Pharyngula

Brockman asks, we answer

This year’s Edge question was What will change everything? What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see? As usual, a lot of interesting people offered diverse answers, and you can read them all there.

You’ve probably got better answers. Feel free to leave them here in the comments.

Comments

  1. #1 Moses
    January 1, 2009

    More of this:

    http://opinion.latimes.com/opinionla/2008/12/barack-obama-ma.html

    And eventually there won’t be a Republican-Obstructions-Redneck party… And then we can fund science and usher in a new age.

    Of course, being old and cynical… I’m not getting my hopes up.

  2. #2 John H.
    January 1, 2009

    Physicists will detect what’s outside the universe, and prove there is no dog. They will also be dyslexic.

  3. #3 Moses
    January 1, 2009

    Fuck! Damn spell checker! That’s not the word I selected. It’s OBSTRUCTIONIST!!!

    I blame Bush.

    (That’s irony for the wingnuts and rednecks who think I’m actually blaming Bush.)

  4. #4 John Morales
    January 1, 2009

    Nice. PZ is a (not-so-much-in-the-closet) transhumanist.

    No, seriously, I really think it’s nice.

  5. #5 craig
    January 1, 2009

    I hear that the Yellowstone supervolcano may be getting ready to erupt. That would change things. Not that I’ll live to see it, either way.

  6. #6 Silver
    January 1, 2009

    Practical and user friendly quantum cryptography.

    If the government can’t reliably track the flows of money, their source of funding will dry up, which will usher in a world that might look something like Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.

    And that may not be a bad thing. Part of me would like to be part of a nation where you being a religious/scientific/technological ignoramus disqualifies you from membership.

    The average American idiot (75% of whom believe in the existence of angels, according to the holiday Economist I was reading today) might not like it so much when his living standards deteriorate to the level of someone in Gaza today.

    If that does come to pass, it couldn’t happen to more deserving people.

  7. #7 Tony Popple
    January 1, 2009

    Physicists will launch a probe to look for dark matter and find that the night sky is really just a giant cardboard dome with stuff painted on it.

  8. #8 Troy Britain
    January 1, 2009

    The Large Hadron Collider will finally go fully online, physicists will inadvertently recreate the Big Bang and poof, our current universe will cease to exist.

    Thirteen or fourteen billion years later in the new universe another sentient species arise and build a big collider, and poof around and around we go…

  9. #9 J. D. Mack
    January 1, 2009

    Let me make a simple prediction – one that won’t change everything, but one that I expect to come true in my lifetime. I fully expect to have a mind-controlled mouse for my computer within 15 years.

    J. D.

  10. #10 A
    January 1, 2009

    nanotech, advanced computer processors, and advanced bio will combine to give us replacable body organs. It will become as common as mobile phones.

    and life will be reproducible on demand.

  11. #11 Jeff Knapp
    January 1, 2009

    A TOE (Theory of Everything) will be solved AND, we will be able to experimentally verify it on some level. At least I hope that happens within my lifetime.

  12. #12 Anotherplayaguy
    January 1, 2009

    The seeds of our destruction (Americans) have been strewn so widely and so thoroughly that NOTHING will be able to chance anything for the U.S. We’ll be lucky if we can claw our way up to Third World status in a few years.

  13. #13 craig
    January 1, 2009

    “I fully expect to have a mind-controlled mouse for my computer within 15 years.”

    You already have one. It just uses a flesh interface.

  14. #14 clinteas
    January 1, 2009

    A pill to take away the need for religion and superstition from the homo sapiens brain would probably be the only thing that can save us on this planet.

  15. #15 Susan
    January 1, 2009

    Women will learn to control their fertility with their brains. They will have their cycles when they want them, and if they are pregnant and choose not to be, they will be able to induce an abortion without the need for drugs or a medical procedure.

    I think I will live to see this.

  16. #16 Ignignockt
    January 1, 2009

    My guess is mass fabrication of diamond as a structural material. A true game-changer, if ever there was one. (Not a very original thought, but at least a plausible one.)

  17. #17 John Morales
    January 2, 2009

    Anotherplayaguy @12,

    … NOTHING will be able to chance anything for the U.S. We’ll be lucky if we can claw our way up to Third World status in a few years.

    may I call you “Mr. Dystopian”? :)

    Nah, I’m not so stupid (an an Aussie) as to judge the hundreds of millions of youse by the worst of you or your media.

    Most of you Americans that frequent Pharyngula put the lie to the popular portrayal. Kudos.

    (I just want to state my optimism to balance APG.)

  18. #18 Jefe
    January 2, 2009

    Designer Cloned Transplant Organs – leading to greater longevity.

    Publicly available through universal health care in the EU and Canada.

    Only available to the extremely wealthy or those with the right HMO in the US.

  19. #19 Francis
    January 2, 2009

    Finally getting clean water and basic sanitation to every human.

  20. #20 Aclarke
    January 2, 2009

    space elevator = game changer

  21. #21 Hank Fox
    January 2, 2009

    Stem cells and nanotech, yeah baby!

    Of course, things that will “change everything” don’t have to be GOOD things, do they? Because human population, already much too high for Planet Earth to support, is gonna screw us all. Within our lifetimes, I predict.

    Meanwhile, flavor science will develop a diet cola that doesn’t taste like burnt iron filings dipped in syrup.

    Also, the Pope, in a rare moment of candor, will admit that the Catholic Church is a complete and total scam. But nobody will notice, because on that same day, Tom Cruise will shock the world by “coming out.”

  22. #22 RamblinDude
    January 2, 2009

    Implant technology will change everything–the ability to feed information directly into our brains. We will all be connected to machines and each other in ways undreamt of by any previous generation. Technological telepathy and telekinesis. (Unfortunately, this will set up sympathetic harmonic feedback that will cause a glitch in our real-world support systems, and at a critical moment of overload we will all wake up in our modules deep underground. But we still have a few years.)

    Oh, and robots.

  23. #23 RetiredSciGuy
    January 2, 2009

    A way of preventing the next mass-extinction-causing asteroid collision from happening. The dinosaurs had neither telescopes nor rocket technology; they were sitting duckbills 65 million years ago. It would be humanity’s greatest failing if we could prevent such a thing from happening again, but don’t because we didn’t want to spend the money.

  24. #24 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    January 2, 2009

    A massive cloud of space dust will tear apart the Earth’s atmosphere.

    (Just as the Pope is about to admit that this whole Catholic Thing is a scam to prevent school teachers from marrying divorcee’s and Tom Cruise is about to come out.)

  25. #25 Michael Hawkins
    January 2, 2009

    I think it’s pretty clear that the greatest discovery in the coming decades will be the discovery of life on other planets. Everything humanity has done to that point will pale in comparison.

  26. #26 Cruithne
    January 2, 2009

    Unbridled freemarket capitalism will complete its process of self destruction. What replaces it isn’t exactly clear at this point but what we can say that is shall be interesting.

    Oh, and jets packs.

  27. #27 mikeg
    January 2, 2009

    i think the “magic negro” might possibly be a game changer in the near future but i do like this research… http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20026861.500-did-our-cosmos-exist-before-the-big-bang.html?page=1… oh ya! the big bounce… mikey likey

  28. #28 efrique
    January 2, 2009

    I predict that 90% of the predictions here will turn out to be wrong.

  29. #29 Itheethaidthemanwithalithp
    January 2, 2009

    I voted yes because I will not have some scientific squid hugger trying to tell me how to vote. Not really, count one more no here.

  30. #30 Eric
    January 2, 2009

    Great link! Many interesting ideas…

    Another good read is this month’s issue of Scientific American.

    The issue is dedicated to Evolution.

  31. #31 gene
    January 2, 2009

    What will change everything you ask? Self replicating automatons. For the less than the price of going to the Moon we might be able to make one self-replicating automaton capable of ‘feeding’ off asteroids and what not. Make it able to automatically send solar sail equipped “seeds” to other stars and within 500 million years much of the mass of the galaxy will be self-replicating automatons. Why is this useful you ask? Well program em’ to make spaceships, space colonies, or whatever else and bam! housing crisis/overpopulation/almost any crisis solved. With self-replicating automatons, it becomes possible to make big things, very very big things, say dyson spheres, frakkin’ huge hadron colliders, wormholes(how else would you get a planet sized mass necessary for something like this?). Not to mention you rig these puppies up to carry a “Hello Neighbors” message to any intelligent life out there.

    Self replicating automatons are the most powerful technology, if you build one, you build a trillion(and much, much, more).

