March 15, 2004

The Next Ten Years: Some Speculations

Since the name of this blog is "The Speculist," perhaps I should offer some speculations from time to time. Feel free to comment on why you agree or disagree with any of this.

In the next ten years:

  • Carbon nanotubes become available in commercial quantities. They are placed in homes, cars, cables for bridges, skyscrapers. They are woven into fabric to make them bullet resistant.

  • NASA begins to plan seriously for a space elevator. An equatorial island is quietly acquired for this purpose. We return to the moon using proven Saturn V type rockets. It will be the last major NASA initiative to use rocket technology to launch from earth.

  • Scientists perfect methods of obtaining stem cells from adult humans without having to create and destroy an embryo. Scientists testify before Congress that it is critical that all Americans have stem cells banked. Democrats push for universal stem cell banking. Republicans say it will bankrupt the country and that private health insurance should help cover the cost. Health Insurance companies are of two minds. Some wait for Congress to act, others begin partially subsidizing the banking. Wealthier Americans begin banking stem cells at their own expense. Cost in the initial year is $50,000. The half-life of this cost is one year in the beginning, but the half-life itself has a half-life. By year five it costs about $100. This lower price ends the political controversy and the Universal Stem Cell Banking Act passes with a veto-proof majority. The President signs the bill calling it a giant leap forward.

  • As stem cell banking reaches 90% compliance, stem cell medicine begins to snow ball. Hardly any area of medicine remains unchanged.

  • Another branch of medicine, Native Transplant, allows scientists to grow organs from a patient's own stem cells for later transplant within the body. As a result, the field of artificial organs is basically shelved for a few years.

  • Artificial blood is perfected. Patients who have lost the ability to produce blood are now given permanent blood replacement. These patients find that the artificial blood is superior. The medical community begins discussing the idea of blood replacement within healthy individuals as an elective procedure.

  • A once-a-day oral medication that limits absorption from the digestive tract aids the battle against obesity. It quickly becomes the most prescribed medication in the history of the country. Some predict that exercise will be abandoned in favor of pill-popping. The opposite happens as Americans get out and enjoy their healthier bodies.

  • Drugs that aid the sexual performance of both men and women continue to be refined.

  • Artificial Photosynthesis devices are developed that use solar energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen and provide fuel for both building and automotive fuel cells. Initially they are expensive and inefficient. But as costs come down and efficiency rises they are quickly adopted. Many homeowners find that the electric company is paying them every month for excess power. These payments are reduced over time as electricity becomes cheaper and as electric companies fight politically for survival. After numerous shut-downs and restructuring, the surviving power companies begin to rebound.

  • The first tentative steps are taken toward life extension. By 2014, life extension enthusiasts have reason to believe that "escape velocity" has been reached in this field each year brings more than a year's improvement in life expectancy. Nevertheless, age reversal remains elusive.

Posted by Stephen Gordon at March 15, 2004 02:26 PM | TrackBack

You forgot your most important prognostication!!!

What does the Speculist predict for Da Goddess in the next 10 years?

Posted by: Da Goddess at March 15, 2004 03:18 PM

Da Goddess founds a new religion based on the worship of (wait for it)....Da Goddess!

The IRS investigate her tax exempt status, but the investigation is scuttled when the IRS agent joins the church.

Posted by: Stephen Gordon at March 15, 2004 03:49 PM


There is normally a $10,000 fee associated with individual predictions, but of course we don't apply that to divinities.

Here are a few of the high points in your future:

* True to your blog's motto, you will make a fortune by investing in the first company to produce carbon-nanotube-reinforced undergarments.

* You will donate a good deal of the proceeds to various worthy causes, and then spend the rest on a small Carribean Island, which you will buy outright and operate as a sole proprietorship/Queendom called Joanieland.

* When the inevitable Luddite/Buzzkill/Leon Kass backlash against progress occurs in the US, thousands of us will emigrate to Joanieland where we will find an atmosphere that welcomes our progressive and productive ways -- kind of like Galt's Gulch at the end of Atlas Shrugged, only nicer and with a better sense of humor.

