Amazing Scientific Achievements We’ll See Within A Decade

From StumbleUpon is an exciting collection of twenty-three incredible technological developments to look forward. While not all of these are guaranteed to be available or implemented by their probably date, they’re all a lot more likely to happen in our lifetimes then we previously thought. Plus, it never hurts to hope!

2012

Ultrabooks – The last two years have been all about the tablet. Laptops, with their “untouchable” screens, have yet to match any tablet’s featherweight portability and zippy response times. However, by next year, ultraportable notebooks — Ultrabooks — will finally be available for under $1000, bringing a complete computing experience into areas of life which, until now, have only been partially filled by smaller technologies such as tablets and smartphones. They weigh around three pounds, measure less than an inch thick, and the hard drives are flash-based, which means they’ll have no moving parts, delivering zippy-quick startups and load times.

The Mars Science Laboratory – By August 2012, the next mission to Mars will reach the Martian surface with a new rover named Curiosity focusing on whether Mars could ever have supported life, and whether it might be able to in the future. Curiosity will be more than 5 times larger than the previous Mars rover, and the mission will cost around $2.3 billion — or just about one and a half New Yankee Stadiums.

The paralyzed will walk. But, perhaps not in the way that you’d imagine. Using a machine-brain interface, researchers are making it possible for otherwise paralyzed humans to control neuroprostheses — essentially mechanical limbs that respond to human thought — allowing them to walk and regain bodily control. The same systems are also being developed for the military, which one can only assume means this project won’t flounder due to a lack of funding.

2013

The Rise of Electronic Paper – Right now, e-paper is pretty much only used in e-readers like the Kindle, but it’s something researchers everywhere are eager to expand uponFull-color video integration is the obvious next step, and as tablet prices fall, it’s likely newspapers will soon be fully eradicated from their current form. The good news: less deforestation, and more user control over your sources.

4G will be the new standard in cell phone networks. What this means: your phone will download data about as fast as your home computer can. While you’ve probably seen lots of 4G banter from the big cell providers, it’s not very widely available in most phones. However, both Verizon and the EU intend to do away with 3G entirely by 2013, which will essentially bring broadband-level speeds to wireless devices on cell networks. It won’t do away with standard internet providers, but it will bring “worldwide WiFi” capabilities to anyone with a 4G data plan.

The Eye of Gaia, a billion-pixel telescope will be sent into space this year to begin photographing and mapping the universe on a scale that was recently impossible. With the human eye, one can see several thousand stars on a clear night; Gaia will observe more than a billion over the course of its mission — about 1% of all the stars in the Milky Way. As well, it will look far beyond our own galaxy, even as far as the end of the (observable) universe.

2014

A 1 Terabyte SD Memory Card probably seems like an impossibly unnecessary technological investment. Many computers still don’t come with that much memory, much less SD memory cards that fit in your digital camera. Yet thanks to Moore’s Law we can expect that the 1TB SD card will become commonplace in 2014, and increasingly necessary given the much larger swaths of data and information that we’re constantly exchanging every day (thanks to technologies like memristors and our increasing ever-connectedness). The only disruptive factor here could be the rise of cloud-computing, but as data and transfer speeds continue to rise, it’s inevitable that we’ll need a physical place to store our digital stuff.

The first around-the-world flight by a solar-powered plane will be accomplished by now, bringing truly clean energy to air transportation for the first time. Consumer models are still far down the road, but you don’t need to let your imagination wander too far to figure out that this is definitely a game-changer. Consider this: it took humans quite a few milennia to figure out how to fly; and only a fraction of that time to do it with solar power.

The Solar Impulse, to be flown around the world. Photo by Stephanie Booth

The world’s most advanced polar icebreaker is currently being developed as a part of the EU’s scientific development goals and is scheduled to launch in 2014. As global average temperatures continue to climb, an understanding and diligence to the polar regions will be essential to monitoring the rapidly changing climates — and this icebreaker will be up to the task.