  32. #32 Lurkbot
    January 2, 2009

    Now I know that it’s everybody’s knee-jerk reaction to totally dismiss anything from a plasma physicist who wrote a book entitled The Big Bang Never Happened, although his alternative Plasma Universe Theory was at least published, but it appears that Focus Fusion has finally gotten funding for a real test, and the positive results of its success would be so monumental that I’m willing to cut Lerner some slack in his field of expertise. (I think it’s a classic case of “To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail” syndrome.)

    If this pans out, the effects would be monumental. 20 or 50 megawatt reactors could fit in existing electrical substations, in place of the huge step-down transformers. One pound per megawatt-year of boron-11 hydride would be fused into .999 pounds of helium. And as icing on the cake, since all the energy appears as kinetic energy of charged particles, it could be converted to electricity at about 90% efficiency. Maybe it’ll work and maybe it won’t, but it’s worth rooting for.

    Of course, there are many sources of energy that could be developed, the main problem with most is that the supply curve doesn’t match the demand curve in any way. Storage is the big problem. I’ve also been following the EEStor story for a while now, and I don’t know what to make of the probability of their success. I’ve been judging the believers vs. the skeptics by the kind of arguments they use, and so far the skeptics sound more like creationists and AGW denialists that the believers, but we’ll soon know. An ultracapacitor that can store 150 watt-hours per pound and charge as fast as you can pump the power in will go a long way toward making electric cars and true hybrids standard. In any case, here’s EEStor’s patent, and here’s a forum where both sides are fully aired.

    If either or both of these technologies can be brought to market, the world could change profoundly in the very short term (20 years or so.) My only regret would be that the AGW denialists would then get to say: “See, it was all propaganda, nothing bad happened.” But I’ll settle for survival and let them gloat.

  33. #33 John Morales
    January 2, 2009

    Lurkbot @32, I’m dubious about your specific, but agree in general that cheap, low pollution energy is a capital-S Solution.

    Everything from access to clean water (desalination) to curbing Global Climate Change would be ameliorated by such.

  34. #34 robotaholic
    January 2, 2009

    We’ll detect intelligent alien life

  35. #35 jack*
    January 2, 2009

    The game-changer I expect in my lifetime is a scientific theory of consciousness. It would do for the “spiritual” realm what evolutionary theory did for biblical creation — get rid of all the woo and replace it with testable, verifiable truth. It’s also a precursor to developing strong AI, which is a game-changer all by itself.

  36. #36 Art
    January 2, 2009

    Increased fuel prices, cost of ownership for cars, a protracted economic downturn, and the inability of people to use their houses as ATMs or get easy credit will mean that the American suburban adventure will be declining if not completely over. People will be flocking back to the cities.

    The little known fact, even sloppily designed cities are inherently more efficient than suburbs as long as pubic transport systems work, will kick in and huge savings in energy will be unexpectedly found. The pseudo-farm suburban lifestyle dream from the past will wither. Replaced by a mixed urban model.

    The car culture won’t die outright but look for half of all households to get along fine without owning a vehicle. Rental cars and trucks will be available for the odd trip or need to haul stuff.

    In twenty years the US will go from a few large cities with miles and miles of suburbs and feeder towns to many more large cities with very high core densities and a tight rings of suburbs within range of public transport and electric cars.

    Look for the end of long distance trucking and the return of the railroads. Trucking will still be around to get Cargoes from the rail hubs to local addresses but except for the odd rare case long distance trucking will be gone.

    Airlines will lose ground as the railroads take over their commuter routes. Airlines will still be around for routes over 500 miles, international routes and the rare critical cargo.

    International trade will change. Manufacturing of low-value and low-profit goods will return to the US as shipping costs rise.

    As low-cost, modular, universal, robotized assembly/manufacturing lines capable of producing anything from cheap plastic toys to cars, selectable by changing inputs and programming, come on line very few people will be employed in manufacturing anywhere in the world.

    Because the assembly lines are modular and capable of assembling more assembly/manufacturing lines the price will be cheap and there will be any need to mass produce much of anything ahead of time. You want a car you go to a dealer who tells the machine in the back what you want. It is manufactured and assembles in a few hours. Because each product is manufactured pretty much on the spot and the manufacturing process modular and automated customization will be the norm.

    Unfortunately because we will have automated systems manufacturing manufacturing systems labor saving devices will proliferate and most people will be unemployed for most of their lives. The questions of reallocation of work, the definition of work, and the questions about how to control our total population, and what to do with unwanted/unneeded people will be the next big issue.

    At least one major nation will chose to arm its unwanted people and dominate other nations figuring it has nothing to lose. Less populated nations will answer with mass produced automated autonomous killing machines.

    Which will lead to … interesting times.

  37. #37 Knight of L-sama
    January 2, 2009

    I’m going to agree with Aclarke, a space elevator would change everything. The ability to get from the Earth’s surface to geosynchronous orbit for… well very little would truly open up space.
    The mineral wealth of the asteroids, entire new planets to terraform and even the chance of life amongst the Jovian and Saturnian moons. There are limits to how much things can change as long as we are confined to a single world.

  38. #38 R
    January 2, 2009

    Silver,

    “The average American idiot (75% of whom believe in the existence of angels, according to the holiday Economist I was reading today) might not like it so much when his living standards deteriorate to the level of someone in Gaza today.

    If that does come to pass, it couldn’t happen to more deserving people.”

    How compassionate of you. Yes, let’s wish that people with bullshit beliefs suffer some kind of horrible penance, because they deserve it, all of them. You might want to wear a headlamp on your forehead when you go for a walk.

  39. #39 Ben
    January 2, 2009

    Somewhat in order of game-change-arifficness:

    o AI, robots of various natures to follow
    o Controlled fusion [hot]
    o Autonomous, configurable nanomachines (no disassemblers, please)
    o High energy ultracapacitors for energy storage (ie EEStor)
    o Low cost, long lasting, high efficiency, high availability solar cells
    o Electric refit kits for current car bodies
    o Life extension
    o Genetic therapy of the 100% effective and understood variety
    o A space elevator, linear accelerator/launcher, etc

    …and utterly least likely, but would make the rest of my days, practical in terms of human-lifespan (say, a month between stars) interstellar travel. Sigh. Not going to happen, right Albert?

  40. #40 Fernando Magyar
    January 2, 2009

    The understanding by the masses of the exponential function and it’s implications followed by the end of human population growth. Without a concerted effort to live within our means in a truly ecological economy there can be no future civilization, culture or science. Unless that happens first the cornucopian science fictions mentioned are extremely unlikely.

    Happy New Year and best wishes for a sustainable future!

  41. #41 chris y
    January 2, 2009

    What do I expect to live to see which will change everything? The attempted migration of about 2 billion people from tropical regions around the world. The complete desertification of the American west, most of China, southern Russia and Mediterranean Europe. The inundation of Bangladesh and Indonesia. And so on.

    Of course I won’t live to see much of it.

  42. #42 Katkinkate
    January 2, 2009

    It’s hard to realistically predict what developments would change everything. Most of the energy source predictions put forward will just allow maintenance of the status quo instead of the more likely drastic reduction in available energy in the nearish future. (Gotta keep you’re cars on the road somehow!)

    I’m looking forward to what that surfer physicist comes up with when he’s finished with the details of his ‘theory of everything’ based on the E8 model. If he’s onto a valid model of the universe it could give us a better view of what the universe is and how it works, thus confirming what options are realistic regarding energy sources and applications, space travel and ‘terra-forming’ other planets (which I suspect will never be more than science fiction).

    Perhaps medical advances that lead to extending human life substancially may eventually have the effect of changing how people view the world. If people know they’re likely to be still around in 200 years time they might be more ready to take better care of it, but I’m afraid we may be too late to prevent the damage 7 billion of us will do in the meantime.

    A broad-scale nuclear war would change everything though. It would: kill billions, drastically change the survivers lifestyles and the rest of the biosphere, and chew up the geography a bit. Also a large asteroid strike or supervolcano eruption. But I don’t think that sort of thing is what they are after.

  43. #43 Kitty
    January 2, 2009

    Gene
    Not a great fan of Stargate myself but your ‘Self replicating automatons’ made the hairs on the back of my neck prickle. They sound a bit like Replicators to me and if they are you just know it will all end in tears!

    What I would like to see is very simple. Access by every child to a computer and the internet so that they can readily access the alternatives to the crap and dogma so many of them are subjected to every day in what passes for education.
    It was the teaching of reading and writing to everyone that changed society in the 19th and 20th centuries and allowed information to be available to all who looked for it.

