According to scientists, the technology that is likely to be developed during the next 100 years will be less the result of what the human race is capable of doing than what it can imagine doing. Among the technical developments that are expected to transform life in the 21st century:
Telecommunications: By the middle of the next century, the telephone will serve as a personal link to a worldwide communications and information network. For most people, said Peter MacLaren, assistant vice-president of terminals at Northern Telecom Ltd. in Mississauga, Ont., the telephone will be a constant and indispensable companion. “I envision a small, sophisticated device, not unlike Captain Kirk’s communicator, that we carry everywhere,” said MacLaren. Incorporating advances in fibre optics, satellite technology and artificial intelligence, the postmodern telephone will link users to a vast network of services. A man in Swift Current,
Sask., who needs to contact his brother would simply dial his relative’s personal number in order to reach him— whether he is at home in Saint John,
N.B., on a business trip in the Yukon or vacationing in the wilds of the Australian outback. Besides helping users to find information ranging from the location of an individual to specific business or technical data, the telephone and fax system will deliver the required material faster and more efficiently, with multiple fax copies if required.
Household Computers: Computers will be far more powerful than today’s machines—and even more versatile.
“The changes that will occur in computers through the next century will be incredible,” said Zenon Pylyshyn, director of the centre for cognitive science at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont. The home is one area in which experts expect to see computers of the future play a leading role. Capable of seeing, touching and hearing, and able to reason and make decisions, the household computer will command a system of robotic housecleaning gadgets. As well, the home computer of the future will obey a familiar voice that tells it to run a bath and tip off parents that a good family movie is about to begin on Channel 235.
Holograms: During the next century, the flat pictures that currently are projected
onto television and movie screens may be transformed into three-dimensional holographic images. Publishers in recent years have begun to use holograms on paper or plastic surfaces, and the Bank of Canada said last week that it was trying to develop holographic paper money to foil counterfeiters. Stephen Benton, director of spatial imaging at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s media laboratory, predicted that “some time in the next century, a clear, full-color holographic movie will make its debut.” As holo-
graphy is perfected, the technology will almost certainly find wide application. Bernard Hockley, a technologist who is working on holography at Litton Systems Canada Ltd. in Toronto, suggested that, in the future, computers and fax machines may produce holographic images. “Given the advances we’re making in laser and fibre-optic technology,” said Hockley, “we’ll almost certainly have computers capable of making, transmitting and receiving three-dimensional images in
the early part of the next century.” Space: By some time in the next century, experts predict, American, Soviet, Western European and Japanese scientists will journey out of Earth’s orbit to well beyond the moon. Domed colonies on the moon are expected to make the Earth’s satellite a major tourist attraction, with vacationers booking round-trip journeys aboard shuttle rockets. In the moon structures, colonists will likely be engaged in a number of metallurgical and chemical processes that are more easily carried out under low-
gravity conditions, and they will be mining the moon’s deposits of helium III, an element that is rare on Earth and would be used as a fuel in fusion reactors.
Later in the 21st century, astronauts are likely to venture farther into the solar system, travelling 35 million miles to Mars, one of Earth’s nearest planetary neighbors. There, scientists will explore the red planet’s higherthan-Everest mountains and huge valleys, searching for evidence that would show wheth-
er indigenous life ever existed there.
Steven Howe, program co-ordinator for advanced technology development at the University of California Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said that, if man is to venture beyond Mars, he will have to develop propulsion systems more powerful than conventional rocketry. Using technology now available, it would take a manned mission about 50 years to reach Pluto, 3.5 billion miles from Earth. The solution, said Howe, may lie in antimatter, a powerful energy source made up of negatively charged subatomic particles that could whisk a spaceship to Pluto in only five years.
