Exclusive extract: life in 2050

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Life in 2050


Welcome to the world of the next generation


Sprawling, eco-friendly megacities, a global population exceeding 9.8 billion, and far-reaching inventions that marry biology and technology all lay ahead of us. Today’s world is one filled with ideas, innovation and imagination, making us perfectly poised to speculate on what the world will become in just over three decades.

It may seem dangerous to cast our eyes so far ahead, across decades of exponential progress. But in today’s research we find the seeds of the era-defining technologies that will come to be. In the 1950s, Alan Turing considered the ‘ghost in the machine’ and challenged his contemporaries to consider whether we could truly create intelligent – if not sentient – machines.

Now, with deep neural networks and other artificial intelligence approaches we find ourselves edging ever closer to an idea first posed over 60 years ago. Turing’s vision has almost been realised, and within this feature we will uncover analogous ideas that may grow, just as Turing’s vision did, into technologies that will bring similar disruption to the world of 2050.

As the collective pool of human knowledge continues to expand, we will increasingly see branches of research broaden their perspective and bleed into different areas of investigation. Such fusions of science and technology will play a pivotal role in the years to come. For example, forensics may start incorporating the staggeringly broad applicability of data science. Researchers at Oxford University have for the first time uncovered genetic variations that are strongly associated with particular facial features. As we move forward and others inevitably expand on this novel finding – and the link between a person’s unique genetic code and their facial features is revealed – a wanted person’s DNA will suddenly reveal much more than just a simple match on a known criminal database. Amazingly, police officers in 2050 will likely be able to create an accurate facial model from a mere drop of saliva or a single strand of hair. Then, with the help of smart computer systems, they will be able to scour the area with drones and locate their target.

At the centre of these cross-disciplinary technological marvels, however, will lie brain-computer interfaces similar to the kind being developed by Elon Musk’s Neuralink. This intriguing company endeavours to create a neural mesh capable of directly linking to the cloud, forming a bridge between our thoughts and the electronic world around us. Musk rightly points to our current reliance on smartphones – and namely how we loathe to be without them – as evidence that we’re already bound to technology. But in 2050 this connection will have deepened to the extent that we will have access to implants that form a neural interface around the outside of our brains.

For those equipped with such technology, information from the web will be directly delivered to their thoughts on a moment’s notice (much to the chagrin of pub quiz runners); electronic devices will be controlled just by thought; and people will be able to enjoy ‘consensual telepathy’. This may seem the product of sorcery, but in 2050, when technology will be even more integral and abundant than it is today, interfaces that permit easier interactions with our creations will become hugely advantageous.

The medical applications of this technology are also worthy of mention, as those with brain and other central nervous system injuries will be able to utilise this tech to circumvent severed connections via the cloud. As a result, communications between the brain and limb will be restored, and those who are severely paralysed will be able to more easily interact with the outside world.




Extract from Life in 2050 by James Horton. Featured in How It Works 112.

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