In the year 1820, a person could expect to live less than 35 years, 94% of the global population lived in extreme poverty, and less that 20% of the population was literate. Today, human life expectancy is over 70 years, less that 10% of the global population lives in extreme poverty, and over 80% of people are literate. These improvements are due mainly to advances in technology, beginning in the industrial age and continuing today in the information age.
1. Self-Driving Cars – It’s no secret that the infamous Elon Musk is leading the way into the future with Tesla’s powerful AI. These cars are safer than human-driven cars in most driving conditions. Over the next 4-5 years, they’ll get even safer, and will begin to be used by the mass public. The World Health Organization estimates that 1.25 million people die from car-related injuries per year. Half of the deaths are pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists hit by cars. Cars are the leading cause of death for people ages 15–29 years old.
2. Clean Energy – Clean energy is synonmyous with the automation of the vehicle. Most manufacturers in the United States have turned a blind eye to reusable energy being the sole power behind their vehicles, but that will shortly change. The price of solar cells has dropped 99.5% since 1977. Solar powered equipment will soon be more cost efficient than fossil fuels, not to mention the benefit for our environment.
3. Virtual and Augmented Reality – Computer processors only recently became fast enough to power comfortable and convincing virtual and augmented reality experiences. Companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are investing billions of dollars to make VR and AR more immersive, comfortable, and affordable.
People sometimes think that the only use for VR and AR will be for gamining, but over time they will be used for activities of all sorts, including being able to manipulate 3-D objects, to meet with colleagues from around the world, and even for medical applications.
4. Drones and Flying Cars – GPS started out as a classified piece of intelligence, used for top-secret missions within the militaries’ chain of command. GPS is now used to hail taxis, get mapping directions, and hunt Pokémon.
Likewise, drones started out as a military technology, but are increasingly being used for a wide range of consumer and commercial applications.
For example, drones are being used to inspect critical infrastructure like bridges and power lines, to survey areas struck by natural disasters, and many other creative uses like fighting animal poaching. Amazon and Google are building drones to deliver household items in a matter of hours.
5. Artificial Intelligence – Artificial intelligence has made rapid advances in the last decade, due to new algorithms and massive increases in data collection and computing power. AI can be applied to almost any field. For example, in photography an AI technique called artistic style transfer transforms photographs into the style of a given painter.
Google built an AI system that controls its datacenter power systems, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs. The broad promise of AI is to liberate people from repetitive mental tasks the same way the industrial revolution liberated people from repetitive physical tasks.
6. Cryptocurrencies and Blockchains – Protocols are the plumbing of the internet. Most of the protocols we use today were developed decades ago by academia and government. Since then, protocol development mostly stopped as energy shifted to developing proprietary systems like social networks and messaging apps.
Cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies are changing this by providing a new business model for internet protocols. This year alone, hundreds of millions of dollars were raised for a broad range of innovative blockchain-based protocols.
8. Computerized Medicine – Until recently, computers have only been at the periphery of medicine, used primarily for research and record keeping. Today, the combination of computer science and medicine is leading to a variety of breakthroughs. For example, just fifteen years ago, it cost $3B to sequence a human genome. Today, the cost is about a thousand dollars and continues to drop. Genetic sequencing will soon be a routine part of medicine. Genetic sequencing generates massive amounts of data that can be analyzed using powerful data analysis software. One application is analyzing blood samples for early detection of cancer. Further genetic analysis can help determine the best course of treatment.
9. The New Space Age – Since the beginning of the space age in the 1950s, the vast majority of space funding has come from governments. But that funding has been in decline: for example, NASA’s budget dropped from about 4.5% of the federal budget in the 1960s to about 0.5% of the federal budget today. The good news is that private space companies have started filling the void. These companies provide a wide range of products and services, including rocket launches, scientific research, communications and imaging satellites, and emerging speculative business models like asteroid mining. The most famous private space company is Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which successfully sent rockets into space that can return home to be reused.