The Future of Science 2021

The Institute for the Future has published “A Multiverse of Exploration – The Future of Science 2021”

Invisibility cloaks. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence. A Facebook for genes. These were just a few of the startling topics IFTF explored at our recent Technology Horizons Program conference on the “Future of Science.” More than a dozen scientists from UC Berkeley, Stanford, UC Santa Cruz, Scripps Research Institute, SETI, and private industry shared their edgiest research driving transformations in science. MythBusters’ Adam Savage weighed in on the future of science education.

The map focuses on six big stories of science that will play out over the next decade:

1. Decrypting the Brain
2. Hacking Space
3. Massively Multiplayer Data
4. Sea the Future
5. Strange Matter
6. Engineered Evolution.

Those stories are emerging from a new ecology of science shifting toward openness, collaboration, reuse, and increased citizen engagement in scientific research.

Nextbigfuture has been tracking the progress in neuromorphic chips and the application of memristors to emulating synapses.

By the end of 2012, there will likely be integrated one square neuromorphic chips with about ~10 billion synapses and ~1 million neurons. In 2015, the neuromorphic chips are targeted to have 100 times more capability. The military is developing neuromorphic chips for autonomous, unmanned, robotic systems and natural human-machine interfaces and diverse sensory and information integration applications in the defense and civilian sector.

If neuromorphic chips become mainstream in the 2020s,they could be a $50 to 200 billion segment.

Self driving robotic cars and “temporary auto pilot” functions in cars could become mainstream in the 2016-2025 timeframe. They would be a big market for more advanced sensors and neuromorphic chips.

HP intends to have a memristor alternative technology to flash on the market in sixteen months, an alternative to DRAM in three to four years and, following DRAM, a replacement for SRAM.

DARPA has funded a memristor based approach to Artificial intelligence.

Memristors will be used as analog synapses
CPUs and GPUs will be used for neurons (there also could be custom chips)

DARPA SyNAPSE (Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics) goals are :
* 1 million neurons per square centimeter
* 10 billion synapses (memristors) per square centimeter
* 100 milliwatts per square centimeter
* total power 1 kilowatt

The total system would then be about 10,000 chips with a combined 100 trillion synapses and 10 billion neurons. The human brain has about 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses. The human brain is 50 times more energy efficient than the DARPA Synapse goals

New Space Age

The 7 page IFTF 2021 document did not mention Spacex but Spacex is likely to have a huge impact on space access. Spacex is developing reusable version of their rockets. If Spacex is successful they will reduce the cost of getting into space to $50-100 per kilogram. A Spacex Heavy will be 3 to 10 times cheaper than competing launch systems

The initial success of the Falcon 9 and the introduction of the Falcon Heavy are revolutionary enough. If over the coming years, however, SpaceX is able to successfully transition the Falcon to a fully reusable launch vehicle, then the stage on which the entire arena of space exploration is cast would be radically redrawn. Simply put, with the advent of a fully reusable Falcon series of rockets, a heretofore unforeseen level of space exploration becomes not simply more affordable, but in all likelihood, unavoidable. Once a permanent human presence on Mars is within practical reach, failure to pursue it, many will argue, becomes a moral transgression against humanity itself. To be sure, Musk’s vision of thousands of émigrés to a new world will have to wait on new, even larger rockets, but his company has a plan for that as well, beginning with a large staged combustion engine it wants to begin building next year.

While “within reach” does not mean “within grasp”, it certainly bears serious consideration from a space establishment about to consume the better part of a decade and plow, at an absolute minimum, the equivalent cost of 144 Falcon Heavy flights at 53 tons each into a single 70-ton launch by 2017. With a projected launch rate of no more than once per year, and the 130-ton super-heavy version of the SLS expected no earlier than 2032 and sporting a price tag almost certain to exceed $40 billion, it is not a stretch to believe that SpaceX has a better chance of achieving reusability with the Falcon than the Senate has of achieving orbit with the heavy version of its “monster” rocket.

Other space technology by 2021 should be
Solar electric sails – the first prototype should fly in 2012.

There are various possibilities for nuclear fusion space propulsion.

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