To commemorate its 110th anniversary, Popular Mechanics has put together an epic list of 110 predictions for the next 110 years. And as editor-in-chief Jim Meigs admits, making predictions is not easy — so to that end, the PM editorial team consulted with over 20 different experts (including our own Annalee Newitz) from diverse backgrounds. Here's a sampling of some of our favorites.
Top image courtesy Dylan Cole.
2012 to 2022
Drones will protect endangered species. Guarding at-risk animals from poachers with foot patrols is expensive and dangerous. This summer rangers in Nepal's Chitwan National Park previewed a savvy solution: Hand-launched drones armed with cameras and GPS provided aerial surveillance of threatened Indian rhinos.
Digital "ants" will protect the U.S. power grid from cyber attacks. Programmed to wander networks in search of threats, the high-tech sleuths in this software, developed by Wake Forest University security expert Errin Fulp, leave behind a digital trail modeled after the scent streams of their real-life cousins. When a digital ant designed to perform a task spots a problem, others rush to the location to do their own analysis. If operators see a swarm, they know there's trouble.
Vegetarians and carnivores will dine together on synthetic meats. We're not talking about tofu. We're talking about nutritious, low-cost substitutes that look and taste just like the real thing. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has already invested in Beyond Meat, which makes plant-based chicken strips so convincing they almost fooled New York Times food writer Mark Bittman.
Bridges will repair themselves with self-healing concrete. Invented by University of Michigan engineer Victor Li, the new composite is laced with microfibers that bend without breaking. Hairline fractures mend themselves within days when calcium ions in the mix react with rainwater and carbon dioxide to create a calcium carbonate patch.
2023 to 2062
Contact lenses will grant us Terminator vision. When miniaturization reaches its full potential, achieving superhuman eyesight will be as simple as placing a soft lens on your eye. Early prototypes feature wirelessly powered LEDs. But circuits and antennas can also be grafted onto flexible polymer, enabling zooming, night vision, and visible data fields.
We will find life beyond Earth. There's a horse race going on right now, and one of those horses is going to cross the finish line in the next two decades. - Seth Shostak, senior astronomer, SETI
Supercomputers will be the size of sugar cubes. The trick is to redesign the computer chip. Instead of the standard side-by-side model in use today, IBM researchers believe they can stack and link tomorrow's chips via droplets of nanoparticle-infused liquid. This would eliminate wires and draw away heat. What it won't do is help you remember where you left your tiny computer before you went to bed.
Scientists will discover direct evidence of dark matter. It may account for 23 percent of the mass in the universe, yet we haven't confirmed that dark matter exists. Why? "It's like a hidden magnet," says Dr. Fred Calef of the Mars Science Laboratory. "You can see what it pulls but can't see the source." Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku believes the proof we seek could arrive within 15 years, helping us to unlock the origins of our universe, and maybe even open the door to another one.
Navy SEALs will be able to hold their breath for 4 hours. Advances in nanotechnology will help us overcome not only illness but also the limits of being human. For example, robotic red blood cells called respirocytes could each hold 200 times the oxygen of their natural counterparts, enabling a man on a mission to, say, hide out underwater for half a day without a scuba tank.
2063 to 2122
We're all gonna die. - MythBusters host Jamie Hyneman
An ion engine will reach the stars. If you're thinking of making the trip to Alpha Centauri, pack plenty of snacks. At 25.8 trillion miles, the voyage requires more than four years of travel at light speed, and you won't be going nearly that fast. To complete the journey, you'll have to rely on a scaled-up version of the engine on the Deep Space 1 probe, launched in 1998. Instead of liquid or solid fuel, the craft was propelled by ions of xenon gas accelerated by an electric field.
Scientists will map the quadrillion connections between the brain's neurons. Quadrillion sounds like a made-up number, but we assure you it's real. Those connections hold the answers to questions about mental illness, learning, and the whole nature versus nurture issue. If every one of them were a penny, you could stack them and build a tower 963 million miles high. It would stretch past Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn and stop roughly halfway to Uranus.
There's lots more at Popular Mechanics, so check it out.