This year has been an enormous one in discoveries and advances. Let’s talk about this and what are some of the big ones.
The fact is we have just emerged in the last 100 years from ridiculous level of stupidity. I say this frequently that we have only been intelligent for about 100 years.
The history of the world in my opinion can easily be divided to BEFORE 1900 and AFTER 1900.
It is remarkable that in the late part of the 19th century Lord Kelvin (Yes the guy who the Kelvin temperature scale is named after) said:
“There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now, All that remains is more and more precise measurement.” Lord Kelvin
Nothing could have been further from the truth. It would have been far more accurate to say: “We know nothing nothing nothing. Everything we do know is wrong.” In fact even after the last century the latter statement is still MORE accurate than Lord Kelvins statement. You will see we are still pitifully ignorant of basic things.
Prior to 1900 people had no real understanding of virtually any science. I realize this is a bit of an overstatement but consider we didn’t understand bacteria or DNA or have plastic. We didn’t have cars or airplanes, TV or even radio. It took weeks to cross the United States let alone the world. Peoples lifespan was under 40 even in the most advanced countries. Major epidemics of diseases took millions of lives sometimes in a single year. We were for all intents and purposes completely ignorant of the true nature of the world. We had no idea there was a speed limit to the universe. We thought the universe was static unchanging almost like celestial spheres. We had no idea what anything in the human body did or how. We had a theory of humors which is not much better than astrology.
The last century has been the loss of virginity of humanity to science. We have been on an ever accelerating knowledge surge. We discover more than was discovered in all previous centuries of mans existence before 1900 every DAY now. I don’t know for a fact this is true but I believe it is close to true.
Many scientists were left in denial. Lord Kelvin himself said that x-rays would prove to be a hoax. Einstein said the idea of a black hole is a huge mistake. It can’t happen. Impossible. Other people refused to believe relativity or quantum mechanics. It was a rude awakening. We fought losing our virginity. Scientists paid the price many times for saying radical things that disturbed the status quo. The doctor who said ulcers were a bacterial infection was nearly thrown out of his profession for heresy.
Is the rate of major discovery declining?
Some have said that it seems the rate of “incredible discoveries” such as the smallpox vaccine or the discoveries of Einstein are happening less frequently but in fact that depends on your perspective.
Certainly our ignorance before was amazing so discovering Newtons laws was a big deal. However, while the “Category” creating discoveries may be declining there is nonetheless a lot of subcategory discoveries that are more relevant and significant in every sense.
There are so many discoveries today in so many different fields that never even existed prior to 1900 that the number of discoveries is simply so large it is unknown to most people. Also, most of the discoveries today are so detailed and depend on knowledge from prior understanding that a lot of people don’t understand the importance of the discoveries being made.
It would be impossible to list all the discoveries but some of the more important ones I am aware of for 2014/2015 include:
- CRISPR gene editing capability discovered and refined making gene editing possible on a mass scale reliable, first human trials successful
- Battery technology that allows charging batteries 50% in 5 minutes
- Ultra Capacitor improvements that are 3-4 times more dense energy storage making them closer to Lithium Ion in energy density. (Ultra capacitors have ability to charge and discharge in microseconds and can do so billions of times without wearing out.)
- The ability to see down to the atom level even seeing the cloud of quantum foam around a hydrogen atom
- Pre-production of resistive 3d computer memory that has the properties of speed of traditional RAM and the cost and persistence of SSD with the ability to scale to terabytes and more in 3d layers.
- 3D printing technology evolving
- Improvements in solar panels that make them significantly cheaper to manufacture and collect significantly more energy
- The ability to examine the products of genetic operations almost in real time without destroying the cell in the process
- The discovery of chemical that halted Leukemia in mice for the first time disabling cancer reliably
- The use of genetic informed treatment regimens for cancer patients that results in far less damage and better outcomes
- The onset of self-driving cars
- Significant improvements in machine learning capable of finally recognizing some things almost as well as humans for sight or sound or text
- The development of an 1152 qbit quantum computer that can perform some operations millions of times faster than conventional computers
- The safe landing of 2 different reusable rockets on a pad, one of them after travel into space delivering payload.
- Widespread adoption of a container technology called “Docker” that enables services for computers to be made more standardized and deliverable to enable applications and services to be created faster, deployed faster and cheaper to use and maintain.
- Cost reductions of cloud technology making the cloud transition accelerate
- Discovery of the Amplituhedron and its ability to make computation of quantum transitions vastly more efficient or even possible in many situations before considered impossible.
- Discovery of the epigenetic code and some of the things it does as well as a 5th and 6th base pairs used for encoding the epigenetic code.
- The cost of genetic mapping dropping under $100
- The discovery of a new metal that is twice the strength of our hardest material before and 1/2 the weight
- The discovery of superconductor type behavior in a material at the temperature of dry ice
- The ability to monitor glucose levels in a patient in real time electronically from an implant in the eye
- A graphene lens one billionth of a meter thick able to resolve objects as small as 200 nanometers that can be 3d printed
- This lens would be able to take a picture of a neuron at 4k resolution!
- MIT says it has a prototype fusion reactor design that could produce 200MW of energy – 50MW to run it. Is 10 feet on a side
These are just off the top of my head. I am sure the number of discoveries that is significant is far far larger than this and this list simply reflects my pitiful understanding of everything that is happening.
The changes that these discoveries and technologies alone will have on humanity are enormous if we stopped RIGHT NOW. Of course we will incrementally improve all these stunning things. Some will make great progress and some we will discover have no legs and there is very little beyond the initial discovery that will create change. It is almost always the continuous improvement of some new discovery that causes most of the change. If the TV had remained at the same quality of the first units shipped I am sure it would not be what it is today. Many of these things are simply dramatic improvements of some previous technology. We had some cars which could go into cruise speed mode and adjust their speed if the traffic slowed down. However, the ability to adapt more significantly to changes around the car, to stay in a lane or change a lane and to self park in different situations is definitely a major “technology change.” Any material which can significantly improve batteries, solar panels, reduce strength and weight of materials will have an enormous impact and it is expected over time a lot of effort will be made to improve these even further.
Discovery of the epigenetic code will produce massive increase in spending and research in genetics that will undoubtedly eventually produce a lot of understanding. Some things such as the ability to map genetic profiles for people for under $100 signifies significant on the verge market adoption that may produce huge impact. We may find that we cannot find a material that takes us to superconductivity at room temperature but being able to do things like this at CO2 temperatures means vastly cheaper and more viable ways to do things at increased efficiency but it may not. Some are skeptical that 3d resistive memory technology will take off. We may find that the recent advances in AI processing of sight and sound are dead ends and don’t continue to improve.