Forecasting – Mars, Intelligent Machines, Warp Drive

I eagerly follow developments in the space and computer technology industries. The cutting edge of these fields keeps me excited for the future and provides a sense of wonder as I ponder what we might yet accomplish. There are three major achievements that I truly believe I am likely to see in my lifetime: human settlements on Mars, truly intelligent machines, and warp drives. I have seen amazing evidence that these fixtures of science fiction may just become our reality by the mid-21st Century.

Mars Colonization

Right now, the most ambitious endeavor would put the first settlers on Mars in the year 2022. This is the mission of Mars One, a Dutch company. They have already sourced all of the major components that they’ll need and they believe a permanent base can be put on Mars with current technology. They hope to fund the mission by creating a reality show around the training and selection of the Martian colonists. Their goal is to unite the world around this mission and give everyone a chance to not only observe, but participate by voting on which team of astronauts is the first to go. Applications just closed at the beginning of September and were open to everyone in the world. They received over 200,000 applicants, of which I was one. Over 200,000 people want a chance to take a one-way trip to another planet.

I think Mars One will see their mission through. Even if they don’t, though, other developments are making a Mars colony attainable. SpaceX is developing rockets that will be more than capable of ferrying people and cargo to the planet. Planetary Resources is going to start mining asteroids, which means many of the resources necessary for settlement won’t even have to be launched from Earth’s surface but can be secured in space.

I’m so confident that human settlement of Mars is an inevitable future that I’m focusing my career around not only supporting and enabling such a goal, but making myself an ideal candidate.

Intelligent Machines

Machines capable of understanding and utilizing unfamiliar information and with perfect conversational interfaces will be here sooner than we think. They won’t take the shape of independently operating, humanoid robots, though, as science-fiction stories have led us to anticipate. Instead, they’ll come about because of the ubiquity of internet access to our increasingly powerful and portable personal computers.

One sign of this coming non-apocalypse was Google hiring Ray Kurzweil as their director of engineering back in 2012. Kurzweil is one of the most powerful minds in computer intelligence. “It is my goal to contribute to artificial intelligence…and now for the first time, I have the resources to do it,” he said of working for Google. His job description is one sentence: “”to bring natural language understanding to Google.”

Google’s not the only company pushing machine intelligence forward, though. Over at IBM, a computer named WATSON bested Jeopardy champions. Watson is able to sift through huge amounts of natural language information and decipher the meaning well enough to answer natural language questions.

Our personal computing devices have access to the world’s information and we’re making more and more of our personal information available to them as well. Our calendars are stored in the cloud, as are most of our correspondence, our financial records, even our reminders that used to be the exclusive domain of the Post-It.

If the trends continue, we’ll be able to communicate with our devices just like we communicate with other people and they’ll be able to access and understand any information available on the internet and our personal data. They’ll not only be able to respond to our inquiries with robust, data-driven answers, they’ll be able to predict our needs and desires. How do we regard such devices as anything other than the most intelligent presence we’ve ever encountered?

We’re headed towards machines of incredibly useful intelligence, but not sentience. We’re going to avoid (or at least postpone) the robot apocalypse.

Warp Drive

NASA engineer Dr. Harold “Sonny” White has worked out a theoretical framework that would allow for a warp bubble to be created with much less of the exotic energy previous theories required. In fact, he’s been able to reduce the energy requirement by a couple of orders of magnitude. This means that he is realistically attempting to take his research from theory to experiment. Within the next several years, White wants to create a microscopic warp bubble.

This blew my mind. We are potentially a decade away from successfully warping space-time. While a microscopic warp bubble doesn’t have much application, how long will it be before we figure out ways to enlarge the effects? If White is successful with his initial experimental attempts, I give it twenty-five more years before we have developed the technology to the point where we can use it to augment a vehicle’s speed. Which means, within my lifetime, I may see warp-capable spacecraft. That will open up nearby star systems to exploration and settlement.

There are a lot of obstacles in Dr. White’s path, though. I’m not nearly as certain in this prediction as I am in the colonization of Mars and the rise of machine intelligence. It is a very exciting possibility, though.

The last few decades have seen a mind-boggling slew of changes. The pace of discovery, development, and achievement seems to be accelerating. Even two decades from now, the world is sure to be a vastly different place and I’m excited to keep my eye on the cutting edge and to continue predicting where we are going.


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