The population of humans will rise from 7.3 billion today to 9.7 billion in 2050, according to the United Nations. That means extra pressure on the planet, with global warming becoming super-serious, resources fast depleted and energy in short supply.
Swelling population also means more poverty, more crime and more demand for food. The challenges for technology just keep growing, and here are just a handful of the solutions that breakthrough tech will help create.
If humans could get two very hot atoms to collide to form one – and then control the energy that’s released – our electricity problems would be over forever. But, as Professor Brian Cox pointed out a few years ago, we spend more on ring-tones than on research into nuclear fusion.
However, some think that mimicking how the Sun works is not going to be achieved by over-budget attempts like the ITER in France or the Lawrence Livermore project in the USA, but by smaller-scale attempts. Cue a round of investment in smaller firms, most notably Amazon’s Jeff Bezos backing General Fusion’s attempts.
With resources under pressure and key metals already scarce or uneconomical to extract, one solution is to reach for the stars. Planetary Resources wants to do just that – the first step in its hugely expensive, expansive plan is to begin what it calls the ARKYD Series of robotic space missions to identify the most commercially viable near-Earth asteroids.
Precious metals and water – the latter crucial for the space missions themselves – are the prizes, though the very first mission involves the launch in two years of the ARKYD ‘public space telescope’ that will be used for myriad education purposes. However, its main task is to identify the closest asteroids worth mining.
Just as the elevator made the vertical city possible, is living on water the next phase of urbanisation? It might have to be. With sea levels predicted to rise by 20-30cm by 2050, cities from New York and Bangkok to Guangzhou and Mumbai will experience increased flooding, while some island chains will be inundated, rendered uninhabitable. Could constructing floating communities be the answer?
Cue the Floating City Project from the Seasteading Institute, a non-profit organisation that wants to establish floating cities primarily for experimentation beyond the restrictions of normal society. Designed to allow ‘the next generation of pioneers to test new ideas for government’, the organisation plans to approach governments of coastal nations to host an autonomous offshore community, or seastead.
The smart grid
Global energy consumption is increasing by about 2% ever year, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), which together with predicted population increase means a doubling of demand by 2050. Smart meters that communicate with smart grids are already popping up across the world, with fully automated smart grids eventually able to directly tie energy production to real-time demand.
The end-game is a reduction in peak and off-peak production, partially by adjusting the cost of a kilowatt hour according to the time of day.