The timeline of the human race extends approximately 50,000 years into the past according to the Smithsonian institute’s Human Origins program. This timeline can extend as far back as 200,000 years when the first human-looking species first started appearing on Earth. From here things didn’t really start getting interesting until the past 3,000 years. A single human being -having lived 80 years- could have witnessed 1/82 of this longer “history” of the human race. But now for the first time that history appears to be speeding up faster than ever. And few places does this future seem more promising than in the field of technology.
Those who say energy production is as efficient as it’s likely to get should take into account the development of the hot air balloon and its eventual transition into the more powerful “zeppelin.” The first hot air balloon was invented in 1783 by two French brothers, the Montgolfiers. The balloons were disbelieved for a long time and debunked in those early days as nothing but a fantastic rumor. But even those who saw the devices were made believers by their own eyes, quickly the question was posed: could you steer with it? This development would take years beyond the Montgolfiers’ own lives and the search would span three centuries until 1902 when Ferdinand von Zeppelin would invent a method for steering massive airborne vessels through the sky. These airships would come alongside another invention released the following year – the heavier than air flying machine (known today as the airplane). The lesson from this single development is simple. Even a discovered invention may not truly prove world changing at first. In fact, centuries may pass before it is fully realized. Transportation via planes is so powerful today that it forms the backbone of an extremely complex infrastructure that spans worldwide.
So when we consider that most of these futuristic technologies now being developed have only recently become feasible it doesn’t sound like much to suggest the world of 2020 will be a far more complex and developed time than the transition from 1990 to 2000 or from 2000 to 2010. As we step into this next decade we can only begin to wonder what new developments will come about as a result.
Every 30 years technology has developed to such a degree that it changes the entire world as soon as it comes about. But what technologies might change the world of tomorrow? Many potentials are being currently studied, including the advent of home manufacturing techniques using open source systems such as Reprap. In 2020 we may see less dependence on distant factories to construct the things we need in our own homes, instead using self replicating 3D printers acquired from friends and spreading virally across the globe. It may even change economics, as each person in the home has the potential to manufacture these devices or design them. Of course the technology is still in its infancy, but with thousands of armchair researchers examining the system night and day, it seems a likely candidate to change everything.
And there’s also the possibility of power generation through superior renewable resources. Commercial solar panels can only today do what some scientists claimed was possible ten years ago. But as time and interest in the subject improves, we may no longer have to depend on external power companies for our power production.
The internet has already freed up information for people, but the greatest “inventions” in this field would likely come from superior programming rather than actual objects. The internet is the medium and the invention is more efficient means of processing information.
And finally if we have everything we need, the only two things that remain would be resource acquisition and management, labor distribution, and food production. What systems will be developed in the next 20 years to provide answers to these needs in the next 20 years?