Commercially viable oil in Uganda was discovered in 2006, with an estimated 3.5 billion barrels of reserves. However, it would take over a decade for production to start, due to a series of political, social, economic and technical issues. These included a lack of transparency in the planning process, corruption among officials, intimidation and poor compensation of local residents, sluggish progress in determining the best infrastructure, and general bureaucracy.
By 2012, a total of 77 wells had been drilled and investigated, with 70 showing potential for profit. In 2013 the government finally reached an agreement with Tullow Oil of the United Kingdom, Total of France and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), to build both the oil refinery and pipeline. Uganda also partnered with the neighbouring countries of South Sudan, Kenya and Rwanda to take up ownership in the planned oil refinery. Once the remaining issues were worked out, construction would begin in 2014, with first production in 2018.*
Most of the oil was located in the Albertine Graben region, a 45 by 500 km stretch of lush green vegetation, home to about half of Africa's bird species, along with baboons, antelopes and elephants. Serious concerns were therefore raised by environmentalists, but these were dismissed by the government. With at least 30 years of production capacity, Uganda would undergo an economic boom – bringing electricity to the 90% who had lived without it, boosting its education and healthcare systems, and shifting the nation into the league of upper-middle-income countries.
This new-found wealth could not last, however. In the longer term, serious environmental problems would plague not just Uganda, but much of the African continent. Landlocked and lying directly on the equator, Uganda was exposed to extreme climate risks, including substantial changes in rainfall and humidity.*
Click to enlarge
Uganda oil map. Credit: Heritage Oil
A missile defence shield is deployed in Europe
Europe is now protected by a continent-wide missile defence system, developed and deployed by the US military.
This has been established in phases between 2011 and 2018.
Phase 1 saw the deployment of a land-based early warning radar – which Turkey agreed to host – as well as ships in the Mediterranean equipped with proven SM-3 interceptors.
Phase 2 saw the creation of a land-based SM-3 interceptor site in Romania – in order to expand the defended area against short- and medium-range missile threats.
Phase 3, the most significant phase, added a more advanced SM-3 interceptor (Block IIA) and a second land-based SM-3 site, which Poland agreed to host. This would counter short-, medium- and intermediate-range missile threats. The system is located at Redzikowo military base, close to the Baltic Sea and Lithuania, roughly 50 miles from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.*
An additional fourth and final phase will be completed in 2020 with missiles being upgraded.*
Initially, this defence shield resulted in a cooling of relations between the US and Russia. The latter expressed concerns over the presence of missiles so close to its border, which it viewed as a security threat. This was despite assurances from the US that the shield was for potential threats from Iran and the Middle East – and was neither designed nor capable of threatening the numbers and sophisticated ability of Russia's strategic forces.*
The first private supersonic jet
While commercial airliners typically cruise at Mach 0.85 (567 mph), the Spike S-512 uses advanced engine and airframe technology to reach speeds of Mach 1.8 (1200 mph). Holding up to 18 passengers, it can fly from NYC to London in 3.5 hours instead of 7 hours; or from LA to Tokyo in 8 hours instead of 16 hours.* This private jet, costing $80 million, is aimed at the richest business executives and celebrities, but supersonic and even hypersonic travel will become more affordable in future decades. A competitor, Aerion, delivers their own supersonic jet in 2023. This is followed by larger hypersonic commercial airliners in the 2030s.
Credit: Spike Aerospace
The African Central Bank is established
Following many years of diplomatic talks, a unified African Central Bank has been established.* This represents a crucial step towards a more stable and developed Africa.
Though international efforts made in recent years, mostly as part of the UN's Millennium Development Goals, the continent still had numerous problems to deal with. Despite medical advances and socio-economic progress, famine and disease were on-going issues. In the north, residual tensions and instability remained, following the protests and uprisings that raged earlier in the decade. The Horn of Africa was plagued by drought and civil unrest, while piracy off the coast of Somalia had only increased as oil and other commodities rose in value.