    Education is still the key which unlocks the future. The brain needed to fulfil your future hopes could be sitting in a hut in Africa right now waiting for her/his solar powered laptop.

  44. #44 Fireball
    January 2, 2009

    Something I’d live to see? Something world-changing? Hmm..

    I’d have to say targeted viral capsules – viruses built to target specific cells and deliver their payload of corrected DNA/poison/apoptosis-causing chemicals.

    It’d revolutionize gene-therapy and cancer drugs.

  45. #45 uncle frogy
    January 2, 2009

    Also, the Pope, in a rare moment of candor, will admit that the Catholic Church is a complete and total scam. But nobody will notice, because on that same day, Tom Cruise will shock the world by “coming out.”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!!!!

    lot of things have been “predicted” that would be game changers some may happen soon some may never come to pass at all. I would bet that the thing that really changes things most will be surprised by and its effects. It will be obvious when we look back but looking forward not so clear.
    the question I want to answer is which way will it change and is there a way that I can prepare for it now. the latest “game changer” just may have killed the markets in very important ways. It would have been nice to have been one of the people who anticipated it. Speaking here of the amazing “market correction” we have been going through these last few months.
    economics and politics have enormous influence on what happens. I wished I had the time to read all that stuff on the list. I could not read it last time I saw a similar type of list but I will have to settle for a few and trying to keep up with all that is going on instead I do not have the time nor the energy to do that very well either.I follow some blogs as well as the news it will have to do.
    lets hope that the “good” things come to pass sooner and are better and the “bad” never quite happen and this year for all will be better and more fun than the last one
    except for “W” maybe ;)

  46. #46 JM
    January 2, 2009

    Evidence for extra-terrestrial planets with atmospheres unmistakably altered by life.

    Not that I expect to see this next, but I hope that it would be fun: an autonomous space probe emissary from an extra-terrestrial civilization – along the lines of Arthur C. Clark’s ‘StarGlider’ from his novel ‘The Fountains of Paradise’.

  47. #47 JM
    January 2, 2009

    That should have been ‘Arthur C. Clarke’, sorry – and while I’m about it, ‘Starglider’.

  48. #48 Knock Goats
    January 2, 2009

    Thanks for the link PZ – read the first of the 14 pages so far. Unfortunately, all the most plausible “everything changers” are disasters, natural or anthropogenic. Of these, by far the most likely – indeed, far more likely to happen than not – is catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, probably leading to nuclear and/or biological war as governments seek to control food and energy supplies and distract their populations by scapegoating. However, solving this and other pollution and resource limit problems, if it is done, will also be everything-changing, because it will require a degree of global cooperation far beyond anything yet achieved. I don’t see this as impossible, just unlikely. There are some grounds for optimism in 63 years without nuclear war, the elimination of smallpox, and the Montreal protocol; and the web provides the possibility of bottom-up organisation to democratise global politics and share out the sacrifices and benefits more equally. If we succeed in this, it is unlikely that any single scientific discovery, technology, natural or social process will be everything-changing: they will continue to interact in complex and unpredictable ways as they have since long before recorded history.

  49. #49 Logicel
    January 2, 2009

    American neo-cons and conservative libertarians will be changed into gold via the supreme potency of an combined prayer/Alchemy (truly base stuff being changed into something precious) method creating a sharp and sustained fall in the price of gold firstly because there will be lots of it and in addition because there will be no one hoarding it anymore. The event will allow gold to fall even while all other assets, including the American dollar will skyrocket via inflation.

  50. #50 Katkinkate
    January 2, 2009

    Logicel – not till I have a chance to sell first, please.

  51. #51 Gabe
    January 2, 2009

    In line with KnockGoats and Logicel I predict that;

    Transhumanist and techno-fetishist will eventually die along with everything else once they realise “progress” doesn’t follow a neat straight line and that, oh my, resource are finite.

    And more on topic, I have hope that CERN may bring some change if not at least confirmation of current scientific theories in physics.

  52. #52 PalmPete
    January 2, 2009

    The big game changer coming is quite likely, highly reliable, portable lie detectors. They may even be a future cell phone feature.

    I am sure such devices are under development, if only to monitor the single question “Do you intend to damage this aircraft?”.

    Their arrival will herald an interesting time for “Woo-Peddlers” of all varieties.

  53. #53 NewEnglandBob
    January 2, 2009

    Indigestion-free, BBQ’d beef ribs would be nice.

  54. #54 Ivor the Engine Driver
    January 2, 2009

    In my mind, which is a small place where I don’t have much problem locating the odd idea, I believe that the interface between human body and mind and computers will be a giant step in our evolution as a species. I don’t know what we’re going to turn into, but once we become integrated with the propcessing power of computers, the human mind will be capable of astonishing things.

  55. #55 JeffreyD
    January 2, 2009

    Inexpensive controlled fusion available in small plants and running on garbage would be very nice.

    The death of religion would be very helpful, but I think ET showing up to pass out candy is more likely.

    Ciao y’all

  56. #56 mayhempic
    January 2, 2009

    Stuart Brands’s essay on energy was particularly informative and rational and Eno’s dystopian take on feeling was depressing. I loved Dennet’s parting statement: “When you no longer need to eat to stay alive, or procreate to have offspring, or locomote to have an adventure — packed life, when the residual instincts for these activities might be simply turned off by genetic tweaking, there may be no constants of human nature left at all. Except, maybe, our incessant curiosity.”

    I am convinced that because our evolutionary biological bodies are woefully behind our physical lifestyles that genetic and chemical modifications of ours species will increase exponentially as we try and assert control over our own evolutionary processes hurtling us towards the man as god paradox.

    Oh…. and the Libertarians and Scientologists will finally merge in a giant “It’s All About Me” lovefest becoming Pseudoliberscitologists.

  57. #57 Rat Bastard
    January 2, 2009

    @31- gene, the RCC is comprised of a vast quantity of self-replicating automatons. You want more of that? j/k

  58. #58 Carl
    January 2, 2009

    I think that Sheldrake’s answer (the death of materialism) is unlikely to bear much resemblance to reality.

  59. #59 Knock Goats
    January 2, 2009

    Gabe,
    You over-interpret me. If our civilisation survives, I think it very likely our (posthuman) descendants will make use of resources from throughout the solar system, and spread beyond it. Of course, if any of the most plausible long-term fates for the universe hold, resources will still run out – but that could mean billions or trillions of years. My (qualified) pessimism concerns the next century or so.

  60. #60 CJ
    January 2, 2009

    Wait … isn’t that why Barack Obama was elected? You mean he’s not going to change everything?

  61. #61 Scott Hanley
    January 2, 2009

    Once again, the mainstream scientists deliberately ignore my design for a hyperspace drive that runs on discarded baby food jars. Oh, they’ll be sorry one day.

    *Pouts and nurses feelings of grievance*

  62. #62 Epikt
    January 2, 2009

    A great increase in longevity turns almost everybody into fearful, risk-averse bedrock conservatives.

  63. #63 Didac
    January 2, 2009

    Finding about the aliquot sequences of the Lehmer Five will make me happy for awhile.

  64. #64 chaos_engineer
    January 2, 2009

    If the government can’t reliably track the flows of money, their source of funding will dry up, which will usher in a world that might look something like Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.

    If the government can’t reliably track the flows of money, the courts will no longer be able to enforce contracts that involve transfers of money. Fraud will become rampant in all transactions that don’t involve simultaneous face-to-face exchanges. As a public service, the government will set up some kind of escrow program that tracks the flow of money and everyone will use it voluntarily.

    Meanwhile, if it becomes impossible for the government to calculate income tax, it’ll just switch over to getting revenue from property tax. Property with no identifiable owner will revert to the government.

  65. #65 Blake Stacey
    January 2, 2009

    I’m looking forward to what that surfer physicist comes up with when he’s finished with the details of his ‘theory of everything’ based on the E8 model. If he’s onto a valid model of the universe it could give us a better view of what the universe is and how it works, thus confirming what options are realistic regarding energy sources and applications, space travel and ‘terra-forming’ other planets (which I suspect will never be more than science fiction).

    1. Lisi’s initial stab at an E8-based theory of everything was basically a complete cock-up. It was mathematically impossible for his constructions to describe a Universe with the particle content of our own.

    2. Lisi is still beavering away, but he’s moving beyond the specific Lie group E8 and even beyond the whole scheme of Lie algebras; on the chance he comes up with anything useful, it won’t look much like his first attempt.

