Yesterday, at work, someone for fun sent me an instant message with an obscure reference to a movie. I did not know what he was talking about so I googled the phrase and in 10 seconds had a reply. He said he would have to try something more obscure next time. I replied that it would be difficult with the almost unlimited information available at my fingertips.
Why is it that almost every prediction about the future is completely and obviously wrong? Everyone focuses on flying cars, trips to the Moon or Mars and ignores completely the most obvious thing that will change. It is going to be us. We will change dramatically in the next few decades. I predict we will merge with our technology or we will be wiped out by it.
I am going to make this prediction with one caveat. I don't know how government will try to control it but I am sure it will. The future will be instant access to information. Not through your keyboard but by direct connection to, well, the internet if we still call it that. You will be able to know the name of every person you meet as well as any personal information about them. Different languages will probably no longer be a barrier. Anyplace you go, you will have complete information about the history, culture, customs, food. This is not the distant future either. We have most of the ability to do this now through our cell phones. We are beginning the next step where your cell phone is worn and responds to voice commands. The next step after that will probably be a device that is worn and responds to thought patterns. The next step after that will likely be an implanted device that responds directly to your mind bypassing your hearing. Possibly it will even bypass your vision and provide visual signals directly to your optic nerve. I am sure there will be a battle over control of information. People with means will probably have access to better information than poor people. The people who desire power and control will want to limit or control the flow of information. It is hard to predict how this will affect society. There will be very few secrets. Information known to one will quickly be available to all. How will this affect learning? I had to memorize "The Walrus and the Carpenter" in 6th grade. Would you need to memorize anything if you could instantly reference it whenever you want? What about politics, you could instantly fact check anything. This is where I think there will be a battle over control of those facts. If someone tells you that the average temperature was .5 degrees warmer last year you can know instantly if they are correct or not. Will this be a tool of instant and total information or mis-information?
Last night I saw a show on asteroids striking the earth and possible solutions to prevent this type of catastrophe. One of the silliest things I heard was the plan to send manned missions to an asteroid on a collision course with earth instead of machines because astronauts could explore and react to the environment better than robots. Please. By the time we mount such a mission, the state of robotics and artificial intelligence will have advanced to a point that it will be no contest. If the Earth is really in peril, are you going to send one or two manned missions with people who are totally inadequate to function in those environments, at enormous costs I might add, or are you going to send a bunch of unmanned robotic spacecraft on much less expensive missions with redundant missions for backup in case one fails. The idea of sending manned missions for this is so silly it is laughable.
We are never going to go to Mars. It won't happen. Our bodies are not designed for space travel. Could we send people to Mars? Probably. Could you make your car into a flying car? Probably with enough money and time. But would you if the result is a very expensive poorly performing airplane? You could take humans to Mars but it is hard to imagine a more poorly designed space traveler. Our bodies are designed for Earth's gravity and 14 psi atmospheric pressure. We require fuel in the form of food that is bulky and perishable and oxygen. We require lots of maintenance from personal hygiene and exercise to entertainment. And travel in space is no picnic. With the technology likely to be available over the next few decades a trip to Mars will likely take 5 months inside a tin can eating dehydrated food and drinking recycled water. This will be followed by several months on Mars doing much the same thing and 5 months returning to Earth. It is hard to imagine there are more than a handful of people willing to go through an ordeal like this. Our machines and technology will go to Mars, we will not. We might get back to the Moon. It is 4 days away, maybe less. There is not much scientific or economic reason to go but it is doable and with the amount of pork spending that would be involved, congress would support it. Space tourism to the moon might be a viable industry, who knows.
I think the future for us is going to be less in the physical world and more in cyberspace. You will be able to see, touch and experience Mars from Earth. In fact I doubt in the future we will do as much physical traveling on Earth as we do now. Travel for business will be less and less necessary. Travel for leisure will exist for a while yet but this will diminish if full immersion virtual reality develops. Maybe it will be possible at some point in the distant future to send our consciousness where we want to go but that is just a wild speculation at this point. It is pretty predictable though that we will be able to experience much more without leaving home in the very near future and that is not wild speculation.