* With the greatest geek minds on earth at its disposal, Joanieland will become the global leader in artificial intelligence, life extension, and molecular manufacturing. In fact, the first elevator into space will have its terminal point right in the middle of downtown Goddess City -- using the same carbon nanotubes to move people and goods to space as will be used to cross your heart, lift and separate, etc.

* With Joanieland recognized as the world's only economic hyper-hyper-power, the world will orgnaize into a single nation state, a constitutional monarchy, with you as its (pardon the expression) titular head.

And that's just next year!

Posted by: Phil at March 15, 2004 03:54 PM

I think the 10 year timeline is optimistic for both escape velocity in healthy life extension and the nanotubes - there's a lot of work to be done in both areas. My judgement is that we are considerably more than 3 business cycles away from either goal. For example, 20 years is a reasonable guess for most of the obvious goals in regenerative medicine.

Posted by: Reason at March 15, 2004 09:54 PM

Whether it takes 10 or 20 years (or longer) it's going to be a lot of fun watching it unfold. Exciting days lie ahead!

Posted by: Phil at March 15, 2004 10:35 PM

What of the robots ? Marshall Brain in his Robotic Nation predicts that in the next ten years quite a large part of population will lose their jobs due to emerging mainstream robotics.
Theres a whole bunch of evidence that this is already happening.

Posted by: kert at March 16, 2004 12:59 AM

On the subject of nanotube cables, check out this article:

Yarn spun from nanotubes

Posted by: Jesse at March 16, 2004 03:07 AM


You're probably right on the life extension "escape velocity" - I'm being very optimistic on that one. I do expect to see some real anti-aging treatment inside of a decade.

I'm going to stand by the marketable carbon nanotubes prediction. Have you read the article about pulling the 100 meter thread of carbon nanotubes from the furnace in the UK? -Stephen


Cashiers in discount and grocery stores are going away soon. This won't be robots so much as scanning technology.

Automotive assembly jobs are going away fast. We will lose those jobs to overseas production and greater automation. The UAW has priced themselves out of work.


Thanks for the yarn link. Very interesting, I hadn't seen that article. I was basing my prediction on the article I pointed Reason to above.

Posted by: Stephen Gordon at March 16, 2004 05:20 AM

Okay, well I guess I'm gonna have to bring this up. While nano is paving the way to life extensions and space elevators and all sorts of super-real wow-cool stuff, what about doing something about some of the less attractive elements of human life. Why don't we get the boys in the lab to work on... oh, how can I say this... eliminating our eliminations, our bodily waste, our need to sit on the can. When you think about it, boy, productivity would go way up. Or the work week could be cut in half. Talk about your life extensions; you would basically be doubling your time on Earth. It's similar to cutting that nasty 2-hour commute to 20 minutes or less. So unless someone can make a really good argument that doing this would somehow disrupt the global ecosystem or take away some great source of human pride, I really think we ought to get at least a few of our best nanotech eggheads thinking about it.

Posted by: blacknail at March 19, 2004 11:21 AM


Believe it or not, Ray Kurzweil brought up the subject of "elimination elimination" in his book "The Age of Spiritual Machines."

He proposed that as technology allows, people will elect to replace all or parts of their digestive system.

The replacement system could either allow the person to eat whatever amount of food they want without getting fat, or it could be designed to deliver maximum energy efficiency and little waste.

I suppose the system could potentially switch back and forth between efficiency and gluttony management modes as needed, but I'm afraid it would be impossible to do both at the same time because of the law of conservation of matter and energy.

The total quantity of matter and energy available in the universe is a fixed amount and never any more or less.

Posted by: Stephen Gordon at March 19, 2004 01:39 PM

So far, I'm liking the Queendom idea. However, this will only work with loyal subjects.

Any volunteers? I reward early takers well.

Posted by: Da Goddess at March 22, 2004 09:16 PM

Sign me up!

Posted by: Phil at March 22, 2004 09:48 PM
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