How tech will change the world by 2050-The population of humans will rise from 7.3 billion today to 9.7 billion in 2050, according to the United Nations. That means extra pressure on the planet, with global warming becoming super-serious, resources fast depleted and energy in short supply.
Swelling population also means more poverty, more crime and more demand for food. The challenges for technology just keep growing, and here are just a handful of the solutions that breakthrough tech will help create.
Just as the elevator made the vertical city possible, is living on water the next phase of urbanisation? It might have to be. With sea levels predicted to rise by 20-30cm by 2050, cities from New York and Bangkok to Guangzhou and Mumbai will experience increased flooding, while some island chains will be inundated, rendered uninhabitable. Could constructing floating communities be the answer?
Cue the Floating City Project from the Seasteading Institute, a non-profit organisation that wants to establish floating cities primarily for experimentation beyond the restrictions of normal society. Designed to allow ‘the next generation of pioneers to test new ideas for government’, the organisation plans to approach governments of coastal nations to host an autonomous offshore community, or seastead.
2-Urban forests and vertical gardens
Buildings with integral trees and plants are the next big thing in architecture, and no vision of the world of the future is without skyscrapers draped in vegetation and rooftops thronged with trees.
Milan’s twin-tower Bosco Verticale is a real-life example of how peoples’ desire to live in a dense urban environment and also be surrounded by vegetation can be achieved. Around 11,000 plants, 5,000 shrubs, and over 700 trees can be found within this revolutionary residential tower block, which architect Boeri Studio calls a “device for the environmental survival of contemporary European cities”.
Bosco Verticale is not just about reintroducing trees into urban settings. Recycled water is used to water the plants and trees, while the cladding of the building itself features integrated solar panels to provide energy.
May saw arguably one of humanity’s biggest tech breakthroughs when the Dawn probe reached the dwarf planet Ceres. Launched by NASA in 2007, Dawn is the first mission to use an electrically-powered ion engine rather than conventional chemical rockets.
Its Xenon Ion Drive makes better use of fuel by accelerating it to a velocity ten times as fast as chemical rockets, which saves on mass. It’s exactly this kind of (solar-powered) electric propulsion that will make long-distance space missions possible, but since xenon gas is massively scarce, the search is on for other propellants. Cue missions to Mars, and a potential way off our increasingly crowded planet.
It’s been hailed as a miracle material. Discovered and produced by Konstantin Novoselow and Andre Geim at the University of Manchester in 2004 – who got a Nobel Prize for the trouble – graphene could mean super-efficient high-speed computing, flexible and super-thin gadgets, increased battery life by a factor of ten, and it could enable photovoltaic paint for solar power from any surface, and printable sensors along with tracking tags.
Near-transparent sheets of carbon graphite molecules just one atom in thickness, graphene sheets are described as ‘chicken wire made of carbon atoms’ and are reckoned to be so strong that ribbons of graphene could enable super-high buildings – and even a space elevator.
5-Food of the future
With the world’s growing middle class already wanting to eat more meat, and with demand for flesh and protein expected to increase by as much as 80% by 2050, humanity’s eating habits will have to change if we’re to avoid a ‘protein deficit’ in the future.
Cue cultured ‘beef’ burgers. The first example of in-vitro meat was made a few years ago from muscle cells taken from a cow, which are grown in rings within a nutrient solution, forming strands of meat. It cost £250,000 (around $385,000, or AU$520,000) to produce. Another company wants to bio-print ‘animal muscle strips’. Meanwhile, urban farming tech will be needed as green space becomes scarce.
If humans could get two very hot atoms to collide to form one – and then control the energy that’s released – our electricity problems would be over forever. But, as Professor Brian Cox pointed out a few years ago, we spend more on ring-tones than on research into nuclear fusion.
However, some think that mimicking how the Sun works is not going to be achieved by over-budget attempts like the ITER in France or the Lawrence Livermore project in the USA, but by smaller-scale attempts. Cue a round of investment in smaller firms, most notably Amazon’s Jeff Bezos backing General Fusion’s attempts
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