Scientific American looks at 12 events (mostly technology) that would change everything before 2050. Scientific American gets the probability and impact of those events completely wrong. They also miss important events and technology.
The Scientific American list and my brief comments:
Machine-self awareness (likely) [Very Important but not likely until after 2030 without other breakthroughs]
Creation of life (almost certain) [synthetic DNA cell reboot already happened and there is more work to make the synthetic cell membrane.]
Room-temperature superconductors (50-50) [Improved superconductors helps in many ways and just getting to room temperature is not the only way things bust out with superconductors. Vast price breakthroughs will happen by 2016 – articles on Super Power Inc superconducting wire. As noted here, superconducting wire can be placed in orbit to enable the efficient generation and capture of multi-gram quantities anti-matter.]
Fusion energy (very unlikely) [almost certain and before 2025. Even partial success can allow fission to close its fuel cycle by allowing transmutation of uranium 238 and enable single stage to orbit space planes. Note vastly better superconductors helps progress to fusion energy. Totally successful commercial nuclear fusion can reduce energy costs by 5-100 times and trigger an economic boom which enables faster technology development]
Disasters and events Where the Response is create mitigating technology and take preventive and mitigating actions
Nuclear exchange (unlikely) [Any action involving less than 100 nuclear bombs is very bad but is about like world war 2. Building construction should be improved to mitigate impact by orders of magnitude. This is just like the number of dead in Japan and Chile is far less than in Haiti from comparable earthquakes. Better construction makes a huge difference.]
Asteroid collision (unlikely) [still need to develop space and get control]
Deadly pandemic (50-50) [need to develop and deploy the sensors to track Microbial developments in real time and create general immunity enhancement and as close to instant as possible on-the-fly immune system upgrades to react to pandemics]
Polar meltdown (likely) [glaciers are not melting that fast and other technology will allow for mitigation]
Pacific earthquake (almost certain) [so what. This is the business as usual disaster. You can count on it happening, therefore make better buidings and follow geological surveys to minimize more construction on vulnerable land]
Extraterrestrial intelligence (unlikely) [we need to get hypertelescopes up to directly image other worlds and could then see the artifacts of extraterrestial intelligence. It would be psychologically important to mankind. The likelihood relates to how well we develop space and vastly better telescopes]
Cloning of a human (likely) [Yes, it will happen but it is not relevant. It gets some people worked up but it is just scientfically enabled delayed creation of a twin.]
Extra dimensions (50-50) [Maybe we prove them but unless they can be used for technology then it is only of theoretical relevance]
Technology that will happen and change Everything by 2050 that are Not on the Scientific American List
Molecular nanotechnology – we already have early DNA nanotechnology and advancing self assembly. The computational chemistry work of Freitas and Merkle is being experimentally tested. There is a lot of activity in this area.
Quantum dots and Quantum Computers – Quantum dots are being used to improved regular and infrared cameras and other electronics. Quantum computers that have millions or trillions of qubits that can run Grover’s algorithm can speed up all computer searches. Other quantum algorithms can be used to improve and speed up image and pattern recognition. Faster image and pattern recognition is core aspect of artificial intelligence.
Carbon nanotubes and graphene and the new material revolution – graphene could enable computers and electronics with multi-terahertz processing speed instead of current mainstream 4-8 gigahertz computers. A speedup of 10,000 times or so is possible from clockspeed alone. Graphene and carbon nanotubes also enable many other electronic and material and computer advances.
Advanced Metamaterials –
Plasmonic and optical computing -similar to graphene and possible overlapping this can enable much faster computers that use less power.
Memristors (reconfigurable hyperlenses and other enabling technology)
Life Extension, human regeneration and tissue engineering – Rapamycin has enabled the human equivalent of decades of healthy life to be added to mice. There is a current race on to enable the life extension effect in humans but without compromising the immune system. Regeneration is being activated in mice and other mammals that do not have that ability. This could be enabled with humans. Other technology is being used (stem cells) and laser enabled nanotechnology for better treatment of wounds that put together would radically speed recovery from all kinds of wounds. Plus wounds that would normally be permanently damaging or fatal could become things that have fast recovery.