Industrial

What will life be like in 100 years?

23rd April 2021
Alex Lynn

Technological innovation seems to speed up every year. If you go back far enough, then quality of life didn’t change very much from one century to the next, and before the industrial revolution, neither did technology. Now though, the human race is going at light speed, and it’s hard to predict what will happen over the next decade, let alone the next 100 years; but with a pinch of salt in mind, what might be waiting for us around the dawning technological era?

Medical

Medical advancement is something that has been under the microscope since the onslaught of the COVID-19pandemic, and emerging technologies have thundered onto the scene. Medical technology has seen everything from advances in vaccination science, to wearables and ultraviolet sterilisation; but are these the technologies that are going to define the next 100 years?

Personalised medicine is one of the big scientific breakthroughs on the horizon. Personalised medicine and genomics are beginning to help biomedical scientists to understand diseases that they still struggle to treat, such as cancer. A better understanding of the genome will help people to understand themselves in a deeper way, and help doctors to treat people.

By being able to see the genetic markers and DNA composition of a patient will give the doctors of the future the ability to completely tailor treatments to the recipient to ensure effective care.

Dr Peter Edelstein, Chief Medical Officer of Elsevier Clinical Solutions, predicted: “Soon your genome will be on your cell phone, and then it’s going to blossom into a number of fields where we can identify disease risk, how to manage disease, medication appropriateness – all sorts of things, on a truly individual DNA-based way.”

Technology and artificial intelligence is also being developed to help give more accurate and faster diagnoses than traditional methods, cutting down the time to discovering what needs to be done to help a patient.

The life expectancy of people in developed countries has, for the most part, levelled out, suggesting that the future of healthcare might lie in improving our quality of life rather than living for longer than we currently do. With that in mind, some of the innovations that are starting to take shape include bionics, such as exoskeletons, and high-tech prosthetics that will enhance instead of simply replace.

Sci-fi or reality: Designer babies has been a philosophical ethical question for a long time now, rather than a reality. But the more we learn about DNA and the human genome, the more possible this becomes; would it be good to be able to eliminate genetic disorders, or would this be a slippery slope for the human race to go down?

Automotive

In the most obvious and immediate way, the future of automotive is electric. The world is facing an immediate change in the way cars are built and run, as the world is increasingly paying attention to the ramifications of climate change. Countries are introducing deadlines on when the last non-electric cars will be allowed to be sold, pushing the manufacturers to adapt to the changing environment – literally.

But electrification is already mostly here, with leaps being made every year in range and efficiency – however, the infrastructure for charging needs more attention than it is currently getting, so it is realistically feasible for everyone to switch to EVs.

Another advancement the automotive that always seems to be just over the horizon is autonomous and self-driving cars. One-hundred years seems like more than enough time for the reality of this technology to finally catch up with the fantasy, and with the growing advances in machine learning and sensors, it probably won’t take more than a few decades for this one to become a reality.

The explosion of 3D printing technology has also led to talk around the possibility of 3D printed cars in the future. Seeing a day when a mechanic prints instead of orders the part he needs to fix your car seems inevitable, so a day when we are printing cars – or at the very least, bespoke bodywork for our car – could be another future innovation.

Perhaps the most interesting question we can ask about the automotive industry in 100 years, is whether or not it will exist at all? Human beings are constantly finding new ways to travel, horse and cart, cycling, ships, cars, planes, and even rocket ships, so it seems possible that the automotive industry could become obsolete – or evolve into something we today wouldn’t recognise as a car at all.

It is possible that the car will go the same was as the horse, and that after being made obsolete, driving cars might be something people do as a hobby – like riding horses – rather than a necessity for every day life.

Sci-fi or reality: The flying car has been talked about for decades, but are we actually any closer to getting there? Or is the idea simply too impractical to be worth it? Every few years a flying car appears on the scene, with a company claiming to have cracked it, but so far none of these ‘breakthroughs’ have amounted to anything.  

Energy

As we fight to become more environmentally friendly, energy is on the forefront of people’s minds. Clean renewable energy isn’t a prediction for the future; it’s a must.

Steadily – quite possible too steadily – renewable energy is replacing fossil fuels. The sources include, solar, win, hydro, tidal, geothermal, biomass, and hydrogen, each providing a different way to generate clean energy. In many ways, these are the energy sources of today and tomorrow, as well as the next 100 years, but there is a still a lot that can be done to help the technology reach its goal.

Experts at IDTechEx said: “The past ten years has seen considerable growth in the installation of solar PV and wind power onto electrical power grids. However, as the penetration of variable renewable power sources increases, so too does the difficulty of continuously matching supply and demand over various time frames. Energy storage is set to play a key role in maintaining grid stability and in helping to make renewable power sources dispatchable.“

A lot of the problems with building a world powered by renewable energy are political, rather than technological. One of the most effective ways of harvesting and distributing renewable energy would be with ‘supergrids’, however, to be effective and optimally placed, most of these supergrids would need to ignore geopolitical borders. For example, a super-solar grid in the Sahara Desert could power all of Europe and North Africa – undoubtedly a positive thing for the world as a whole – but political pitfalls and country divides have stopped this from becoming a reality today. Perhaps we need innovations in cooperation, not technology, to properly implement the energy revolution the world needs.

