The future is coming

This is the 2018 revised version, see revisions at bottom

This is a revised introduction for 2018. The original were written on December 2014 but I revise it every year.

  I have been researching all the advance and history of human knowledge for almost a decade, though I have always been curious and played with the concept since my teens. The result was a very complete database and algorithm to evaluate mankind evolution and predict not a single advance, but the apex of all evolution - the technological singularity. From those studies, I gained a lot of knowledge and experience with trends and patterns on diverse areas of technology, leading me to be able to evaluate better what breakthroughs are coming and when.

  On Singularity, studies and books on predicting singularity are plenty. Intel once said 2028, Ray Kurtzwel said 2045 in his "Singularity is Near" book (though he is revising it in his last book to "circa 2030~2040"), And my own research point to something between 2030 and 2040. Surprisingly, most community that talk about the subject are more inclined to agree on the 2035~2045 window (/r/singularity research, showing over 90% respondents expect it this century, over 25% by 2030).

  But lets not talk about singularity and all its polemics, but rather on what you can take out from researching history, trends and ongoing developments, which this article is all about.

  I divided the upcoming advances in two very distinct areas: Raw technological advances, which kind of encompasses everything, and just medical advances, that while still inside technology, have a whole lot more meaning and immediate consequences in our lives. So, here it is, the future. I added a percentage of certainty (which means how accurate I think the date is, not the discovery. All discoveries will happen, but might come sooner or later, thus the certainty index). Note that, specially with medicine, these are mostly when the advance will happen, but not necessarily be tested, approved and distributed to the whole population, so I would add about 5 years on top of medical breakthroughs if you are expecting them to be "widely available to all". Also, after the predictions, a list of which technologies are holding back advances (not that they are preventing progress, but rather we are lagging behind improving them as needed)

  This article was originally written in december 2014 (2015 version), yearly revisions will be posted after the list. Meanwhile, read this for the remarkable advances of 2015 on BBC: 2015: Breakthroughs galore, while this article from referralMD does a good job showing progress in 2016-2017.

Technology

(click to see past predictions)

2021 - 10 times more energy volume batteries (holding us back)

Why: One of the biggest - if not the biggest drag on new technologies are the over-obsolete battery life and safety. The best batteries are not safe, and the safe ones are too weak. But don't fret, 2014 saw plenty of new battery technology on the lab, and soon they should be changing the game on how we store energy: eco-friendly batteries, bendable batteries, extremely fast recharge batteries, even extreme capacity. Better batteries will open a lot of new venues and technologies, from Artificial Organs to Electric Airplanes.

Where are we at: Li-Ion is still the king, with its bad capacity (to today's standards) and danger (if damaged, it can fire or explode), not to mention it carries toxic components. While there are dozens of battery models that proved, in lab, they can hold more energy and are safer, they all fail at being economically viable or produced in large scale. The only sure improvement we should see in a few years are solid-state batteries, which do away with liquids and have better capacity and safety, but store only about 3 times the value of 2015. 

When: For Solid state batteries, Toshiba promised a comercial release by 2020. All other technologies that could reach this "10 times density" prediction, while already existing, can't be mass produced in quantity or value to compete with Li-ion, so it is anybody's guess when someone will do that and replace Li-ion. Since we are waiting economy and mass production, this prediction is hard.

Will this improve Health? Yes, a lot of implants and even sensors need an immediate overhaul on their power cells. For instance, small and unreliable batteries is the main reason why we can't replace our heart with a mechanical one. The number one cause of death worldwide is related cardiovascular diseases or failures - something that a reliable Total Artificial Heart would fix and prevent - we are talking about a 25% drop in death rates.

2022 - Mind/Machine interface

Why: One major problem with all the devices we use is its interface. We often require our hands, or broadcast our commands with voice. It is not optimal, nor private, not to mention it is not really "hands free". The ultimate interface would be mind-machine, the ability to control (and get results back) all using our mind. It might be very cool to control your computer or phone with your mind, but concerns on attention and focus will certainly come with it.

