milestone is reached in the field of artificial intelligence this year, as a computer
passes the Turing Test for the first time.** This test is conducted by a human judge who is made to engage in a natural
language conversation with one human and one machine, each of which
tries to appear human. The participants are placed in isolated locations.
Information technology has seen exponential growth for decades. This has led to vast improvements in memory, processing power, software algorithms, voice recognition and overall machine intelligence. It has now reached the stage where an independent judge is
literally unable to tell which is the real human and which is not.* Answers
to certain "obscure" questions posed by the judge may appear
childlike from the AI – but they are humanlike nonetheless.*
automation of supermarkets and retail environments
nations, the majority of retail environments are now cashless. Automated
systems have made it possible for customers to shop with little or no
physical interaction with a checkout.
simply "scanned" as they pass out of the door. The customer
is identified by a chip in their card, or with a prepayment transponder
obtained from a vending machine outside the store. Transactions are
then generated over the Internet. This
system greatly saves time, improves security and reduces costs for the
retailer by eliminating the need for checkout staff.
can also utilise Augmented Reality, to quickly locate shop items. A
list on their mobile phone can direct them to the appropriate aisle
and shelf. Users can also make use of glasses with displays built into
advertising is widespread
adverts – similar in style to those seen in the film Minority Report – are becoming widespread by the end of this decade.** Microsensors embedded in posters and other outdoor media can identify
people by the chips in their mobile phone, credit card and other personal
effects. These adverts are then customised depending on the interests
and lifestyle of the person in question.
ultrasonic beams – targeted to intersect at specific points – deliver
a localised sound message that only a single person can hear. This means
that even in crowded situations, the adverts can be made personal and
campaigners decry the use of such technology, given the anxiety and
paranoia resulting from such marketing tactics; but the demands of business
Global reserves of silver are running out
Silver is a precious metal which has been used by humans for thousands of years in currency, jewelry and sculpture. In modern times it has a range of applications including dental fillings, mirrors, nuclear reactors, photographic film, solar reflectors and solder, along with alloys to make silverware, ornaments and the like. Due to its high conductivity (the highest of any metal) silver is useful in electronic devices such as radios, antennas, computer keyboards and audio equipment, as well as wires and cables. As most silver ions are toxic to microbes, silver is also used in bandages and medical coatings.
Silver has long been a high value commodity, often used for investment and even as the base for entire economies. Mines were once found throughout the world, though the bulk was extracted in China and Poland. Between 1900 and the early 2000s, silver ores as a percentage of geologic formations declined by over 80%. New mine deposit discoveries peaked in the mid-1980s, with average annual discoveries declining over 60% between then and 2011.* By the late 2020s, reserves have reached critically low levels,** causing a high degree of economic disruption and loss of investment. Prices have skyrocketed, driving demand for alternative materials.
In some applications, silver is able to be replaced by aluminum, copper and rhodium, but the lower conductivity necessitates new refinement techniques. Thankfully, recycling is proving effective enough to keep the supply somewhat stable for a few more decades,* though demand continues to outpace availability.
Chad disappears from the map
19th century, Lake Chad was among the largest lakes in the world. It
supported a vast ecosystem of fish, waterfowl, crocodiles, shore birds
and other animals. Due to
a combination of drought, irrigation and human activity, it has
disappeared entirely by now.* This
is having a devastating impact on Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon
– with 30 million people depending on the lake for agriculture,
drinking water, livestock, fishing and other purposes. Famine and civil war have erupted as huge numbers
of refugees attempt to flee the region.
Madagascar's radiated tortoise is extinct in the wild
Years of unmitigated hunting and loss of habitat, as well as capture for the illegal exotic pet trade, have caused the wild population of the radiated tortoise to dwindle to almost nothing.* Like over 80% of the island's flora and fauna, the radiated tortoise can be found nowhere else on Earth naturally.
The government of Madagascar attempted to halt the decline by introducing a series of protection laws. Unfortunately, the size of the island's wildlife areas and poor economic conditions meant these restrictions were all but ignored. Even protected areas were invaded by poachers. Surveys in the 2010s revealed a shocking decline in the number of tortoises. The breeding population quickly shrunk throughout the 2020s.