$100 personal DNA sequencing is what’s being promised by a company called BioNanomatrix, which the company founder Han Cao has made possible through his invention of the ‘nanofluidic chip.’ What this means: by being able to cheaply sequence your individual genome, a doctor could biopsy a tumor, sequence the DNA, and use that information to determine a prognosis and prescribe treatment for less than the cost of a modern-day x-ray. And by specifically inspecting the cancer’s DNA, treatment can be applied with far more specific — and effective — accuracy.

2015

The world’s first zero-carbon, sustainable city in the form of Masdar City will be initially completed just outside of Abu Dhabi. The city will derive power solely from solar and other renewable resources, offer homes to more than 50,000 people.

Personal 3D Printing is currently reserved for those with extremely large bank accounts or equally large understandings about 3D printing; but by 2015, printing in three dimensions (essentially personal manufacturing) will become a common practice in the household and in schools. Current affordable solutions include do-it-yourself kits like Makerbot, but in four years it should look more like a compact version of the uPrint. Eventually, this technology could lead to technologies such as nano-fabricators and matter replicators — but not for at least a few decades.

2016

Space tourism will hit the mainstream. Well, sorta. Right now it costs around $20-30 million to blast off and chill at the International Space Station, or $200,000 for a sub-orbital spaceflight from Virgin Galactic. But the market is growing faster than most realize: within five years, companies like Space IslandGalactic Suite, and Orbital Technologies may realize their company missions, with space tourism packages ranging from $10,000 up-and-backs to $1 million five-night stays in an orbiting hotel suite.

The sunscreen pill will hit the market, protecting the skin as well as the eyes from UV rays. By reverse-engineering the way coral reefs shield themselves from the sun, scientists are very optimistic about the possibility, much to the dismay of sunscreen producers everywhere.

A Woolly Mammoth will be reborn among other now-extinct animals in 2016, assuming all goes according to the current plans of Japan’s Riken Center for Developmental Biology. If they can pull it off, expect long lines at Animal Kingdom.

2017

Portable laser pens that can seal wounds – Imagine you’re hiking fifty miles from the nearest human, and you slip, busting your knee wide open, gushing blood. Today, you might stand a chance of some serious blood loss — but in less than a decade you might be carrying a portable laser pen capable of sealing you back up Wolverine-style.

2018

Light Peak technology, a method of super-high-data-transfer, will enable more than 100 Gigabytes per second — and eventually whole terabytes per second — within everyday consumer electronics. This enables the copying of entire hard drives in a matter of seconds, although by this time the standard hard drive is probably well over 2TB.

Insect-sized robot spies aren’t far off from becoming a reality, with the military currently hard at work to bring Mission Impossible-sized tech to the espionage playground. Secret weapon: immune to bug spray.

2019

The average PC has the power of the human brain. According to Ray Kurzweil, who has a better grip on the future than probably anyone else, the Law of Accelerating Returns will usher in an exponentially greater amount of computing power than ever before.

Web 3.0 – What will it look like? Is it already here? It’s always difficult to tell just where we stand in terms of technological chronology. But if we assume that Web 1.0 was based only upon hyperlinks, and Web 2.0 is based on the social, person-to-person sharing of links, then Web 3.0 uses a combination of socially-sourced information, curated by a highly refined, personalizable algorithm (“they” call it the Semantic Web). We’re already in the midst of it, but it’s still far from its full potential.

Energy from a fusion reactor has always seemed just out of reach. It’s essentially the process of producing infinite energy from a tiny amount of resources, but it requires a machine that can contain a reaction that occurs at over 125,000,000 degrees. However, right now in southern France, the fusion reactor of the future is being built to power up by 2019, with estimates of full-scale fusion power available by 2030.

2020

Crash-proof cars have been promised by Volvo, to be made possible by using radar, sonar, and driver alert systems. Considering automobile crashes kill over 30,000 people in the U.S. per year, this is definitely a welcome technology.

2021

So, what should we expect in 2021? Well, 10 years ago, what did you expect to see now? Did you expect the word “Friend” to become a verb? Did you expect your twelve-year-old brother to stay up texting until 2am? Did you expect 140-character messaging systems enabling widespread revolutions against decades-old dictatorial regimes?

