Here is a flurry of recent developments and advances that serve as ever more rapidly passing milestones as we approach the Singularity. Their relevance to everyday life is sometimes hard to see for the non-technician, but they all have an impact on how most of us will be able to earn a living and stay healthy.
My main worry about the latter is that the healthcare markets for these advances may disappear in the next few years. All advances in human history trickle down from the early adopters who usually are better off than the eventual mass of users and can afford the expensive early versions. The rest of us benefit when the new gizmo or process has demonstrated itself enough to bring in competitors or motivate the originators to continue working (i.e. risk more) to reduce costs.
1. Quantum leap in battery design (here) Ever wonder how all those sci-fi robots can do all the fancy stuff for hours/days on end when their form factor is about that of a human? Well, it would require them to have embedded enormously more dense (e.g. KWH/cubic foot) energy stores than exist now. A standard lithium ion battery pack would run out in a couple of minutes. This article describes a new technology that would increase energy densities “by orders of magnitude”, just what the Doctor (PhD that is) ordered.
2. New propulsion technologies for interstellar travel are described by this New Scientist article.
3. The race between extending lifespans through biological vs machine-augmented means is ramping up. Here’s an article that summarizes advances in the biological arena that promise steps closer to the proverbial fountain of youth.
4. Never heard of crowdsourcing? Well, you should because it may be a way that a lot of people will be able to earn a living in the future by combining their ability to perform simple tasks, which when integrated, will achieve complex objectives. Crowdsourcing also has a sinister potential that an authoritarian state can use on its people. More here.
5. Best robots of 2009 (here and here) These are the smart mechanical critters that are taking human jobs and making the remaining workers more productive. What will the displaced workers do?
6. Here’s a compendium of topics from the genius himself, Ray Kurzweil. Besides being an awesome inventor, Kurzweil is the definitive futurist and in an interview shares his predictions about all things artificially intelligent and conscious heading our way.
7. China is now the second largest producer of human knowledge and is expected to surpass us by 2020 (here and here). In the interval they are busy building up a world-class military to project power worldwide. What will we do with all of our lawyers then? More importantly, what will we do with all of our students who ‘don’t do math’?