expensive. But why is it so expensive? Mainly because refining the stuff is energy-intensive.

        Why are we sitting on our asses waiting for plants to sequester CO2 for us? We could set up arrays of fans and ion exchange resins to grab that stuff, and have useful feedstock for the production of various organic compounds besides. Oh, right, because energy costs.

        Why is recycling so limited? Why can’t we just chuck all our organic garbage in a plasma arc and harvest the constituent atoms for feedstock? You get one guess.

        All of these processes and more are well-proven in labs. Indeed, I’ve only listed the ones where the chemistry is fairly simple. The only thing they need to be a viable part of tomorrow is electricity so cheap that it’s not even worth metering it.

        • Ursiform says:

          What problems do gigantic skyscrapers and corrosion-resistant underwater structures solve?

          • El Bow says:

            Good Lord, it’s like you’ve never seen the cover of a sci-fi novel or something.

            • Ursiform says:

              You do know that the “fi” part stands for “fiction”?

              • El Bow says:

                What? You question the practicality of making materials with a high-strength to weight ratio and excellent corrosion resistance cheap because you two applications I named don’t immediately strike you as useful. I point out that these would make hitherto fanciful depictions of ideas possible. You point out that these fanciful depictions were, in fact, fanciful.

                Do you see the problem in your reasoning?

              • Sandgroper says:

                I’ll tell you what’s not fanciful – titanium is holding my guts together. They use it because it isn’t rejected by the body like other metals are. If titanium was cheaper, they could make a lot more body parts than just a few staples.

                Plus it makes the best bicycle frames. Of course, if you break your frame, you need to throw it away. But if titanium was dirt cheap, that wouldn’t matter.

              • Ursiform says:

                No, I see no problem with my reasoning. But several with yours. Your argument appears to be that because I only challenged one of your claims that the rest must be true, and therefore the one I challenged must be true as well, even though you can’t support it.

          • Ilya says:

            They, coupled with orders-of-magnitude cheaper energy, solve a huge problem: they bring civilization a big step towards a major goal: portability.

            Just imagine growing actual crops, livestock (if it’s not meat vats by that time), and housing entire cities, together with supporting ecology and systems, all completely enclosed indoors.

            So, if there is ever a problem with, say a volcanic mega-eruption or, say, next Ice Age, people not only survive, but thrive.

            All you need to have is a vision of supporting of trillions of people (and cute, family-oriented, obedient chicks) on this planet.

            • ursiform says:

              No, really, I don’t want that many neighbors!

              • El Bow says:

                Tough shit. Societies with more higher populations can subdue and subjugate societies with fewer people due to greater economic productivity and more warm bodies that they can throw into a war, all ceteris being paribus. So unless you have some grand, foolproof idea for a global population control initiative, you’re going to have to live with a more crowded planet because that’s the way the incentives point.

              • Ursiform says:

                So that’s how Britain got a global empire! By your reasoning India will rule the Earth long before we will catch up.

              • Ilya says:

                Stop pretending to be stupid, see the big picture: how did society(ies) get where they are today, including the spread of agriculture and industrialization? By pushing. And a big mode of that push happened via population scale.

                Population scale brings with it a need for higher energy (consuming and producing) solutions (via as big problems).

              • ursiform says:

                Agriculture and industrialization allowed population growth, and people who had them could out-compete people who didn’t. Nobody said lets have more babies and then we can have agriculture. Agriculture allowed more babies to grow up and have babies.

              • Ilya says:

                If people didn’t think “let’s have babies,” agriculture (once invented) would not spread.

              • ursiform says:

                You’ve intentionally misquoted me. I said “more babies”. My point was that people kept on having babies, but more of them grew up. Agriculture didn’t result from the birth rate going up.

          • harriettubmanagenda says:

            Titanium is a good example. More generally, the cost of energy strongly affects the cost of other natural resources and many manufactured goods. Matt Ridley compares energy to slaves. We live better than most Roman aristocrats because we have more slaves washing our clothes, harvesting our crops, and carrying us from home to office than all but the richest Romans.

    • pyrrhus says:

      Community based, off the grid, small nuclear power plants are already potentially available. If deployed, they would be very disruptive to the status quo.

      • El Bow says:

        I assume you’re talking about the putative Small Modular Reactors. They’re not a bad idea at all, but they strike me as the sort of idea dreamed up by people who dream big, and then butchered and re-sold to rubes.

