… It’s easy to be cynical. We’re continually told that we’re doomed. If it’s not terrorist threats or wars in far off distant countries with seemingly no end, it’s global warming and a whole manner of many and varied natural disasters waiting to strike. We have an overwhelming preoccupation with the things that which may bring about the fall of civilisation. That’s okay, I suppose. Nobody wants to see the human race return to the dark ages. Sometimes, though, we focus so much on these negativities that we miss those things that could change our world completely, for the better.
In the past week or so, I’ve read a few articles that have made me genuinely excited about the future. Just thinking about these things and their potential blew my mind. If just a sliver of that potential is met, our lives could be changed dramatically.
The first article I stumbled across was on nuclear fusion. For so long this was the in realm of comic book fantasy. You know, super villains would power their secret island fortresses and evil mega lasers with it. The power of the sun here on Earth. The stuff on science fiction. Really. Except we’ve taken a step closer. Yes, it appears the very first ignition could take place this year.
It cannot be understated how huge this could be. An abundant source of cleanly produced energy. An end to coal and gas-powered power stations throwing carbon into the atmosphere. No more nuclear power stations and dumping of radioactive waste. A new age of energy production, so plentiful it could be virtually free. It already costs a few pennies to charge an electric car, imagine if it was free? Surely that would bring an end to the internal combustion engine? Of course, this could be more than 20/30 years away, but it’s hard not to dream.
The next article I read was to do computing. Well, kinda. We’re all familiar with Moore’s law, right? That every two years the power of a chip doubles or something? Well, for the last 30 years or so, we’ve managed to keep up with that, but we’re beginning to slow slightly. Circuits are already reaching near atomic sizes, so chip companies have been increasing the numbers of cores on a chip in order to keep up with the law. The problem is, you can only go so small. What’s smaller than an atom? Quantum mechanics of course!
I’ll tell you the some total I know about quantum physics right now. 1. A particle can be in two places at once, and 2. That the act of observing a particle changes it in some way. That’s it. The rest is greek to me. So how the hell do they hope to use this to make a quantum computer? I mean, computers rely on binary, ones and zeroes. How can you use that if the ones and zeroes can be ones an zeroes and not ones and zeroes at the same time?! This literally fries my tiny little mind. Yet, they have managed it. The first experiments are going ahead, simulating molecules and such. They’re only using a couple of qubits (quantum bits) at the moment, but for every qubit you add, the power of the computer increases exponentially. Again, it will be many many years before we could see anything using this practically, if at all, but it’s hard not be thrilled.
The final thing you’ve probably already heard about. The Cloud. All your data (music/videos/games etc.) stored in a server somewhere that you can access in an instant anywhere in the world. It’s already here in a small way. Whenever I update a contact or calendar date on my iPhone, it is sent to Mobileme (Apple’s online service) which then updates my Mac. This is small fry, though. In order to stream music and video you need a superfast network. 3G just doesn’t cut it, I’m afraid, but what’s around the corner just might. LTE (Long Term Evolution) or 4G offers theoretical download speeds of 100mbs and has just been launched in Stockholm and Oslo. Some people are already getting 40+mbs over the air while our Government promises that 20million household will have access to 50mbs by 2012 through its little copper wires in the ground. They haven’t even sold the 4G licences yet. Sigh. But let’s be positive. This, linked with cloud computing taking off, could be as big a revolution as the mobile phone.
There we go. Three things that made me dizzyingly excited as to what could happen in the future. So, for all the reports of roving gangs of feral kids, to the looming spectre of nuclear war, I really do think now is a truly amazing time to be alive.