Where are we at: People have already moved mouse pointers with their minds on lab, and we have prosthetic that can be also used with your mind. 2015 even showed feedback-able prosthetic. While mostly for the disabled, these advances will soon make way to human enhancing front, and it shouldn't take long for you to be able to issue simple commands to your smartphone/watch with your mind. 

When: The technology is maturing, and one could even argue that a premature company could add it to one of there devices (a good entry-level control would be hands-free volume control of your headphones), but it will probably take a little more tinkering and perfecting to go mainstream. So, maybe we see such entry-level systems very soon, but I don't expect anything really meaningful until at least 2022.

Will this improve Health? Yes, mechanic devices operated by doctors will no longer be subject to a hand sweating or shaking, and will do precisely what the surgeon want. Prosthetics will be life-like enough to actually be better than the original organic limbs. 

2025 - Smart cars everywhere

Why: Safety, comfort, economy, there are so many good reasons to make self-driving cars that the question is why we are not there yet.

Where are we at: For legal issues and bureaucracy that are sure to delay its inevitable deployment, self-driving cars are making a clear debut. Completely automated cars have already moved thousands of kilometers in the whole world, from Google, BMW and Toyota, to other small players. Google even recently updated their version to comply to US laws and try to fasten the deployment of self-driving cars. It shouldn't take long for you to not need to take on the wheel, and even better: perfect cabs which don't scam you. We should also not forget the advances of partial self-driving Tesla cars and their auto-pilot, which while certainly rushed to consumers, is a breakthrough nevertheless. The first self-driving commutes started in late 2017 to mixed success.

When: This will be a progress and not a single-date. First we will see fixed commutes and routes, then select-able routes. The autopilots we see around are nothing more than a "drive in a straight line" or "keep on this lane", which is impressive enough but, again, a step-by-step progress. The problem is that to be truly self driving, a car should be able to navigate something totally random, like dirt roads of a sinister suburb with no signs - don't expect that too soon. But for the normal city dweller, Self-driving cars should arrive sooner, since we expect cities to be better mapped, signaled and monitored. 2025 seems a pretty solid date to see that. This is not a prediction of when they will be majority, but when you will be able to buy yours, and see them on the streets as a normalcy. If you want a guess on when self-driving cars will be the majority, then its safer to bet on 2040.

Will this improve Health? If comfort alone doesn't count, security will. Estimates on 2017 level of self-driving prototypes already show that if rolled out today, we would see a decrease in lethal accidents. As more and more of the world fleet becomes automated, road injury will leave the top 10 causes of death.

2025 - The last industrial revolution of 3D printing

Why: Big fancy industries will be no longer need for most our daily products. Small 3D printer offices around town can print your needs at any time, they can print unique devices crafted just for you. Production and delivery prices and needs will drop, specially merged with the drone revolution, and big industries will shift for big business only. You will be able to have a 3D printer at home (as of today, people already do) and print your own art, tools or disformed goo.

Where are we at: With 3D printers getting more powerful and detailed, with a wider variety of materials, we will soon be able to print pretty much anything (as of 2015, we can even print working human organs!). Like with any big new breakthough, the main break is economical, and printers and their materials are still on the pricey side, as well how well they can do minute details, but progress in all of these areas are steady and fast.

When: One could say it is already here, but that would be thee rare overpriced device, not the while industry. While some countries might see community printers being used to create requests on the fly much earlier, maybe even as early as 2020, the world wide industry will only start adjusting to this new reality (which is a good thing, since accommodating a new player means everyone gets to be optimized for their jobs) probably later then 2025.

Will this improve Health? Yes. 3D printed organs with cells caring your own DNA will mean you can replace any organ safely and securely. Up to now we mentioned artificial hearts and prosthetic ... they might be great but what about printing a fully functional heart or leg and attach it to work just as new? I ask you: would you want the organic replacement or the mechanical? oh the dilemmas of the future. Even today, some dentists already have 3D printers printing temporary teeth.

