Humans love food. I am amazed how the quality and quantity of food has proliferated. I was on a trip recently to the Isla Mujeres in Mexico near Cancun. This small island was filled with incredible restaurants offering the most creative and fresh quality food and cuisine. It wasn’t just Mexican food but Italian, French, Seafood, Vegetarian and other varieties. This tiny island had the finest creative and quality standards one expects coming from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Food is a very divisive issue when it comes to issues of production and the technology. We have a combination of possibilities. I will talk about plants but of course this also all applies to animals made for consumption as well.
1) The organic revolution wins and everyone is eating retro agriculture grown in hyper protected but natural environments that make the most of food sources as they are today.
2) Conventional farming with pesticides improves and we use conventional techniques of grafting, selection and improvements learned from organic revolution to improve conventional farming.
3) GMO takes off. We are genetically modifying plants today. These plants are significantly better in some respects than the original. Today this is usually limited to a feature or two like better resistance to disease, able to live off less water or producing better fruit. There is enormous resistance to this by many even though it is only a refinement of conventional techniques of grafting and selective mating we’ve done before.
4) Replacing food with artificial products. We have so many artificial ingredients in most foods that it is not hard to imagine in some cases eventually the food is replaced entirely with artificial ingredients making food into an industrial process done in factories. While this is repulsive to many people I grew up watching Star Trek and I remember how the crew simply said they wanted X and the replicators would produce food X. This seemed so much more humane than actually killing real animals or plants. The Klingons were portrayed evil for eating their meat fresh. I have to admit that I found this ethic refreshing. I think that ultimately we shouldn’t harm life on this planet but allow it to progress in its own way. The less disturbance we give plant or animals the better.
Some companies have already experimented with 3d printers for food. The “inks” are protein, carbos and fats that can be mixed in different laters and combinations. From there to a “replicator” as in Star Trek is not such a huge leap. The main problem as reported so far with this technology is creating the texture of some food products. I know this sounds repulsive to many but I could easily see this technology being realistic for a number of environments in 20 or 30 years.
5) Other possibilities include the creation of entirely new foods, plants and animals or the modification of humans intake if we become more machine than biologic we may require different nutrients.
There is a great concern that these technologies cannot be intermixed. It is likely that plants once in fields will end up becoming modified by each other. So, there is the potential for conflict growing over this area.
10years: GMO techniques may be outlawed or become the norm.
20years: Food replication via 3d printing becomes a household item. Architected food becomes fashionable in elite restaurants.
30years: Human starvation eliminated entirely
Transportation is always an important topic people feel interested in projecting to the future.
The current technology for transportation has a large number of deficiencies. It is inefficient taking vast amounts of our time to do and is costly. Many many options are possible in how this progresses.
Elon Musk has proposed the hyperloop as the next generation technology for transportation. Several have suggested low earth space flight as possible means for high speed travel around the world. The hyperloop goes at 750 MPH or over 1000KPH allowing travel for instance between SF and LA in half an hour. It would take more time to get to the hyperloop station and park then to get to LA or SF.
On the other hand there is a version of hyperloop that would transport cars as well so you might just drive onto the hyperloop and be in LA in half an hour. If hyperloop could be extended to other destinations travel to NYC for instance, could be made in 3 hours and presumably wouldn’t have the same problems as Airplanes having to arrive an hour or two early. If you were left deep inside NYC people would save enormous time compared to airplanes.
Transportation technology suffers from the problem that it is physically expensive and huge. Many many trillions of dollar are invested in our current modes of transport so that in 20 years much change seems unlikely. The same is true for airplane technology. The hyperloop may be commonplace in 50 to 100 years but not likely that it will replace a big part of our infrastructure before then. The sheer cost of building all the infrastructure means it will take a century to replace the road system.
The train system has the same problems. We can continue to improve trains, put more and more high speed trains but the improvements are relatively minor compared to the type of advances we are talking about in other areas. We have invested many trillions of dollars in train infrastructure. I just don’t see how we unravel that quickly. It may be that our communications technology ends up running around the transportation problems and we find virtual ways to travel more practical as the technology for this becomes much better much faster than the physical infrastructure could possibly allow.
