the turn of the 21st century, Yemen was already the poorest and least
developed nation in the Arab world. 45% of its citizens were
living below the poverty line, unemployment was at 35% and its
literacy rate was just 58%. It had dwindling natural resources and a
ballooning population. Its economy was heavily reliant on hydrocarbons,
which accounted for almost 75% of government revenues and 90% of foreign
peak oil production in 2003 and witnessed a steady decline thereafter.
In 2011, a popular uprising was triggered due to worsening economic conditions,
rising unemployment and government corruption. This was sparked by simultaneous
protests in other Middle Eastern countries.
next decade, the situation continued to deteriorate. Transitioning to a post-carbon economy was proving to be a massive challenge. Neighbouring Saudi Arabia attempted to stabilise the political and economic situation
by donating oil and other resources. However, it could only provide this support for so long, as Saudi Arabia
itself was facing problems. Yemen's push into the gas sector had also failed to revive
its economy significantly.
this, a new and even greater threat was emerging. Yemen's groundwater
levels had fallen sharply in recent decades. Around the capital, Sana'a,
borehole drilling was now reaching down to water that fell more than
8,000 years ago, with groundwater levels decreasing by 4-6 metres a
year. Additional wells and water mains were desperately needed to service
the region, but these for the most part had been lost among the nation's
various other problems. Yemen had been battling Shiite Muslim rebels
in the north and a separatist movement in the south, whilst contending
with a resurgence of Al Qaeda and the scourge of piracy in the Gulf
Between 2017 and 2025,
a major crisis begins to unfold,* and Sana'a becomes the first capital city in the world to completely
run out of water.* There is widespread looting,
rioting and violence, a mass exodus
of refugees and a gradual decline in the country's population which continues
into the following decade and beyond. Parts of the state collapse into anarchy, with a
zone of lawlessness expanding into Saudi Arabia and the Horn of Africa.
world watches, powerless, as this tragedy unfolds. Though assistance
is offered by some countries, including military intervention,
it cannot prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. Yemen now faces a very
uncertain future, threatening stability across the region.
2017–2025: Yemen's water shortage is plunging the region into chaos.
establishes the largest megacity in the world
now, China has merged nine of its cities into one, creating the largest
metropolitan area on the planet. This new megacity has a population
of 42 million – over 7 million greater than Tokyo, the previous record
being merged include Guangzhou and Shenzhen, the second and third largest
cities in China with populations of 11.7 million and 8.9 million, respectively.
This region covers much of China's manufacturing heartland, accounting
for nearly a tenth of the Chinese economy.
150 major infrastructure projects have meshed the transport, energy,
water and telecommunications networks of these nine cities together,
at a cost of some 2 trillion yuan ($304 billion). An express railway
line connects the hub with nearby Hong Kong.*
end of the decade, even larger megacities are emerging, with city zones
of up to 100 million people.
The remaining JFK files are released
The Assassination Records Review Board was created as a result of an act passed by the US Congress in 1992, entitled the "President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act". It mandated the gathering and release of all government records relating to the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
The Act was passed following the public outcry about the assassination, after the 1991 premiere of Oliver Stone's film JFK, which proposed Kennedy assassination theories involving plots to kill the President. The ARRB collected evidence starting in 1992, then produced a final report in 1998.
The ARRB was not commissioned to determine why or by whom the murder was committed. Its purpose was simply to release documents to the public, in order for the public to draw its own conclusions. From 1992 until 1998, 60,000 documents were gathered and unsealed, consisting of more than 4 million pages. All remaining documents are released by 2017.*
A handbill circulated on 21 November 1963, in Dallas, one day before the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
solar eclipse in the USA
On 21st August this year, a total eclipse occurs in the United States, the first visible from the US since 1991 (just from part of Hawaii), and the first visible from the contiguous US since 1979. Totality occurs along a path curving from Oregon to South Carolina, lasting roughly 2 minutes and 40 seconds. The location and time of "greatest eclipse" is on the western edge of Christian County, Kentucky at 36.97 degrees North and 87.65 degrees West, occurring at 18:25 UTC.