It became clear in recent years that a lasting and meaningful prosperity could only be achieved by the entire continent working together as one. Following the 2011 overthrow of its main proponent, Muammar Gaddafi, the plan for a United States of Africa came to be regarded as a dead proposal. However, countries were working together in other ways. The East African Federation, for instance, was established in 2015.** This was a full political federation of five member states – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda – creating the second most populous nation in Africa (after Nigeria).
The growing need for a larger, more unified and far-reaching financial institution, in order to be fully integrated with the global economy, has led to further progress in developing the African Central Bank. Finally established in 2018, the benefits of this continental bank are immediate and substantial. Now acting as the banker for the African Union (consisting of 54 individual states), the Central Bank is able to regulate trade standards and currency value – supporting both public and private banking while setting interest and exchange rates.
The next step will be creating a pan-African single currency – known as the "Afro" – on schedule to take place in the early 2020s.* It is hoped that this development will be the keystone to helping each nation in the long term, especially the poorest, with value fluctuations and inequality becoming less and less rampant. The free movement of goods, persons, services, labour and capital will do much to improve the regional economy. A human rights court and monetary fund will also be set up. In addition, Africa finds itself in a uniquely advantageous position, in that it can learn from the past mistakes of Europe and the Euro. A prosperous and stable Africa now appears within sight for the first time.
However, true economic prosperity is still a far-off goal for most of the people of Africa, whose population has swelled to over 1.3 billion.* The looming threat of climate change will be the continent's biggest challenge of all.
East Africa's largest ever infrastructure project
This year sees a major rail network completed in East Africa.** Built by a Chinese state-owned firm and part-funded by China's government, the $14bn Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is the largest infrastructure project in the region's history. The SGR connects a number of major cities – greatly boosting trade and investment while reducing the times needed to move people and goods across borders. The cost of sending a tonne of freight one kilometre is slashed from $0.20 to $0.08, with a typical journey between Nairobi and the port city of Mombasa cut from 12 hours to just four. Until now, the region had relied almost exclusively on road transport.
South Korean city Pyeongchang hosts Winter Olympics
The 2018 Winter Olympics take place from 9th February to 25th February 2018, in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The elected host city was announced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in July 2011. Pyeongchang won on its third consecutive bid, having lost previously to Vancouver in Canada and Sochi in Russia. It is the first Winter Olympic Games and second Olympic Games in South Korea; the 1988 Summer Olympics were held in Seoul. Pyeongchang is also the third Asian city to host the Winter Games after Sapporo, Japan (1972) and Nagano, Japan (1998). It is the first Winter Olympic Games since 1992 to be held in a ski resort town. In June 2015, four new disciplines were approved for inclusion in the games: snowboarding big air; curling mixed doubles; speed skating mass start and Alpine skiing team.
hosts the FIFA World Cup
the first time Russia has hosted the World Cup. Some $10 billion are
spent on the tournament, which is spread over 14 venues including
Moscow and St. Petersburg. As of 2010,
there were no stadia in the country with 80,000+ capacities, but Luzhniki
Stadium in Moscow is expanded to 90,000 seats in time for the games.
InSight touches down on Mars
InSight is a space probe launched by NASA to Mars in 2018. The mission name stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. The stationary lander is placed on the surface of Mars, equipped with a seismometer and heat flow probe that drills 5 metres (16 ft) below ground – deeper than all previous arms, scoops, drills and probes.
InSight's main objective is to conduct an advanced study into the early geological processes that shaped Mars. The Solar System's rocky inner planets share a common ancestry that began with a process called accretion. As each body increased in size, its interior heated up and evolved to become a terrestrial planet with a core, mantle and crust. Despite this common ancestry, each of the terrestrial planets was later shaped and moulded through a poorly understood process known as "differentiation".