        Any sort of re-investment in nuclear power in the US is going to require sane regulations. The most salient (i.e. cost-driving) regulations on nuclear energy were written by people who were either insane or malicious. I am thinking in particular on the moratorium on waste reprocessing that was passed by the Carter Administration. So, insane and malicious I suppose.

        One of the goals for an SMR is that the thing requires minimal maintenance. Fair enough; nobody really wants trucks full of radioactive waste being taken through municipal neighborhoods on a semi-regular basis. And lo and behold, there are reactors that don’t need to be touched for decades in naval vessels!

        Problem; to avoid having to change out fuel rods often, you’ll either need much higher fuel enrichment or you’ll need to use a fast neutron reactor. Expect hippies and the IAEA to throw a fit, respectively.

    • says:

      #2,3,4 Heard it from BBC.

      “””prototype size – 10 x 10 x 0.5mm (plus electrodes) [6]
      energy – 15.8 MJ over first 5,000 years or total of 4.4 kWhours [5]”””

      Just stack them up. No moving parts.

    • Esso says:

      “3. Portable high-density power (fuel cells, batteries).”

      High energy density power sources are what is needed at the personal scale. Batteries have enough power density for most purposes. There are small two strokes, but they vibrate and smell and are noisy and inefficient. Fuel cells would be a great fit for many applications on that scale. On-person HVAC (with powered air filtration) would be very nice to have, for an example. Too bad the fuel cells at present can’t use liquid fuels, or they run crazy hot or are just too expensive.

      “4. Cheap enough community-scale power generation. Freeman Dyson says this is already possible with gas turbines.”

      Gas turbines need clean gas, which is another utility in most places.

  13. Pingback: Forever Young | The Z Blog

  14. Martin L. says:

    How about: creating an edited genome for an immune system that is completely incapable of making plaques and tangles in the brain? Or a gene therapy to approximate such in humans already alive?

  15. another fred says:

    Behavior genetics are going to swamp everything.

    We are still dealing with the reaction to eugenics and the Nazis, but there is a coiled spring about to release on us. This blog does not deal with economics, but we are in deep do-do and that is going to spill over into everything.

    For 50 years the answer to every problem has been to throw borrowed money at it. We are approaching the limit and when we hit it people are going to start assigning blame. It will not be pretty.

  16. Xenophon Hendrix says:

    I think computerized games are going to be the solution to idle hands that are rendered unemployable by technological change. You don’t have to huff paint and break windows out of boredom if you can put on your virtual reality headset and be the leader of a band of orc techno-Vikings. Thus, people can become successful in their own little distributed social groups, even if life in general is kicking them around.

    Showing my work: this comes from observing people, men especially, who are a few years younger than I am. They talk about computer games the same way people my age used to talk about sports or rock bands.

    In biology, I’ve long believed that the rich and upper-middle class are going to take advantage of embryo selection just as soon as it becomes practical to do so.

    Showing my work: these are same folks who are willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars per year for their children to attend the “right” kindergarten. They should be willing to spend at least as much for something that can make an actual difference in outcome.

    Unfortunately, both of these observations are old hat by now. If I had the ability to come up with something new, I’d be looking for ways to cash in.

    • Frau Katze says:

      High rates of unemployment have a high social cost. It seems to be human nature for people to want DO something to help the tribe (the oldest way humans organized).

      Of course not every person would feel this way.

      Speaking for myself only, I find computer games a crashing bore.

      • pyrrhus says:

        Humans need purposeful work, no doubt about that. Organic micro-culture, kind of like the yeoman farmers of ancient Greece and Rome, would provide that for many….

  17. El Bow says:

    There has been a lot of research into getting modified algae to produce fuel oils. Last I’d heard though, oil would need to increase fiftyfold or something in price for this approach to be useful.

    But do you know what costs a lot more per pound than fuel oils? Something that takes a lot of land and money and energy to produce? Something that is essential to national security and the economy?

    Food, of course. Why are we still relying on agriculture like a bunch of primitive savages?

    Agriculture takes a ridiculous amount of land to feed people. On top of that, it can’t just be any land, it has to be land that gets the correct amount of sunshine and has the right sort of soil and has enough water. All so we can grow plants. Plants suck at their job and we can do better.

