NPF: GREAT LEAP FORWARD

What is the Next Big Thing?

This is a silly question to ask on some level since anybody out there who could answer it correctly would be too busy getting rich off of it to waste time idly perusing the internet. Regardless, I can't shake the feeling that with the possible exception of the internet (and before that, the home computer) there hasn't been anything new lately. What passes for new technology these days is almost inevitably an improvement, be it incremental or exponential, of some extant technology. Things get faster, smaller, and cheaper. We get more and better ways to waste away our lives staring at movies, games, and the internet. Medicine gets a little better at treating what ails us, cars get a little faster, food gets more plentiful (and imperishable, although we dare not ask how). We have conquered instantaneous global communication and the cheap mass production of any imaginable disposable consumer good (turns out the key ingredients were Slave Wages and complete lack of regulation).

I'm not bright enough to think of anything actually new, here are my best guesses at the next incremental steps forward that will make someone who isn't me a multi-billionaire someday:

1. Cheap, safe wireless energy transmission. Recharge electronic devices (not to mention electric cars) without plugs, cords, or wired infrastructure. We've already taken some baby steps in this direction with charging mats, but whoever can invent something that allows you to charge your phone and laptop just by walking into a building is going to print money.

2. Non-brittle carbon fiber / composites that can replace steel. CF was hailed as a revolutionary breakthrough back in the 90s, but unfortunately despite being extremely strong it is also brittle as hell. Whoever overcomes that problem will have a material that can replace metal and masonry in buildings, vehicles, heavy machinery, prosthetics…

3. Doing away with the physical interfaces between us and our various computing devices. I have no idea how this could work, but eventually someone will find a way to make this sentence appear on my computer screen as soon as I think it. The keyboard and my fingers will be superfluous.

4. Artificial organs that are improvements upon, not just replacements for, the real ones. Any significant further extension of our lifespans will require either some way to stop aging (unlikely) or organ replacements that last forever and perform even better than the ones nature gave us.

5. Online smells. As stupid as it might be, someone's going to find a way to do it and then middle schoolers texting each other farts is going to be a billion dollar per year industry.

I'm not very creative, as you can see. I bet you can top these.

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57 Responses to “NPF: GREAT LEAP FORWARD”

  1. Talisker Says:

    Be careful what you ask for. If predictions of the Singularity are to be believed, sometime soon we will invent an all-powerful machine intelligence which will set itself up as a god (hopefully a benevolent one, but who the hell knows).

    I think the Singularity is at best an extremely dubious idea, but I've been wrong before.

  2. Dbp Says:

    I think a good new energy source (or drastically improved old one) will be the next truly great thing. There will probably be tons of great advances before that probably, but not likely to be anything that can be considered a game changer with human civilization. Relatively unlimited power will open the possibility to eliminate deprivation of basic human needs. It won't be used for that mostly, but it will be an option.

    Either that or a bigger cell phone. Think about how much better life will be if they increase phone width by another quarter inch.

  3. FMguru Says:

    Nascent tech that could be big in the medium term:

    1) Solar and wind. New solar plants are already price-competitive with coal, solar technology (measured in Watts/$) is advancing along a Moore's Law-style curve, mass storage technologies are coming online, and the possibility of people going largely off-the-grid and generating their electricity on their roof has utility and gasoline companies starting to panic.

    2) 3D printing is still nascent, but if it spools up like it should it'll be a huge disruption for the consumer goods production industry. Why pay to import cheap plastic crap from overseas when you can have a computer custom-make all cheap plastic crap for you right at home? Or if not at home, on your block or in your town.

    3) The privacy implications are Orwellian but the combination of sensors in a smartwatch/smartphone and nigh-infinite cheap data storage should revolutionize medicine. Imagine saying you're having trouble sleeping and your doctor pulling up your minute-by-minute sleep data for the last six months. Or imagine the sort of big data analysis you'll be able to run once every person's vital signs and food and drug consumption are recorded 24/7. Modern clinical drug trials and surveys will look as crude as stone-age trepanation once big data comes online.

    4) The big one is robots and AIs putting people out of work. Sensors and data sets and computer decision making are getting better and cheaper exponentially and it shows no signs of stopping. It's really hard to exaggerate just how much this is going to "disrupt" society (I predict a non-trivial death toll). This video makes the case: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU

    In my dreams, cheap energy, smart computers, and liberated human capital spends the second half of the 21st century committed to ecological remediation and reversing the effects of climate change and pollution. In my nightmares, it's something more like ELYSIUM, where the 1% use their technology to live like demigods in walled fortresses and oppress the rest of us while we beg for their scraps in a polluted, sweltering, dying ecosystem.