With its sub-surface measurements and hyper-sensitive instruments, Insight greatly improves our understanding of differentiation. The mission confirms whether Mars' core is solid or liquid, and determines why the crust is not divided into tectonic plates that drift like on Earth.* Following a technical issue reported in December 2015, the probe's launch was postponed by 26 months, from March 2016 to May 2018.*
James Webb Space Telescope is launched
James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the long-awaited successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. Its
primary mirror has a collecting area six times larger than Hubble. The
telescope is situated in an L2 orbit approximately 1.5 million km
from Earth. Originally planned for 2014, it was delayed until 2018 due
to budgetary constraints.*
Japan lunar rover mission
In 2018, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) sends an unmanned mission to the Moon. This uses an Epsilon solid-fuel rocket to carry and deploy a "Smart Lander for Investigating Moon" (SLIM). The probe is designed to perfect soft-landing technologies for manned missions in the future. While previous attempts by space agencies have landed spacecraft within several kilometres of their target site, SLIM aims to land within 100 metres (approximately 328 feet).* Face recognition software, similar to that found in digital cameras, enables it to identify craters. The mission costs ¥10 billion to ¥15 billion (between $83 and $125 million). Only five nations have achieved soft landings on the lunar surface – the former Soviet Union, the USA, China, India and Japan.
The Japanese Hayabusa-2 probe arrives at 1999 JU3
1999 JU3 is an Apollo asteroid – a group of asteroids whose orbits take them into the main belt, before drifting back towards Earth's vicinity. In 2018, this kilometre-sized rock is investigated by Japan's space agency, JAXA. The mission involves a probe, Hayabusa-2, launched in 2014 and arriving four years later. The spacecraft is equipped with a "cannon" that fires a 7 kg (15.4 lb) explosive projectile at a velocity of 2 km/s. This impacts the asteroid's surface with such force that a new crater is formed, with a camera filming the event from above. Hayabusa-2 then lands in the crater – scooping up samples for analysis back on Earth. It is hoped that water and organic materials in these samples may help to explain the origin of life.*
Completion of the 100,000 Genomes Project
The 100,000 Genomes Project is a £300 million ($467m) effort to sequence the genomes of National Health Service (NHS) patients in England between 2015 and 2018.* By utilising a huge sample size, it aims to identify common genetic traits behind a number of cancers and rare diseases, paving the way for new diagnostic tools, drugs and other treatments.
When the Human Genome Project was initiated in 1990, it cost $3 billion and required 13 years to complete. However, the time and expense of mapping a whole human genome began to fall exponentially, at a rate even faster than Moore's Law witnessed in computer chips.* By the early 2010s it was possible to sequence a person's DNA for less than $10,000 in a few days, and by 2014, machines capable of $1,000 genomes had appeared.* A new era of personalised genomics was beginning to emerge.*
The 100,000 Genomes Project takes advantage of these revolutionary advances to create a large-scale database, combining genetic information with personal health records. This helps researchers to better understand disease and its complex relationship with genes. Doctors can predict how well a person will respond to a particular treatment, or find one that works best for their specific case. It allows health organisations to more accurately track the spread of infectious disease, precisely pinpointing the source and nature of an outbreak. All data in the 100,000 Genomes Project is anonymous.*
England is the first country to undertake such a task,* but even larger projects follow in subsequent years, as genome sequencing continues to improve in both cost and speed. By 2020, tens of millions of human genomes have been sequenced. By 2040, these systems will be ubiquitous in countries around the world.* The impact of personalised medicine is on a scale similar to penicillin and the smallpox vaccine.*
Universal flu vaccine
Influenza, commonly known as "the flu", is a serious disease that causes between 250,000 and 500,000 worldwide annual deaths, rising to millions in pandemic years. It can sometimes lead to pneumonia, either direct viral pneumonia or secondary bacterial pneumonia, even in persons who are usually very healthy. Because of the way it can modify proteins on its outer surface, influenza is constantly evolving. This means that vaccines quickly become useless and new versions are required each year.
However, researchers found that material on the inside was common to many strains of the virus. By targeting this core region – that never changes, even in new strains – it was hoped that a universal flu vaccine could be developed that would be effective against all current and future outbreaks.