Though there is hope of future repopulation using those bred in captivity, the shrinking habitats they once occupied make this prospect unlikely. In another 15 years or so, almost all of Madagascar's forests will be gone.*
Phase 1 of the California High-Speed Rail line is complete
The California High-Speed Rail line is a major transportation project to modernise the rail routes on the west coast of the United States, making them fit for the 21st century. It connects Los Angeles to San Francisco, with trains running at speeds of up to 200 miles per hour (320 km/h), enabling journeys between the two cities in under three hours. Plans for a high-speed rail system linking Northern and Southern California were proposed by Governor Jerry Brown in the 1980s, but it took until 2008 for funding to be approved by voters. Even then, criticism remained over the budget, feasibility, legal, environmental and other issues. Covering 800 miles and 24 stations, the total cost would amount to over $68 billion.
A ground-breaking ceremony for the project was held in January 2015.* Construction would proceed in various segments. The initial 130-mile (209 km) stretch from Fresno to Bakersfield in the Central Valley would open in 2022, followed by several other sections, leading to Phase 1 completion in 2029.* This would be followed by Phase 2, consisting of two extensions: a 110 mile (177 km) route from Sacramento to Merced and a 167 mile (269 km) route from Los Angeles to San Diego. Over a 58 year period (from the start of operations in 2022 through 2080), the system reduces auto travel on the state's highways and roads by over 400 billion miles; a significant reduction in air pollution and carbon emissions for the region. Other benefits include the creation of 450,000 permanent jobs through the new commuters using the system.
Alongside the California High-Speed rail line is a private venture known as XpressWest (formerly DesertXpress) that aims to build a high-speed route from Victorville to Las Vegas. Other rail projects are now taking shape across the USA. On the other side of the country, the Washington to Newark section of the Northeast Corridor route is nearing completion.*
The first sightings of a Great Red Spot on Jupiter were made in the 1660s by Robert Hooke and Giovanni Cassini. This feature – a monstrous, anticyclonic storm – was not studied in detail until the late 19th century. At that time, its diameter was found to be around 25,500 miles (41,000 km), large enough to swallow three entire planet Earths.
On 25th February 1979, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft returned close-range photos of the planet. These revealed that its Great Red Spot had shrunk to 14,500 miles (23,335 km). Later studies by the Hubble Space Telescope, from the 1990s onwards, revealed that it was continuing to get smaller in size. By 2012, the rate of shrinkage was nearly 1000 kilometres per year and increasing. It was theorised that small eddies, observed feeding into the storm, were accelerating this change by altering the internal dynamics. The raging winds in this turbulent region were measured to be 384 mph (618 km/h), greatly surpassing even the strongest hurricanes on Earth.
Another space probe – Juno – orbited the gas giant in 2016. This provided a greater understanding of the atmospheric composition, cloud motions, temperature, magnetosphere, gravity and other properties affecting the overall dynamics of Jupiter. Once again, the Great Red Spot was seen shrinking and losing momentum. This process would continue into the following decade. By the end of the 2020s, it has vanished entirely.** Yet another probe, Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE), arrives in 2030, just after its disappearance.
wreck of the Titanic has decomposed
late 2020s, the famous wreck of the Titanic has been reduced to a mere
rust patch. Metal-eating bacteria have dissolved what remains of the
once mighty structure. Though some artifacts were salvageable, any hope
of recovering the ship itself is now gone.*
We will have entities by 2030 that seem to be conscious, and that will
claim to have feelings. We have entities today, like characters in your
kids' video games, that can make that claim, but they are not very convincing.
If you run into a character in a video game and it talks about its feelings,
you know it's just a machine simulation; you're not convinced that it's
a real person there. This is because that entity, which is a software
entity, is still a million times simpler than the human brain.
that won't be the case. Say you encounter another person in virtual reality
that looks just like a human but there's actually no biological human
behind it – it's completely an AI projecting a human-like figure in virtual
reality, or even a human-like image in real reality using an android robotic
technology. These entities will seem human. They won't be a million times
simpler than humans. They'll be as complex as humans. They'll have all
the subtle cues of being humans. They'll be able to sit here and be interviewed
and be just as convincing as a human, just as complex, just as interesting.
And when they claim to have been angry or happy it'll be just as convincing
as when another human makes those claims.
At this point,
it becomes a really deeply philosophical issue. Is that just a very clever
simulation that's good enough to trick you, or is it really conscious
in the way that we assume other people are?"
4 Kurzweil's prediction is controversial, with many believing it to be rather
optimistic. However, he has an impressive
track record of predictions – correctly forecasting the collapse of the
Soviet Union, the rise of the Internet, the completion of the Human Genome
Project, and the date when a computer would beat a human chess player.