China launches an unmanned sample return mission to the Moon
Following the success of its first lunar lander in 2013, China attempts a more ambitious sample return mission, known as Chang'e 5. This is launched in 2017,* obtaining about 2 kg (4 lb) of moon rock, bringing it back to Earth for study. The robot deployed on the surface has a mission life of three months. It can choose its own routes, avoid obstacles and perform experiments with a mechanical arm. It comes equipped with a suite of sensors including cameras, X-ray and infrared spectrometers and a ground-penetrating radar. It has solar panels and a supplementary power source for night work in the form of a plutonium-238 nuclear battery – the same type of radioisotope thermoelectric generator system (RTG) installed on NASA's Mars Science Laboratory. China has big plans beyond 2017. The nation intends to build its own space station by 2022,* send humans to the Moon by 2025* and construct a lunar base shortly thereafter.
The first test flight of NASA's Space Launch System
The Space Launch System, or SLS, is a Shuttle-derived heavy launch vehicle designed by NASA, following the cancellation of the Constellation Program, to replace the Space Shuttle. The NASA Authorization Act of 2010 envisioned the transformation of the Ares I and Ares V vehicle designs into a single launch vehicle usable for both crew and cargo. It would be upgraded over time with more powerful versions.
The SLS will carry the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, as well as important cargo, equipment and experiments to Earth's orbit and destinations beyond. Additionally, it will serve as a backup for commercial and international partner transportation services to the International Space Station. It could also be used on missions to repair telecom satellites, at orbits 36,000 km above the Earth which were previously inaccessible to astronauts.*
The rocket design incorporates technology from the Space Shuttle and Constellation Programs, taking advantage of proven hardware and cutting-edge tooling and manufacturing technology that greatly reduces development and operations costs. It is powered by a liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propulsion system, including the RS-25D/E from the Space Shuttle Program for the core stage and the J-2X engine for the upper stage.*
It has an initial lift capacity of 70 metric tons; nearly three times that of the Space Shuttle. The first unmanned developmental test flight takes place in 2017, with a manned trip around the Moon scheduled for 2023. Its payload will evolve as more advanced versions are developed; it is ultimately hoped to reach 130 tons in the early 2030s.** This will enable the first manned missions to Mars.*
The first manned flight of the Dream Chaser
The Dream Chaser is a space plane being developed by Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems. Intended to carry up to seven astronauts, it provides low-cost, commercial transportation services to and from low Earth orbit, including the International Space Station (ISS). This vehicle, resembling a mini-Space Shuttle, launches vertically on an Atlas V rocket and can land horizontally on conventional runways. It is designed for simple maintenance and quick turnaround. An unmanned demonstration occurs in 2016, with manned operations beginning in 2017 – ending U.S. dependence on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to provide an orbital taxi service.*
Launch of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)
The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is a space telescope intended to search for extrasolar planets using the transit method. It is part of NASA's long-running "Explorer" program which has been going since 1958 and involves working with a variety of other institutions and businesses. In this case, the $200m project is led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with seed funding from Google.
Equipped with four wide-angle telescopes and charge-coupled device (CCD) detectors totalling 192 megapixels, TESS conducts a two-year all-sky survey focussed on nearby G- and K-type stars with apparent magnitudes brighter than 12. Around 500,000 are studied – over triple the 156,000 that Kepler was designed to observe – including the 1,000 closest red dwarfs. The region of sky covered is also 400 times bigger.*
Several thousand Earth-sized and larger exoplanets are identified, adding to the already huge tally from Kepler. Many of these candidate worlds are later investigated by the James Webb Telescope and other future missions which enable more detailed analysis of their masses, sizes, densities, orbits and atmospheres. In this same year, Europe launches its own similar mission – the Cheops satellite (see below).
Credit: MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research
The Cheops satellite is deployed to study exoplanets
In 2017, the European Space Agency (ESA) launches a new satellite to study exoplanets. Its focus of study is nearby star systems already known to host planets. The small CHaracterising ExOPlanets Satellite, called Cheops, operates in a Sun-synchronous low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 500 miles (800 km) and has a mission lifetime of around 3.5 years. It is powerful and precise enough to form accurate measurements of a planet's radius, as well as determining the likely density and internal structure.* The mission also provides unique targets for more detailed studies of atmospheres by the next generation of telescopes now being built, such as the ground-based European Extremely Large Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope.