A type of white blood cell known as CD8 – part of the body's immune system – was found to recognise proteins in the core. Using blood samples from human volunteers, taken during the 2009 pandemic, it was discovered that patients with higher levels of CD8 T-cells had milder symptoms and less chance of developing flu. By identifying the exact subtype of the immune system giving protection and which components of the virus it was attacking, researchers were able to develop a "blueprint" for a vaccine that could stimulate production of these T-cells.* Following further years of research, the vaccine is made publicly available by 2018.*
Polio has been eradicated
Polio is a disease caused by a virus that enters through the mouth. Spread by poor sanitation and exposure to infected human stools, it can damage the nervous system, leading to paralysis and eventual death. During the first half of the 20th century, there was a dramatic rise in cases. Epidemics became regular events during summer months, affecting hundreds of thousands of people. It was especially prevalent among young children.
This provided impetus for a "Great Race" towards the development of a vaccine. Developed in the mid-1950s, polio vaccines began to reduce the global number of cases per year. The last naturally occurring cases in the United States were reported in 1979 and the Western Hemisphere was declared free of the disease by 1994.
However, it continued to affect countries in Africa, Asia and elsewhere.* Vaccination efforts were stepped up – led by Rotary International, UNICEF and the World Health Organization. New commitments were made by governments and philanthropists including Bill Gates,* enabling over a billion children to be vaccinated. By 2018, polio has been eradicated from the world. New knowledge about the viruses, new technologies and new tactics to reach the most vulnerable communities have consigned it to history.* This is only the second time that a human disease has been completely wiped out; the previous instance was smallpox in 1979.*
A drug to prevent obesity
that lets people eat whatever they want without gaining weight is being developed.* This works by tricking the body into reacting as though it has already consumed a meal. Though initially expensive, there is enormous demand for this product, leading to a rapid fall in obesity levels throughout much of the world – especially in countries like the US, which until now had been experiencing a crisis in this regard. Average life expectancy is increased as a result, since there are less people dying of heart-related illnesses.
opens in London
development since 1974, Crossrail is finally opened this year.
One of Europe's largest ever transport projects, this boosts London's subway capacity
by over 10%, bringing huge regenerative benefits.
is 120 km in length (including 42 km of tunnels) and runs from Berkshire
in the west, to Essex in the east, linking together all the main
economic hubs in the capital – Heathrow Airport, the West End, the City
of London and Canary Wharf. Ten-coach trains, 200 metres long, run at
frequencies of 24 trains per hour in each direction during peak periods.
planned schedule was for the first trains to run in 2017. A Comprehensive Spending Review in 2010 – saving over £1bn of the £16bn
projected costs – meant that the first trains to run on the central
section would be delayed until 2018.*
The Transbay Transit Center is completed in San Francisco
The population of California has continued to grow and grow. This has created some of the worst urban traffic problems in America. One of the places most badly affected has been the San Francisco Bay Area.
The main transport hub in downtown San Francisco had since 1939 been the original Transbay Terminal, located in the South of Market Neighborhood near the Financial District. In 2010, however, to address increasing stresses on the transportation system, this old station was demolished to make way for a new, high-tech development – something which had been in planning since the 1960s.
Demolition began in 2010, with a temporary station built to handle traffic over the seven year construction period. The first phase of the $4bn project would be completed in 2017. This would include a five storey, 1,400 foot long, million square foot transit centre, complete with numerous bus terminals, each with ramps connecting the stations to a new off-site bus storage facility and the nearby Oakland Bay Bridge. A 5.4 acre park would be included on top of the transit centre. The highly efficient re-design of the bus ramp system opened up parcels of land for a series of buildings which – together with the transit terminal – would make up San Francisco's grand urban renewal project. This part of the project would cover 40 acres and consist of townhouses, low to mid-rise buildings and skyscrapers, along with parks and recreation, overall providing 2,600 new homes, three million square feet of office space and over 100,000 square feet of retail space. The centrepiece of this development is the Transit Tower. Soaring to over 1,000 feet, it is among the tallest towers on the American West Coast, second only to the Wilshire Grand Center in Los Angeles.
The second and final phase – completed in 2018* – is the Downtown Rail Extension. This 1.3 mile long, primarily underground rail line connects the California commuter rail line, Caltrain, to downtown San Francisco, linking the city to the Peninsula, San Jose and Silicon Valley. This major extension opens the doors for new jobs and very rapid commutes in and out of the city. It is also made to accommodate the future California High Speed Rail Line. Overall, the project connects Caltrain, Greyhound, Golden Gate Transit, Muni, SamTrams, AC Transit, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), WestCAT and Amtrak.