    Per Colinvaux’s [i]Why Large Fierce Animals are Rare[/i], the lifetime efficiency of a plant at converting the energy of sunlight into chemical biomass energy is about 2%. Commercially available solar panels are an order of magnitude more efficient than that. Suck it nature!

    Instead, why not modify bacteria or archaea to produce edible proteins, carbs and fats in the manner of biodiesel-producing algae? Only, instead of photosynthetic algae, use chemautotrophic bacteria that have some sort of weird metabolism powered by oxidizing iron. Oxidization of iron is extremely easy to reverse with an electrical current, and if there’s anything our civilization is good at now it’s making electricity. So you have a bioreactor, you chuck in the raw ingredients for food and some iron, and ferric oxide and food come out. Use electrolysis to turn the ferric oxide back into iron, and sell the food. Maintenance would be more along the lines of a brewery rather than a hydroponics facility, and thus would be much more amenable to automation.

    That way food production would no longer be tied to arable surface areas, or indeed to surface areas at all. You could make all your food deep underground in nuke-proof bunkers if you wanted to go full Strangelove. If those paleo diet folks are on to anything (I’m convinced they are, though some are clearly cranks), there would no longer be such a large discrepancy between the price of a mostly carb-based diet and a mostly protein and fat based one. Just get more vats of bacteria and program them until you’re producing the perfectly optimal mix of macronutrients, based on studies of the genetic background of your customers.

    As a side benefit, my plan offers full employment for culinary school graduates, who will have their hands full for a few years figuring out how to make this stuff appealing.

    • Jim says:

      I think I will pass on factory produced Lobster Newberg at least for now. Let somebody else try it first.

      • engleberg says:

        We can’t expect to start with mass-produced kobe beef. But a tasty grease? As good as duck fat but just bubbled together from algae in a vat? Taco Smell scientists, your Nobel prize awaits.

        • El Bow says:

          I was thinking of a synthetic alternative to flour as the first killer app, but now that you mention it, duck fat is pretty hard to beat.

  18. sainchuck says:

    non-biology – transportation – uberization of all freight – a radical shift from today – no need to own a car for personal or commercial use. imagine the additional productivity from the time and costs saved. the end result could look something like this>< the swiss are also proposing something like conveyor belts under the highways for freight between cities

  19. SonOfRekab says:

    flying cars.

    • Flinders Petrie says:

      Cool, but they need a way to protect those propellers, or else the slightest of fender benders would be catastrophic.

  20. Cpluskx says:

    Quantum archaeology.

  21. Flinders Petrie says:

    The field of archaeology will discover that the most accurate explanations in the discipline were created by late 19th and early 20th century scholars (Childe, Petrie, Bordes, etc.), and that the quality of ideas and hypotheses has dropped precipitously ever since.

  22. David Fischer says:

    GMO plants to grow how we instruct them to grow. Into utility shapes.

    Think tree housing for humans grown instead of constructed. Storage facilities grown, etc.

  23. savantissimo says:

    Some more speculations:

    Increasing 1st world labor displacement by automation will be offset by wider ownership of productive machinery in the co-located factory complexes described above.
    Much advanced versions of Google’s Project Loon: continent-spanning networks of hundreds of 60-80kft altitude steerable (dirigible) hydrogen lighter-than-air unmanned craft with software-defined radio transceiver arrays covering the whole spectrum from 100kHz to 100GHz and free-space optical mesh network backbones connecting to the nearest dozen or so similar craft. The station-keeping may largely be done by “sailing”, hanging windmill/propeller units on cables several thousand feet long into layers with different wind than the main craft. (There may be a steady drift of the network with the winds.) The network will provide not only low-latency, high-bandwidth communication but broadcast services, ATC and defense radar, and electronic and photo surveillance.
    Self-driving vehicles, particularly delivery vehicles, will be the biggest new social force since the smartphone, in some ways since the Model T.
    Undersea freshwater rivers running from existing river outlets to desert regions, made of fancy plastic sheeting, protected by buoys and nets and at diver-repairable depths, anchored with cables running down to sacks of dredged fill in more plastic sheeting.

    Rainfall on desert coasts will be increased with low-tech sea-air boundary layer disruptors that enhance evaporation.

