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5 Scientific Advancements Happening Right Now That Will Change the Future
We are living in a fascinating time, stuck somewhere between the industrialized world of the past two centuries and the technological world of the future. We’re facing grave crises, especially related to our changing climate. An increase in global temperature of 4 to 6 degrees will cause much of the Earth to become uninhabitable within the next century unless we stop it. Scientists are currently working on breakthroughs in the fields of renewable energy, consumer technology, and biology that will have such far-reaching effects, it’s hard to know what the world will look like in 20 years. Will we create the greatest inventions ever known to man, or will we destroy ourselves first? We’re probably going to find out within our lifetime. Here are five scientific advancements happening right now that are going to change the future.
CRISPR is basically an edit button for DNA. It uses naturally-occurring processes in bacterial enzymes to permanently modify the DNA of living organisms, and it may soon be the cure to cancer. Two groups developed CRISPR independently four years ago, and human trials are starting for the first time this year. 18 cancer patients will be treated with cells genetically engineered to fight cancer, and hopefully they’ll inspire their cells to go find tumors and attack them. So far, CRISPR has a perfect success rate in non-human tests. We will probably see new treatments for cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, anemia, and cystic fibrosis within the next five to 10 years. We may, within our lifetimes, see a world where genetic disease is obsolete.
2. In vitro meat
Factory farming is one of the leading causes of global warming and pollution. There’s enough food to feed everyone on earth, but it’s distributed wrong, and a lot of it is being fed to factory farm animals. It’s far less efficient to feed plants to animals and then eat the animals than to just eat the plants ourselves. It takes 16 calories of grain to produce one calorie of beef. So how do we end the environmental scourge that is factory farming when demand for meat is still so high around the world? Scientists have been working for years on in-vitro meat, or meat grown without killing animals. In 2013, Maastricht University researcher Mark Post successfully created in vitro meat… at the cost of $325,000 a burger. The challenge ever since has been to lower the cost of production to rival the cost of factory farmed meat, and that’s tough because our current tax system subsidizes the meat and dairy industries, artificially lowering the price of animal products. But after years of research, we’re finally getting close. By 2015 the price had fallen to about $11 per burger, and a recent taste test put on by company Memphis Meats was a success. They claim their meat requires “less than a tenth of the land and water and less than half of the energy” than conventional (slaughtered) meat. The next challenges involve producing in-vitro meat in high enough quantities, and convincing people to eat it. But in 20 years or so, in-vitro meat may be what GMO vegetables are now — a fact of life that most people don’t even consider. And it may just save our planet.
Blockchain is, to put it simply, the thing that will make online currencies truly useful. Blockchain makes hacking online currency basically impossible, eliminating the greatest threat towards currencies like Bitcoin. Blockchain users all have a giant (digital, duh) spreadsheet detailing the numbers of every transaction using Blockchain, so a hacker would need to be able to hack into every single Blockchain user simultaneously, which just isn’t possible. This may finally end the hegemony of the US dollar and move the world towards global digital currencies, and we have little idea what the ramifications will be, positive or negative.
4. The Tesla batteries
Tesla announced last week that they are building the world’s largest battery system to store renewable energy. The first battery will be paired with a wind farm in Australia, and is intended to make renewable energy feasible on a large scale. Storage is the main technical problem keeping the world from changing over from fossil fuels to solar and wind power, and with these giant lithium iron battery systems, we could actually switch over our global power use to renewable energy. South Australia is aiming to generate half of their electricity from renewable sources within the next eight years, and we may see the experiment spread across the world soon. Tesla is also pioneering batteries for the home, which may allow people to exclusively use their own solar panels and disconnect from the power grid completely. Traditional utility companies are terrified, but the future of our planet may rest on solar and wind power’s success.
5. Driverless cars
Driverless cars are going to happen, and sooner than you think. Ford aims to release its first fully self-driving car by 2021. Billions of dollars are currently being put into developing driverless trucks that will likely hit the highways within 10 years. And this is no novelty — it’s technology that will completely reshape our economy, and we have no idea how. Driverless cars will save tens of thousands of lives lost every year in auto accidents due to human failure. Driverless trucks will put millions of truckers out of work. The trucking jobs that remain will become more technology-driven and white collar, and thus shut out the non-college-educated people who currently dominate the truck driving business. What will those truckers do once their jobs become automated? Will industrialized nations start embracing universal basic income? Nobody knows, but we’re all going to find out fairly soon.