Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell


Posted from Culver City, California at 8:00 pm, October 24th, 2012

Despite being horrid at it, journal entries that make predictions about the future are some of my favorites to write. Thus, in keeping with a long and embarrassing tradition of ignoring better judgment and making uninformed guesses about the future, here are some thoughts about trends that might develop over the next twenty years.

To provide some perspective, think back twenty years to 1992. At that time most people didn’t know what the internet was. Pagers were the best way of contacting someone and cell phones were still almost a decade away from becoming ubiquitious. CGI was still a rarity in film, and it would be another year before Jurassic Park would stun the world with dinosaurs that were not filmed using robots or stop motion. Global warming was still an obscure theory that only a handful of climate scientists (and Al Gore) had even heard about. Even though predictions about today’s world made in 1992 would have likely been as wrong as the flying car and nuclear-powered dishwasher predictions made in 1950s science magazines, it’s still fun to make an attempt to speculate on developments over the next twenty years.


Two specific developments might vastly change energy: batteries and decentralized power generation. Currently energy can be generated, but it is hugely difficult to store efficiently and thus must be used immediately. With batteries becoming approximately eight percent more efficient each year, and assuming my math is correct, in twenty years they’ll be about five times more efficient and likely significantly cheaper. Today’s best batteries can power a car for 300 miles, so in twenty years that same battery would theoretically allow 1500 miles of range; with that kind of storage almost all non-electric motors (which are less efficient) would become obsolete, and more generally energy would move from something that must be produced on-demand into an entirely new paradigm. In addition, renewable sources like solar are also improving rapidly. Today, in places with lots of sun, solar is cost-competitive with grid electricity. Assuming a 4-5x improvement in the next two decades, combined with efficient batteries that can store energy for usage when the sun isn’t shining, and suddenly it would be more economical for individual households and businesses to have solar panels than to not have them. If that happens then usage of decentralized power skyrockets, and reliance on huge, centralized coal, oil and gas power plants (and the corresponding pollution they generate) diminishes greatly. As a wildcard, at some point (be it in ten years or a hundred) research into fusion and superconductors will yield breakthroughs that will result in essentially limitless, super-cheap, pollution-free energy.


Bionics is something that sounds scary until you realize it is already happening. Today people think nothing of pacemakers or hearing aids, and almost everyone has a cell phone that they carry at all times to keep connected to everyone else. The process of melding humans and machines is already well underway, and will only continue. In the next twenty years technology will probably become available to make bionics even more personal, including capabilities such as the ability to project a screen directly onto the retina, thus moving the functionality of a cell phone from a device in your hand to something that is actually inside of your head. With increased processing and networking speeds, having an infinite amount of data about the world projected directly into your field of vision will no doubt revolutionize how people interract with one another.

“Thinking” computers

When a person is trying to solve a problem they gather all available information, analyze it, weigh things appropriately, and then make a choice. If that choice turns out to be incorrect they can gather more data, change how existing data is weighed, or otherwise modify their thinking to make a better decision. Currently computers are far better than humans when it comes to analyzing input given a specific set of rules and data, but they aren’t good at modifying those rules or gathering more data; that’s going to change at some point in the future, and when computers can begin analyzing and solving complex problems it will have massive repercussions for quickly advancing knowledge in fields ranging from economics to politics, and especially in all facets of scientific research.

Medical advances

People often lament that medicine hasn’t cured any major disease since eradicating polio, but the medical field may be on the verge of huge advances using stem cells, or cells with properties similar to stem cells. Today if you have nerve damage (such as a spinal cord injury) there is little or nothing that can be done about it, but stem cells offer the potential to simply use your body’s existing genetic blueprints to “fix” the damage. Similar processes could be possible for creating new tissues, thus eliminating the need for organ or blood donations. These breakthroughs would affect all manner of other health and medical issues, so assuming the technology continues to advance, everything from joint pain to amputation could become as anachronous as polio is today.

5 responses to “2032”

    1. I don’t think the technology that will allow you to throw footballs 200 yards will be available until 2052. When you are 72. But if you want we can smash some things when I come home for Thanksgiving.

  1. I am 45 and my daughter is 12. We were having a discussion about your ‘bionics’ issue just last weekend. She is glued to her cell phone and I told her one of these days she will probably just have a cell phone – in some sort of chip form, I imagined – implanted in her brain. But then I speculated that it would be hard to see who was calling you, and she said ‘no, it will show up in your eye.’ The whole idea creeps me out, but she sees it as the next logical step, and an improvement over having to carry one around. I suspect you and she are visionaries, and that you are right, it is coming, but that makes a huge part of me want to become one of those wild-eyed hermits in the middle of the Montana wilderness ranting about the evils of technology. 🙂

    I enjoy your ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  2. It seems like you have you put a lot of money in battery/solar related stocks 🙂
    I really enjoy your predictions though. They are very insightful.

    1. I think picking a winner among the current solar / battery / energy stocks is like trying to pick a winner back in the early PC days – you knew a few of them would take over the world, but no one really knew if Dell or Commodore was a better investment. In this case, the trends seem (to me) pretty clear that things are moving in a particular direction, but I couldn’t tell you if SolarCity, Tesla, or A123 will be bankrupt or worth $100 billion in ten years time. Holliday IT Services, however, will be around for the long haul.

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