Credit: University of Bern/CERN
Sales of electric and hybrid trucks reach 100,000 annually
Electric and hybrid trucks are now surpassing 100,000 in annual production numbers worldwide.* This includes hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, battery-electric and plug-in electric power take-off variations.
Between 2011 and 2017, the overall truck market grew at roughly 4% per year. However, the market for hybrid and electric trucks grew almost 12 times as fast, at 47%. This was partly in response to oil and gas volatility, but was also due to significant technology improvements and, in particular, the falling price of batteries.
The overall cost of hybrid and electric vehicles remains the largest barrier to full market proliferation, but this has improved markedly in recent years, with new battery technology that increases a vehicle's speed and range.* Progress has also been made in the time it takes to recharge,* as well as the availability of electric charging points (now 7.7 million worldwide).* Motors are also becoming available without the need for rare earth metals.*
The largest market for these trucks is still Asia Pacific, with around 41,000 being sold each year. Slowly catching up is North America, where the number is approaching 26,000. As oil prices increase, hybrid and electric trucks will eventually become more cost-effective than fossil fuel-driven ones. Technology in general continues to reshape the shipping industry. Manufacturers are looking into the possibility of driverless, fully automated vehicles, for example.*
The environmental benefits of going electric are potentially huge, as trucking makes up a significant portion of transport emissions, which cumulatively produce over 13% of the world's CO2 emissions.*
10 nanometre chips enter mass production
In 2017, the
next generation of microprocessor technology is released by Intel, with
transistors using a 10 nanometre (nm) manufacturing process* – superseding the 14 nm process. Codenamed "Cannonlake", this family of processors is based on a die-shrink of Intel's Skylake CPU microarchitecture. More than 10 billion transistors can now be packed onto a single chip – bringing greater CPU and GPU performance, and reduced power consumption for computers, phones, tablets and other electronic devices. Moore's
Law will soon be hitting a wall, however, as the effects of quantum tunnelling begin to degrade chip performance at such tiny scales. Traditional silicon circuits will
reach their limit in the early 2020s, with a new paradigm emerging in the form of graphene and other concepts.
Web-connected video devices exceed the global population
More than 8.2 billion Internet-connected video devices are now installed worldwide, exceeding the population of the planet. This category includes a diverse range of products such as tablets, smart TVs, games consoles, smartphones, connected set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, laptops and PCs. With around 7.4 billion people it is equivalent to 1.1 devices for every global citizen, nearly double the number in 2013. The fastest growth has occurred in the Asia-Pacific region, driven largely by Chinese demand.*
paper is seeing widespread use
technology has been in development for over a decade* and is now seeing widespread use.* It works by combining organic, thin film transistors (TFT) with organic, electroluminescent displays. This produces flexible, paper-thin devices barely 0.3mm in thickness.
included the first e-readers, but more sophisticated products have now
emerged, some capable of running high-quality video. Ultra-thin smartphones,
clothing and textiles with electronic displays, video ID cards, video
leaflets, road signs that are self-illuminating, video instructions
on food and other packaging – these are just some of the items to feature
development leads to much greater contrast ratio – resembling printed
paper more than a screen (the latter is hard to see in direct sunlight).
This technology also marks a step towards the paperless office, which
in turn will reduce deforestation.
Tooth regeneration is transforming dental care
been demonstrated in mice,* bioengineered tooth regeneration is becoming
available to humans.* A combination of stem cells, scaffold material
and signalling molecules can be used to regrow a fully functional, living tooth in around two months – complete with roots, inner pulp and outer
enamel. Until now,
dental implant therapies had required pre-existing, high quality bone
structures to support the artificial implants. Full reconstruction
of natural, healthy teeth in patients without adequate bone support
is therefore now possible.