2025 - Artificial Intelligence (just artificial)

Why: Technology and progress exist for two reasons (guess why this list is divided in two?) One, obvious, improve our health and well-being, second, do the work for us (or make it at least easier). Machines are reaching the limit of what they can do without a brain behind it - mere tools we could say. Enter IT and specialist systems, that replace the easiest (often repetitive) tasks with software, and as the software improves, more complex tasks can be controlled. Once we reach systems smart enough to do anything a human could do, with or without the same tools, we have Artificial Intelligence. And everyone, other than a few professions related directly to Psychology (our brain) and Artificial Intelligence research (machine brain) will remain.

Where are we at: The first jobs lost for A.I. already started, from cashiers to some advisers. Every year we will see other jobs being replaced by A.I., until one day, almost all are. In 2015, the "best" estimates were that up to 30% of the jobs were "A.I. replaceable", in 2017, the best estimates point to 50%, but these are all incredulous skeptics that still see the human as the cherry on top, the reality is more like 99%. By then, humans need not apply.

When: That is a hard question, but not one that cannot be inferred from the progress we have been observing. Artificial Intelligence is really close, maybe too close. The important here is to understand that Artificial Intelligence, like the name implies, is just "artificial", it is an intelligence that while it can execute any task, it does not think for itself, does not really create new and better intelligence, or wonder about the reason of life. For that, we need an extra step, a recursive loop that makes the intelligence be able to reason with itself and evolve more than "planned" initially. For this raw A.I., we will probably have excellent levels of it by 2025, but as much many will fear humans are being replaced, it will take a few years more.

Will this improve Health? Computers are good at one thing: doing a task perfectly as instructed, and when the instruction is all of human knowledge, that means they can do any task perfectly. Instant diagnosis, instant treatments, surgeon that never make a mistake or a sub-optimal decision, and obviously, machines that can build machines previously too complex for us to complete. A.I. will improve health literally in every area of medicine if not just replacing fallible humans, by adding new tools to the arsenal of medicine: A 20 arm robot that operates on sever trauma might be too much for one or even a team of doctors, but an A.I. might actually ask for more arms.

2035 - Trans-Human intelligence

Why: Because we can ... because we want ... or because we don't have a choice.

Where are we at: A real intelligence better than us can appear at any moment is some lost code in Google or Microsoft, so its hard to say were we are, so lets consider the step-by-step of "not creating it by accident". As computers and robots get more and more advanced, so does the task of training and programming them, therefore a lot of techniques of self-learning, like deep learning or neural networks, must be created. And as we perfect these systems, we are always a literal bug away from creating the recursive feedback necessary for this system (the learning system, not what it is learning) to perfect itself (thus, improve at learning). When that happens, it will grow and learn exponentially faster to the point where it can learn and do anything, it will process any information, and eventually, it will start creating new intelligence. That will be the cue that tells us it is autonomous, when it creates something that it was never meant (or thought capable of) to create. Before we have A.I., a real superior intelligence is really subject to an "accident", but as soon as we reach A.I., we will be on the border of making it more inteligent than ourselves, so it shouldn't take long for "true A.I.", or Trans-Human intelligence, to being born. Scientists that believe we will reach ASI (yet another name for it ... Artificial SUPER intelligence, just so it is clear it is better than ours, but it actually means it uses multiple systems) also believe, in average, that will take between 5 and 10 years from general A.I. (or AGI) to become the next, and final, step in our progress. Humans are then obsolete, what may come will come.

When: Worst case scenario, 2035. Best case scenario: Tomorrow.

Will this improve Health? It will "solve" health. It will fully understand life and how it works, and therefore, it will be able to "fix" and "improve" any of it. Medicine is now obsolete, the Trans-Human Intelligence can do anything with organics and mechanical. The question you really should be asking is: will it want to help us?

2040 - A new paradigm: The singularity

Why: Ask the Trans-human.

Where we at: Humanity? an infinity away from it (a.k.a. never). We need a Trans-human intelligence to create a new paradigm, just like we created a new paradigm when we emerged intelligent from our ancestors.

When: a couple of seconds after the Trans-human mind starts.

Will this improve Health? It doesn't care .. we should ask for help, maybe?

Humanity reaches full immortality and, allied with science and Trans-Human intelligence, dawns a new age where old science is past and fully comprehended. What comes next is as good as anybody's guess, but the age of man - at least the flesh and meat one, is ended.

