Have you ever tried explaining social networking, online business models and viral campaigns to your mom ? How about your grandma ? Well I have. And I have to say – it was hard. They understood the concepts eventually (it’s not rocket science after all), but they lost interest and they found themselves wondering “OK, I got it, but how is this important?”
In the same way, I can’t help but wondering “What will my kids explain to me? And how about my grandkids?”
People, young people, have always thought that they are riding the trend waves and they are at the tip of the iceberg. For now, it’s true. But trends are not meant to least.
Now I’m 23. But what will be hot when I’ll be 43? And what will be hotter when I’m 73 ?
In my vision, the next 50 years will have to give way to three types of new technology. And here’s the headlines.
Part 1: Nano-technology
Silicon based technology is the human race’s most successful attempt to micro-designing materials. Silicon is the material from which we first accomplished making intelligent matter. I don’t mean intelligent as in “self-conscious”, but as in “it remembers information and makes decisions”.
The rule of thumb nowadays is that if there’s electricity going through it, it probably has a microchip, microprocessor or microcontroller somewhere in there. But this is barely scratching the surface. Designing viable microchips requires a lot of resources, a lot of time and a lot of engineering. There are a handful of companies how actually develop and improve microchip technology.
However, digital hardware can only take us this far in terms of computing power/mass of material.
The top line processors has just under a billion transistors (781 million transistors for Intel Xeon). The adult human brain has roughly 100 billion neurons. You might be tempted to say that following Moore’s law (top of the line computing power doubles every 18 months) we’ll get there in 15 years or so.
But you also need to keep in mind that:
- Each transistor connects to three other transistors (or other electrical elements). A neuron connect to 10,000 other neurons (on average). This makes the brain a far more connected network than a processor.
- Processors don’t regularly rewire during normal functioning. Neurons do. The 10,000 or so connections of each neuron are strengthened, weakened, die out and are respawned. This makes the brain a far more efficient machine.
- Since the degree of connectivity of digital systems is small, they completely suck at parallel work. Yes, they can work in parallel, but making them share the results, synchronize and work properly as a team is a computer scientists nightmare. Neurons are very good at working in teams, since they are well connected and information can jump from one side of the system to the other really fast.
Point is, the number isn’t the only thing that matters. The micro-structure is where the computing power is.
And the truth is our civilization doesn’t know enough about building microscopic entities, with the complexity of the neuron, connected in the ten/hundreds of billions in one parallel system.
In order to do that, we need to develop nano-technology as a key field which will help computing make a real leap forward. Nano-tech refers to building either materials with intricate micro-structure, such as carbon nano-tubes and weird complex polymers. It also refers to building micro-machines (nano-bots), which can store information, make simple decision processes, communicate with other machines and interact with the environment.
Nano-technology as we know it is barely scratching the surface of making it easier and commercially viable to develop (or in some cases grow) materials that have some sort of micro-structure and micro-topology.
The leap forward which I expect in the next 20 years is nano-robotics – the intelligent micro-machines with the above mentioned properties. There are two main paths human kind could take in order to reach that goal:
- Electronics (silicon based): building small elementary processors and storing devices of microscopic size (100 down to 1 nanometers) with microscopic peripheral devices (like engines for moving around). In my opinion, building and assembling such devices on an industrial scale is non-viable. Which makes us turn to the second alternative.
- Biology (carbon based): living cells and bacteria do all of this stuff. Cells have a programming code (DNA), a mechanism for loading and executing that code (transcription and translation), storing several states (through enzymes produced and stored inside the cell), interacting with the environment (both chemically and mechanically). Although biology and biochemistry seem the right tools for the job, we know very little about how stuff works at that level. Part of the reason is there hasn’t been any commercially accepted breakthrough in biochemistry or micro-biology with deep economic impact, even less in the information management industry. But the news is good: just last year Craig Venter and his team created the first in vitro life for from scratch.
When you ask people about the impact of biology and biochemistry in everyday life, they’ll either think about drugs, medicine and medical research or about making wine and beer. Not a lot of people connect biology to computer science. Even if these are the right tools for making a leap forward in terms of computation power and nano-technology, humankind has very little experience with understanding and manipulating life forms at a genetic code/micro-biological level.
So it is indeed arguable whether the nano-bots will have a DNA and will be carbon-based or will have a micro-micro-processor and will be silicon-based. We will have to see.
Nonetheless, I am confident that this is one of three important leaps forward human kind has to make from an industrial point of view.
Also, I’m almost sure that we’ll find out how nano-bots looks like anywhere between 2030 and 2035.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
More to come in part 2 of Trending Topics of 2061