We asked our advisors “What technology or scientific discovery will be the most revolutionary within the next 20 years?” Here are their responses…
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“Machine learning will be ubiquitous, just as applications of traditional computer algorithms are ubiquitous now.”
The ability for scientists to create “artificial gametes”—functional human sperm and eggs cells produced in the lab—could fundamentally change society. The idea would be that a doctor could take a skin cell from a patient, convert those skin cells into stem cells in the lab via cellular reprogramming, and culture the stem cells in a dish to coax them to differentiate into germ cells capable of generating sperm or eggs. Scientists have partially demonstrated this artificial gamete technology in mice.
First, this technology would be very helpful to those seeking to have biological children but currently can’t, for example, because of cancer, age or genetics. Second, the technology could relieve women of the pressure of the “biological clock.” As women age, their egg cells do as well, and after they pass their peak fertility in their early to mid-20s, their fertility declines and the risk of chromosomal defects like Down syndrome increases. While some women currently freeze their eggs to retain a source of “fresh” eggs later in life, this technology could give women of any age access to “fresh” eggs for reproduction.
The technology would also have implications for potential genetic enhancement. With access to a nearly unlimited supply of sperm and eggs, parents could have great control over which traits to pass onto their children by picking and choosing which embryo they decide to implant. Furthermore, scientist could introduce new traits into the germ cells though CRISPR gene editing, allowing the production of gene edited sperm and eggs. This gene editing artificial gametes would avoid many of the technical challenges associated with performing gene editing in embryos.
While I am not sure whether this technology will be available in the next 20 years, scientists are working on this technology, and it will certainly have huge implications for society whenever it comes to the clinic.
I think that Internet of Things (IoT) will be one of the big things for technology within the next five to ten years. Connected machines with highly efficient sensors, working with intelligent systems and applications and creating a high percentage of the next big data explosion, will be a reality in my opinion. If we add the small smart devices and the wearable ones, which I think will also be in a revolutionary state, the possibilities and opportunities for data exchange and processing become really explosive and the benefits for human life are very obvious.
Regarding science, I think that nanoscience and nanotechnology, which also involves engineering and technology conducted at the nanoscale, will give revolutionary products in the next ten to fifteen years. The most important thing is that the number of other sciences that will benefit from nanoscale ideas and developments is really huge. Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Engineering are some of the most important. If we also take into account the enhanced properties of materials, some of which have already been created but mostly, will be created, such as greater strength, lighter weight and greater chemical reactivity among others, compared to their large-scale counterparts and the potential ways that will be applied, it is not difficult to foresee a real revolution that will benefit human life in many ways and at various levels.
In terms of discovery: theory of quantum gravity
And for technology: 3D printing boom
CRISPR, but Ygggdrasil can write more about it. [see first entry above]
I expect that spaceflight will look completely different in 20 years due to reusable rockets, but I’m not an expert there either.
In my field: Hopefully the B-physics anomalies, or something unexpected in the next 20 years. Any clear deviation from predictions would be amazing.
The internet continues to be the most profound technology driving our society into the near future. You should see over the next two decades the continuing rearrangement of informational institutions, the press, academia, entertainment media etc.
Not a specific innovation per se but we are finally in an economy that has grown enough for individual companies have the capital to invest in privately owned space launch and transport. So we should see an explosion of innovations in this area in the near future. I predict a private orbital station in the next two decades. I can’t predict what technological innovations will emerge, only that many likely will in propulsion design, vehicle and habitat design, and resource exploitation.
AI. My answer is based on the fact that it could potentially be applied to just about anything and will have such a broad impact across many fields as to be the no-brainer answer to this question.
20 years from now, I predict we will have ascended to Wilczek’s “God’s-eye view” of reality. Consequently, we will be working on entirely new approaches to quantum gravity and unification.
“A recurring theme in natural philosophy is the tension between the God’s-eye view of reality comprehended as a whole and the ant’s-eye view of human consciousness, which senses a succession of events in time. Since the days of Isaac Newton, the ant’s-eye view has dominated fundamental physics. We divide our description of the world into dynamical laws that, paradoxically, exist outside of time according to some, and initial conditions on which those laws act. The dynamical laws do not determine which initial conditions describe reality. That division has been enormously useful and successful pragmatically, but it leaves us far short of a full scientific account of the world as we know it. The account it gives—things are what they are because they were what they were—raises the question, Why were things that way and not any other? The God’s-eye view seems, in the light of relativity theory, to be far more natural. … To me, ascending from the ant’s-eye view to the God’s-eye view of physical reality is the most profound challenge for fundamental physics in the next 100 years.”
[Frank Wilczek: Physics in 100 Years. Physics Today 69(4), pp. 32–39 (2016).]
I have a BS in Information Sciences from UW-Milwaukee. I’ve helped manage Physics Forums for over 18 years. I enjoy learning and discussing new science developments. STEM communication and policy are big interests as well.