The next 10 years will be an era of unprecedented connectivity; this much we know. It will build upon the social networks, both real and virtual, that we’ve all played a role in constructing, bringing ideas together that would have otherwise remained distant, unknown strangers. Without twitter and a steady drip of mainstream media, would we have ever so strongly felt the presence of the Arab Spring? What laughs, gasps, or loves, however fleeting, would have been lost if not for Chatroulette? Keeping in mind that as our connections grow wider and more intimate, so too will the frequency of our connectedness, and as such, your own understanding of just what kinds of relationships are possible will be stretched and revolutionized as much as any piece of hardware.

Truly, the biggest changes we’ll face will not come in the form of any visible technology; the changes that matter most, as they always have, will occur in those places we know best but can never quite see: our own hearts and minds.

The last three paragraphs are the most salient to me. Whatever fantastic developments the future holds, we can all agree that much of it will unexpected no matter how hard we try to prepare and predict. That’s neither a good nor bad thing, it just is.

The Eagle Huntress of Mongolia

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This is Ashol-Pan, a 13-year-old Kazakh eagle huntress living in the rugged Altai Mountains of western Mongolia. The daughter of a famous hunter, she’s one of only 400 practicing eagle hunters, and the only known female to ever partake in the tradition in its 2,000-year history.

The Kazakhs of the Altai mountains are the only people that hunt with golden eagles, which are taken from nests at a young age. Females are chosen due to their larger size — the typical adult is around 15 pounds, with a wingspan of over 90 inches. Hunts occur in winter, when the temperatures can drop to -40F. Hunters work in teams, trekking on horseback for days in order to reach a mountain or ridge for a better view. When an animal is spotted, riders charge towards it to flush it into the open, and an eagle is released. If the eagle fails to make a kill, another is released.

After years of service, a hunter releases his mature eagle once and for all during the spring, leaving a slaughtered sheep as a farewell present. This ensures that the eagles go back to nature and have their own strong newborns, for both their future and those of the hunters that depend on them.

Source: BBC

The James Bond of Philanthropy

In my view, with great wealth comes great responsibility. It gives you the capacity to do tremendous good or harm in the world, far more than the overwhelming majority of fellow humans. A little-known Irish-American businessman named Chuck Feeney exemplifies the incredible moral potential that the world’s richest can exercise if they so choose. Forbes did a piece on this amazing philanthropist in 2012, likening him to James Bond for his uniquely low-key and strategic approach to charitable giving:

Over the last 30 years he’s crisscrossed the globe conducting a clandestine operation to give away a $7.5 billion fortune derived from hawking cognac, perfume and cigarettes in his empire of duty-free shops. His foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, has funneled $6.2 billion into education, science, health care, aging and civil rights in the U.S., Australia, Vietnam, Bermuda, South Africa and Ireland. Few living people have given away more, and no one at his wealth level has ever given their fortune away so completely during their lifetime. The remaining $1.3 billion will be spent by 2016, and the foundation will be shuttered in 2020. While the business world’s titans obsess over piling up as many riches as possible, Feeney is working double time to die broke.

Feeney embarked on this mission in 1984, in the middle of a decade marked by wealth creation–and conspicuous consumption–when he slyly transferred his entire 38.75% ownership stake in Duty Free Shoppers to what became the Atlantic Philanthropies. “I concluded that if you hung on to a piece of the action for yourself you’d always be worrying about that piece,” says Feeney, who estimates his current net worth at $2 million (with an “m”). “People used to ask me how I got my jollies, and I guess I’m happy when what I’m doing is helping people and unhappy when what I’m doing isn’t helping people.”

What Feeney does is give big money to big problems–whether bringing peace to Northern Ireland, modernizing Vietnam’s health care system or seeding $350 million to turn New York’s long-neglected Roosevelt Island into a technology hub. He’s not waiting to grant gifts after he’s gone nor to set up a legacy fund that annually tosses pennies at a $10 problem. He hunts for causes where he can have dramatic impact and goes all-in. “Chuck Feeney is a remarkable role model,” Bill Gates tells FORBES, “and the ultimate example of giving while living.”