    Direct conversion of high-altitude wind to electricity will be tested using high-volume charged seawater spray, but will increase cloud cover downwind too much to be acceptable anywhere electricity is in sufficient demand to be profitable.
    Within ten years, some nation, possibly Iceland, will be the first to have its whole population’s genomes sequenced, others will follow. About the same time there will be enough data to have a good idea of what all the common alleles do, and not long after this (2030-40) understanding will start to be be tested with thousands of increasingly more synthetic human genomes over the following 10-20 years, likely mostly Chinese at first. Their numbers will grow exponentially once the cost / risk is affordable, and within 30 years of the first 0.1% synthetic human genome there will be millions of children with most of their alleles deliberately chosen, and an increasing number of custom-designed new alleles.
    Hundreds of 100 to 500 MWe molten salt nuclear reactors will be built over the next 25 years. These will mostly be uranium-fueled, but some thorium.
    There is a high (~80% IMO) chance of wars with over 10M dead, likely over 100M over the next 15 years which will involve at least one of, and possibly all of: China, Russia, the former EU and the US. A civil war in the US is about a 15-25% possibility over that period as well. Advanced bioweapons may be used, in which case the deaths could run to a billion or more. These pathogens may be genetically group-targeted within a few years; the longer the peace, the better the tech and the greater the casualties are likely to be.
    Stuff that isn’t going to happen:
    Dexlerian nanomachines, whether self-reproducing or mass-produced have a less than 15% chance of happening in the next 25 years. (But if it does, all bets are off.) There will be no manned aircraft type produced in volumes of over 10,000 per year: no flying cars. There will be no permanent off-Earth bases in that time, either. There will be no net warming as measured by satellite in 2040 compared to 2016. Oil will cost less in level dollars in 2040 than in 2009 due to demand falling faster than production.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Embryo selection to ensure child outcomes.

  25. Greying Wanderer says:


    “WOW! You are really desperate to believe that the Japanese decide not to have babies because of a lack of cities dug into mountains, aren’t you?”

    I thought a modern hi-tech version of a Tolkein-esque Dwarf city would be cool and you keep annoyingly nit-picking my day dream.

    • ursiform says:

      There is a reason most people masturbate in private.

      • engleberg says:

        You didn’t go ursiform for the hunting, did you.

        A high-tech Tolkienesque Dwarf city would be really cool. But you’d have to be careful Saruman isn’t Who Runs.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        ““WOW! You are really desperate to believe that the Japanese decide not to have babies because of a lack of cities dug into mountains, aren’t you?”

        Reversing the projection – why are you so keen on the Japanese dying off?

        • Sandgroper says:

          He isn’t, he’s just observing that they are.

          In any case, you can’t construct a hollowed out mountain, for the simple reason that an opening formed in a rock mass has an upper limit to the span that can be supported, even with rock bolts and a structural lining. About the biggest stable span constructed anywhere is an underground ice hockey stadium in Norway, which has a span of 65m. And that is abnormally large – most rock caverns constructed everywhere have spans typically of 25 to 30m. Otherwise, the support costs (bolts, lining) make up more than 50% of the overall cost, and forming underground openings in rock for most uses is already much more expensive and time consuming than building on the surface.

          The best you could have would be a mountain with underground openings in it. You can have a series of parallel caverns, but even in strong igneous rock with favourable jointing (all rock masses have joints – they happen due to contraction when the magma cools and the rock solidifies), you need to have spacing between caverns about equal to the cavern span.

          A hollowed out mountain would just collapse in on itself. Nice dream, but it won’t happen.

          • Greying Wanderer says:

            “you need to have spacing between caverns about equal to the cavern span.”

            so you can do it then

            • Greying Wanderer says:

              so apparently the Japanese city in a mountain currently being memed into existence would have to be more of a honeycomb strcture – large chambers (with all the light shafts and mirrors) would maybe need to be limited to social areas with lots of structural support, titanium maybe

              taking shape nicely

              • Ursiform says:

                Why don’t you start this process by going and living in a cave?

              • engleberg says:

                You’d want a population of stone masons for building, interior decoration and maintenance. Obviously they would be genetically engineered to grow beards woven to their giant moustachioes as an air filter to prevent silicosis and scare off bears or the odd Balrog.

                If I was managing an old mine for long-term storage, I’d look at adding some residential use. Retirees like quiet and safety on the cheap. So do I.

