Futuristic possibilities that were purposely phrased to make them more unlikely

Tom Murphy is a physicist at UCSD who is pessimistic about technology and in particular radical future technology for space and energy

He phrases a survey to make bias a survey of future technologies to skew towards longer times to fulfill them.

For each question, choices are (and the numbers will play a role):

No Opinion
likely within 50 years
likely within 500 years
likely within 5000 years
likely to happen for humans eventually
unlikely to happen for humans
less 1% likely to ever happen, or impossible

1. Have widespread personal transport that can replace the task of driving with a fully-automated piloting system (auto-pilot)?

Within six months it seems likely that the first Sky City skyscraper will be built in Changsha. It will be 220 stories tall and have 104 elevators and have 17400 people in apartments but also have retail stores and offices, so that people could frequently commute inside the building.

China Times – On October 30, 2012, at the National Urban Public Transport Working Conference, 14 cities were rated as the first batch of test sites for “Bus City” construction in China, among which were Changsha, Chongqing, Jinan, Wuhan, Kunming and Dalian. This means that the public transportation industry of Changsha City will enter a fast track of development.

As a “Bus City”, it will be constructed to support a comprehensive passenger transport hub, intelligent transportation system, and a public service information system, as well as to encourage, update, and put to use new energy buses and develop supporting service facilities. The goal is, after 5 years of hard work, for urban busline speed to see significant improvement, and for townspeople to be able get to any bus stop by walking less than 500m and transfer from one bus to another in no more than 5 minutes. Buses will then carry 50% of all road users.

It is conceivable that within 5 years that there could be ten or more Sky Cities in Changsha’s downtown and an enhanced intelligent transportation system. The need for cars would be eliminated for 500,000 people in one Chinese city and in perhaps 13 others.

Would it be fully automated. The elevators would be automated. Some of the transporation could be. People mover walkways. Automated systems on rails but with a driver in the system just in case. The systems could be enhanced with google driving systems.

There are robotic driving cars coming from Google.
There is platooning of cars coming from the Europe SARTRE program.

2. See jet-packs as practical transportation devices on a daily basis?

Martin Jetpack is currently accepting enquiries from commercial customers. The target date for the first release of Martin Jetpacks for police or other Government work is mid 2013. Sales of Martin Jetpacks to private individuals will take place once they have completed the development and refinement of unmanned and manned vehicles for early commercial applications and built up the flying hours with these. The target date for the release of the personal Martin Jetpack is mid 2014.

The Martin Jetpack is the world’s first practical jetpack. It consists of a purpose-built gasoline engine driving twin ducted fans which produce sufficient thrust to lift the aircraft and a pilot in vertical takeoff and landing, and enable sustained flight.

The Martin Jetpack is creating a new segment in the aviation and recreational vehicle markets. Initially designed with the leisure market in mind, commercial demand for the Martin Jetpack has seen the development programme focus on readying the product for use in a number of sectors including emergency response, defence and recreation, with numerous applications in each sector.There is also an unmanned version planned which will lift more than most vertical take-off and landing unmanned aerial vehicles.

Martin Jetpack – Personal Jetpack Target Specifications

To be FAA Part 103.2 (Ultralight Regulations) compliant

Weight 254 lbs (115 kg) excluding safety equipment
Pilot Weight Up to 280 lbs (127kg)
Speed Cruising speed of up to 63 mph (100kph)
Fuel Capacity 5 US gallons (18.9 litres)
Fuel burn 10 US gallons (38 litres)/hr
Flight Time & Range At the target fuel consumption, the flight time will be 30 mins and the range up to 30 miles (50 km)
Engine Martin Aircraft 2.0 L V4 2 stroke, rated at 200 hp (150 kw). Max 6000 rpm.
Electrical system 12 V DC Battery, starter, 360 w alternator.
Hover in ground effect 8000 ft (estimated)

So if there are a few thousand Martin Jetpacks in regular use for military and recreation purposes in a few years, does that count as fulfillment of a practical jetpack for daily use ? They may not be used for transportation and commuting. But then of most of the 200,000 small planes are not used for regular commuting.

In 20 years, the Jetpacks could have endurance increased by 4 times and be made lighter and smaller and safer. A reasonable possibility would be a market of 20,000 or more devices.

General Aviation has more flights than scheduled aviation transporation. Most of the activities are training, agriculture, business, chartered flights and other uses.

3. Carry out the bulk of transportation in personal flying machines, rather than being tied to the ground in cars (what are wheels, daddy?)?

Cars have not fully displaced trains or ships or bicycles.

I have described trends that could lead to the mainstreaming of commuter flight. Electric and hybrid airplanes with robotic control could lead toward common commuter flight. However, to get beyond flying between small airports would require combining those systems with quadcopter systems or some other means of building to building flight and landing.

There will be Terrafugia Transition roadable planes on the road and in the sky shortly. There is a DARPA project to develop flying hummers with automated flight capabilities, which should have significant results and deployment by about 2020.

4. Routinely teleport live human bodies respectable distances—enough to revolutionize the way we travel?

An alternative to teleportation is superfast acceleration and deceleration transportation. Teleportation has only been done on atomic particles.

If there was molecular nanotechnology and room temperature superconductors this could be combined to shield people from harm against 100 gravities of acceleration and deceleration. This would be about 1 kilometer per second squared of acceleration. If a person was now encased in breathable liquid, short accelerations and decelarations of 30 Gs would be survivable. Molecular nanotechnology could be used to enhance the toughness and survivability of people. Magnetic acceleration and deceleration could enable someone to get from orbit to the ground in about 40 seconds. This would be a pretty close approximation of teleporting from an orbiting spaceship. It would be somewhat like the Galaxy Quest movie system of encasing someone in Utility Liquid and then moving them. Advanced Molecular nanotechnology could further modify people to enable 1000 gravities to be survivable. Then it would be 4 seconds from low earth orbit.

