As a species, we love to try and imagine what the future is going to be like. It’s a fascination that’s at the very core of science fiction, and it’s about more than just letting us ponder exploring the galaxy in a starship (although that part is awesome). I think it’s also about us dreaming about where we want to be, where we hope we will be, rather than merely where we probably will be. Of course, this occasionally leads to disappointments such as me living in the year 2012 and not having a flying car parked in my driveway, but whatever.
In the spirit of that forward-thinking mindset I imagine most of our readers possess, the folks over at Popular Mechanics have compiled a list of 110 Predictions for the Next 110 Years. In his intro to the list, PM Editor-in-Chief Jim Meigs says:
In making the 110 predictions in this special issue, we tried to balance our deep-rooted techno-optimism with some hardheaded skepticism. We turned to scores of experts—scientists, engineers, and many longtime PM contributors and consultants—to help us sketch the rough shape of the next century. We canvassed our experts about the nature of future changes and when key breakthroughs might occur.
To help compile the list, the Popular Mechanics peeps enlisted a brain trust including journalists, professors, physicists, entrepreneurs, inventors, astronauts, lawyers, and even the MythBusters themselves, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. The list is definitely worth reading in full, but here are some of our favorites for your perusal.
Bridges will repair themselves with self-healing concrete. Invented by University of Michigan engineer Victor Li, the new composite is laced with microfibers that bend without breaking. Hairline fractures mend themselves within days when calcium ions in the mix react with rainwater and carbon dioxide to create a calcium carbonate patch.
Contact lenses will grant us Terminator vision. When miniaturization reaches its full potential, achieving superhuman eyesight will be as simple as placing a soft lens on your eye. Early prototypes feature wirelessly powered LEDs. But circuits and antennas can also be grafted onto flexible polymer, enabling zooming, night vision, and visible data fields.
Nurse Jackie will be a robot. By 2045, when seniors (60-plus) outnumber the planet’s youth (15 and under) for the first time in history, hospitals will use robots to solve chronic staffing issues. Expect to find the new Nightingales lifting patients and pushing food carts. Engineers at Purdue University are thinking even bolder—designing mechanical scrub nurses that respond to hand gestures during surgery.
Connecticut will feed the world. To keep up with all the hungry mouths, we may just have to rethink food. The folks at tech startup Pronutria claim to have discovered an industrious single-cell organism that converts sunlight, CO2 and water into low-cost nutrients. It works in tight quarters too. Instead of a few thousand pounds of crops per acre a year, we’d be looking at 100,000, according to the company’s research. In other words, the planet’s protein could be produced in an area half the size of Connecticut.
An ion engine will reach the stars. If you’re thinking of making the trip to Alpha Centauri, pack plenty of snacks. At 25.8 trillion miles, the voyage requires more than four years of travel at light speed, and you won’t be going nearly that fast. To complete the journey, you’ll have to rely on a scaled-up version of the engine on the Deep Space 1 probe, launched in 1998. Instead of liquid or solid fuel, the craft was propelled by ions of xenon gas accelerated by an electric field.
One of us will celebrate a 150th birthday. Our money’s on Keith Richards. Given recent advances in health, technology, and medicine and the rise of genome science, it’s only a matter of time until someone gets to blow out all those candles—especially if you toss in a breakthrough on the scale of antibiotics, says David Ewing Duncan, author of When I’m 164. What are your odds of living to see our predictions come true? There are more than 300,000 centenarians on the globe already—and one hearty soul has reached the age of 122.
Header image by the late, ridiculously talented Robert McCall