                Geothermal can be pretty weak and still handle residential use with no weather.

              • Sandgroper says:

                It’s all been done. During WWII, Mitsubishi built fighters inside a worked out underground quarry near Tokyo to hide them from the Americans.

                The difficulties are availability of surface access (by definition, densely built cities lack suitable sites for portals), fire safety (if escape routes become too long, plus smoke extraction becomes difficult/costly), plus the large majority of people have an aversion to living underground. Yes, I know some communities have lived in man-made caves for millennia, but they are outliers.

                Retirees are bored shitless and suffer depression because they lack useful employment, and are ignored by everyone. A fair number top themselves when the health problems become too burdensome.

              • Sandgroper says:

                Here’s a nice little factoid to stow away, GW – more than 50% of the world’s 100 tallest buildings are in Hong Kong, which has a total land area of only 1,100 square kilometres. Now there’s a place that could do with more building sites, but they are still resistant to going sideways into their numerous very steep hills, with suitable geology, for residential purposes. Hell, they won’t even consider putting dead bodies into man-made caverns, let alone live ones.

                If the Japanese really need more living space in their large cities (which they don’t), the easiest/quickest/cheapest thing is for them to build even taller buildings. And don’t tell me they can’t because of earthquakes – tall buildings withstand earthquakes better than short buildings because they are more ductile. One of the world’s tallest buildings, Taipei 101, is obviously in Taipei, and Taiwan gets more than its fair share of large earthquakes.

              • engleberg says:

                Skyscrapers are vulnerable- one, many, a thousand 911s is the wave of the future. Probably by bombs more than airplanes, but does anyone here doubt the jihad group at the UN building Pedro Sanjuan described in The UN Gang is passing Trump Tower blueprints around?

                Retirees are less homogeneous than almost any other group. Some are bored, lonely, and useless, like me at fourteen. Others have skills, connections, and some serious capital. We will build skyscrapers, but we will build down as well as up. The stuff we build low and solid will last a lot longer.

              • gcochran9 says:

                “Skyscrapers are vulnerable- one, many, a thousand 911s is the wave of the future.” Want to bet?

          • engleberg says:

            ‘Want to bet?’

            No. But we have.

  26. Nomen Est Omen says:

    Detection of unexpressed hate-think using 24/7 brain monitoring. (See e.g. “The Science of Your Racist Brain: Neuroscientist David Amodio on subconscious racial prejudice and why we’re still responsible for our actions”, Mother Jones). This will vastly simplify science and public policy, because hate-folk won’t be unable to complicate things with hate-hypotheses, hate-votes, hate-obstructionism, etc. Stale pale male George Orwell had a dream — and science is about to make the reality even better than he imagined it could be.

  27. rashomon2 says:

    Prediction is hard, especially about the future. Given that, one thing still seems clear:
    We are at a beginning of a transportation revolution comparable in scope to that of the early 20th century in the U.S. Vehicle autonomy and (less so) the switch to electric energy will end up redefining cities, suburbs, and exurbia. We’re just getting the first hints of what the vehicle forms may be, but there is a decent chance short-distance (under 100 mile) air transport with lightweight autonomous air taxis will be a significant part of the metro-area transport mix in just another decade or two. Regulatory issues are more important here than technical ones, and having a president that has Thiel as an advisor may make the necessary regulatory reform possible.

  28. Esso says:

    Free piston linear generators are an old idea, but they are now becoming reality with help of “smart” control technologies and better power electronics. Toyota among others has produced a working prototype. The free kinematics is good for many of reasons (HCCI combustion, fast expansion), but it is obviously very challenging to control. Perhaps there are other unstable old designs in other fields that could be tamed with modern processing power?

    Free piston engines have no cranking forces on the piston, and opposing piston designs have no poppet valves to collect deposits. Many possibilities there as well.

  29. El Bow says:

    From the always-brilliant Ursiform:

    “So that’s how Britain got a global empire! By your reasoning India will rule the Earth long before we will catch up.”

    Like I said, ceteris paribus. Or do I have to translate that to English so you can understand it?

    • ursiform says:

      Historically empires (and large nations) have begun small and expanded. There are no ancient empires. Even China was ruled by the Mongols before reverting to Han rule. And later subjected to strong European influence. And even partly overrun by Japan.

