Years ago, when I was the ten-year-old backseat driver on long road trips with my parents, I would preach about the glory of the future. I would speak of flying cars, massive space colonies and computer-phones. Thus far, only the latter of these has been made material, and the debate over the benefits of cellphones is long over. Now, we are faced with a major population boom and a potentially hotter planet. Advancements in technologies able to sustain a hungrier, thirstier humanity are more crucial than in any other point in our history. The future is unavoidable, but a handful of technologies are in development that could help us overcome the challenges of the 21st century.
Vertical Farming Feeds The Masses
Predicted Countdown To Fruition: 20 Years
The global population is slated to increase dramatically by mid-century. As the urban sprawl continues to spread, less land will be devoted to agriculture. Thankfully, Earth has plenty of airspace, so why not reach for the skies?
Vertical farming is not a new player in agriculture. People all over the world have been using these techniques for many years. Not until recently, however, has the technology been in place for developing the kind of infrastructure required to sustain the estimated 9 billion people due to call Earth home by the year 2050. There are many concepts that look promising, a few of which are already producing yields.
You can even find instructions for building your own vertical farm at home. In the coming decades, self-sustaining farming facilities could produce food almost entirely from their own recycled resources.
The impact of vertical farming would be immensely positive, decreasing the possibility of wars and alleviating famine and poverty in many corners of the world.
Stars In Boxes And Cold Fusion
Countdown To Fruition: 35 Years
The splitting of the first atom altered humanity's path permanently. The jump from nuclear fission to nuclear fusion is not far away, and some of the best scientists and engineers are working to tirelessly to make this a reality. Of note is the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), which is on its way to completion. A reactor this size could sustain cities for durations well beyond those of conventional fission reactors.
Other fusion technologies like Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR), such as Andrea Rossi's E-Cat and Brillouin Energy's boiler are creeping into the energy scene. These will perhaps be impossible to ignore within the next decade. If they do develop, they could power cities all over the world at a fraction of the cost that is currently paid for electricity at present. If these devices were to be small enough, one could be in every home, and thus throw the switch on the next energy revolution.
Space Technology Hits Warp Velocity
Countdown To Fruition: 60 Years
Sixty years may seem generous when dreaming of diving into the intergalactic unknown in your parents' starship. However, there are some surprising technologies on the table that could make it possible for us to visit distant worlds in the blink of an eye compared to today's conventional rocketry.
The EmDrive, a propulsion system created by Robert. J. Shawyer, would allow for the vertical landing and takeoff of air and spacecraft without the use of conventional fuels. The EmDrive creates its own thrust by use of microwaves and could lift more weight at less cost than rockets currently on the market. Other tests on this type of propulsion based on Shawyer's design were conducted by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. More recent studies conducted by NASA earlier this year demonstrated that an EmDrive-type system could be applicable if scaled up. Skeptics will say what they like, but this technology would be impossible to keep out of the space industry if it were to prove worthy.
The crown jewel of the next space race could very well be the thing we wish the most to exist. In 2012, NASA announced that it was conducting experiments that could eventually lead to the development of a warp drive. A team led by Dr. Harold "Sonny" White is attempting to detect a microscopic instance of a warp in space-time. These tests are based on the work of theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre. If they prove successful, further research could eventually lead to the creation of a ship that might travel to the far-flung reaches of the galaxy.
As these technologies become mainstream, there will be a shift the likes of which humanity has never witnessed. The elimination of starvation, promise of seemingly inexhaustible energy resources, and the capacity to zoom about the galaxy will allow us to survive well beyond the life of Earth, and allow us to make our next home just as beautiful as this one.