    Finally: This is a really good presentation on where smartphones/internet technology is now, and where it's headed: http://ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2014/10/28/presentation-mobile-is-eating-the-world

  4. hoosierpoli Says:

    Driverless cars are going to push American civilization to an entirely new level of something very bad. Become the Netflix of cars and become a billionaire.

  5. FMguru Says:

    Ed, as for your point #2, there's a company that says they can make concrete reinforcing bars out of resin/fiber that are cheaper and lighter and stronger (and much more non-corrosive) than steel.

    http://cleantechnica.com/2014/11/06/neuvokas-basalt-rebar-lighter-stronger-cost-steel/

    I had no idea that steel rebar was, itself, was a $164 billion/year industry. Dang.

  6. Burple Says:

    Some people are saying that 3D printing is going to be a big deal.

  7. jeneria Says:

    I think neural implants for schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, etc will be huge. I imagine a Pat Cadiganesque dystopia where you have legit versions and then you have the knock off back alley vendors.

  8. c u n d gulag Says:

    3-D dick-pic's.

    And 3-D dick-pic enlargers, of course.

  9. c u n d gulag Says:

    3-D dick-pic's.

    And 3-D dick-pic enlargers, of course.

  10. DMC Says:

    One thing that's waiting on the carbon fiber nano-tubes is the Space Elevator. We've been perpetually "18 months away" from getting them in lengths beyond a half meter since the '90's. Once we can make the super strong and lightweight cable, we can boost things to orbit for $10 a kilogram instead of $10,000. This opens up orbital space for the construction of vehicles to explore and exploit the rest of the Solar system. Effectively infinite resources and energy follow.

  11. geoff Says:

    I, for one, welcome our new AI overlords!! (Extra bonus points to jeneria for the Cadigan reference.)

  12. Andrew Says:

    Honestly, I think "the next big thing" will be a lifting technology that reduces the cost of getting out of our gravity well to pennies on the dollar. Orbit being "halfway to anywhere" is very, very true, and since we have proven mostly-autonomous robots can land on extraterrestrial bodies and perform tasks.

    Although I don't think that will necessarily put us into space as settlers, the ability to cheaply deploy all sorts of manufacturing and resource-extraction drones into space, and bring it back cheaply, will ease any possible resource bottleneck we're likely to experience.

    I don't even think it'll cause some Malthusian population explosion, since we've seen that a resource-rich society doesn't tend to have birth rates much above replacement, so opening up space to exploitation doesn't even necessarily mean we're starting a Red Queen's race.

  13. ADM Says:

    I was going to write gene manipulation, which I guess is similar to number 4. And Burple's idea (3D printing) holds a lot of promise, too. And what might be super-practical is some kind of algorithm that warns people they're interacting with trolls. Some way of an app communicating: "Hey, this guy you're talking to generates a shit-tonne of negativity. Proceed with caution."

    Sadly, I think CUND Gulag is right – the future is all dick pics (in 3D!).

  14. Both Sides Do It Says:

    Plastics

  15. Whatver Says:

    Both, I think you meant "Plasmonics!" Polaritons will be the key to quantum/optical computing and small enough sensors for a true brain/computer interface.

  16. Whatver Says:

    We already had the Singularity. It was called the Long 19th Century.

  17. verbal Says:

    Diverless cars available as taxis should be good, actually. It's like a bus that takes you wherever you want to go.

  18. Anubis Bard Says:

    None of those things will be the next big thing, because we already don't know what to do with the stuff we have now. The next big thing is going to be a vision or some sort of grand cultural enthusiasm. Humans have no collective project other than modernization and that's come to mean consumerism. There's a malaise in how people regard the future – either as apocalypse or as endless more-of-the-same with phone upgrades – plus perhaps a sad list of nifty novelties like Ed's. What are we supposed to be doing with our time on this earth? If some cultural entrepreneur comes up with a compelling answer to that, then you'll see some shit.

  19. Skepticalist Says:

    Area 52

  20. Major Kong Says:

    So with driverless cars we won't even be able to get shitty jobs as cab drivers any more?

    I know, let's invent driverless trucks and put 3.5 million or so truck drivers on the unemployment line as well.

    Technology for the win!