      Sure, big countries can beat up little neighbors. But the world wouldn’t look the way it does today if it worked the way you want to imagine it does.

      I don’t need a “grand, foolproof idea for a global population control”, it’s already happening in most areas. Africa is the giant exception. But Africa needs more than a huge population to take over the world. And African nations are more interested in fighting internally or against each other anyway.

      Without that, you informed me that I would “have to live with a more crowded planet because that’s the way the incentives point.” The fact that you threw in two Latin words earlier in your post doesn’t mean that your conclusion can’t be criticized as not reflecting historical experience. When you take those other things into account your argument, and your conclusion, fall apart.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Autonomous transport for people and goods.

  31. Greying Wanderer says:


    “Why don’t you start this process by going and living in a cave?”

    Too late – you memed it into existence by arguing.



    “Obviously they would be genetically engineered to grow beards woven to their giant moustachioes as an air filter to prevent silicosis”




    “plus the large majority of people have an aversion to living underground.”

    Yeah I agree with that bit bit hence i was thinking having all the apartments dug into the outside edge looking out.

    “If the Japanese really need more living space in their large cities (which they don’t), the easiest/quickest/cheapest thing is for them to build even taller buildings.”

    True enough and in a way it’s an example of the same thing – a species reaching a point where they can build a habitat wherever they feel like – it’s just a bit dull.


    “which they don’t”

    Steve Sailer produced some numbers a while back about varying different birth rates in the US between regions of low population density and high population density. There are obviously lots of confounds but i’d bet there are differences in Japan on the same basis.

    Just a guess.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      on reflection an M shape would probably be best for structural reasons – carving it out from the top down like an amphitheatre with rows of apartments on inner and outer terraces.

      they could use the excavated rock for coast defences.


      imo (at least part of) the modern demographic model boils down to

      “how you gonna keep em down on the farm now that they’ve seen paree”

      something like

      1) desire to have children on a ten point scale with an average say 6

      2) dense expensive living conditions reduces desire by say 2

      3) cut-off point for having children when there’s a choice is say 5

      4) young people want to live within say 30 minutes of bright lights, big city which leads to point (2).

      if correct then (at least part of) the solution is:

      affordable lower density urban housing and/or faster transit

  32. Mike Johnson says:

    Research on consciousness that actually goes somewhere.

    A decade ago, we had only “phlegm theories” of consciousness. Studying consciousness was like performing alchemy.

    Now, we have some promising leads (IIT, Tegmark’s Perceptronium, etc) and things are starting to move.

    The true killer app here will be interpretation: once we get a theory that can generate a mathematical representation of an organism’s qualia, how do you figure out what it means?

    I have some ideas on how to do this. I don’t think it’s as intractable as people think.
    85 page document on the topic:

  33. dave chamberlin says:

    This isn’t the next coming thing from in the next few decades standpoint. But big picture it sure as hell is. Understanding and then manipulating the genetic underpinnings of human intelligence will happen and it will be utterly and totally transformative. I will stop there because nobody knows which direction in which this will lead.

    But human intelligence got us here and improving human intelligence will get us to where we are going. Predictions of how and when this will happen are speculative nonsense at this point. Prediction that it will happen…..almost certain. I wish I could watch the whole wonderful show unfold for the next one hundred years here at Westhunter but unfortunately that ain’t happening.

  34. Wieland says:

    The next big things will be in genetics and warfare.
    Genetics deals with humans, warfare deals with humans dealing with each other.

    3D printing. Drones. Printable drones. Programmable vessels, gathering resources and conducting warfare.
    Automated warfare (skirmishes over in minutes, seconds).

  35. Greying Wanderer says:

    an oldie but a goodie – to me the map on this post

    is clearly a battle – both north vs south, indicating it gives a major advantage except where it’s canceled out by the sun

    and east-west where, for example India, it seems to be evenly contested with some other gene that does the same or a similar thing but from the eastern direction.

    I’m going to guess it’s EDAR.

    Maybe once figured out both can be made to work together?

  36. Scott Locklin says:

    Someone else mentioned CRISPR.

    The answer absolutely isn’t “autonomous vehicles” which are mostly the product of overeager marketing departments and billionaires who don’t know what they are talking about.

    Otherwise, it’s heat death from where I’m standing. Technological progress ain’t progress.

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