Alice Goodbrook, Energy Analyst with InnovateUK, has also predicted the onset of ‘smart energy’, stating: “In the future we want to see thousands of small-scale local producers of low cost renewables, which means we can generate and trade our own energy. The big power stations we currently have are only about 50% effective, as they throw away a lot of heat. Local means less waste, as any surplus heat that is generated can be used to heat local homes, and less power is lost as it doesn’t have to travel so far along the power lines.”

Sci-fi or reality: Another avenue for renewable energy over the next 100 years is from elements we don’t even know exist yet. Space is unexplored territory, and a territory that is potentially filled with millions more sources of energy that we haven’t discovered yet.

Robotics

Sometimes it is easy to think that we are living in the dawn of the robotic age. Robots now permeate a huge cross section of life, from industrial cobots, to drones, to increasingly life-like robots to help around the home – today it’s a Roomba, but what might it be in 100 years?

Industrial robots are becoming more vital, and more capable with every passing year, and they are increasingly able to take on more roles in the manufacturing process.

Radhika Arora, Director of Autonomous Driving at ON Semiconductor, said: “Technology is advancing rapidly, enabling robots to take on more and more tasks in nearly every industry. Industrial robots are an essential part of any factory, working alongside humans as well as other machines. To work effectively, the robots must move swiftly, see clearly and interact safely with the people they work with.”

With this in mind, it seems likely that 100 years from now, factories will probably be entirely automated – and there is already a certain amount of anxiety in the world about robots taking away jobs. And if robots can automate factories, then the chances are they will follow in other jobs that require repetitive, predictable motion. Because of this, robotics has the potential to completely change society, and more importantly, the way in which people work.

Unmanned vehicles are also becoming more and more popular, with scientists, consumers, and governments, as they are applied for exploration, intelligence and surveillance, and simple fun. With such attention on the industry, it is likely to boom quickly, and 100 years from now, unmanned vehicles could be exploring planets much further away than Mars, and we might finally know what’s in the bottom of our own ocean.

Robots also have a significant cross-over with artificial intelligence – which we’ll look at more in the next section – and it is a partnership that is only likely to become more ingrained with time. A lifelike humanoid robot has already been achieved, with Hanson Robotics releasing the Sophia 2020; so what could the future hold, and how far can robotics and AI go together?

Sci-fi or reality: Automatons nearly indistinguishable from humans have been a staple of sci-fi since the first robots were dreamed up; but could this be a reality? Robots that could function in the same way as a person would be an invaluable way to solve the problem of completing tasks that are dangerous to human life. There is no doubt scientists are still fascinated by the idea of robots in their most fictional sense, as every year CES sees a more advanced robot stealing the scene.

Artificial Intelligence

Nothing has captured the human imagination – for better and for worse – quite like artificial intelligence. Opinions on it, even in the scientific community, vary widely, from genuine concern, to claiming it’s overhyped, to believing it has the power to revolutionise the way we live.

The Internet of Things, automation, smart technology; we are already surrounded by artificial intelligence, and it is telling that while other technology is talked about developing, AI is usually described as ‘evolving’. If AI can already problem solve, then within the next 100 years, it may well have learned to think as well.

There is a phrase in the scientific community regarding technological advancement and, more specifically, AI: ‘The Technological Singularity’ – or just ‘The Singularity’ for short. ‘The Singularity’ refers to a hypothetical time in the future when the tech has become so advanced, that its momentum becomes unstoppable.

This ‘intelligence explosion’ is predicted to happen around the time that computers become just as – and then inevitably, more – intelligent as human beings; and this is expected to happen in the next 30 years.

If ‘The Singularity’ proves to be true, it is likely that everything about technology will change; and in ways we cannot predict, because human beings will no longer be the ones thinking it up. And this could be for the better, or for the worse. It’s easy to reject fearmongering over AI as science fiction, but respected scientists, such as the late Stephen Hawking, have expressed concern over full AI and the effect it could have on the human race. However, other scientists believe true artificial intelligence could be our salvation.

Even scientists that do not give credence to the theory of ‘The Singularity’ expect AI will change the way we live. AI may well grow over the next 100 years to be able to solve problems in clean energy, sustainability, natural disasters and healthcare.

Sci-fi or reality: Artificial intelligencehas very few limitations, and as it grows and develops, it’s hard not to wonder how sophisticated it could get; if AI will one day run our cars, what else could it do? Will the future make Hal 9000 a reality?

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