20 year tech predictions

What Technology or Discovery Will Be the Most Revolutionary Within 20 Years?

We asked our advisors “What technology or scientific discovery will be the most revolutionary within the next 20 years?” Here are their responses…

Demystifier

“Machine learning will be ubiquitous, just as applications of traditional computer algorithms are ubiquitous now.”

Ygggdrasil

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.

Further reading: https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/advances-towards-creating-sperm-and-eggs-in-the-lab.922601/ https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608452/a-new-way-to-reproduce/amp/

QuantumQuest

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.

PhanthomJay

In terms of discovery: theory of quantum gravity
And for technology: 3D printing boom

mfb

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.

jambaugh

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.

boneh3ad

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.

RUTA

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).]

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10 replies
  1. atyy says:
    This cannot be answered as AI as well as proofs are both hypothetical. I find it difficult to encode the concept of for all in an AI, i.e. I cannot imagine that this can be done. Furthermore the number of potential proofs in the sense of a finite sequence of conclusions is so incredibly huge, that I think it needs phantasy and creativity, which again I cannot imagine could be added to an AI. But the discussion is meaningless so far. The best AI of today can just pretend to understand, so the discussion will have to be postponed a few decades.

    I think there is a good argument that AIs can encode the concept of "for all", since human beings have that ability and they encode the concept using neural networks (and there is arguably not much difference between biological and artificial neural networks in terms of encoding capability).

    I have seen it stated that artificial neural networks are equivalent in some sense to Turing machines. https://arxiv.org/abs/1410.5401: "Moreover, it is known that RNNs are Turing-Complete (Siegelmann and Sontag, 1995), and therefore have the capacity to simulate arbitrary procedures, if properly wired."

    I agree that doing creative mathematics will be hard for AIs, but that is also hard for humans. In terms of music, AIs before the current renaissance could already write music that sounded quite good for short segments, although large scale structure was probably problematic (as it generally is also for humans):
    https://www.computerhistory.org/atchm/algorithmic-music-david-cope-and-emi/
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lt7fEchgFrU
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2r1er_3Pa8

  2. fresh_42 says:
    But that is brute force calculation, what about AI actually doing the proofs?

    This cannot be answered as AI as well as proofs are both hypothetical. I find it difficult to encode the concept of for all in an AI, i.e. I cannot imagine that this can be done. Furthermore the number of potential proofs in the sense of a finite sequence of conclusions is so incredibly huge, that I think it needs phantasy and creativity, which again I cannot imagine could be added to an AI. But the discussion is meaningless so far. The best AI of today can just pretend to understand, so the discussion will have to be postponed a few decades.

  3. MathematicalPhysicist says:
    But that is brute force calculation, what about AI actually doing the proofs?

    Yes that was what I referred to when I said a QC with a suitable programme like the proof-assistants software we have nowadays, like Coq.

  4. fresh_42 says:
    Will such a computer be able to prove the claymath conjectures with suitable programme?

    No.

    Just a few examples:

    • ##P\neq NP\, : \,## We need a proof for something cannot exist. Computer capacities won’t help.
    • ##ERH\, , \,\text{Goldbach}\, : \,## We already checked ##10^{10}## zeroes. Some more won’t help.
    • ##\text{Birch-Swinnerton-Dyer}\, : \,## same as ERH
    • ##\text{Navier-Stokes}\, : \,## A computer can give a numerical approximation and so does a pipe, but this doesn’t solve the problem.
    • ##\text{Yang-Mills}\, : \,## A quantum computer might be helpful to deal with some exceptional groups, after a general solution has been found for the regular ones.
  5. MathematicalPhysicist says:
    Affordable and reliable quantum computers would be revolutionary in chemistry, materials, biotech and medicine (at least). Simulating molecules and their interactions is very hard and relies on a lot of approximations, consequently even the best computational chemistry work is paired with rounds of practical experiments. A quantum computer would be able to simulate chemistry without these approximations, the potential for that is vast. Anything from searching for more efficient photosynthetic molecules (and efficient pathways to synthesise them) to hunting for new medical candidates by simulating potential targets and how to inhibit them.

    Your reply doesn’t answer my question though.

  6. MathematicalPhysicist says:
    a personal Quantum computer, and quantum mac.

    PQC.
    Will such a computer be able to prove the claymath conjectures with suitable programme?

  7. Drakkith says:
    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.

    Interesting. This is the first I’ve ever heard of this idea.
    Thanks, @Ygggdrasil.

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