Only a few years ago, you disconnected the power line to your
house and installed a home power plant. Works like a charm. Runs on
all kinds of fuels, but you prefer using grass clippings and weeds.
But now the power company has an offer you can't refuse.
Reconnect and try newfangled fusion power in exchange for a year of
free electricity. It's tempting because you've recently
bioengineered your lawn grass to stay at a constant height, and
there are no more weeds.
Besides, you need extra juice for your electric car hovering in
the garage. Antigravity is such a kick. It makes you feel old (but
then, 125 is old) to recall cars that had tires and passed on the
left rather than over the top....
Over the top may be the operative phrase, but the advance of
technology may indeed make your 2099 home identical with The
Jetsons' - floating space houses not included. Far-fetched? Probably
the same thing a homeowner in 1900 would have said about microwave
ovens, TV, and a car in the garage instead of a horse in the barn.
As the 3rd millennium AD dawns, futurists are readying their
predictions for the greatest inventions and scientific breakthroughs
of the 21st century.
While few are likely to predict specific discoveries, they
generally agree on one thing: The frontiers of innovation will be
marked by the collision of our current economic epoch - the
Information Age - with all things biological. And the results will
touch nearly everyone's life.
"The main enabling force in innovation over the next three
decades will be biotechnology," says Paul Saffo, a director of the
Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, Calif. Which, he says, is
illustrative of a second overarching trend: Small is beautiful.
Indeed, rather than polishing crystal balls, today's visionaries
are looking through microscopes. Whereas the 20th century and the
last decade of the 19th were marked by big, landscape-altering
inventions like the automobile, the airplane, and commercialization
of electric power, the breakthroughs of the next century promise to
be tiny. Very tiny.
Computers will be every size - in everything from atomizers to
Zambonis, sunglasses to pens. Hand-held computers will contain as
much computing power as all the computers on earth today. Computers-
on-a-chip will be implanted in the body. True artificial
intelligence - thinking machines that can design and build other
machines - will evolve.
The identification of the double helix, a landmark of 20th-
century science, led to genome mapping and may herald an era of
widespread engineering of anything with a genetic code: animals,
You may be able to order a new body part in 50 years the way you
order a new fender today. Private hunting reserves may feature
cloned grizzly bears or tigers.
Fusion power, which is fueled by isotopes of hydrogen derived
from abundant resources such as sea water, could power a city of a
half million with fuel that would fit in the back of a pickup truck
rather than 11 supertankers, thus ushering in an era of cheap and
virtually limitless power.
The manipulation of matter at the molecular level, a fledgling
field today known as nanoscience, when combined with genetic
engineering, could eventually lead to things such as e-mailing
flowers over the Internet. …