Read Richard’s current thoughts about transhumanism and related fringe topics here.
Let us jump right into a preview of 2005 with a mix of logic, forecasting, educated guessing, assumptions, and flights of fancy. I prognosticate, you decide. We will observe and then I will come back at the end of the year and review.
The Cell Processor
In 2005 we will finally learn details about the mysterious “Cell” processor that Sony, Toshiba and IBM have been developing together since 2002. This new processor will find its way into Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Toshiba’s televisions in 2006. “Cell” was conceived as a supercomputer-on-a-chip that can communicate over broadband connection speeds with other Cell processors to create larger systems. Sound cool, but what the hell does that mean? We will likely find out for sure in the next few months, with a worldwide launch sometime around the end of 2005 (or with the release of PlayStation 3 in early 2006).
Related to the Cell processor because both will be included in the PlayStation 3, Blu-Ray Disc technology will take DVDs into high-definition territory. The discs hold 25 gigabytes (GB) per layer, compared to 4.7 GB per layer on a DVD and .7 GB per layer on a CD. Two-layered single-side Blu-Ray Discs will be capable of storing movies at the highest high definition setting (1080 progressive), with room left over for plenty of extras. Just like DVDs, the discs will store movies, audio and data.
Terabyte Memories Systems
I was off by a year…mass production dates for true terabyte memory systems were not announced in 2004 like I previously predicted. But they will definitely be announced sometime in 2005. Hold me to it! Terabyte (TB) memory systems promise to replace all current storage devices (like hard drives, RAM, ROM, CDs, DVDs, and, yes, even Blu-Ray Discs) with one small and high-speed solution. Imagine memory capacity measured in terabytes, enabling you to store your entire collection of books, photographs, music, and video on one device. There are various companies and research teams racing to be the first to reach this goal, including Nantero, using carbon nanotubes; Matrix Semiconductor, using 3-D chip layering; Thinfilm, using organic polymers; Rolltronics, using printing press technology for flexible semiconductors; Micromem, using MRAM; NVE Corporation, using spintronics; and Optware using holographic versatile discs.
Perhaps the leading contender is InPhase Technologies, a company also using holographic technology. At CES 2005 they demonstrated a prototype of their holographic storage drive that reads 200GB to 1.6 TB single discs.
When will one of these terabyte memory systems become available? I promise you, sometime this year one of the above companies, or even a surprise entrant into the race, will announce an official date for release of their product to consumers.
If you come across a picture of Dolly the sheep or a photo-realistic image made in Photoshop of a baby in a test tube, you can bet that the topic of discussion is cloning. It seems as if the technology has now been demonstrated using nearly every animal in existence except primates, horses, dogs and humans (unless Clonaid, the company founded by the Raelian Movement, is telling the truth about human clones already among us.) Expect the not-counted list to shrink drastically this year. Now that paying customers have received their cat clones, dog lovers are expecting theirs in the next few months. Primate cloning got an unexpected technology boost late last year, while the first cloned horses are expected to be born sometime this year as well. Human clones have already been successfully created but no research team has attempted to bring these embryos to term in woman’s womb. It would not be too surprising if a well-documented and authenticated human clone were born sometime this year.
Robots and Artificial Intelligence
Robots have begun their quiet takeover of the planet Earth. Showing up on the battlefield, in the sky, underwater, and in your living room, robots are expected to start taking over more and more jobs starting this year. Toyota has already announced that much of the manufacturing tasks required to build their cars will be taken over by a new generation of two-armed robots in the near future. South Korean researchers say that a robot with a disembodied brain (the body connects to the supercomputer brain over a wireless network) is rapidly learning even as you read this. And even though his predictions are rapidly coming true, Marshall Brain is apparently on a long hiatus because he hasn’t updated his Robotic Nation Evidence blog since August 2004. The robots are taking over, Marshall. We need you!
Fly Me to the Moon
In other words, exploration of our solar system is in full swing, with tons of images and data beaming back to us from Mars and Saturn. This year will also see SMART-1 exploring our Moon, Deep Impact colliding with Comet Tempel 1, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter orbiting Mars.
The highlight of 2005 will surely be the Huygens probe descent through the smoggy atmosphere of Titan in the Saturnian system. Huygens will snap the first images ever from beneath that moon’s cloud layer and should also send us audio from the surface using a small microphone. The eventful descent begins January 14, 2005.
It is a sure thing that there will be more breakthroughs and discoveries in 2005 than any previous year, based simply on the profound acceleration of progress in science and technology. Don’t be surprised if you hear more about chimera, brain-machine interfaces, virtual reality, globalization, extrasolar planetary systems, astrobiology, nanotechnology, MEMS, and genetics. Also expect to hear brand new terms to describe ideas you never before conceived of. The mantra for 2004 was “I cannot believe this is reality.” 2005’s mantra is “Wow, this really is reality!”