I was fortunate to hear theoretical physicist and broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili talk about what he foresees in the future for humans, based on the latest scientific discoveries. He’s promoting his new book ‘What’s Next?’ which contains pieces from experts in their area, all contributing to a fascinating glimpse into what could and what just might be.
In the last 25 years there has been huge advancement in society. Look at the invention of the internet for example. Jim’s message is clear… If that’s what has happened in the last 25 years, imagine the advancement over the next 25, knowing what we know now and building on it! We were foraging in the dirt not that long ago, now we’re building particle accelerators to simulate the beginning of our universe for goodness sakes! Pinch me, what a time to be alive! Ha
It’s exciting to think we’re living through such a revolutionary advancement in human history. In the developed world, our quality of life has improved vastly in such a short amount of time. Our potential has rocketed and the best bit is it’s only going to continue.
Apart from the obvious things like unmanned cars, what does Jim see being some major changes in our future?
AI will undoubtedly be used to take over jobs in the future. Things could be run more efficiently and that could free us up to concentrate on other things. This is something that divides opinion. There is of course an innate fear of whether AI could become sentient (think for itself) and ultimately take over the world enslaving or wiping us squidgy folk out. It’s a reasonable concern and something voiced by someone in the audience;
“Elon Musk has said if we don’t set the rules for AI now then soon it will be too late” Jim answers in agreement. “It’s a complicated issue. There have to be safeguards in place before the technology is out there”.
I totally agree with them, we do need to take precautions whilst still embracing AI. Like it or lump it, it’s happening and Jim sees it being a fundamental part of our future.
This is technically still AI related – although data sharing is nothing new it will be on a much bigger and interconnected scale in the future. “Your fridge will contact your supermarket to let them know you’re running low on milk” says Jim. That’s where we’re headed. Cities will be operated by one central intelligence system where everything will share and connect to it and eachother. This means things can be easily managed and regulated.
Synthetic biology and the manipulation of genes will quite likely be an everyday thing. The ability to target specific molecules on a DNA strand, making precise modifications to suit our needs will likely be common practice. Genetic disorder? No problemo, we can just delete that out of you Sir.
Again, this is something which divides opinion. There is a major ethical concern with having the potential to tamper with our DNA and what this could lead to. ‘Designer babies’ is one such widely reported concern. Unlike AI, science does already have in place ethical boards to regulate such things.
On a brighter note, medicine will be transformed as it will become less reactive and more proactive, something which I’m excited for.
Quantum computers work using the laws of quantum mechanics (which is our most precise theory to understanding how nature works at the very smallest scales) and unlike the computers we currently use, they can process multiple things at once and at a much faster rate. They will mean we can compute in new and powerful ways. Jim says quantum computers will be with us in a decade. Amazing!
Using all of the above, scientists and engineers come together in this new field to create new advanced technologies and applications for everyday life.
When Jim talks about science, he does so with such infectious enthusiasm that I can’t help but smile. Yes all of the above brings with it ethical questions but as Jim points out – “we can’t unknow something.”. It’s very true. When we move forward in understanding the universe and unearthing incredible discoveries on how it works, we can’t shy away from what we find and what possibilities it gives us. We do need to approach it ethically and put the necessary precautions in place. When doing so we can’t lose sight of unravelling the mystery that we exist in and using our findings for the betterment of all.
You can find out more in Jim’s new book “What’s next?” which is available here.