    3. The chance of a “Theory of Everything” having practical application in energy generation, let alone space travel or terraforming, is vanishingly small. A TOE is only necessary in truly extreme circumstances, such as the first moments of the Universe or the centres of black holes (which is one reason why progress goes so slowly in developing them: experiments are just too hard to do!). When dealing with phenomena less esoteric, a TOE wouldn’t tell you any more than a Theory of Less Than Everything would.

    I think that Sheldrake’s answer (the death of materialism) is unlikely to bear much resemblance to reality.

    Wait, Brockman is still soliciting opinions from Sheldrake? I had figured his inclusion in the “What is your dangerous idea?” collection was a one-off aberration. His essay then was a metric arseload of drivel; the prospect of more where that came from is less than pleasing. Way to piss away Edge‘s credibility, Brockman.

  66. #66 Cannabinaceae
    January 2, 2009

    I think it may be incomplete to think of “changing everything” the way a lot of the contributors to the Edge question appear to think of it. That is, technological advance A will afford the capability to perform world-saving task B. A bunch of great ideas from a bunch of characters I admire, to be sure. Quite thought provoking.

    The rest of my suggestion goes something along the lines of what won’t change despite the greatness of the new super-invention? A pill to cure stupidity? Are you going to force people to take it, or will the stupid just seize upon a different change to preserve their situation? Dumbass* can be like grit in gears. I suppose this note sounds like a suggestion to consider unintended consequences, but I really mean it to be more like a reminder to be aware of (possibly instinctual or even emergent) parallel developments that counteract the good stuff. Sort of like Le Chatlier’s principle applied to sociology (pure metaphor, that!)

    *Note: I use “dumbass” as the plural for “dumbass,” as in “how many dumbass does it take to screw in a lightbulb?”

  67. #67 Blake Stacey
    January 2, 2009

    Rant about Sheldrake’s “dangerous idea” (dum dum dum!) available at old science blog.

  68. #68 DiscomBob
    January 2, 2009

    Re: #31- self-replicating automatons- they’re already here and they happen to be moist.

  69. #69 Cannabinaceae
    January 2, 2009

    Ah, Rupert. I’d vote him off the Edge island if I could.

  70. #70 SC, OM
    January 2, 2009
  71. #71 Blake Stacey
    January 2, 2009

    Having said what I said in #65, I should add that the mathematical development of string theory has given us tools which are applicable in regimes for which they had not originally been devised. For example, Sean Hartnoll et al. applied the AdS/CFT correspondence, an idea born of hyperspatial black holes, to phase transitions in superconductors. (Some readings on this subject are collected here; I don’t know of a stand-alone, really good popularization of the topic.) It is not totally beyond possibility that future work in this line could lead to engineering advances in superconductor technology, which could provoke all sorts of changes.

    Basically, we’re talking the eleventh episode of James Burke’s Connections: an idea developed in one field is unexpectedly applied in another, creating a “trigger effect” which leads to a new round of innovation in places people had hardly imagined before.

  72. #72 Alyson
    January 2, 2009

    We will have designer microbes that excrete biofuel and feed on garbage. We get clean-burning, totally renewable energy for the price of banana peels and eggshells. We feed our garbage into a generator, and the germs inside fart a compound that powers our cars.

    Which is not to say it’ll be perfectly cheap. The world population will continue to rise, which will make food even more expensive, and most families probably won’t create enough food waste to fill their transportation needs, so we’ll probably need to buy stuff just to feed the fuel-farting microbes. What it WILL mean is that Americans will continue to have cheaper gas than the rest of the developed world–so that won’t really be a change–BUT also that OPEC will have to find another way to make a living, and so the oil states will lose their means of geopolitical jackassery. The regions with the highest yield of inedible organic matter win! The South will rise again by virtue of their Madd Kudzu Kropz!

    This, however, will not happen until AFTER global warming encroaches upon the coastlines of Africa, South America and southern Asia to such a degree that literally hundreds of millions of refugees come swarming into North America, Europe and Australia, triggering massive convulsions of civil unrest and epidemic xenophobia. So we’ll have to drive around in gigantic, armored SUVs and zealously guard our supplies of moldy bread, rotten vegetables and fat trimmings for the fuel-farting generators for years before our fearless leaders get the situation under control, but we’ll also have vast armies of cheap labor to harvest kudzu for us, so: problem solved!

    I want to make some zany prediction about the LHC, but it’ll probably just reveal something that makes physicists incredibly happy but that 75% of the literate world (and 100% of the illiterate world) doesn’t care about.

    Also, medical research will lead to vaccines against HIV, herpes, and all the strains of HPV not covered already in Gardasil. This, along with advances in contraceptive technology, will prompt the world’s youth to wonder what the heck is so dangerous about sex after all, and, over widespread hair-tearing of Church elders, will soon lead to frequent, city-wide orgies.

    So, there’s my story and I’m sticking to it: I will live to see the day when I can generate automobile fuel in my kitchen, and participate in orgies without fear.

  73. #73 mothra
    January 2, 2009

    A positive ‘game-changer:’ finding evidence of past or extant microbial life at the Martian poles. Once life is show not to be unique to this planet, religious fundamentalism will go the way of the Ivory-billed woodpecker (sightings from time to time, but no-one takes it seriously). This takes religion out of politics and encourages rational thought or at least honest arguments. Nah, who am I kidding?

  74. #74 Fred J
    January 2, 2009

    PZ’s is on page 15
    http://www.edge.org/q2009/q09_15.html

    There won’t be time for world changing scientific developements to change much what with the rising world population and a demostration that survival of the fitest still goes on.

  75. #75 Jason Failes
    January 2, 2009

    There is a lot of room for improvement in sub-light propulsion.

    A spacecraft that could get to Mars in a few hours would open the way to a solar-system-wide civilization and economy (without even getting close to the speeds required to piss off Albert).

    Also, in regard to a Theory of Everything, perhaps the emphasis on the very hot and very compressed is why it hasn’t gone anywhere in a while.

    Consider that we may learn more from studying the physics of what is usually (but incorrectly) called empty space.

  76. #76 Matt Heath
    January 2, 2009

    A government somewhere will adopt medical style trials for public policy and it will be seen to work and will be copied. Once this is fairly common practise, someone will run a trial of prediction markets for policy making and this will probably also be seen to work* as a way of combining complicated sets of evidence (including the sort o. We will then be able to make some serious progress on seemingly intractable social problems (such as development in Africa).

    *Just for clarity, I’m not coming from a libertarian “markets are magic” position with this; I’m a fair way to left politically. The evidence does seem to be stacking up the betting exchange type markets (where traders are rewarded purely on the basis of how well they predict a future event) do out perform other attempts to tell the future.

  77. #77 Blake Stacey
    January 2, 2009

    Also, in regard to a Theory of Everything, perhaps the emphasis on the very hot and very compressed is why it hasn’t gone anywhere in a while.

    Perhaps. But that’s where our existing Theories of Less Than Everything have problems.

  78. #78 Tim H
    January 2, 2009

    What will change everything?

    The world’s first nanoprocessor controlled, self-installing, self-disposing diaper, built in an automatic factory that gets out of control.

  79. #79 Marc Abian
    January 2, 2009

    Designer bacteria from scratch.

    Also bicycles to evolve from unicycles.

  80. #80 KnockGoats
    January 2, 2009

    Someone will invent a new type of financial derivative, which will redistribute risk safely and enable an economic boom to go on and on forever, so capitalism will make everyone rich because a rising tide lifts all boats and wealth trickles down and if we just get out of the way of the market…

    They did? Are you sure? Yeah, well, OK, but this time it really will work.

  81. #81 Randy
    January 2, 2009

    Everyone’s talking about nano-this and gene-splice-that and tap-dancing-bacteria-the-other-thing, but the cry must be raised for those things most basic to our survival as a species.

    Where’s my flying car?!

  82. #82 Richard Harris
    January 2, 2009

    The game-changing idea I’d like to see would be much more of this kind of thing:

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/cartoon/

    Good on yah!, Gable & the Globe & Mail.

  83. #83 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    January 2, 2009

    Someone somewhere will find yet another way to cure pork into a fantastic new form of Charcuterie. So good will this new salty porky delicacy be that even vegetarians will sing the praises and peace will spread across the globe.

  84. #84 Elwood Herring
    January 2, 2009

    Here’s my list – updated regularly.

  85. #85 SC, OM
    January 2, 2009

    Someone somewhere will find yet another way to cure pork into a fantastic new form of Charcuterie….

    I had to laugh at the capitalization of charcuterie, which has now joined the ranks of Faith, Reason, Justice, etc.