Automobiles: Everything from Earth’s diminishing store of petroleum to grid-locked and exhaust-polluted cities has led critics to predict the death of the automobile in the near future. Yet the number of cars manufactured and driven in the world continues to grow each year. William Spreitzer, manager of vehicle highway
systems at General Motors Corp.’s -
research laboratories near Detroit, predicts that, rather than cars vanishing, “what we’ll see is the car metamorphosed.” Driven by powerful electric batteries and constructed of recyclable ceramic and plastic parts, cars will be compact and modular. According to Spreitzer, the car of the future may even become sartorially sensitive, with the ability to “chemically alter its coloring to your wardrobe.”
More than appearances will change. Tomorrow’s cars will be intelligent.
Said Spreitzer: “Without doubt, we’ll see a time when automobile travel is completely automated. Linked into and controlled by an area transportation network, driving will be a fully computerized process. All the operator will have to do is code in his destination on the dashboard terminal. The car will do the rest. Once you have started it, the only decision you might have to make is whether to read the paper or nap.”
Aviation: With the development of a future generation of “hypersonic” aircraft that will travel at up to 10 times the speed of sound, intercontinental flight times in the 21st century will be dramatically reduced. Resembling a cross between the supersonic Concorde jet and an oversized jet fighter, the plane will carry passengers to their destinations by first taking them—at speeds of up to 3,000 miles an hour—out of the Earth’s atmosphere and into low Earth orbit. At that point, rocket engines will take over from the aircraft’s jets and nudge the craft into speeds of approximately 15,000 miles an hour.
One of the people involved in the development of engines for the proposed aircraft is Roderick Tennyson, director of the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies. Said Tennyson: “It’s inevitable that this type of craft will replace conventional long-distance air carriers in the future.” He added that cutting the flying time from Toronto to Tokyo to less than three hours from 17 hours would only be one benefit of the proposed aircraft. Another would be to replace conventional space rockets
like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s shuttle. “The same vehicle that can take you to the Far East in rapid time,” said Tennyson, “will also be able to take you from your local airport to a moon shuttle in Earth orbit.”
Food: In the year 2040, many of the food items lining supermarket shelves may be the universe, same ones people now eat. But, as a result of genetic engineering, the fruit, milk, meat and
cereals consumed in the future may be vastly superior to what is currently available. According to Wallace Beversdorf, chairman of the crop sciences department at Ontario’s University of Guelph, the meat, fruit and plant products of the future will be richer in amino acids and proteins, which human beings need for good health and growth. As well, said Beversdorf, food in the future will be altered by gene splicing to protect it from bacteria and insects. As a result, pesticides and some herbicides will no longer be necessary. Biotechnology also will ensure that food will stay fresher for longer periods. American scientists have already identified the gene in tomato plants that causes the fruit to deteriorate. As a result, said Beversdorf, “It’s only a matter of time before we have peaches that don't go mushy, lettuce that does not wilt and chickens that cannot make people sick from salmonella poisoning.”
Human Biotechnology: Scientists
predict that,during the 21st century, mankind, with the assistance of biotechnology, will begin to gain mastery over many of the afflictions and diseases that have long plagued humanity. Daniel Nathans, a professor of molecular biology and genetics at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said that, by the year 2050, “we’ll know very much more about certain single-gene diseases, including muscular dystrophy and certain types of cancer. And we’ll probably be able to treat them by replacing malfunctioning genes with functioning ones.” Indeed, some U.S. scientists even envisage sending tiny computers inside human patients to reprogram damaged or defective genes.
The power of gene manipulation will extend beyond matters of health. Guided and controlled only by ethical concerns, geneticists will _ probably possess the means
0 of moulding human destiny g by determining what physical 7. characteristics an unborn
1 baby will possess. As well, i scientists predict that, some
day, it may be possible to export human life by freezing - fertilized human eggs, placing them aboard spacecraft and bringing them to life in artificial wombs some hundreds of years and billions of miles away from Earth. By that means, the human race might find a way of traversing the vast distances between galaxies and taking mankind’s inventiveness to the most distant reaches of the
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.