Immediate, near and distant futures

By Thomas Orme Sr., currently in Russia.

Futurism suffers from some misunderstandings which can be eliminated by a few well-chosen adjectives.  In this note I will give some definitions and examples.  The adjectives I have chosen are immediate, near and distant.  This is by no means an original use of these adjectives.  I will give them specific time intervals and show why immediate has special economic significance.

The immediate future is what I call the next two years.  This means that some significant change which has not yet occurred will occur in the next two years.  As an example I cite the replacement of keyboard and mouse by voice commands.  This is already happening, but it has not yet become revolutionary.  Cell phone voice to text seems to be ahead of word processor voice to text.  Dragon Naturally Speaking is worth playing with.  It is affordable and fairly accurate.  Training is tedious.  It requires that you learn to speak without hemming and hawing.  Otherwise your time for revision will be great.  The keyboard and mouse will not be eliminated abruptly.  Voice revision introduces as many errors as it corrects.  The advantages of dictation over typing may restore the role of the secretary.  Clearly some new peripherals will be needed.  An AI type helmet will be the first requirement.  The helmet will provide a computer monitor in the form of googles.  It will have to be a full face helmet with sound proofing so that room noise is eliminated and voice commands do not disturb people nearby as in the next seat in the plane or at the next desk in an office.  Robotic text to voice is already here.  To summarize, voice to text will mature in the immediate future, and lots of money will be made by those with successful products to support the revolution.

The near future is what I call the next ten years.  There is a lot of risk when thinking about the next ten years.  Products which may become revolutionary in the next ten years have many present day flaws and bugs.  As an example of a near future product to watch is production of electricity by heat generated by nuclear fusion – yes, I said fusion, not fission.  The MOOC recently offered by edX on plasma physics indicated to me that we are closer to fusion energy than I thought.  My original idea was that this was 50 years away.  The problem of instability has not been solved.  Containment systems and miniaturization techniques are getting better.  Also there are clear paths to the very high temperatures needed.  A Manhattan Project could in ten years probably make fusion a reality.  But it will take tons of government money and good management.  Think of what it will mean.  Unlimited clean energy from the abundance of tritium we have in the oceans.  Absolutely no need for renewable energy programs – solar, wind – Good-bye!  Elimination of our dependence on petroleum, gas and coal.  Reversal of carbon dioxide pollution.  But don’t get your wallets out yet.  Instead write a letter to your Senator.  Money is better spent on nuclear fusion research than sending a man to Mars.  To summarize, nuclear fusion is something that might happen in the near future.  You probably won’t make a lot of money investing in it, but you should know something about it, because it is a potential game changer.

The distant future is what I call the next fifty years.  A lot can happen in fifty years.  Germany in fifty years has completely recovered from Stunde Null (Hour Zero) 1945 and today dominates Europe economically.  In fifty years a seedling grows into a mature tree.  In fifty years I have gone from a slide rule to a smart phone.  Still there are futures which may require many more than fifty years to implement.  Inter-Galactic transportation for instance may never be achieved without some type of time-machine.  Hence I put Inter-Galactic travel in a category reserved for science fiction.  It will not be something which happens in the next fifty years.  On the other hand advances in human longevity may occur in the next fifty years.  A normal life span of 140 years may be possible.  And by that I mean a healthy, active, mentally alert 140 year life span.  There is not much cheer in prolonging a vegetative state.  This is clearly in the domain of medical research.  The challenge is to identify the appropriate target.  Improvement in preventive medicine, disease control and hospital practice are obvious choices.  I prefer to think in terms of mitochondria.  Apoptosis is the problem.  We all become glycolytic as our mitochondria become dysfunctional.  So think oxidative phosphorylation.  Keep oxidative metabolism going and reduce the free radicals.  It’s hard to think of an immediate monetary reward for long term research, but it’s the key to a brighter future.  In summary, distant future means distant profits.  Nonetheless, the need for research on long term goals should not be neglected, and constant mining of results for immediate practical benefit is a necessity.  We have to get to a life span of 100 before we get to 140.

For fast and big bucks think immediate future.