By John D. Sutter, CNN
A group called the Institute for the Future -- what a name, right? -- is smart enough to know that it can't actually predict what will happen in 2021. But the group can use our existing knowledge of science to pose interesting "what-if?" questions about where advances in science and technology will take us in the next 10 years, which really is an eternity when it comes to these topics.
That's the real point behind the group's new super-visual report, called "The Future of Science: 2021," (PDF) which you can see above and view in more detail on the IFTF website (you have to really zoom in to read all of it). This may sound like it's coming out of a cheesy "Star Trek" episode, but by questioning what the future can be, we can help shape what it will be, the group says.
Here's their explanation of the project:
Think of "A Multiverse of Exploration: The Future of Science 2021" as a star chart of possibility, pointing the way toward opportunities for wonder, knowledge, and insight. Use it to raise questions about how your life and work may change in light of the startling transformations that science may bring about in the next ten years. Indeed, every forecast could be rephrased as a "what if" question. What if you could record your dreams? What if you could design a life form? What if you could launch a company in orbit? Your answers to those questions can help inform decisions in the present. Inside this map, you'll find plenty of space to think.
And here's a bit more from the report on what kinds of trends we may see emerge in the next decade (note: no flying cars?!)
Invisibility cloaks. Space hacking. Quantum consciousness. Open-source biology. Empowered with new tools, processes, and skills, scientists will gain new insight into the mysteries surrounding our brains, biology, and the strange matter that makes up our reality. We will develop powerful new instruments for gazing at the farthest reaches of space and descending into the deepest oceans, further illuminating our place in the universe.
Not only will our knowledge increase but the way science is done will change in profound ways. A new ecology of science will crystallize, one that shifts from the insular and closed structures of academic, industrial, and military research toward open models based on social connection, data commons, and democratized tools and technology. We will create unprecedented opportunities for collaboration and resource sharing between large organizations, communities, and individuals. This radical reimagining of science will supplant current approaches to R&D and inevitably translate into new technologies as well as new organizational structures.
If you get a chance to check out this "star chart" for the future, let us know what you think in the comments. Does any of this seem plausible? Inevitable? What future-y trends did they leave off?
We'll update the post with interesting comments as they come in.