  21. jestbill Says:

    Really?
    What's the difference?
    1. A guy sits in a chair and guides a truck along a ribbon of concrete while talking on a phone or CB radio.
    2. Same guy sits in a room pretending to search for a job while playing video games.

    If they get paid the same while the goods get delivered, who cares?

    It's all in who gets paid, not in who does the work.

  22. Emerson Dameron Says:

    With Online Smells, 4Chan will never be the same.

    All kidding aside, my imaginary investments are mostly in "ed-tech." So many big ideas, so very, very far to go.

  23. wnsrfr Says:

    Socially-driven job sharing. Automation and outsourcing are a continuous corrosive force on the ability for many to have meaningful jobs. It is gutting the middle class and is going to be moving up the food chain rapidly. No competitive company or organization is going to pay 2 people twice as much to do the job of one person (each working 50% of a 40 hour work week). But…somehow we need to get there. It will need a strong social movement with some kind of logo that organizations can gain by being participants, and maybe even an alternative currency like bitcoin only for work-generating employment.

  24. quixote Says:

    Anubis: here's a different vision for you. The fairly simple math that shows a 24-hour work week is doable for advanced economies becomes common knowledge. This leads to a reorganization of work — for instance, so caregivers can work different shifts and yet still have time together — and (remember, I'm dreaming here) a general increase in continuing lifelong education, hobbies, and general fun. Meanwhile, distributed clean solar energy has become a thing, as well as way more telecommuting and decentralized, village-style work. So less traffic, roads, and time wasted on them.

    All we'd need is an invention that limits concentrations of power and income inequality.

    How hard could it be? Right? Right??

  25. arctangent Says:

    The Culture can't come fast enough for me.

  26. Eschatos Says:

    No one mentions cold fusion? That, or on a lesser scale, wide use of thorium reactors. That could pretty much make oil irrelevant.

  27. Major Kong Says:

    So why would our libertarian Silicon Valley overlords want to pay people for sitting around doing nothing while machines do their work?

    Nice idea but I'd say the odds of it happening are slim to none.

    As archetypal robber-baron Jay Gould famously said:

    "I can pay half the working class to kill the other half."

    Enjoy!

  28. Michael Says:

    #4 – But not so much "artificial" but grown to order based on programmable stem-like cells. Part of this will be biological programming as we learn more and more about how DNA and RNA work and what the coding means on an individual level. Add to this drugs and vaccines tailored to individuals.

    Extended life expectancy is almost a given. Telomerase therapy will become a boutique service of the rich first , but will eventually be ironed out to the point where only abuse, accident or violence will result in biological degradation. However, I am not sure if such therapies could be applied to cells or neurons in the brain; so you could look great but be dumber than a post…sort of like a Fox News host.

    Of course all of this comes with the risk of "I Am Legend" as we are tinkering with things we may not fully understand with significant unintended consequences. Telomerase seems to partially act as an evolutionary patch to try and prevent cancerous run-away growth and so messing with it could, you know, bring on WWZ.

    #3 – Again, you aren't thinking big enough. I think we are already seeing this with the X Box interface and I just read about the first successful thought transfer between brains. What this suggests to me is that we will eventually be able to map the data and meta data of synapse connections and store them on a chip. Provided your map is complete or at least robust enough to capture the essence of "you", one could re-grow an entire body and "upload" you into it.

    Imagine being able to transmit your "essence" instantaneously via a quantum entangled communications system and be uploaded into a rental body for a party on the other side of the galaxy. Not in my lifetime or yours, but maybe my great-great-great grandchildren's. But, imagine the paradoxes created by just being able to "download" a copy. If it's uploaded into another brain/body and has different experiences does it cease to be "you"? And, could you conceivably merge them at a later time? Just bring that up at the next cocktail party.

    There are great sci-fi books out there that incorporate these ideas and the growth of our understanding of the major hard sciences makes much of it completely feasible if we don't kill ourselves in the process. Dawkins says it's a 50% flip of the coin whether we make it through the 21st century and MIT calculates we have about 10k years left based on an extrapolation of how many humans will ever be born. (I am sure there is some pretty hairy math behind that whole calculation)

  29. Zaphod Says:

    Oh, related to some other posts here, we need to get the fuck off this planet. There is no purpose to life. We are merely a self-aware virus and the only purpose we have is to survive long enough to replicate and to spread our virus as far and wide as possible. In the mean time, we need to be entertained to fill up the void of time where we aren't doing the above – hence, X Box, pro wrestling and porn.