Another technique to emerge this year is Electrically Accelerated and Enhanced Remineralisation (EAER). This allows a decayed tooth to effectively repair and heal itself without the need for drills, needles or fillings. This breakthrough procedure uses electrical stimulation to help teeth "remineralise" by pushing minerals like calcium and phosphate back into the tooth to repair the damaged site.*
Further into the future, dentures and fillings gradually become obsolete
as a result of these and other new treatments, improving the health and well-being of millions of people.
In 2017, Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero attempts to perform the first human head transplant. This follows a series of earlier experiments with animals and human cadavers. In 2015, he announced plans to operate on a live human patient within two years. His goal appeared outlandish at first, but gained some credibility the following year, when researchers in China grafted the head of a monkey onto a completely new body, building upon a similar achievement half a century earlier.*
Canavero's patient is Valery Spiridonov,* a 30-year-old Russian man with Werdnig–Hoffmann disease (the most severe type of spinal muscular atrophy) and declining health who volunteers to offer his head for Canavero's studies. When first announced, popular opinion about the potential head transplant was generally quite negative, with Canavero being criticised on ethical grounds and a number of doubts expressed from experts regarding the state of technology readiness.
The procedure involves cooling the head and donor body to -15°C (5°F). This extends the time that their cells can survive without oxygen, which is vital for avoiding neurological damage. As soon as tissue around the neck has been dissected, major blood vessels are linked using tiny tubes, before the spinal cords of each person are cut (with high precision) and the head is transferred onto its new body. This new "combined" body is fused together – using polyethylene glycol to flush both ends of spinal cord and encourage nerve growth – followed by injections of the same chemical over a period of several hours.
Assuming the patient survives to this stage, measures are then taken to prevent the body's immune system from rejecting the head. They are kept in a coma for three or four weeks to ensure they are completely stationary. Implanted electrodes provide electrical stimulation, which helps to strengthen nerve connections. After a year or so, it is hoped that the person is able to walk around. Regardless of how successful this particular operation is, knowledge gained from the surgery helps to improve this procedure in the future.
Wireless, implantable devices that monitor a range of health conditions in real time
After several years of testing and development, a miniature device is now available* that can monitor a range of substances in the blood, providing instant results via mobile phone. Inserted by needle and placed just beneath the skin, it can remain in the body for months before needing to be replaced or removed.
This tiny laboratory measures 14mm (0.55") and comprises five sensors, a coil for wireless power as well as miniaturised electronics for radio communication. The entire system is powered by a mere one-tenth of a watt. Each sensor's surface is covered with an enzyme that is used to detect chemicals like ATP, glucose and lactate. Data is transmitted via Bluetooth to a mobile phone, which can then be sent to a doctor, if necessary.
With direct and continuous monitoring in real time, it is particularly useful for chronic conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol, as well as tracking the impact of drug treatments such as chemotherapy. It can even be used to warn of an impending heart attack. For instance, a molecule called troponin is released by heart muscle around three to four hours before a heart attack, once the heart muscle starts malfunctioning. This can be detected by the implant before a fatal event occurs, giving the user time to seek treatment.
Although still in their infancy, these devices represent a new and emerging generation of personalised medicine that will revolutionise healthcare in the decades ahead. By 2040, such implants are commonplace – even in healthy people* – with further improvements in miniaturisation and complexity.
The world's first HIV vaccine is commercially available
HIV/AIDS was first characterised in 1983. By the early 2010s, the virus had killed over 35 million people globally and another 34 million were living with the infection. Although a cure remained elusive, antiretroviral treatments were able to slow the progression of the disease and provide sufferers with a near-normal life expectancy. However, while antiretroviral treatments reduced the risk of death, these medications were expensive and often associated with side effects.
In 2012, a vaccine known as SAV001 – which had previous success in animal subjects – began Phase 1 human clinical trials in Canada. This randomised, observer-blinded, placebo-controlled study used a ground-breaking technique involving a genetically modified, killed whole-virus vaccine. Prior to this, other experimental vaccines had either used subunits of the virus, or relied on genetically modified non-HIV viruses to carry an HIV-like genetic sequence.