  86. #86 JJ
    January 2, 2009

    A non negligible number of people having relationships/getting married with affordable, state of the art androids . Think of a Real Doll (TM) on steroids or a Paris Hilton/Megan Fox/Brad Pitt etc lookalike just a little bit more plastic.

  87. #87 Patricia, OM
    January 2, 2009

    I’d like to have the magical witchy powers some people think I actually have… and walk like an Egyptian.

    Then I’m flyin’ to the Chimps house for pork & grits.

  88. #88 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    January 2, 2009

    I had to laugh at the capitalization of charcuterie, which has now joined the ranks of Faith, Reason, Justice, etc.

    I consider it to be of equal importance.

  89. #89 Tim H
    January 2, 2009

    In all seriousness, the biggest change in the next 15 years is likely to be political/economic and not scientific- the rise of China relative to the US.

  90. #90 ThinkingApe
    January 2, 2009

    Dimebag Darrel will rise from the dead and forgive us of our sins. And then Pantera will reunite.

  91. #91 Matt Heath
    January 2, 2009

    I have a second, mathematicians, answer. Automated theorem proving will start doing all the things that Roger Penrose says it can’t and will speed up mathematical discovery to an unimaginable rate.

  92. #92 Tom
    January 2, 2009

    When I die that will be the game changer because you will all cease to exist since you are just figments of my imagination.

  93. #93 Bufo
    January 2, 2009

    One word: Lightsabers.

  94. #94 Emmet Caulfield
    January 2, 2009

    The obvious technological advance will be an imitation Rolex watch with a wristband which infuses penis-enlarging drugs through the skin. This will put an end to spam and release untold bandwidth for new Internet applications.

  95. #95 Scott from Oregon
    January 2, 2009

    Penis enlargers that actually work!

  96. #96 yocco
    January 2, 2009

    Leftist socialism will fail again because while it efficient for everyone to drive the same vehicle, the erection tells us that if you stand out with a better vehicle you increase your chances of getting laid. Capitalism will yet again win, not because it is efficient, will save the world or the best system in comparison to others but because sex by free will is a capitalistic competition and nothing will come between humans and their sex.

  97. #97 SC, OM
    January 2, 2009

    Here’s what I’d like to see…

    First, that science and technology and their applications come to be areas of human action truly subject to democratic decison-making and its development put, in practice, in the service of genuine goods (the provision of food, clean water and clean air, health, shelter, sociability and communication, human rights, preservation…) rather than corporate profits or government power.

    Second (and I recognize this is relatively low-tech), the development of sustainable scientific horticulture, especially in urban environments, and the emergence of a transnational network of scientists and communities developing and communicating knowledge that helps us to move away from destructive and unsustainable industrial agriculture.

    Both will require social action to bring about.

  98. #98 KnockGoats
    January 2, 2009

    Emmet@94,
    Well I am still waiting for my wristphone – something that looked likely a few years ago (indeed I think some Japanese company planned one), then vanished due to function-bloat.

  99. #99 submoron
    January 2, 2009

    Intelligent life may be discovered on Earth… after cud-chewing pig (with wings?) is produced for kosher pork.

  100. #100 KnockGoats
    January 2, 2009

    sex by free will is a capitalistic competition – yocco

    Well, maybe you have always had to pay for it, but that’s not true for all of us!

  101. #101 SC, OM
    January 2, 2009

    Emmet, by the way, apropos of nothing, I was happy to see a link preserved on the Molly/’Commenters’ page to our punholy, punreligious, punreserved, punrepentant performance on the boobies thread.

  102. #102 yocco
    January 2, 2009

    100#

    It’s not the paying for it part. It is the competition for mates part. If you have three guys and all things being equal two guys drive a boring silver civic and one has a mustang. The guy in the mustang gets more attention. The drive for status and seperating yourself from the pack is fulfilled by capitalism and negated by socialism.

  103. #103 Emmet Caulfield
    January 2, 2009

    KnockGoats,

    I dunno — phone technology seems to pull in two directions: toward a more general computing platform and toward miniaturisation, which seem mutually exclusive without a significant change in display and interface technology. I’ve no doubt that a basic GSM phone could fit in a wristwatch, albeit clunky: I’d guess that the battery would be the biggest problem (literally). I’ve had quite a few novelty watches with radios, calculators, and TV remote controls built in and they were never worth a hoot. I think I’d rather just carry around a moderate-size general purpose computing/communications device than have a hulking lump strapped to my wrist. The Neo FreeRunner is a tempting little gadget if only I had the time to play with it.

  104. #104 Brad D
    January 2, 2009

    I think/hope we are going to see some big breakthroughs in work on immunotolerance. Helping people with autoimmune diseases, and opening up the availability of transplants to less than ideal donor matches, with less side effects than current immunosuppressive therapies.

    Okay, maybe it’s more hope, but damn it! I want a new pancreas or at least a bunch of new beta cells that my body won’t kill off again.

  105. #105 Emmet Caulfield, OM
    January 2, 2009

    SC,OM @101,

    Yes, indeed. I’m not sure it’s how I’d like to be immortalised, but I suppose you take your props where you can get ‘em ;o)

  106. #106 Quiet_Desperation
    January 2, 2009

    It just uses a flesh interface.

    Whoa! Videodrome flashback!

    Well, maybe you have always had to pay for it, but that’s not true for all of us!

    Everyone pays, just in different ways.

    The guy in the mustang gets more attention.

    As a Mustang owner, I can’t say I have observed this. Then again this is Southern Cal where a McLaren SLK doesn’t get noticed all that much.

  107. #107 CJO
    January 2, 2009

    Ah, yes, Sheldrake and that tired old saw, “promissory materialism.” He’s managed to dress it up with an oh so clever bit of currency, predicting a “credit crunch” for materialist explanations. You kill us, Rupert.

    Too bad that’s the only new bit he’s added to his lame old schtick. Same old cast of retread characters: quantum woo, Chalmers (apparently saying his name along with putting “hard problem” in quotes is all he’s obliged to do to advance the case), development can’t be reduced to chemistry and physics (it just can’t. He said so.), the anthropic principle… and etc.

    Then, he closes with this bit of inanity: “And by giving up the pretence that the ultimate answers are already known, the sciences will be freer–and more fun.” What a putz. No materialist is claiming that we know “the ultimate answers.” As far as I know, the claim is simply that empirical investigation, time and time again, turns up materialist explanations and has yet to force scientists into contemplating the immaterial as a fertile field of study. As for “freer-and more fun,” that’s a an awfully flip way to concede that one’s argument is really just an appeal to emotion. “I don’t like materialism, so it can’t be true.”

  108. #108 Brad D
    January 2, 2009

    I have to say that the type of girl I’d find available to me if I chose to drive a Mustang instead of a boring, fuel-efficient Civic, doesn’t interest me terribly.

  109. #109 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    January 2, 2009

    The guy in the mustang gets more attention.

    I’ve driven non flashy cars and trucks my whole life and have never really had a problem getting laid.

    Car’s may in some way compensate for the personality failings of others but personally I’d rather not get laid by some idiot who thinks a car i own is a characteristic that should used when deciding on whether to sleep with me.

  110. #110 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    January 2, 2009

    oh you moron
    someone kill that random apostrophe.

    KILL IT

  111. #111 Kseniya
    January 2, 2009

    A positive ‘game-changer:’ finding evidence of past or extant microbial life at the Martian poles. Once life is show not to be unique to this planet, religious fundamentalism will go the way of the Ivory-billed woodpecker

    If only.

    I believe that such a finding would provoke this predictable response: “This proves that our God is SO MUCH BIGGER than we’d even dared imagine!”

    Or some such thing.

  112. #112 Quiet_Desperation
    January 2, 2009

    My awesome psychic predictions for 2009:

    1. Bush will suddenly leave the White House near the end of January.

    2. A large company… I’m seeing an… M… will release a new version of their operating system because the last release was a vast, steaming turd.

    3. Government bureaucracies at both the federal and state level will finish the year larger than when they started.

    4. Some woman… Sarah… I’m getting a P… A… L… I… N… wait… maybe no L… Anyway, she will be mentioned at least once or twice in Republican circles.

    5. Joe Biden will say something stupid.

    6. The Democrats of the California State Legislature will be dragged from their offices by ferocious and maddened werewolves, werebears and werebunnies to be ripped apart into tiny pieces, and the streets of Sacramento will run red while the concentrated stupidity in their blood burns the asphalt into a gooey mess. Well, OK, that’s a fantasy more than a prediction. Sorry folks, but California is the retarded evolutionary branch of the Dem Party.

