Futurists can dish out some exciting and downright scary visions for the future of machines and science that either enhance or replace activities and products near and dear to us.
Being beamed from one location to another by teleportation was supposed to be right around the corner/in our lifetime/just decades away, but it hasn't become possible yet. Inventions like the VCR that were once high tech -- and now aren't -- proved challenging for some: The VCR became obsolete before many of us learned how to program one. And who knew that working with atoms and molecules would become the future of technology? The futurists, of course.
Forecasting the future of technology is for dreamers who hope to innovate better tools -- and for the mainstream people who hope to benefit from the new and improved. Many inventions are born in the lab and never make it into the consumer market, while others evolve beyond the pace of putting good regulations on their use.
Next, we'll take a look at some sound-loving atoms, tiny tools for molecules, huge bunches of data and some disgruntled bands of people who may want to set all of this innovation back with the stroke of a keyboard.
No one wants to be called a zero in terms of intelligence, but having zero-sized intelligence in computing means packing a whole lot of brains in a tiny, tiny package. Computer companies encourage forward-thinking creativity, and some, such as Intel, even have futurists on board to predict where technology is headed. Futurist Brian David Johnson sees the future advance of computing to so small a size that the housing for the computer itself is almost zero. We have the technology to put computers almost anywhere and in almost anything. Computers used to take up entire rooms, then whole desktops, laps and palms, to micro-chip-sized casings and atom-powered transistors invisible to the naked eye [source: Seligson]
Many have predicted that the shrinking of computing size would also lead to the end of something called Moore's Law. Gordon E. Moore, a co-founder of Intel, famously predicted that every two years the number of transistors on a chip will roughly double every 24 months. As computer brains have diminished in size -- with some models powered by just five atoms and one-atom developments about 10 to 20 years down the road -- getting smaller may reach an end point as atomic transistors replace chips. Whether the low cost will trickle down despite the high cost of innovating such small transistors remains to be seen [source: Menegaz].
Space exploration has taken some hits in the 21st century, with cuts to the U.S. and other international space program budgets. But with the Curiosity Rover on Mars as of August 2012 and plans to launch the "most powerful rocket in history," the Space Launch System (SLS) by 2017, NASA is still very much in the business of the future. After the planned, unmanned sendoff of the SLS in 2017, NASA intends to send a crew of up to four astronauts into space by 2021. This could be a return to the moon, with capabilities for missions on other planets [sources: Landau; NASA].
Even with the world economic downturns of this century, individuals and corporations in the private sector also plan to keep aiming for the stars and enabling people to buy space exploration tickets of their own. Some futurists of decades past would be surprised to see that space travel for every man isn't commonplace, but for a few wealthy adventurers, it's no longer the stuff of science fiction. Maybe their trips will help drive down costs for the rest of us.