    Right now we are indeed in a holding pattern culturally and as a global society. We do indeed need a mission…a long term mission. Something greater than ourselves, something greater than just holding on to what we've got. Space and exploration and the developing the means to do it would be just the right thing. As with all "explosions" of life, culture, knowledge, etc. there is a build-up of seemingly unconnected developments that a critical tipping point that results in the next great leap "forward". Just check out chaos and complexity theory.

    Of course, the real joke being uttered from the mouth of Buddha himself is that once we conquer space, we will still have to deal with time as the physics of this universe define it and so we will never truly be immortal as it will all end eventually. But, at least it will give us something we can do collectively besides kill each other.

    So, all in all, working a job we hate to get money to buy shit we don't need seems kind of ok as we might as well try to enjoy our conscious time. We have no clue what's "on the other side", so we might as well enjoy it. Acceptance of the abyss makes it easier to deal with the abyss' annoying stares.

    Tyler Durden: Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.

  30. erase Says:

    your feeling that nothing is really new anymore is largely correct – as scientific research money has shifted from pure research to research with immediate commercial applications, innovation has shifted towards incremental change and using extra computing power to do more computationally intensive tasks. (there is much discussion of this research problem already out there already.)

    that being said, there are some places where incremental improvements will make a big difference in the future – 3d printing being a good example, which will be able to handle #4 within our lifetimes. and incremental improvements made possible by increasing computing power will continue to impact the way we live our lives.

    efficient and safe wireless energy transmission is a long way off. inductive charging doesn't transmit much power and wastes a lot of power, which is why it is limited to charging low power devices (mobile phones, RFID chips). you *could* scale it up to charge a laptop or a car, but it would be even more inefficient and you'd have to deal with the consequences of large and powerful electromagnetic fields on everything else in the charging area. you can also send wireless power via microwave and laser, but when they are sufficiently energy dense enough to be useful they also become very dangerous. we'll have far more success in the future by reducing the amount of power needed to power our devices (allowing us to use smaller batteries and get by with induction).

    for the next big leap technology, i think it will be fusion reactors (there have been some positive developments fusion lately). once we can produce power for less than the cost of fossil fuels, all sorts of world-changing things will start to happen (the decline of petro-states and the geopolitical consequences of them, cheap water desalination, reductions in greenhouse gas emmisions, a lessening of the economics of scarcity).

  31. Skepticalist Says:

    If any of these speculations ring true, It's likely that religion will become even more quickly something of a novelty.

  32. JustRuss Says:

    For good or ill, I see driverless cars as the next big game changer. Why own a car when you can have one show up at your door when you need it? Sure, won't work for everyone, but if it works for half the population that's still huge. And yes, truck drivers won't be happy.

  33. mothra Says:

    Next big thing? Kim Kardashian's butt, of course.

    Can't believe all you fools missed that.

  34. Monty Says:

    Online smells is good, but too limited in scope.

    "Have you paid your color-viewing fee today, citizen? God didn't make angstroms just for your kind to goggle at for free."

    "And WTF is this? Unsanctioned co-opting gravitons?!? You Marxist fuckers never give up…"

  35. Burple Says:

    Several commenters above talked about social changes – in particular shorter work weeks. I would like to agree, and posit that the next big thing is a form of society in which guaranteed incomes for everyone places a floor of security on which people can build their lives, pursue their dreams, or confront their nightmares, as they wish. But capitalism is a wily old bitch. She's not dead yet, not by a long shot.

    Plus, nobody has said much about drones yet, unless I missed it. If the Overlords gain the ability to simply dispose of the surplus labor via drone soldiers or whatnot every once in a while, capitalism might stagger on.

  36. WeiMingKai Says:

    I'm praying for the singularity. It can't get here fast enough to devour this world and end mankind's ever widening spiral of sadism, suffering, and catastrophic negligence. Should humanity really be proud of where we are at right now? Does having created Monday Night Football, Truck Nuts, and the US Congress that will take power in 2015 constitute and argument for survival that outweighs the karmic weight of triggering what is likely to be a cascade of mass extinctions and climatic fuckery.