SAV001 was administered to infected men and women aged 18 to 50. Results from the trials showed that patients experienced no adverse effects – no local reactions from the injections, or any signs, symptoms, or reactions to any potential toxicities – while significantly boosting immunity.*
With proven safety and tolerability in humans, the experimental vaccine progressed to Phase II and Phase III trials, with similar success. By 2017, it is becoming commercially available.*
A new treatment for prostate cancer
Prostate cancer is a form of cancer that develops in the prostate, a gland in the male reproductive system. It can cause pain, difficulty in urinating, problems during sexual intercourse, or erectile dysfunction. It can also metastasize (spread) from the prostate to other parts of the body, particularly the bones and lymph nodes. Globally, it is the sixth leading cause of cancer-related death in men (in the USA it is the second). It tends to develop in men over the age of 50 and is most common in the developed world.
In 2012, a study was conducted on a potential new treatment. This used High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) to vibrate tissues the size of a grain of rice, heating them to about 80-90°C (176-194°F). This effectively killed the cancerous cells, in a highly localised area without damage to neighbouring healthy tissues. Because of the beam's extreme precision, there were few reported side effects. Although one in ten were left impotent, this was far less than traditional treatment methods, and none of the volunteers were left incontinent. 95% of study participants were free of cancer after 12 months.
A larger trial was conducted, with similar success. By 2017, the treatment is offered routinely on the NHS* and in many other countries, leading to a marked improvement in survival rates and patient comfort. The procedure is fast and most patients are back home within 24 hours.*
BioCassava Plus receives regulatory approval
Cassava is a root vegetable, high in carbohydrates, that forms a major staple food in the developing world, providing a basic diet for over half a billion people. It is among the most drought-tolerant crops, able to grow on marginal soils.
However, this vegetable has a number of downsides. With toxins including cyanide, improper preparation can lead to acute intoxication and goiters, or even ataxia and paralysis. It is also a poor source of protein and may cause protein-energy malnutrition, unless consumed as part of a more balanced and varied diet. Two diseases – Cassava Mosaic Disease (affecting the edible leaves) and Brown Streak Disease (which rots and kills the roots) – have caused devastating famines in the past. The latter is especially troublesome in coastal East Africa and around the eastern lakes, where it is the single biggest threat to food security. In addition, cassava has a poor shelf life of only two to three days.
In 2003, Bill Gates announced the "Grand Challenges in Global Health", a $200m effort to address healthcare and extreme poverty in the developing world. The following year, his charity – the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – selected BioCassava Plus, a biotechnology project to improve cassava. With genetic engineering and a range of crop breeding techniques, it would be possible to enrich the protein content, reduce the vegetable's toxicity, fortify it with vitamins A and E, iron and zinc, make it resistant to viruses and extend its shelf life ten-fold.
After more than a decade of research and development, the project would obtain regulatory approval in 2017,* radically improving the health of many millions of people. Although generating controversy, genetic engineering remains a safe and effective method in food, with no cases of illness from over a trillion meals served.*
The world's largest mud volcano stops erupting
The Sidoarjo mud flow, commonly known as Lusi, was a continuous flow of water, steam and mud erupting in Sidoarjo, a sub-district of Porong in East Java, Indonesia. The mud flow began in May 2006, after a blowout in a drilling well caused by pressurised natural gas and carbonated water. Although most of the blame was put on the company involved in the drilling, they themselves claimed that a 6.3 magnitude quake had triggered the eruption a few days earlier.
At its peak, Lusi flowed at 180,000m³ per day – destroying homes, businesses and schools, and by 2011 had left over 13,000 people homeless. Many suffered severe burns as a result of the hot mud and steam. The flow had originally been expected to last until the 2030s,* but in subsequent years it began to destabilise and form a caldera around the original drilling well. By 2017 it has finally subsided.*
4 "The JFK Act required release of all information in assassination records in the year 2017, 25 years after the passage of the act, so the Review Board employs the term 'postponed' to mean 'redacted until the year 2017.'"
See Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board, John R. Tunheim: http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0788177222
Accessed 6th September 2011.
12 "With its superior lift capability, the SLS will expand our reach in the solar system and allow us to explore cis-lunar space, near-Earth asteroids, Mars and its moons and beyond."
See Space Launch System & Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, Official NASA web page: http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/index.html
Accessed 17th September 2011.