    7. The media will turn on Obama.

    7A. No, I mean that they will eventually get hostile, not that Obama will get aroused by the media.

    8. Hillary Clinton will make many global gains for the USA by threatening to talk at foreign leaders, dignitaries and diplomats until their ears bleed. At least until a joint effort by the Chinese, Russians and Australians develops a sound wave nullifier tuned to her voice.

  113. #113 Hank Fox
    January 2, 2009

    Future events that will change the world:

    On a farewell tour of Iraq, Dick Cheney will be killed and turned into a tasty stew by starving war orphans. He will be served over Condie Rice.

    George W. Bush will move back to Texas and open a tire store named Fair and Balanced Tires. He will hire the out-of-work and otherwise-unemployable Alberto Gonzalez to run the service bay, and Gonzalez will spend his days penning letters to angry customers explaining that the wheels falling off their cars after servicing is a perfectly ordinary occurrence in full accord with Constitutional principles, and besides, Saddam’s tire store had twice as many wheels fall off.

    An unfortunate incident with the lift will leave frequent customer Joe Lieberman without legs, but it will be okay, as it will leave his lips at the exact level of George Bush’s buttocks.

    A Terminator traveling back in time to kill Sarah Connor will suffer a programming glitch and instead target Sarah Palin. He will finally find her skinning baby wolves in a doublewide trailer outside Juneau and, transfixed by the mechanical precision with which she wields the skinning knife, will fall in love with her and decide not to carry out his programming. Instead, he will get a job on Fox News as cohost of “Hannity and Terminator.” He will spend his spare time writing love letters to Palin, offering to kill her husband Todd. A fearful Todd will grow a mullet and move to Georgia and become famous in a viral video that shows him streaking a Nascar event … once.

    Bill O’Reilly will have a stroke that exactly halves his IQ and leaves him with an almost unintelligible speech impediment, but it will actually double his right-wing audience.

    Rush Limbaugh will suffer a recurrence of the anal cysts that kept him out of Vietnam, and Fox News will do a soft-focus two-hour special of his exploratory colonoscopy, backed up by Barry Manilow tunes. Afterwards, Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter will get into a hair-pulling fight over rights to the tape.

    Donald Rumsfeld will be eaten by ferrets. While touring a Marine base.

  114. #114 littlejohn
    January 2, 2009

    Well, my life is going to change when that $10 million check arrives from a certain gentleman in Nigeria. How did I get so lucky?

    Oh, and your flying car is outside on the Slidewalk. Didn’t you pay any attention to My Weekly Reader in grade school?

  115. #115 beth
    January 2, 2009

    Someone will come up with a way to sequence an entire genome in one day. Something like a custom molecule that can slide down the DNA strand and give off signals depending on what base it is. When we can sequence that fast and easily, things will get very interesting!

  116. #116 Epikt
    January 2, 2009

    Rev. BigDumbChimp:

    Cars may in some way compensate for the personality failings of others but personally I’d rather not get laid by some idiot who thinks a car i own is a characteristic that should used when deciding on whether to sleep with me.

    I wonder what happens to poor yocco in his Mustang when somebody in a more expensive/flashier car pulls alongside. Explosive detumescence?

  117. #117 Gingerbaker
    January 2, 2009

    1) The extermination of all progeny of the inventor of the blueberry bagel.

    2) The perfection of totally web-integrated wireless total body Virtual Sex Technology. (civilization collapses)

    3) Discovery of a new confection that mates in perfect 3-D symmetry with chocolate and peanut butter.

    4) The gelding and imprisonment of those Movie Preview Voice (TM) narrators.

    5) Golden Retrievers. That talk.

  118. #118 OrchidGrowinMan
    January 2, 2009

    How about an explanation for Fermi’s Paradox (“where IS everybody?”)
    See Jeffery D. Kooistra’s “Dykstra’s War” http://www.sfsite.com/01b/dw96.htm or Frankowski’s “Conrad’s Time Machine” http://www.amazon.com/Conrads-Time-Machine-Conrad-Frankowski/dp/B000ENBODU

    Of course, globe-wide universal health care and education, especially for women, would be good, as would “Iron Man”-style compact portable energy sources, or even inexpensive energy storage.

    But I’m hoping to have a girlfriend before the end of the century: that would make a dramatic game-changing difference to ME at least.

    But

    explanation for Fermi’s Paradox (“where is everyone?”

  119. #119 mothra
    January 2, 2009

    Ksenyia said: “I believe that such a finding would provoke this predictable response: “This proves that our God is SO MUCH BIGGER than we’d even dared imagine!”

    But that would (waves hands in air frantically) undermine the fundamentalist’s literal biblical interpretation and promote moderate Christian(TM) philosophy. Never mind (disheveled figure shuffles away slowly).

  120. #120 gene
    January 2, 2009

    Kitty #43, machines are a lot more fragile than you would think, a couple bombs should be able to take one out. Oh did I mention that projected replication rates for self-replicating automatons are about a year.

  121. #121 CJO
    January 2, 2009

    An explanation for Fermi’s Paradox is only going to be forthcoming in the positive, I would think. i.e., “there they are… oh, shit! there they are!!!” And, yeah, that changes everything, all right.

    But if no extra-solar civilization comes to light, the paradox stays just what it is, a paradox, and a given reasonable answer is as good as another in the absence of more hard data. More likely to “change everything,” to my mind, is a widespread integration of the implications of the question into the collective consciousness of humanity. For example, a reasonable answer to the paradox is that planetary-scale technological civilizations are overwhelmingly likely to be unstable over long time-scales, and all local (intra-galactic, say) approaches to star-system-scale or larger societies have foundered on the shoals of the kind of planetary-scale disruptions we are just beginning to experience now.

    Integrating this view into human affairs would lead to better long-range planning, more realistic assessment of the risks and rewards of various large-scale efforts, honest and serious efforts to feed, clothe, shelter, and care for everyone, and, ultimately, might just make this a nice enough and sustainable enough place to live that we forget all about crazy galactic-scale civilization pipe dreams. (Which curls around and becomes another answer to the paradox: they all either went bust trying to get out, or solved their problems and decided, sensibly, to just kick it on the homestead.)

  122. #122 Jason Failes
    January 2, 2009

    #118, re: Fermi’s Paradox

    Assume that we are typical examples of life in the universe. Life either did not form or did not last long enough in previous generations of stars to result in space travelling organisms. Also, assume several billion years of microbial life is typical before the evolution of body plans and several hundred million more is typical before any organisms develop the kind of intelligence needed to begin a space program.

    Making these assumptions, there is an equal likelihood of an alien species travelling all the way from their world to ours before we get off the ground (so to speak), as there is of us getting all the way to their world before they get off the ground.

    Also, the most likely situation, making these assumptions, is meeting them somewhere between the two star systems.

    As for signals, it’s likely that the kind of signals that we, and they, give off as a by-product of our civilizations would not reach the other’s star system.

    There are, of course, many other considerations (and precious little actual data), but I’ve written enough for one post and will wait for others to disagree strongly before posting again.

  123. #123 Muhamad
    January 2, 2009

    1. The Disclosure Project uploads shocking footages of actual aliens shaking hands with some military types.

    2. Nano weapons revealed.

    3. Something in the air induces everyone to behave altruistically. Scientists go to work, altruistically, to find out what exactly is the cause.

  124. #124 NoBS
    January 2, 2009

    Injectable, sub-dermal, chromatophores.

  125. #125 meh1963
    January 2, 2009

    As technologies scale down and become more portable, perhaps we’ll see true distribution of a variety of things (potable water distillation sources, various energy sources, et cetera) become available to a broader base, providing greater quality of life and distributing the energy base across far more providers.

    Also, hopefully, the rise of inexpensive CNC machining equipment and 3D fabs will allow us to decentralize a manufacturing base, reducing transport costs. It might also rationalize the market for intellectual property, where a given design becomes predominant via sharing and extensibility rather than producer fiat.

    ….and, just maybe, having enough to eat, clean water, and a warm place to sleep for more people might just reduce international conflicts. Maybe. We’ll still have to deal with magic-sky-person theocrats, though….

  126. #126 Doug Little
    January 2, 2009

    Haven’t had a chance to read all the entries so I don’t know if I repeating a common theme or not, but for me a potential game changer would be, Working out the final bits of the cell cycle. This would inevitably lead to prolonged life, how long, who knows, could be a long, long time. This will lead to accelerated technological advancement on the positive side and accelerated population growth on the negative. Anyway you cut it it would definitely be an advancement that has the potential to change everything.

