The year 2017 is almost upon us, and as we move closer to 2020, a number of major scientific leaps forward are expected. Many of the scientific breakthroughs anticipated in the next three years sound like they are right out of a science fiction novel. But they are very real and expected to change the world in which we live immensely. Scientists now feel that we are on the verge of several “quantum leaps” in various scientific pursuits – from space exploration to the cars we drive, to the computers we use and the medical care we receive. Here are 10 of the biggest scientific breakthroughs expected (hopefully!) by 2020.
10. The Average Computer Will Match The Power of the Human Brain
This may sound scary to technophobes out there, but computing power is expected to match the power of the human brain by 2019. This means that, in a couple of years, computers will literally be as smart as the people who created them. This according to Ray Kurzweil, an American author, computer scientist, inventor, and futurist who is rarely wrong and has a better grip on the future than most anyone else. The Law of Accelerating Returns will usher in an exponentially greater amount of computing power than ever before, according to Mr. Kurzweil. The next step, of course, is that computers will be smarter and more powerful than us humans, which, of course, leads to the whole Skynet scenario, predicted in Terminator. Hopefully we skip that step.
9. Insect-Sized Robot Spies
If the internet is to believed (and who are we to argue with cyberspace), then we are getting very close to the U.S. military employing insect-sized robot spies – similar to those seen in the movie Minority Report. Apparently the Pentagon is working on this very thing right now. Viewed as the next phase in drone technology, insect-sized robots that can infiltrate a secure space, conduct surveillance, take photographs, and record sound are fast becoming a reality. Of course, the military is leading the charge on this Mission Impossible-like technology, which will add an entirely new dimension to the world of espionage. The Israeli military is also reportedly working on this type of technology, and many people are already speculating about the implications of this tech for corporate espionage. This is further proof that privacy is a thing of the past.
8. Laser Pens That Seal Wounds
Taking a page out of Star Trek, scientists are working on a portable laser pen that has the ability to quickly and painlessly seal wounds, Wolverine-style. This type of technology, which has been experimented on for military applications, could also be helpful for sports medicine or people who go hiking or skiing in remote back country locations. If you fall and cut your knee open while mountain biking, and you no longer have to worry about bleeding to death while trying to get to a hospital. Just pull a laser pen out of your backpack and seal the wound instantly. No muss, no fuss. Also a potentially good tool to have in hospital emergency rooms. While this type of technology would have been unheard of a few years ago, advances in lasers have now gotten to a point where this type of thing is no longer confined to the realm of sci-fi.
7. The Woolly Mammoth is Reborn
To be honest, the scientific community is a little embarrassed that this hasn’t happened yet. Most scientists predicted we would have Woolly Mammoths roaming the earth again by now. In fact, in 2015, scientists inserted Wooly Mammoth genes into elephant cells hoping to successfully clone the beast that went extinct 4,000 years ago. And while that didn’t prove successful, scientists haven’t given up on the quest to bring back the Woolly Mammoth. While the whole idea of bringing back extinct animals has raised the ire of some people on ethical grounds, most people just think it is a really cool thing to do. Researchers at Harvard University are leading the charge on the project to bring back the massive Woolly Mammoth. The rest of us will just have to stand back in awe. Just don’t let it turn into a Jurassic Park situation.
6. Space Tourism Goes Mainstream
Another scientific breakthrough that most people expected to happen by now concerns space tourism. Many futurists expected that, by now, we would all be taking a week off work to jet up to the International Space Station for some amazing views and some R&R. That hasn’t turned out to be the case. The main reason, most people say, is the price point. After all, it currently costs about $20 million to blast off and relax at the ISS. For $200,000, people can enjoy a sub-orbital spaceflight courtesy of Virgin Galactic. But if space tourism is truly to go mainstream, as Elon Musk predicts, than the price will have to become a lot more affordable. Still, the market for space tourism is growing. Companies such as Space Island, Galactic Suite, and Orbital Technologies are springing up with a clear mission – get the common man off Earth and into the stars. Some of these companies are planning to offer space tourism packages starting at $10,000 for a five-night stay in an orbiting hotel suite high above Earth. That’s about what it costs for a luxury week on a Caribbean island these days. Not bad.
