The Future Snuck In The Back Door

If you’re not the kind of obsessive geek I am, you might have missed that yesterday the first major accomplishment in de novo life extension through gene therapy got published. This project has been going on for a while, but up until yesterday, all therapies and attempted engineering have either caused cancer or other degenerative diseases, or just flat not worked in any significant way that’s applicable to humans, because they relied on flipping genetic switches that evolution flipped for us millions of years ago. Now, though, a one-shot gene therapy has been discovered that that successfully increases life-span and health-span by 13-25% in adult mice, and it’s a kind of therapy that humans can actually benefit from (i.e. it does something that our biology doesn’t already do for us).

Reading the (above linked) article late last night got me thinking along lines I’ve posted on before. We’ve all started saying things like “we’re living in the future” because we’ve now got toys that look (and sometimes act) like tricorders, and we have video conferencing and Internet access and other cool stuff, but the world around us often feels quite prosaic, if tumultuous and threatening. And, really, most of the stuff we look at as “new and shiny” are incremental, rather than revolutionary, improvements. They’re welcome and they’re fun, but do they really change the game all that much?

Well, last night I made a list of revolutionary developments in technology (and its applications), business, and science in the last four years. Some look minor, others are hard to wrap one’s head around. In no particular order, here they are:
Artificial Life — life forms invented from scratch by humans. One of the current application projects involves making biological computers.

Lab-grown organs (this first one is actually from 2006, but it’s still way cool) and printable organs

Vaccines manufactured in goat’s milk

Spider silk engineered into goat’s milk for enviro-friendly fibers and body armor.

DuPont begins the process of transitioning from petrochemicals to bio-engineered plastics and chemicals — This is one of a handful of big things that needs to happen to end the fossil fuel era. Details scattered throughout this lecture.

Private space tourist flightsNow open for business.

Private space flightSpaceX makes the first supply delivery to the international space station later this month.

Asteroid miningNow open for business. A moderate asteroid contains over a trillion dollars worth of Iron, Nickel, Gold, Platinum, Titanium, and Rare Earth elements (which won’t be rare once the payloads start arriving). The maturation of this industry means 1) Serious reductions in the costs of spaceflight (due to ice extraction and the creation of orbital fuel stations, thus reducing the water and fuel spacecraft have to carry out of the gravity well), 2) The abandonment of terrestrial mines for everything but coal, salt, and similar minerals (no more open-pit mines and their environmental, economic, and human costs), 3) The radical increase in the material wealth of the entire planet as the materials that our everyday tools and luxuries are made of plummet in price, opening up new opportunities for people all over the world to invent new things with materials previously available only to the very wealthy, 4) A serious reduction in greenhouse gasses and demand for coal as smelting and refinement are carried out in space (better and cheaper) instead of on earth, 5) As a side-effect, the creation of an orbital power generation infrastructure that can create surplus electricity (mostly solar) for sale back to Terrestrial markets.

The Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, the world’s most advanced ground car, the research for which is already spawning revolutionary changes to the world’s automotive industry, to the advantage of both consumers and the health of the environment, such as the following item:

The Volkswagen XL1 — A ~300 Miles-Per-Gallon car that hits the market in Britain late this year. Initially planned as a limited test marketing, the next decade will see more and more of this kind of thing, even if the XL1 doesn’t achieve high-volume production status.

The first successful test of the X-51 Waverider, a scramjet capable of going from Sydney Australia to Los Angeles in 90 minutes. This was followed shortly by the unveling of a competing prototype, the Zero Emissions HyperSonic Transport.

The first efforts to build the space elevator are finally underway — they may not succeed, but even if they fail, it should be an instructive failure. Check it out here.

First earth-like extrasolar planets are discovered

Pollution control and toxic cleanup through mushrooms has now been discovered and is beginning to be adopted.

And, the one that started us off today:
Mouse lifespan extended 25% with a single genetic treatment after the mouse is already mature.


This is just what I could come up with off the top of my head. It doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what I’ve seen and read about in the last four years. It’s gonna be socially uncomfortable dealing with the move to abundance materially, socially, and in terms of lifespan, but holy shit, the future snuck in the back door while we were all worried about mortgages.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for the great list of developments and coming projects. Like you, I was aware of most of these, but seeing them in a single list makes their cumulative impact much greater.

  2. Lucie Le Blanc

    The future is not what we thought it might be when we were kids (no flying cars ;)). The things we thought we would have are not here, yet, but our future is awesome in so many other ways.

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