    Hopefully the post singularity (TY Talisker) global hive-mind or 'the Culture' ala Ian M. Banks (TY Arctangent) will act on its own impulses towards self-preservation/perpetuation by applying itself to solving scientific and technical obstacles to such things as:
    1)– equitable distribution of global resources/production between drones/corpus/citizen/sophonts balanced by rationally determined estimates of upper and lower bound need for a 'highly satisfactory' individual existence (a global command economy planned by a godlike and incorruptible intelligence).
    2)– rationally define and rank order conflicting priorities/challenges then configure a global solution matrix/project plan that optimizes the likely outcome in as many of the high priority items as possible i.e.; find cures for aging and/or disease and/or psychological ailments and/or energy production and/or food production and/or consumer goods availability and/or cultivation or sophonts capable of making positive contributions to solutions in the problem matrix (education) and/or preserving the environment and habitat of non-sophont species and/or stabilizing the climate + atmospheric + ocean chemistry … the list can get VERY long, we have a lot of problems on this planet. I would hope that 'preserve the human species' and 'make them happy' would be ranked high enough in the solution matrix that our descendants would be lovingly cared for and watched over forever but if human beings don't make the cut when the machines enact their plan to fix everything I don't particularly give a fuck and IMO neither should you because they would all be better than us and we would all be dead.
    3)– climb out of the earthly gravity well to conquer/cultivate the solar system, then the stars. The whole colonizing distant stars problem gets easier when you are able to design and build the 'body' that houses your intelligence, and any lesser sophonts you want to take with you, to be extremely long lived, self-repairing, immune to vacuum, radiation, and boredom. If you can design a life form/colonist that can enjoy an interstellar journey of many millennia your chances of colonizing the stars go way up.

    If the US version of democracy is the best we humans can do in the face of our shared problems, we're fucked anyway. At least the godlike artificial intelligence might choose mass action based on evidence and reason instead of whatever delusional shit the million dollar hairdoos at Fox News are spewing.

  37. Death Panel Truck Says:

    What scares me is that someday someone will invent a way to beam advertisements into our brains while we are asleep, thus replacing dreams with ads for Red Bull or Diet Coke. Because advertising just isn't ubiquitous enough already.

  38. Schmitt trigger Says:

    Unfortunately, the biggest technology driver in history has been, and will always be, war.

    Humanity will find an improved method to eliminate other human beings.

  39. Chicagojon Says:

    It's incremental, but from a technology point I've been saying for years that the next big step is voice recognition. None of this Siri bullshit, but actual voice recognition that will work 80% out of the box and train itself to work 99%. So you can say 'turn the TV on', 'TV on', 'HBO please' and it will know what you want every time based on past preferences/usage. It will also make this comment box irrelevant and online communication will be talking i/o typing.

    On power I'm all for pebble bed nuclear reactors. Go China Go – that can't get here fast enough. Wireless power is bullshit unless the laws of physics are broken and/or some ridiculous new technology appears. It can't get incrementally more efficient.

    Ultimately I'm with others above – the next big thing needs to be a shared ability for people to understand and care for each other in this world. Otherwise we're basically fucked anyway. My snarky view of this is that we need some sort of group to unite all the peoples of the world. A united nations of sorts…except one that actually works and doesn't suck. On happier days it's nice to know that the Dalai Lama has 10.6 million likes and writes things like this:
    I consider myself to be just one among 7 billion human beings. If I were to think of myself as different from others, or as something special, it would create a barrier between us. What makes us the same is that we all want to lead happy lives and gather friends around us. And friendship is based on trust, honesty and openness.

  40. GibsonGirl99 Says:

    Arctangent Says: "The Culture can't come fast enough for me."

    I'm w/you & Mr. Banks!!

    We have a pretty good handle on the hedonistic/exhibitionistic axis of The Culture down, and are gaining on the more socially responsible aspects (eco-warriors morph into Special Services, perhaps?) but to get from here to there, we need the Minds, and they, alas, seem a long ways off. But I do have a smidge of an idea of how to begin to get there, but no knowledge of any type vis-a-vis making it work: We require that oh so Trekkie trope, the replicator. Forget 3-D printing. If we can figure out a machine that looks like a microwave, takes in any sort of molecule & puts out any sort of molecule, well then perhaps capitalism will collapse, and we can get on with being actual human beings. All the time.
    And then get off this rock.
    I really miss Iain M. Banks.
    Huzzah, The Culture!

  41. bad Jim Says:

    The next big thing will be collapse. Global warming, slowly eradicating the world's breadbaskets, but before that antibiotics will cease to work, and people will once again die in their prime years from injuries, or from illnesses requiring surgery which will no longer be safe to perform because of the risk of infection. If civilization can't be saved by peak oil, perhaps plague will come to the rescue!