5. Come up with a means of interstellar travel that allows round-trips to locales tens of light-years away within years or decades, without having Earth (and its people) age substantially more than the traveler—thus operating outside the normal confines imposed by sub-luminal travel and special relativity (the equivalent of warp drive in Star Trek)?

Why toss in all of the extra caveats ? Why not ask when we have a means of interstellar travel that is used to go to and from a destination tens of light years away. Is Murphy so concerned about that happening that he has to add in the limitations that require it to be fulfilled in a particular way ?

6. Use wormholes as tools to move across vast distances?

The main hope for this is Mach Effect work by James Woodward.

7. Visit the vicinity of a black hole to study it up-close?

There has to be compelling reasons to do things even if they are technically possible and especially if they are very difficult. This is very little reason to do this.

8. Do astrophysics by traveling to sources (outside our solar system) rather than via telescopes?

This is a competition between improving technologies. Telescopes will also dramatically improve. Hypertelescopes and other massive arrays of telescopes and the use of gravitational lenses with telescopes placed 500 AU or so from the sun will allow direct imaging of exoworlds and detailed examination of stars and other phenomena.

9. Be able to create local gravity (not just magnetic boots) in a spaceship by some means other than kinematically (e.g., rotation or acceleration of spacecraft)?

There was a 2004 paper that looked at possible ways to achieve gravity manipulation.

In quite general terms, we find that any scheme to hypothetically control gravity must fulfil at least one of the following conditions:
1. Existence of a new fundamental interaction of nature so to alter the effective strength of the gravitational coupling to matter. This implies violations of the Weak Equivalence Principle.

2. Existence of net forces due to the interplay between gravity and electrostatic forces in shielded experimental configurations, as found in the well-known Schiff-Barnhill effect

3. Analogous effect for magnetic fields in quantum materials involving the gravitomagnetic

4. Physically altering the vacuum properties so to change the relative strength of known fundamental interactions of nature.

10. Have a permanent colony on the Moon, where some might live their entire (normal-length) lives?

Again why the caveat about living normal length lives ? Would setting up something like the Antartic research base on the moon, where people go to live and work for years be too short term and concerning. People living out their lives in one place, requires that the colonists live there for 30-40 years which delays the fulfillment from the start of the colonies to far after they are established.

11. Have a permanent colony on Mars, also with whole lives spent there?

Again adding the caveat about whole lives spent there is tossed in to delay when someone could call something fulfilled. Also, what if there is radical life extension and people are living 200-5000 years. If we get molecular nanotechnology that would definitely become likely and then the second phrase would have nothing to do with colonies on Mars with thousands of people and habitation for many years.

12. Terra-form a planet (like Mars) to make it human-habitable?

13. Power our society with fusion, opening up practically inexhaustible supplies of deuterium on the planet (forget about tritium here—imagine D–D reactions)?

Again adding caveats about the type of nuclear fusion reactions and why just fusion. Why not practically inexhaustible supplies of energy, that has a closed pollution cycle. Ten times or more current generation levels with three times lower cost after inflation adjustment with supplies at that level for over one million years.

Why assume a technological solution in the question ? Why not specify the parameters of what you want without assuming a solution which could be wrong ?

Would factory mass produced deep burn fission with uranium extracted cheaply from seawater be too easy ?

14. Create our food without growing or raising it—like the Star Trek method of “replicating” food by patterning atoms/molecules appropriately, maybe straight from the source of energy?

Again a lot of extra caveats that narrow what qualifies as a solution. There is already work towards printing of food and there is meat being developed that is produced from cell cultures and not produced from animals. George Church is talking about growing something meat like from algae like cell systems that are ten to 100 times more energy efficient. If we did not need farm animals or fish but produced food through an advanced and efficient cell culture system and combined them for preparation in additive manufacturing type systems, then that seems like it would be close enough.

15. Have robots as common entities among us that can intelligently converse with us and perform sophisticated tasks (housework, transport repair, nanny for the kids)? I’m talking about C-3PO, nothing like today’s machines.

So there could be hundreds of millions of robots in common usage (say advanced tablets placed onto mobile systems or such systems integrated with Rethink Robotics Baxter robots with arms. Those system could be used to do housework, repair cars and babysit kids and the elderly. However, if they are not sufficiently chatty or anthromorphic (ie like C3PO) then they would not count ?

16. Have cloaking devices that, at the flip of a switch, can render a macroscopic device like a car, plane, or spaceship impossible—or exceedingly difficult—to see from virtually any angle?

What if the cloaking systems are not active systems (that “turn on”) but enhanced passive systems. You would still have enhanced stealth and it could be something that hides a macroscopic object from the human eye in the visible spectrum.

17. Be able to travel back in time by an amount significant enough to change actions?

18. Communicate with intelligent alien species (extra-terrestrial), sharing technology, history, etc.?

This is not just a technological issue but one based on the distribution and development of alien life. We could use synthetic biology and make our own aliens and put them around the solar system or in other solar systems.

19. Either physically visit or be visited by an intelligent alien species?

This is again mainly based on what is actually happening with alien life.

20. Substantially eliminate disease and block aging so that we may routinely see lives exceeding 200 years?

The main paths to get beyond 200 years would be an advanced SENS antiaging approach and molecular nanotechnology for active cellular repair.

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