    A close second for me would be sustainable controlled fusion, there are several designs that are going into their 2nd phases right now and they have funding behind them. Should know more in a couple of years but so far so good.

  127. #127 Hank Fox
    January 2, 2009

    meh1963 #125 said: ” … having enough to eat, clean water, and a warm place to sleep for more people …”

    Argh. There is ONE thing we can do on planet Earth to make things better for more people.

    DECREASE population. By a lot. Until that happens, just about every other solution — recycling, conservation, extended efficiency — only puts off the problem and makes it worse.

    Right now, if we were to discover some radical new cheap energy source, the main consequence of it would be that we’d wreck the earth even faster.

    We just can’t go on dividing up the limited resources among an expanding base of people without the portion each person gets becoming ever smaller. Since we’re over the carrying capacity NOW (of clean water, for instance), expect things to get worse instead of better for ever larger numbers of people on the planet.

  128. #128 Matt Heath
    January 2, 2009

    Mothra: Given what is already known to contradict Genesis no new facts are going to get through to the biblical literalists. If there are living microbes on Mars, be prepared for “It’s not true. It’s just another evilutionist lie”, “Microbes aren’t really life else they would have been mentioned in the Bible” and “[vague and obscure Bible verse] actually refers to these microbes”… possibly from the same person in the same conversation.

  129. #129 Doug Little
    January 2, 2009

    Got another one I just thought of.

    Finding an exo-planet that is

    a) not a gas giant
    b) is habitable.

  130. #130 Karl Withakay
    January 2, 2009

    Game Changer #1: Ghost in the Shell becomes reality.

    Game Changer #2: World wide pandemic of H5N1 or some other unexpected pathogen results in the death of half the world’s population and triggers the collapse of global civilization.

    Game Changer #2a: Any dramatic change in the conditions (Environmental, Agricultural, Biological, etc) which support human life & civilization on the planet Earth that shift faster than our ability to adjust to does.

  131. #131 gypsytag
    January 2, 2009

    the anger, fear, repression, racism and basic primal violence that is just simmering under the surface within our society will rise up. it will be a fun time just like in mad max. everyone for himself.
    hopefully we’ll just destroy ourselves and give the planet back. we don’t deserve it.

    i’m hoping to have figured out a way to leave the planet by then.

  132. #132 Kseniya
    January 2, 2009

    Muhamad (#3): The Giving Plague

  133. #133 CJO
    January 2, 2009

    heh. I thought of that story too. (and K meant #123, not #3)

  134. #134 CJO
    January 2, 2009

    Duh. point #3 in #123. I’m a little slow, but I’ll figure it out eventually.

  135. #135 yocco
    January 2, 2009

    The issue is with competition not specifically a car. It is whatever form people use to differentiate themeselves. If there was no differentiation we wouldn’t care who we mated with. The point is that Capitalism better supports the drive to differentiate yourself to mates and from competing mates than socialism.

  136. #136 John C. Randolph
    January 2, 2009

    The biggest game changer I see on the horizon is the development of biofuels, making transport fuel production a local industry, and defunding kleptocracies around the world. GM algae and bacteria FTW!

    -jcr

  137. #137 John C. Randolph
    January 2, 2009

    the rise of inexpensive CNC machining equipment and 3D fabs will allow us to decentralize a manufacturing base, reducing transport costs.

    Not just transport, but labor and materials, too.

    I spotted this on YouTube a while back, and the idea of cold-roll forming all of the framing of a house from coils of light-gauge steel is way cool.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyS2V_NLAAM

    I’ve been interested for years in the effects of computing on other industries.

    -jcr

  138. #138 SC, OM
    January 2, 2009

    The issue is with competition not specifically a car. It is whatever form people use to differentiate themeselves. If there was no differentiation we wouldn’t care who we mated with. The point is that Capitalism better supports the drive to differentiate yourself to mates and from competing mates than socialism.

    First, define socialism. Second, why do you think it, under your definition, is the only alternative to capitalism (contemporary capitalism being an extremely recent phenomenon in the human history)? What makes you think other systems would allow no differentiation? Capitalism supports the drive to differentiate oneself on the basis of material accumulation and symbols thereof. What makes you think differentiation based upon possessions is worthwhile, or better than differentiation – among people in both genders – based on personal abilities or accomplishments in any number of areas or qualities of character or physical attractiveness as defined within a given cultural system but subject to individual tastes, etc. (including even the sillier bases for differentiation that have existed)? And using what definition of better?

    By the way,

    http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/power.htm

  139. #139 Kseniya
    January 2, 2009

    CJO: I should have known that my comment would be ambiguous. Actually, I was referencing Muhamad’s third point, not the thread post number.

    Yeah, cool story. I particularly like another from the same collection, called “Ripples In The Dirac Sea”. (Different author.)

  140. #140 Kseniya
    January 2, 2009

    CJO: Right. Oops, I should have refreshed. :-)

    I got hit in the face with a blunt object last weekend, and I’m still a little woozy. It will pass.

  141. #141 RamblinDude
    January 2, 2009

    Hank Fox:

    Right now, if we were to discover some radical new cheap energy source, the main consequence of it would be that we’d wreck the earth even faster.

    I would say it depends on how cheap and how radical the energy source is. If it’s cheap and radical enough then I can see the possibility of a diminished need for both: obtaining resources, and tearing up the earth looking for them. With enough energy at our disposal, a whole lot would change, could change, and be possible– such as practical and more environmentally benign technology that could sustain an even larger planetary population without tearing up the earth. I can see cheap energy bringing about a future where there won’t be competition for resources, limiting all manner of conflict. World peace, a utopia!

    But I also see the positive being cancelled out by human greed and stupidity, and destructive technology being made even more available and in the hands of fanatics . . . I suck as an idealist.

  142. #142 Andrew
    January 2, 2009

    I give uncle frogy my useless post award.

  143. #143 Jadehawk
    January 2, 2009

    depending on my mood, I either foresee a glorious switch from growth Economy to (relatively)Sustainable Economy and a subsequent Jumping off the Planet that will end the current bottleneck, or the collapse of Modern Civilization because we run out of elbowroom and resources.

    Currently, my money is on the latter

  144. #144 RamblinDude
    January 2, 2009

    I totally forgot this one: (I don’t think any one has brought it up, here at least.)

    Online gaming! It will be a big “game changer”. And by “gaming” I mean all manner of internet interaction.

    There is an entire industry being built up around virtual worlds. Millions are coming home from real-world jobs and going to their computers and immersing themselves in virtual worlds like World of Warcraft, first person shooters, and sims of all kind where real money is being exchanged with other players for character upgrades and services. As technology improves–e.g. holographic interfacing–the world of the virtual will only get more appealing. The Wii (Nintendo) is now interactive enough that you can chat with your friends while playing games, exercising, checking your email, etc. In a few years, half the population will never have to leave their houses.

    We’re headed for the matrix, all right, and it will be entirely voluntary. Do not underestimate the impact virtual reality is going to have on the future.

  145. #145 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    January 2, 2009

    The issue is with competition not specifically a car. It is whatever form people use to differentiate themeselves. If there was no differentiation we wouldn’t care who we mated with. The point is that Capitalism better supports the drive to differentiate yourself to mates and from competing mates than socialism.

    In matters of what possessions you have, only to shallow people.

  146. #146 CSue
    January 2, 2009

    Portable, personal, EM shielding for defense.

    As long as it looks a lot cooler than it did in Dune.

  147. #147 Rob in Memphis
    January 2, 2009

    PalmPete @52:

    The big game changer coming is quite likely, highly reliable, portable lie detectors. They may even be a future cell phone feature.

    You should see if you can get your hands on a copy of James Halperin’s The Truth Machine. It deals with what happens after a 100% accurate lie detector is developed and is (imho) a good read, despite having been published 10+ years ago.

  148. #148 uncle frogy
    January 2, 2009

    Posted by: Andrew | January 2, 2009 4:58 PM

    I give uncle frogy my useless post award.
    ————————————-

    I humbly accept on behalf of all who think prediction is a pipe dream.
    If you would like pie in the sky, I wish “x” would happen I gave up Gonga so I’m fresh out of ideas.
    Me I am growing distrustful of “world changing” events all that have happened in my life time have been decidedly mixed in results. I like thinking about and hearing about new developments and speculations.
    I am pretty sure though that no one really knows what it will be that “changes everything” nor how it will change. So I want to know what the dangers are and where the money will be made and lost so as not to get screwed again.
    here is a prediction Jay Leno’s new show will morph a few times before it settles down to a stable format and he will buy a new car!