I highly recommend you read the rest of the article, as it eventually discusses the nuances of Feeny’s character and his rather sophisticated philanthropic methods. The amount of wealth he is donating in both proportional and absolute terms is staggering enough without the added humility and strategic approach.

It is unfortunate that amid ever-higher rates of inequality — best epitomized by the fact that a mere 85 individuals own more wealth than around half of the world’s poorest people (3.5 billion) – most of the world’s elites aren’t following in Feeny’s footsteps, or at the very least donating more than a mere percentage of their assets. There’s a lot of untapped potential out there, and even a number of us who are comfortably well-off could be doing more.

Reason, Empathy, and Human Progress: A Dialogue

TED Talk has a great 15-minute animation of a conversation between psychologist Steven Pinker and philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein regarding the role of reason and empathy in bettering our species overall (the ending of slavery, alleviation of poverty, etc). Done in the spirit of an illuminating and investigative Socratic method, it’s a very stimulating conversation.

Do you agree with their conclusion? What are your thoughts on the matter?

The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras

This is going to be the first of many posts that highlight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, cultural and natural landmarks that are identified for their incredible value for humanity. 

The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras — which span five sites — was the first property to be included in the cultural landscape category of the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995.

Built 2,000 years ago and passed on from generation to generation, the Ifugao Rice Terraces are a marvel of engineering, built on steeper slopes and reaching a higher altitude than most other terraces. The terrace pond fields were created using stone or mud walls, and were carved carefully to follow the natural contours of the hills and mountains. They’re irrigated through an intricate system that harvests water from the forests of the mountain tops. The rice terraces are incorporated almost seamlessly into nature.The maintenance of these living rice terraces require a cooperative approach among the entire community. They rely on detailed knowledge of the rich diversity of biological resources existing in the Ifugao ecosystem, a finely tuned annual system respecting lunar cycles, meticulous zoning and planning, extensive soil conservation, and mastery of a complex pest control based on the careful processing of a variety of herbs, all accompanied by religious rituals.

Archaeological evidence reveals that these techniques have been used in the region virtually unchanged for 2,000 years. Because they illustrate the persistence of cultural traditions and remarkable continuity and endurance, they were included in a list reserved for sites of profound global importance to humanity — rightfully so, in my opinion.

The Man Who Cultivated Malala

By now most readers no doubt know of Malala Yousafzai, the brave teen activist who advocated for education and women’s rights in a Taliban-dominated part of Pakistan before nearly dying  at the hands of a Taliban gunman. The assassination attempt — which has done little to silence her — rightly elevated her to international attention while highlighting the plight of women and girls in Pakistan and the brave efforts of reformers like Malala to change the status quo.

Now the man who has been most fundamental to Malala’s courage, her father Ziauddin, is entering the spotlight for his uniquely progressive role in helping his daughter realize her remarkable potential on her own terms. “Why is my daughter so strong?” Yousafzai asks. “Because I didn’t clip her wings.” A simple but profound point about the role that parents should play in their children’s lives, especially within societies that seek to oppress and stifle them.

Check out his incredible and inspiring TED Talk below. It’s well worth your time.

It’s beautiful to see how much this son and daughter team have managed to defy stereotypes and societal pressure to become mutually reinforcing and supportive of each other, leading as much by example as through activism. I can’t wait to see what amazing things they’ll accomplish in the future, especially as Malala begins to realize her dream of continuing her education and no doubt learning more about how she can help the world.

 

Twenty-One Children and Their Bedrooms From Around the World

PolicyMic is featuring the engaging works of James Mollison, a Kenyan-born, English photographer based in Venice whose 2011 photo book, Where Children Sleep, collects photos of various children and their sleeping quarters. It was meant to draw attention to each child’s “material and cultural circumstances” and to put perspective on the class, poverty, and the diversity of children worldwide.

I strongly suggest you check it out here; it’s well worth your time. Some of these images are pretty powerful, highlighting the vast discrepancies in standard of living between (and within) countries around the world. Many of the subjects have a lot of personality and character as well (which is no doubt why they were chosen.

A Brief Amateur Guide to Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is a universalistic consequentialist ethical theory that judges the moral worth of an action based on its results. An ethical theory is any system of thought that provides a process for developing moral rules and guidelines and that establishes criteria for evaluating the moral value of particular human actions.