Medicine

(click to see past predictions)

2019 - Unified viral testing

A single drop of blood, and your whole history and current virus inhabitants are known. That is the proposal of  VirScan, which is being tested since 2013 and in 2015 were added to the tools in Africa to quickly detect Ebola in patients. In a few years, probably around 2019, it should be able to detect all kinds of known viruses and be economically available for everybody. It is the end of "not knowing", at least as long as it is a virus, what people have.

Where are we at: Research is ongoing and as of 2017 it is still not available for tests. Lets be optimist and keep hoping it will be available in a few years.

2020 - 24/7 life saving monitoring

A smartwatch can tell if the user flat-lines, some soon can measure glucose and O2 saturation. Several other sensors are already on the way, from brain wave to stress sensors and much, much others. And with the internet all the way already on those devices, it will be trivial for companies to sell services that enable a constant monitoring of your vital signs and trigger alerts and even call emergency all automatically. This should reduce death by accidents, stroke and heart attacks significantly, with prompt help arriving sometimes before the user knows something is wrong.

2020 - Saving drones

If governments and bureaucracy stop slowing down drone deployment, and morons stop flying their drones into airports and crowds, we should see a fleet of medical/doctor drones everywhere very soon - as in, right now. In late 2014 a remote-controlled AED drone with bi-directional contact was tested to complete success: A person requires emergency, but it will take a few minutes to emergency services get there - except for the drone, that comes flying and lands by your side, and any layman can follow the online doctor instructions and save your life with the emergency kit from the drone, keeping you safe until the real paramedics arrive.

2022 - The end of Alzheimer

Yes, it is here, it already exists and people have already been cured. For those with a dear relative with Alzheimer, it is almost too good to be true, but it is. In 2015 the first successfully trials happened, and even better, not only the disease was cured, but the memory and motor loss were reversed! There are still tweaks to be done, and certainly your 5 years of  trials and approvals, but 2020 is a good date to bet on the end of this terrible disease. In 2017, Huntington's disease were almost cured with gene editing in what was called the biggest breakthrough in neurodegenerative diseases in 50 years!

2025 - Asthma cure

Yes, respiratory constrains like Asthma or Bronchitis have its days counted. A discovery on early 2015 promises a possible cure in 5 years. So let's be sure and say it will be ready by 2025.

2025 - Cancer Cure

As of 2015, some Cancers like Leukemia have definite cures on trial, and could hit final testing before 2020. Most generic cancers could have a cure by 2020 and being on trial by 2025. By 2030, hardly any kind of cancer will be incurable. The irony? the first treatable and curable cancer is the one that was once thought the hardest to cure (Leukemia)

2025 - Diabetes Cure

A lot of research and advances by 2015 point to a cure for Diabetes. Scientists have already successfully cured the condition on rats and dogs, and progress is steady. It shouldn't take too long to have a partial cure, but by 2025 we should have a definite one.

2025 - HIV Cure

One Cancer cure research that uses HIV virus as a payload to kill of Leukemia discovered, by accident, in mid-2015, a T-cell mutation (yes, a cancer cell) that was 100% effective against the HIV. Basically, the cancerous cell mutation made it an HIV killing machine, thwarting the payload against cancer, but revealing it is possible to modify the immune system to kill out HIV. Research on how to manually and in a controllable way to trigger such "super cell" against HIV could bring soon the cure of HIV.

2025 - Physical Deaf and Blindness is cured

As of 2015, physical deaf is nearly fully cured, but still expensive and experimental, but give it 5 years and it should be mainstream. As for eyesight, things are a little harder, but a lot of improvements specially on stem cells are promising. Complete regrowth and return to functionality of damaged retina could be reality before 2025 .. give the usual 5 years for approval and perfection, and we might have the end of these disabilities at most at 2030.