    Everybody has to have a dream, right? Mine happens to be a nightmare.

    Adaptive lenses would be handy, and they've already been prototyped. One tap at the temple and your glasses change focus from infinity to the menu. People as old as me would love that (though, being nearsighted, I just take the damned things off).

    Effective, reliable treatment for depression and schizophrenia would be a gigantic game-changer. What we've got isn't good enough, and a lot of people aren't being treated as well. (That sounds like: "The food is terrible, and the portions are too small", but whatever.)

  42. bad Jim Says:

    Sticking to the biomedical theme, what will be a big thing in the near future is rapid DNA testing for pathogens. Instead of dosing patients with an arbitrarily chosen antibiotic, which may well be ineffective and may have deleterious effects on your biome and spread resistance among our bacterial foe, health providers could sample our effluvium, detect the pathogen, and select the proper weapon, whether it be an antibiotic, a bacteriophage, or a dose of competitive bacteria. Or a lollipop. Never underestimate the power of a lollipop, and the promise that it offers that you will get better.

  43. The Jack of Diamonds Says:

    Free time.

  44. NickT Says:

    What is the Next Big Thing?

    Very Serious People establishing an overt oligarchy in the US when the democratic rabble refuse to vote for Daddy Knows Best.

  45. Phoenician in a time of Romans Says:

    I'm pretty sure you're overlooking the potential of augmented reality, smart objects and intelligent software agents put together. (Assuming no collapse), the world around us is going to start looking pretty strange – think about the evolution of the web as applied to how real objects look and interact with you.

    I recall once outlining what was possible from a library system which added rudimentary processing and memory in with the RFID tags we already use – imagine books that could tell you when they were out of place on a shelf, to name but one function.

  46. Anubis Bard Says:

    @quixote "All we'd need is an invention that limits concentrations of power and income inequality." Well, that's succinctly put! I guess constitutional democracy has been our best strategy recently, but the powerful have pretty much overcome that one for now. Maybe we can hope for Banks' Minds plus cornucopia, but no time soon. Of course, the long history shows that the best way to avoid concentrations of power and wealth is by living in foraging bands of 60-80 people. That worked for a couple hundred thousand years! And if bad jim is right (and he's on firmer ground than Banks) that may be our next great "innovation". As far as the anthropologists can tell, life was shorter and narrower, but they had more time for leisure and relationships.

  47. Mo Says:

    An abortion pill that's as cheap and safe as tylenol and aspirin.

    One that can be ingested, of course, not held between the knees.

    And I, for one, welcome our Minders. Hi, Skybot! Can my dog and I have a treat?

  48. Robert Says:

    One of my near future daydreams is a team of economists and social scientists proving that advertising (as currently understood and practiced) does not actually work.

    Think about the consequences.

    On a more realistic level, the brains trust behind Dark Enlightenment win the support of the oligarchs and plutocrats and New Feudalism becomes the Ing$oc of the XXIst century. Soylent for thee, strawberries for me.

  49. Nate Says:

    @schmitt Pornography is a close second and one i'd prefer to war.

  50. quixote Says:

    @Anubis [We'll be] 'living in foraging bands of 60-80 people. That … may be our next great "innovation".'

    Seriously. I think that's where we're headed for the next few hundred years. With a Dark Ages-style scattered and rare refugia retaining enough knowledge for whatever comes next.

    One of the things I think about is that after every previous fall-apart-and-restart what came next was actually better. So, it sure doesn't look like it now, and I certainly can't see how it would come about, but based on past performance something amazing will come of it all some time when it can't do you or me any good.

  51. Alex SL Says:

    One of my friends is convinced that 3D printing will revolutionise manufacturing, repair and potentially all our value streams because it could mean that you would print an item at a corner store instead of having it manufactured in China. All you would have to ship around would be the raw materials. Depends on what materials can be printed though, and I am a bit skeptical whether individual print jobs will be cost-efficient against mass production.

  52. Alex SL Says:

    Also, there seems to be a lot of unwarranted optimism at display here. The singularity is not going to happen, cold fusion is not going to happen, hot fusion may turn out not to be feasible on a scale smaller than stars, human interstellar travel is not going to happen, and even space mining with robots only makes sense if energy and food problems are solved down here on earth. Limitless metal doesn't do you much good if you starve and if you have to run your civilisation on solar cells with a return on energy invested of 10% of what fossil fuels once gave you.