5. Crash-Proof Cars
A lot of crazy stuff is going on with cars these days. From electric cars to self-driving vehicles, the automobile seems to be the focus of a lot of scientific advances currently. Add another scientific advancement to the list with new crash-proof cars. That’s right, cars that can literally survive an accident without so much as a dent. Swedish car maker Volvo has been working on just such a car for years now – fiddling with titanium bodies, radar, sonar, and driver alert systems. While this technology hasn’t taken the huge step forward that is needed, the engineers at Volvo (and other automakers) are getting close. Considering that automobile crashes kill over 30,000 people in the U.S. each year, this is definitely a welcome technology. Imagine a self-driving car that will literally never crash, no matter what! Now you’re talking!
4. Web 3.0
To understand what Web 3.0 is, and will be, we first have to look back at Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. Simply put, Web 1.0 was based on the use of hyperlinks, and Web 2.0 was based on the social, person-to-person sharing of links. Web 3.0 involves a combination of socially-sourced information that is curated by a highly refined, personalized algorithm. Computer scientists call it the “Semantic Web,” and they argue that we’re now in midst of it. However, most top computer scientists disagree and claim that Web 3.0 is still a few years away from hitting its full potential. When fully realized by 2020, the Semantic Web will allow data to be processed by both humans and machines separately. Information will also be curated and shared at much faster speeds. People will receive tailored information via the internet without even realizing it has been tailored for them. Cool and creepy at the same time.
3. Energy From a Fusion Reactor
Bloody fusion. The idea of getting infinite amounts of energy from a tiny resource has been the goal of scientists for decades and yet this technology has vexed the world’s leading minds. Fusion reactors have always seemed possible in theory, yet just out of reach in practical terms. The problem is that producing energy through fusion requires a machine that can contain a reaction that occurs at 125,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hot! The good news is that as you’re reading this, scientists in southern France are hard at work on the fusion reactor of the future, which is being built to power up in 2019. There are forecasts of full-scale fusion power being widely available by 2030. This would revolutionize life as we know it and dramatically lessen humans dependence on fossil fuels. It could also be the breakthrough needed in terms of powering interstellar space travel.
2. The End of Paralysis
The biggest medical breakthrough expected in the next few years, and the one we’re getting closest to right now, involves paralysis, or the lack thereof. We are close to living in a world where people who are paralyzed will be able to move their limbs and walk again. Scientists and medical researchers are accomplishing this by using a machine-brain interface, which enables paralyzed humans to control neuro-prostheses — basically mechanical, motorized limbs that respond to human thought. This technology will make it possible for people to walk again and regain bodily control, as well as using their arms and hands. This technology is already very advanced, and is expected to become even more so by 2020. These systems are also currently being developed for the U.S. military, which is putting a lot of money into finding ways for wounded warriors to walk again.
1. Extraterrestrial Identification
Note that we say “identification” and not “contact.” This is because telescopes are being developed right now that are so powerful they are enabling astronomers to see further into space and discover more planets than ever thought possible. In the past few years alone, scientists have had to recalculate just how big they thought the universe is – it’s a hell of a lot bigger than imagined – and have discovered a thousand new planets at a time thanks to ultra-powerful telescopes. Now the Eye of Gaia, a billion-pixel telescope has been sent into space to begin photographing and mapping the universe on a scale that was previously impossible. With the human eye, we can see several thousand stars on a clear night; Gaia will observe more than a billion over the course of its mission — about 1% of all the stars in the Milky Way. As well, it will look far beyond our own galaxy, even as far as the end of the observable universe. Given the power of the Eye of Gaia and the rate at which we are now discovering new planets, scientists expect that, by 2020, we will at least detect signs of other life on a distant planet. How? Likely by seeing satellites, space stations or ships orbiting a planet – just as aliens would see if they pointed a telescope at Earth. Actually communicating with an alien race will be much more difficult. But we should be able to at least see signs of life out there in space in the next few years.