  149. #149 Marcus Ranum
    January 2, 2009

    Almost everyone dies.

  150. #150 Chris A
    January 2, 2009

    Cloud Computing

  151. #151 RamblinDude
    January 2, 2009

    Almost everyone dies.

    You mean immortality will become real (even if only available to a limited few)? Cool!

  152. #152 Tom
    January 2, 2009

    Got another one I just thought of.

    Finding an exo-planet that is

    a) not a gas giant
    b) is habitable.

    and c) is within easy driving distance

  153. #153 PalmPete
    January 2, 2009

    Rob in Memphis
    “You should see if you can get your hands on a copy of James Halperin’s The Truth Machine.”

    I read it many years ago and whilst the plot was flawed, many of the implications of accurate lie detection were handled in a way that provokes my thoughts, still.

    I would highly commend it to all pharangulites, (as a light read) even if the plot is a bit contrived. Some of the concepts raised are worthy of complete books in themselves.

    Fear of inevitable detection may well become a replacement for fear of god/s in the very near future.

  154. #154 Tom
    January 2, 2009

    OK, so let’s pretend that we discover that another civilization exists and they have sent us a greeting. So we reply. Basically the conversation goes like this:

    Them: Greetings!

    Us: Hi. How are you?

    Them (385 years later): Pretty good. How about you?

    And this changes everything how exactly?

  155. #155 Tom
    January 2, 2009

    All the annoying and stupid people are forced to live together in one place. Oh, wait a second. That’s how we ended up on Earth. Never mind.

  156. #156 Longtime Lurker
    January 2, 2009

    What will change everything?

    Walton getting laid!

  157. #157 Ian Monroe
    January 3, 2009

    @Tom haven’t you read or seen Contact? Or have any imagination?

    In Internet terms, interstellar communication will have very high lag time, but there’s no reason to think bandwidth will be small. Using math an alien civilization could teach us a lot.

    Granted the initial SYN/ACK might take a few centuries. :)

  158. #158 Zelc
    January 3, 2009

    What about a philosophical development? Humanity would be better off if we finally figured out the true/best theory of how beliefs are justified.

  159. #159 KnockGoats
    January 3, 2009

    Rush Limbaugh will suffer a recurrence of the anal cysts that kept him out of Vietnam – Hank Fox

    What do you mean, a recurrence? It’s surely obvious that the anal cysts just kept growing, and long ago came to constitute the whole of Rush Limbaugh.

  160. #160 JeffreyD
    January 3, 2009

    Kseniya, regarding your #140, “I got hit in the face with a blunt object last weekend, and I’m still a little woozy. It will pass.” Are you ok, my friend? Missed you.

    Ciao

  161. #161 Benjamin Franklin
    January 3, 2009

    One word – Yellowstone.

  162. #162 Uncle Sam
    January 3, 2009

    Room temperature superconducter and higher dielectric strength insulators

    I’ve a stroke and do not keyboard as well as I would like to.

    Sam

  163. #163 Tom
    January 3, 2009

    @Tom haven’t you read or seen Contact? Or have any imagination?

    OK, I have a new one. Everyone on Pharyngula will develop a sense of humor.

  164. #164 course8
    January 3, 2009

    Interesting to see how the predictions tend to technoutopianism. My (pessimistic) bet is on increasingly severe environmental problems, first and foremost AGW. It is far from obvious that the future has to be better than the present.

    Nevertheless, I think that any non-awful future will be much higher tech than the present, b/c I just don’t think “drastically slash living standards” as a politically salable solution to the environmental crisis.

  165. #165 Hank Roberts
    January 4, 2009

    What will change everything?

    Triana.

    ——
    Go here:

    http://change.gov/newsroom/entry/open_for_questions_round_two/

    Sign up.

    Search “triana” in the search box.
    Find the question.

    Vote for it.

    7 to 5 right now.

  166. #166 hub3rt
    January 4, 2009

    frankly, i’m pissed that i don’t have a chip in my head that turns on electronics just by thinking about it by now. where the hell is my flying car?

  167. #167 bruce hood
    January 4, 2009

    Oh that’s an easy one.

    Reading my book on the origins of belief when it comes out in April.

    http://brucemhood.wordpress.com/about-supersense/

    No matter whether you are a believer or a skeptic, it has something really important to say from the world of child development about the origins of adult belief.

    Best

    Bruce

  168. #168 Kseniya
    January 4, 2009

    JeffreyD: I’m ok. Worst side effect might be that I’m forced to have a root canal. The constant pain phase is over, I’m happy to say.

    In the future, alcoholic drinks won’t make people do monumentally stupid and reckless things.

  169. #169 SC, OM
    January 4, 2009

    Kseniya – That’s shocking. Get well soon.

  170. #170 RamblinDude
    January 4, 2009

    In the future, alcoholic drinks won’t make people do monumentally stupid and reckless things.

    Ah, a real game-changer, eh? (The effect on birthrate alone would be significant.) But as for the present, that stuff can mess you up good. Do be careful . . . ya know?

  171. #171 RamblinDude
    January 4, 2009

    It’s “affect” isn’t it? (I’ve gotta get these things right!)

  172. #172 bruce hood
    January 5, 2009

    Hmmm… You do have to wonder about who they invite onto the Edge…. I am not naming names but I think I can feel him staring at me from behind!

  173. #173 Rob in Memphis
    January 5, 2009

    @PalmPete #153

    Cool! I think you’re the only other person I’ve run across who’s even heard of that book.

  174. #174 bruce hood
    January 6, 2009

    I am sad to say that I have even read it…. I had to know what I was dealing with.

    You can read about my take on it in my forthcoming blockbuster!

    http://brucemhood.wordpress.com/about-supersense/

    OK… Shameless plug and wishful thinking.

    Pass it on.
    b

  175. #175 Watchman
    January 6, 2009

    Don’t worry, Kseniya, root canals aren’t so bad. I got one for Christmas! (For New Year’s Eve, to be precise, but whatever.)

    And yeah, keep clear of those drunks. They can be dangerous and unpredictable.

    (I wonder if our TM,OM took his handle from Halperin’s book.)

  176. #176 sinti
    January 7, 2009

    I predict that non of the Hungarian publishers will publish Steven Pinker’s Blank Slate and The Stuff of Thought in Hungarian in the near future (unless I win the national lottery)and THAT will change everything. At least in Hungary.

  177. #177 Steve
    January 7, 2009

    ***************************
    Assuming a VERY long lifespan, I hope sit with my great-great-great-grandson on my lap, and point up to the night sky and teach him about real geography: the names of places and planets where humans have settled. His generation will wonder how we could ever have survived on just a single world for as long as we did. What could change humanity more then a never-ending frontier?
    ****************************

  178. #178 Kseniya
    January 8, 2009

    RamDude: “It’s “affect” isn’t it? (I’ve gotta get these things right!)”

    No, you were right the first time. Such a change would have a profund effect [noun].

    One effects [verb] or enacts changes. Presumably these changes would affect [verb] something or other.

    A person suffering from depression typically lacks affect [noun].

    Just to be clear, the person who drank too much and did something reckless was not me. As for me, I don’t even drink. I was there to see the band. I haven’t had a drink or any other mind-altering substance since my mother became terminally ill, when I was 19. That was five years ago. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, in a club. I’m not even quite sure what hit me. Some guy took a swing at another guy, and I caught a fist, or an elbow, or a bottle or something on the side of the face.

    I’m a lot better now, but will think twice about ignoring loud noises behind me even when there’s a band blasting away in front of me.

  179. #179 Kseniya
    January 8, 2009

    Sorry, that was kinda off-topic.

    In the future, everyone will have a personal force field.

    And a flying car.

  180. #180 Ken Cope
    January 8, 2009

    And a flying car.

    Don’t forget the personal jet pack! You, um, haven’t seen mine around anywhere, have you? I’ve been waiting for it since, oh, 1955.

  181. #181 Wowbagger
    January 8, 2009

    I’m a lot better now, but will think twice about ignoring loud noises behind me even when there’s a band blasting away in front of me.

    Good to know it hasn’t put you off going to see bands. I’ve never had anything quite that bad happen, but I’ve been in more than a few rough mosh pits and have had quite a few blows to the head over the years.

    Some people say that explains a lot…

  182. #182 Kel
    January 9, 2009

    In the future, alcoholic drinks won’t make people do monumentally stupid and reckless things.

    Then what will be the point of drinking?

  183. #183 Kseniya
    January 11, 2009

    Kel :-)