So, the most likely improvements in transportation I think revolve around improvements in the existing technology along better understood paths. Obviously the self-driving car has been projected for a long time and finally seems like we might start seeing the first ones in a couple years. We could imagine that in 20 years the vast majority of people do not drive their own car but they will still go along roads because replacing the 100 trillion dollars in roads with anything else is not economically possible but almost all cars will be replaced over a 20 year period.
The newest estimates for electric cars (powered today by batteries but in the future by some other energy source) is already as economic or more than ICE cars. I have calculated for the Tesla that even considering the battery cost and other factors the Tesla is cheaper to drive than an equivalent luxury ICE. The ICE has pretty much been maximally optimized but the electric car and batteries are expected to improve significantly. Therefore it is a foregone conclusion in my mind that we will find ICE’s simply impractical over time.
Self-driving cars may eventually be able to drive faster to reduce travel time. When the self-driving car is dominant then freeways can be made to assume perfect drivers and speed can be improved tremendously. However, any vehicle loses efficiency rapidly with speed. One idea I’ve heard is that self-driving trucks could draft behind each other creating much lower wind resistance and drastically increasing efficiency at high speed. Trucks could form virtual trains on the highway and go at extreme velocities possibly 150mph or more.
There is still the big issue of local transportation. If we imagine a future of electric extremely efficient local transportation albeit slow and cumbersome as today but with self-driving cars at least you wouldn’t have to deal with the pains. For longer distances up to 50 miles or so you would hop on a highway which your vehicle would be able to sustain 100mph or more and for longer distances you would drive onto a hyperloop transport. This combination could give dramatically increased efficiency and speed to our transport but it is going to take many trillions of dollars to do this.
The biggest problem / uncertainty in this whole transportation area is airplanes. They can get more and more efficient no doubt but the re-emergence of faster than sound travel is limited by an aesthetic concern of the sonic boom. If everyone was traveling on hypersonic aircraft we would be talking about an awfully noisy world. So, we are limited to the 600-700 mile form of transit. This applies even to the hyperloop unless we go with a completely evacuated hyperloop technology.
Another way to get very fast transportation over long distances is an evacuated hyperloop. By evacuating the air from a hyperloop system you allow it to travel at 5,000MPH. If a hyperloop like this could be built we could travel from San Francisco to London in about an hour.
The cost of lifting a human body to near earth orbit even if one assumes reusable aircraft is prohibitive except for elite. Nonetheless it very well could be a possibility in the later part of the century for superfast travel around the globe. We can economically lift a person to 40,000 ft in a commercial airplane. Possibly with improved technologies, ramjets and variations could produce aircraft that could routinely travel to 100,000 or 150,000 feet and could exceed the sound barrier with little noise. If I were a science fiction writer I would make that assumption we will figure it out and we will have very fast travel between continents. Such aircraft could go the other side of the globe in an hour.
Against investment in all these technologies is the fact that people will have enormously improved virtual connectivity through digital communications. There are science fiction authors who have postulated that people will become scared of being in the presence of other humans and prefer to be in virtual reality versions of travel.
10 years: Electric cars are 30% of new cars sold, Self-driving cars are 50% of new cars sold, some highway lanes are designated for self-driving cars only.
15 years: Hyperloop built in California, Electric cars are 60% of new cars sold. 100% of new cars mandated to have self-driving. Accident rates in the US and world start to plummet. Practical suborbital earth transport for the elite.
20 years: 33% of all cars on the road are electric and a similar percentage self-driving. Hyperloops in construction in 10 other places in the world
30 years: 80% of cars are electric and self-driving. Hyperloops between many major cities of the world. Suborbital earth transport is common for travel > 5000 miles.
40 years: Transportation declines substantially as most people are using virtual reality to visit and travel around the world or to other places.
Here are the areas I have written prognostication and thoughts about: