My previous blog was on retrospective predictions. Of course there’s selection bias but I tried to make sure that I picked at least a few that I did terribly with. This blog is prospective. Future looking. As of March 5, 2021.
I crowd sourced some questions. If you have any more, leave them in the comments and I’ll add them, with the appropriate dates and commentary. In a year or so I’ll do another fresh blog and grade myself.
Nuclear fusion propulsion is probably necessary for human travel to the outer solar system or other stars. It might work a bit like inertial confinement fusion but compact enough to fit on some sort of spaceship. The advantage is relatively high thrust and very high exhaust velocity, which provides enough delta V to really go somewhere. The disadvantage is that the tech is very immature, poorly understood, underfunded, and, for the moment, unneeded. I can see routine Earth-Mars-Earth flights pushing toward fission thermal propulsion, but fusion… maybe 2050 at the earliest?
Commercial transatlantic electric flight – this might never happen. I’m increasingly convinced that synthetic fuels will have better cost and energy characteristics than batteries, for trans-oceanic flights. On current trends, electric aircraft could probably fly that distance (perhaps with a stop in Iceland) by the late 2030s, but that’s a long time away.
Driverless cars are closer than most people think. Within 5 years for sure.
Asteroid mining operation. Strongly depends on if Blue Origin gets its act together. I don’t think SpaceX is interested in non-planetary objectives, unless they’re very incidental. I’m also pretty skeptical about the value of asteroid mining. For nearly any mineral in an asteroid, there is more within a day’s walk (including vertically) in the Earth’s crust, nearly anywhere on Earth. There’s just a lot more material in just the crust than the whole asteroid belt combined.
First offworld live human birth – 2032. Offworld combat fatality – hopefully never.
2026, public private partnership between SpaceX, NASA and other commercial partners, and friendly foreign space agencies. Almost all the engineering work, on a per tonne delivered basis, will be done in Los Angeles and Texas.
Human Mars landing – I’m hoping for 2028. If not by 2032 then something has gone horribly wrong.
Lunar ISRU demonstration – shortly after permanent presence established. Will most likely be in the form of bulldozing regolith around to provide shielding. I’m reasonably sure that water importation will be cheaper than mining for a long time, let alone other minerals.
I think this is a question about crypto, but it’s worth noting that most transactions in the developed world are already digitally mediated, via credit cards or whatever. So the question might be better oriented towards the end of cash as legal tender in the US, which I don’t think will happen for a very very long time.
If this is going to happen, it had better happen soon. None of the OECD have neighbor-caused water shortage problems, and most of the traditionally dry ones (Mexico, Australia) will be the first to industrialize solar PV-powered desalination, at prices cheap enough to irrigate pasture, probably in the late 2030s.
I don’t think/hope the Olympics will be cancelled this year. I think US will be post scarcity in vaccines by the end of April 2021, and the IOC will be able to provision vaccines for all the athletes as well as any non-local spectators, plus testing and contact tracing on arrival. Compared to a year ago, the situation is greatly improved.
Electric vehicle market take over is hard to predict in terms of timing and factors that affect fleet retirement, but I’d guess 2026 for 50% of new vehicle sales being electric, and maybe 2034 for 50% of overall fleet.
Scotland split? I’m largely Welsh, Scottish and Irish in ancestry and part of me recognizes that these were the original colonies of the English empire, but I’m far from convinced that drawing more lines on a map solves any problems.
Mars base – starting 2028 with people, 2030s things should be very much underway. By 2034 all core Mars survival technologies should be localized.
SLS – will never fly humans. Cancellation date – hopefully next week.
MSR is looking like roughly 2030, it’s a multi year mission. Hopefully those tubes should be safely back here by 2032. Of course, if SpaceX’s future pans out hopefully we’ll have a lot more than that by then. Bring back 50 T of randomly selected rocks and put a big one in the entrance hall of every middle school.
ISS fate: I suspect a commercial entity will take it off NASA’s hands, at a steep discount. Like $1. Pieces of it will be cut loose and splashed. If there is going to be a bigger better space station in the 2030s, we’d better start building it soon. See my blog on space stations and their potential future utility.
Starship first orbital flight: 2022. First orbital reflight, late 2022.
Vulcan – not sure. Mid 2022 I’d say.
New Glenn. 2023 first orbital flight. Good chance first flight or two are a bit iffy. I hope booster recovery works out. Not sure New Glenn is big enough to be useful.
Europa Clipper/JWST are, I think, currently close to whatever the latest schedule says. I hope JWST is commissioned by mid 2022 without any drama. I predict Clipper will launch on Falcon Heavy, possibly FH’s last ever flight. I predict FH will fly at most 4 more times before retirement in favor of Starship.
US power to be majority (>50%) solar/wind/batteries: 2029. World: 2034.
First commercial flights on electric plane have already occurred. The Pipistrel Alpha Electro is an electric trainer that is fully certified.
Haha, or Venus. I think a dedicated, Cassini or Clipper-like robotic mission is pretty unlikely until the dust settles from Starship. There is a potential fly by mission to Triton which is pretty cool though.
Between 2024 and 2026. Oil drillers, pack your things.
Current trends suggest about 2040 until very few people live in poverty. This is pretty different from nearly everyone living in abundance, though, so work remains to be done.
I assume this means something like Skylon. I’m not holding my breath. I am pretty convinced that the two stage model embodied by Starship is much more effective.
I predict Mars base will have fuel plant and crap loads of solar power. Can’t do anything if basic infrastructure is scarce. I also predict that human factors will not prove to be show stoppers.
That’s it for now. I’ll take more questions!
3/6/2021 more questions from Filip (in the comments).
1. First AGI?
No idea. 2050 maybe?
2. Robots making meals at home that are just as accessible as Roomba?
No idea. More likely to see them in food processing plants with end user heating, which is basically what already happens.
3. Discovering other intelligent life out there?
No idea. I think in the next two decades we’ll be able to survey potential incoming signals more or less comprehensively, then it’s just a matter of waiting.
4. Million implanted Neuralinks.
2040. Wild guess.
5. First person living 150 and 200 years respectively.
No idea. I suspect major aging-related breakthroughs will happen in the next two decades, but it will then take a while for people to get that old.
6. First commercial E2E Starship.
2027. Not convinced it will be a wild success, though. Too noisy.
7. First commercial fusion reactor (>500MW)
Probably never. PV has won.
8. First cloned human.
Probably already alive. Aside from identical twins, of course.
9. Million people on Mars (I read your book, do you still hold the same dates?)
I think in the book I had 2040 as a very optimistic, but still possible date. Let’s keep the optimism.
10. Singularity (I know, it ties to the first one, but the question is more whether you believe in it in a Kurzweilian sense, that AGI can be replicated on silicon).
Yes, I think brains are Turing machines (or close enough). Yes, I think silicon-based hardware is capable of human level intelligence. I think the software is much more complicated but, in principle, a solvable problem. I don’t think we’ll have any insight into AGI in silicon, it will be more alien than dolphins or octopuses. I don’t really buy the Kurzweil Singularity propaganda.