  53. moderateindy Says:

    It will be something in Nano-technology, particularly in medicine. That, or in controlling the aging process. There has been a lot of promising work in figuring out how to change the way the body ages, so it doesn't deteriorate too quickly. Of course if they do figure it out, I'm certain it will be so costly that only the 1% percenters will be able to get it, further incentivizing them to extract even more cash from the economic pie. After all, now that they will live to 150+ they're gonna need a billion or two.
    Of course, It will take about five minutes after we achieve true Artificial Intelligence for the newly aware computer to figure out that humans are by far the greatest threat to the continued existence of the planet. Thus, the new entity's survival instinct survival instinct will kick in, and to protect itself fom extinction it will wipe out the entire human race.

  54. sluggo Says:

    The Next Big Thing: Armageddon.

    I don't know how it will happen, zombies, plague, nuclear holocaust. I don't hold a lot of hope for the future.

  55. Graham Says:

    The next big thing really IS going to be 3D printing, which is being held back at the consumer level by some patent issues. It is just about here now. It will destroy what is left of Western manufacturing, but will allow individuals to make a great deal of what they need.

    Supermarkets will be filled with rows of plastics powders, each for a specific job or application or part. You will pour into your 3D printer whatever powder you need, and there you go. You will no longer need to buy the breakfast cereal in order to get the toy.

    Stuff will be cheap. This will be good, because there will be so many unemployed manufacturing workers who will have only enough money to buy cheap stuff.

    Driverless cars will be the next big thing after that. There are many regulatory hurdles to overcome before they will be allowed.

    However when they are allowed, us humans will have to defer to them on the roads: it will simply not be possible for humans to share the roads with them unless the human is automatically in the wrong in any accident.

    But hey, why should that bother us? We already defer to machines all the time – speed cameras; buildings that won't let us in (or out); contact forms on the web; software demands that make US fit THEM. We are already beaten on this front.

    Driverless cars will quickly become driverless taxis, buses and trucks. (Uber has this planned already as the fools who drive for them will shortly find out).

    But taxis will be cheap, This will be good because there will be so many unemployed taxi/bus/truck drivers who will have only enough money to afford cheap taxis.

    I can only hope that there will be sufficient unemployed taxi/bus/truck drivers to form a constant army of driverless-car saboteurs. A dob of vaseline on any one of their many sensors ought to do it.

  56. Nunya Says:

    Has anyone ever noticed that all of the great leaps forward seem to be focused on ensuring that fewer and fewer people are gainfully employed?

    Let's look at the great leaps forward of the last 75 years or so:

    1. Container ships – make it as simple as possible to move manufacturing to the cheapest corners of the globe

    2. The internet – While great for porn and morons who love to spew their ignorance, it also enables white collar work to be sent absolutely anywhere where educated people are willing to work for peanuts

    3. Education – insist that everyone become highly educated in order to compete for jobs that will never make use of that education. Convince people that advanced degrees are the real ticket. Hire PhD grads as adjunct professors. Pay them peanuts while they educate the next round of people who also won't be able to make a living.

    4. Finance – Lending to create new businesses that create valuable goods and services? Are you kidding? That's for chumps. Invest in time-wasting aps that destroy even more formerly middle class jobs. Pay your programmers well for about 10 years then discard them for being too old. Be sure to distract them with baubles and never equity.

    5. Retirement savings – Let everyone know that the good news is that they can work until they're much older because people live longer now. Never mind that any person engaged in physical work is pretty much destroyed by 40-something and neglect to mention that people over 50 are going to have a hard time finding work after they're shitcanned for the 20th time in their career because they are unwilling to work 80 hours a week for peanuts.

    Until we get a handle that society must provide education, employment opportunities for all, health care and a solid pension for all, we're all basically headed for a very destructive period. Capitalism will die eventually simply because it will have no one to buy anything.

  57. Mr. Wonderful Says:

    Late getting here, but it doesn't matter–Nunya says it all. I'm no economist, but it sure looks like that, for every x jobs a new technology creates, it destroys (x) (n), where n > 1. That's fewer and fewer people earning (probably) less money, as population increases. Call it a Malthusian employment curve. PLUS the created wealth being sucked up more and more by the 1 %.

    The next big thing will be the secular equivalent of Islamic jihad: organized rebellion against the capitalist world. Yay/boo.