2025 - Parkinson and other neurological diseases are controlled or cured

While different from Alzheimer, the research from Alzheimer gave way to a lot of insight on other brain and nervous systems diseases. Parkinson should be curable in 5 to 10 years, ALS might follow suit, and several others too. By 2025, most of these nasties should be at least survivable, which means, victims would gain extra life years to wait for the decisive cure. It is worth noticing that in 2016, the most important gene behind ALS was discovered (thanks to research funded by the "Ice-bucket challenge")

2025 - Dentists are out of work

Recent research on stem cells and special chemicals that trigger regenerative systems on our teeth might mean your toothpaste will not only clean, but recover and keep your teeth healthy. As of 2015, there are some adverts of special treatments that rebuild tooth, and it shouldn't take long for those to go closer to completely recovering damaged teeth. With the improvements on eliminating bacteria, the causes of decay will also be gone, so ... Dentists, you might be out of work by 2030.

2025 - Replaceable organs

Stem Cell is every bit important and amazing as promised. New technologies (including 3D printing) have already provided interesting insights on how to grow a brand new organ from a petri dish. Soon, doctors will be able to print (or grow) a liver or kidney with your own DNA, zero chance of rejection. Other organs might follow suit. No more transplant waiting list, you just have to wait a few days for your "new organ" to be ready and replace just like a spare part on a car.

2030 - The end of bacteria

Advances on a lot of fronts, from new antibiotics in 2015 (after a 30 year hiatus on new discoveries) to gene-therapy and virus-therapy (ever heard of phages?) has let to a promising approach on getting rid, once and for all, of bacteria. And what is best, most of these are targeted, so we will be able to destroy the bad bacteria, while leaving the good ones alone.

2035 - The end of senescence

Other than accidents, murder and illness - all in decline - people die because we get old. We used to think it was a "by design" obsolescence, but it is not. The end of our DNA's are consumed each time a cell multiplies, so to prevent important data being lost, our DNA strains have a "padding" called telomeres.  The problem is: eventually this padding ends, and new cells can't duplicate, we start having to live with old unreplaceable cells, and things only get worse with time. Just by understanding this, we are a whole step close to stop aging, and it might even be sudden, a discovery out of the blue on how to prevent the telomeres from being consumed, or perhaps rebuilding them, and then ... people won't age anymore. Old cells will be replaced by new cells (as in young people) and we will all probably go back to look as good as we looked on our 20's ... except forever.

2035 - Depression and Suicide is the top killer in the world (holding us back)

As research and progress for the top killers in the world as of 2015 are in full steam ahead, with Cardiovascular, Cancer, Diabetes, Neurodegenerative, Kidney/Liver failures and many other causes of death showing clear reduction over time thanks to improvements in diagnosis, treatment and even cures, Psychological diseases, mainly depression, lags far behind. In the start of this century, Suicide already entered the top 10 causes of death worldwide, and is climbing the ranking reaching 7th in some developed countries. Yet, research and even understanding of depression is pretty much at stone age. If nothing is done (and most likely it won't until depression hits the top 3 causes of death), it will soon be the biggest killer. 

2040 - Immortality

After you don't age, and all diseases are curable or eradicated, and emergency attention is seconds away thanks to drones and technologies we might not even know will exist, let alone improvement on safety records (smart cars alone will drop the death rate a lot, no cancer? no diabetis? no bacterias? replaceable organs? well ... immortality). The last step, which is already been discussed, is the possibility to backup your brain, so if the only unreplaceable part of you is damaged, we can still replace it with a brand empty new one and upload you back into it. All this advance could be clouded by the fact that while we will be able to life forever, we might not want to - as depression climbs to number one killer.

Needless to say, when Trans-human intelligence is born around 2040, all of the items on this list will also be achieved.

Science that is holding us back

All is well in predicting advancements and milestones, but what about what is holding us back to reach those? Why are some technologies that already exist not in consumer hands? Why devices that should already be possible lagging behind production? Here are the top scientific progresses that we urgently need to develop to break out of a possible grind in many technological fields:

1. Battery capacity

Battery capacity is certainly the one technology holding many advancements back. In many new discoveries, "battery capacity" or "energy needs" are the cause of why it is not consumer-ready. From more useful wearable technology, to artificial organs, off-grid energy and medical implants, to ecological friendly vehicles, Battery capacity is holding too much back. A fine example is the TAH - Total Artificial Hearts - that posses the technology to replace the human heart, but energy issues prevent them from being usable outside of an hospital bed. Electrical airplanes could be faster and make travel cheaper, Electrical cars could go days without charge (and not require a shield to protect the delicate Li-ion batteries of today), our mobile devices could last a week, and nanotechnology could finally launch nanorobots that actually work, since there is not even a shred of battery capable to maintain a tiny robot operational for long (see the nano-drones that can fly at most 5 minutes).