The development is designed with the environment in mind, too. Its open design allows for natural light, low-energy ventilation and passive cooling. LED lights are used extensively, while many buildings including the Transit Tower are outfitted with wind turbines. Another key feature is that the entire development is built to withstand earthquakes; a likely possibility in the Bay Area.
Once completed, the Transbay Transit Center helps to accommodate the rapidly growing population of California – predicted to rise from 37 million in 2010, to 51 million by 2030.*
Many complex surgeries are performed by robots
Basic robotic surgeons have been around since the 1990s. In the first decade of the 21st century, they remained uncommon and relatively simple, though high-end companies began to develop their own more advanced models.*
Surgeries were divided between supervisory-controlled systems, telesurgical systems and shared-control systems. Supervisory-controlled systems were the most automated – requiring a human only to input directional data, and to supervise the operation to take control if anything went wrong. Shared-control systems were the least automated, in which human surgeons were physically present and did most of the work, but were aided by robots.
Though yet to become widespread, many large hospitals and universities had their own automated systems in place by 2010. Continued tests and trials of these machines greatly improved their accuracy and reliability. The growing number of successful surgeries made patients more willing to trust in robotic procedures.
By the mid-2010s, many cardiothoracic, gastrointestinal and orthopaedic surgeries could be handled almost entirely by remote-controlled robots. By 2018, the majority of large hospitals in the developed world use a robotic surgeon on at least a semi-regular basis. South Korea in particular is leading the way in this field, with almost every hospital in the nation using them routinely.* The latest models feature improved dexterity and multitasking, high quality incision tools and higher levels of automation. New ultra-small cameras are also in use, giving controllers an extreme close-up view of the operation.*
Previously, it could take a dozen surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses to perform surgeries, with even more for certain complex procedures. Now, robots can remove some or all of this burden, performing the jobs of several different specialists at once and working around the clock without tiring.* Surgeries in 2018 often consist of just one or two human supervisors overseeing a robot's work. In the long run, this helps to reduce health costs. Additionally, robots offer much higher precision than humans, so patients are able to leave the operating table with less collateral trauma.
Telesurgery is now being looked into as a way for doctors to conduct surgeries over long distances. This could allow a specialist surgeon in England to operate on a patient in Australia for example, using only remote-controlled robots. However, issues with latency will delay this practice from entering the mainstream for a while yet.
Despite being another profession threatened by automation, hospital surgery remains a primarily human undertaking for now. Robotic operations are still in their infancy, requiring the presence and supervision of doctors and other personnel. It will be a long time before human medics are made entirely redundant by this technology.
The NHS begins high-energy proton therapy in England
High-energy proton beam therapy is a revolutionary form of cancer treatment offering greater precision with fewer side effects. The concept was first described and theorised in 1946, but it took more than 40 years before the first hospital-based proton therapies were brought online and even then, these were limited to low-energy cyclotrons for only a small number of patients. However, the early 21st century saw major progress in the research, development and deployment of high-energy proton beam therapy. By 2015, the USA was home to nearly 20 treatment centres, with many more in countries around the world.
The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK had been sending patients abroad, mostly to the USA, at an average cost of £100,000 per case. The vast majority of these were children. As the number of these operations was increasing rapidly – and with only a single, low-energy proton beam facility available in the country – the British government announced £250 million in funding for two advanced radiotherapy centres, in London and Manchester. These would offer high-energy proton beam therapy to NHS patients in England, starting in 2018.