Like every ethical theory, utilitarianism emerged in a particular context which influenced its foundation and development; specifically, 19th century Industrial England. In this era, economic, commercial, and technological innovations were allowing a growing number of people unprecedented access to goods, services, and wealth. At the same time, however, there was widespread inequality, labor exploitation, and social stratification. The potential for achieving individual and societal prosperity was higher than ever, but people remained disenfranchised and abused in order to perpetuate the early industrial and capitalist system. Society was being radically restructured.

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Inside the Mind of a Heroin Addict

Given the intense stigma of drug addiction, which is often met vicious condemnation and even disregard, the perspectives and mentalities of addicts themselves are rarely ever heard, much less sympathized with. This is arguably most true of heroin addicts, who are considered especially heinous given the intensity of that drug. Too many people see substance abusers as deserving of whatever horrible fate befalls them — after all, they put themselves in that situation, right?

Whatever motivations or triggers lead an individual to first try heroin — and more often than not, the habit is precipitated by an intersection of very complex psychological, social, and economic factors — the point is, they’re suffering immensely and don’t want to be where they are. The mind of an addict is a scary and hopeless place, as these series of accounts gathered by The Guardian attest. I urge everyone to read through them and try to get a little perspective on this neglected and misunderstood world of drug addiction.

As always, please feel free to weigh in.

 

 

The Small Christmas Truce

Many readers have probably already heard of the famous Christmas Truce that occurred on the Western Front of the First World War in 1914. Although largely overshadowed by the sheer scale of death and brutality that characterized this first truly global conflict, it nonetheless continues to inspire people generations later with its message of hope and humanity amidst even the most unlikely circumstances.

As we all know, the Second World War would eventually outdo its predecessor by an unspeakable margin, both in death and barbarism. Given the existential nature of that conflict, a similar truce on the scale of World War I’s was unlikely, and indeed there’s no record of any such good will having occurred — except for one small but powerful event.

On a snowy Christmas Eve in 1944, a German woman named Elisabeth Vincken, who lived on the Belgian-German border, was preparing Christmas dinner with her 12-year-old son Fritz, when they heard a surprising knock on the door: three American soldiers, one of whom was badly injured, had gotten lost in the midst of the brutal Battle of the Bulge, the last major conflict on the Western Front.

Although they were armed, the soldiers, who looked no older than their mid-teens, didn’t burst in. She took pity on them and invited them in from the cold for Christmas dinner — an offense punishable by death (neither side spoke the other’s language, but they got by on broken French).

As she and her son prepared their food, there was another knock at the door; a 23-year-old German corporal and three other soldiers (two only sixteen) wanted to wish her a Merry Christmas, but were lost and hungry. Despite the incredible risk, Elisabeth told them that they were welcome to come, but there were others inside who they would not consider friends. The corporal asked sharply if there were Americans inside and she said there were — and they were lost, cold, and hungry like they were. When he stared her down, she stood her ground and asserted: “It is the Holy Night and there will be no shooting here.” She then asked both the Germans and the Americans to leave their guns outside and come together for dinner, which they all surprisingly did.

Despite the initial (and understandable) tension, relations between the men became cordial after dinner, with both sides shedding tears when Elisabeth said grace. The Germans even provided some wine and bread, and one of them, an ex-medical student, tended to the wounded America. This truce lasted through the night and into the morning. The German corporal told the Americans the best way to get back to their lines and provided them with a map and compass; he even told them how to avoid German territory. In the morning, all the soldiers took their respective weapons, shook hands, and left in opposite directions.

Elisabeth, her son, and her husband survived the war, although all three have since passed away. The fate of all but one of the soldiers is unknown: Ralph Bank, an American, still kept the compass and map provided by the corporal that saved his life. Bank would eventually meet up with an older Frtiz decades later, thanking him and his mother for taking them in.

Though this was a mere flicker of hope and goodwill relative to the massive level of death and suffering that transpired before and after, it’s nonetheless an important reminder of the capacity for human beings to transcend violence and hatred even in the most unlikely circumstances.