Toshiba promised Solid State Batteries for 2020 (but their initial goal was 2017, so delaying again), but those would only offer about 3 times more energy capacity (while being safer). Luckly, in October 2017, Toshiba delivered as much as half that in traditional Li-ion, doubling the capacity of their batteries. Still a long way from the 10x capacity that could change the world.

A 10 times increase in battery capacity would revolutionize not only your mobile device or car, but also medicine, ecology, and even how power grids work. 

2. Psychiatric research

It might come as a surprise that something that is as important as our mind health is currently being totally neglected by scientists and investors, but it is. In the last decades, investment has fallen, and some big-pharma companies even scrapped their neuroscience divisions. Why? It is too hard and costly to research and develop to an area that is yet not fully understood. Well .. research and understand it already!

Suicides already rank #10 as cause of death in the world, and in some developed countries, it can rank as high as #7. And it keeps getting worse, as our physical bodies improve and other conditions are cured or controled, we have better bodies to worry about our minds - and find no respite or even a clench to help us. With so little research, and an increasing angst about the future as A.I. looms in the horizon to steal your job, the number of depressed people keeps increasing, but the treatment and drugs available are 30 year old!

Should we find the cure to the worst offenders on the death list - and chances are we will by 2030, Depression will be public enemy number one, except that by the time governments and researches realize the seriousness of the issue, it will already be killing millions per day. Note that you don't need to commit suicide to die from depression. Depression damages the body, directly and indirectly (as we treat it less kindly), and is the cause of many other issues ranging from cancer to cardiovascular disease. 

With the little research on the field still trying to figure how out current (30 year old) drugs work to help with depression (and only about 50% of people see improvements on their conditions with the current drugs), its like we are in the 19th century trying to understand what are bacteria. Even if we start right now to invest the appropriate amount of research and time into the study of the Brain and the Psique, it might take us 20 or even 30 years to catch up with the progress in other areas. 


Revision history:

    Predictions reached:

  • Ebola vaccine in 2016 - reached
  • Wearable Techs in 2017 - partial failure (exists, but not rolled out properly)

    The following estimates changed across multiple revisions:

  • Mind-Machine Interface 2025 -> 2022 (r2016)
  • Artificial Intelligence 2040 -> 2025 (r2016)
  • Trans-Human Intelligence 2040 -> 2030 (r2016) -> 2035 (r2017)
  • Singularity 2035 -> 2040 (r2017)
  • 10x better batteries 2018 -> 2020 (r2016) -> 2021 (r2017)
  • End of Senescence 2030 -> 2035 (r2017)
  • Alzheimer cure 2020 -> 2022 (r2017)

    Year revisions summary:

  • dec 2015 (2016 version) review: No change, added Virscan to 2019.
  • dec 2016 (2017 version) review: Ebola vaccine prediction reached. ANTECIPATED mind-machine interface from 2025 (75%) to 2022 (80%), AGI to 2025 from 2040, Trans-Human Intelligence to 2030 from 2040. DELAYED 10x better batteries (compared to 2015) from 2018 (90%) to 2020 (80%). Added  singularity predictions
  • dec 2017 (2018 version) review: Partial fail for Wearable Techs in 2017, they exist, but did not reach consumer status. DELAYED 10x better batteries (compared to 2015) from 2020 to 2021, Trans-Human intelligence nudged back to 2035 from 2030 and singularity from 2035 to 2040. End of senescence delayed to 2035 from 2030, was too optimistic. Alzheimer moved to 2022 from 2020. Added depression and suicide as #1 killer in 2035. Added "Science that is holding us back" section. REMOVED PERCENTAGES
  •