Public opinion of this treatment received a major boost in 2016, after the publication of a study in The Lancet, confirming that it was indeed safer than conventional X-ray radiotherapy.* Better precision allowed the beams to deposit most of their energy in the final stage of their journey, reducing the risk of damage to tissue surrounding the tumour – thus allowing higher treatment doses with fewer side effects.*
Enterprise-grade SSDs reach 128TB of capacity
Solid state drives (SSDs) have recently begun to overtake spinning drives in terms of storage capacity.* The largest of the enterprise-grade models are now reaching 128TB of capacity, with conventional HDDs lagging further behind. The gap between these storage methods will continue to accelerate as flash memory and similar technologies reach unprecedented densities in the 2020s.* The demand for consumer versions is being driven by rapid growth in 4K video adoption, enormous video game file sizes and other data-hungry applications.
devices with 100 Gbit/s transfer speeds
A new form
of data transfer has recently become available for the consumer market. This is known
as "Thunderbolt" and replaces the Universal Serial Bus
(USB) leads which have been the standard for many years. The USB
3.0 specification allowed transfer speeds of 4.8 Gbit/s. An early version
of Thunderbolt (codenamed "Light Peak") achieved 10 Gbit/s. This latest version, however, can
achieve 100 Gbit/s – enough to transfer an entire Blu-ray movie in just three seconds.* Optical
technology used in Thunderbolt also allows smaller connectors with longer,
thinner and more flexible cables. Additionally, it can run multiple protocols
simultaneously over a single cable, enabling the technology to connect
devices such as peripherals, workstations, displays, disk drives, docking
stations and more.
Recent advances in time-of-flight (ToF) systems, based on extra long wavelengths, have enabled 3D scans to be obtained from up to a kilometre away using handheld devices. This range will soon be extended to 10 kilometres, with millimetre accuracy. Applications include the scanning of static, man-made targets such as vehicles, identification of objects hidden behind foliage, remote examination of the health and volume of vegetation and the movement of rock faces to assess hazards.* This is adding to privacy concerns over the explosion of security and surveillance emerging at this time.
Credit: Optics Express
drill into Earth's mantle
In 2018, the
first successful attempt is made to retrieve samples from Earth's mantle, the part of the planet that lies between the crust and the outer core.
What was once considered science fiction has now become possible
thanks to advances in drilling technology.*
takes place in the Pacific, where the crust is much thinner, but still
requires burrowing through some five miles (eight kilometres) of solid
rock. Temperatures range from 500-900°C (932-1,652°F) at the
upper boundary with the crust, while pressures exceed 4 million pounds
per square foot (21 million kilograms per sq m). Seawater is
pumped down into the hole at sufficient pressure that samples can be
forced back up to the surface.
little has been known about the mantle, since the only samples to arrive
at the surface have come from volcanoes or ancient mountain belts. Now
for the first time, scientists can analyse "pure" extracts
directly from the mantle, untainted by time or geological
processes. This data reveals much about Earth's origins and early history.
In addition, it provides insight into how current mantle processes operate: highly important in understanding the plate tectonics which drive
earthquakes, tsunamis and eruptions.
life is also discovered at previously unexplored depths within the lower
crust. These new forms of extremophile bacteria are found to survive
at extraordinarily high temperatures
– increasing the probability of
alien life elsewhere in the universe.
The first Hyperloop track is open to the public
Hyperloop is a new form of transportation, in which pressurised capsules are shot through reduced-pressure tubes at extremely high speeds that are much faster than conventional train lines. The capsules ride on air cushions driven by linear induction motors and air compressors, able to reach upwards of 750mph (1,200km/h). Originally put forward by entrepreneur Elon Musk, the concept was explicitly open-sourced, with others encouraged to take the ideas and to further develop them. To that end, several companies were formed, along with teams of students working to advance the technology.
Designs for test tracks and capsules resulted in a full-scale prototype 5-mile (8 km) track. This was built by Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) around Quay Valley, a new 75,000-resident community situated halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.* In addition to featuring the new Hyperloop system, this town would also be solar powered. Following two years of construction work and testing, the first route is opened to the public during 2018.** While initially something of a novelty, Hyperloop sees more widespread adoption in the decades ahead, as the full economic and technological benefits are realised. For example, travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco becomes possible in less than 30 minutes. Towards the end of the century, vactrains reaching thousands of miles per hour are commonplace throughout much of the world, forming a global network.*
28 "In truth, in this case it is about five years [away from a vaccine]. We have the know-how, we know what needs to be in the vaccine and we can just get on and do it."
Scientists take big step towards universal flu vaccine, BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24175030
Accessed 28th September 2013.