Predictions on how the UK will change in the next 30 years – Back to the Future style

Neuroscientist David Eagleman is of the belief that despite calls that robots will take most jobs, we’ll be able to plug information streams directly into the cortex and thus far surpass artificial intelligence. The way he describes it, it sounds like a scene out of the movie Limitless.

He said: “I’d like to imagine we’ll have robots to do our bidding. But I predicted that 20 years ago, when I was a sanguine boy leaving Star Wars, and the smartest robot we have now is the Roomba vacuum cleaner. So I won’t be surprised if I’m wrong in another 25 years. Artificial intelligence has proved itself an unexpectedly difficult problem. We will have cracked the secret of human memory by realising that it was never about storing things, but about the relationships between things. 

“Will we have reached the singularity – the point at which computers surpass human intelligence and perhaps give us our comeuppance? We’ll probably be able to plug information streams directly into the cortex for those who want it badly enough to risk the surgery. There will be smart drugs to enhance learning and memory and a flourishing black market among ambitious students to obtain them.”

Similarly, Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, suggested that AI will find the answers to many of the humanity’s biggest questions. However, by 2045, despite not yet achieving human-level artificial intelligence, we will have intelligent tools that augment our abilities to an unprecedented degree.

What’s perhaps more surprising is the fact that consumers will be able to purchase “high-quality emotions” online. This is according to Alex Ayad, head of Imperial College London’s Tech Foresight Practice, who said: “Imagine your friend at Glastonbury can post a photo on Instagram and with it comes bundled a faint twinkling of what she was feeling right there in that moment, so you too can share emotionally in her social experience.” 

Similarly, your phone, car or home will be able to read your feelings and adapt accordingly. At the moment machines can work out where someone is, who someone is and perhaps what they are doing or “like” but that’s about it.

Richard Watson, founder of online magazine What’s Next, claimed that the next stage will be for machines to intuit human feelings. This can be done by “harvesting” facial expressions, body language, heart rate, voice and so on, he said. If you are typing text into a computer, the computer might consider the speed you are typing, decide you are stressed and conclude that this isn’t the best time to allow you to read negative emails.

“If you are driving a car, the car might consider how you are driving and infer certain conclusions,” Watson said. “If the car decides you are angry and in danger of driving unsafely it might adapt itself to make things safer. “

Some, like the futurist Ray Kurzweil, have predicted that technology may go beyond understanding us to leading a revolution – specifically when it comes to nanotechnology. He believes that such tech will allow computers to become so powerful that they will lead to a new kind of medicine on a sub-cellular level that will allow us to abolish ageing and death. And the subject of nanotechnology can’t be discussed without referring to movie Big Hero Six, which highlights the astonishing feats – minus demolishing a city and presumably out of the hands of a slightly mad professor – that can be done with nanotechnology. 

This was echoed by Richard Jones, vice-chancellor for research and innovation at the University of Sheffield, who claimed that despite Kurzweil’s “technological singularity” perhaps never coming to fruition, nanotechnology will lead to some genuinely transformative applications. New ways of making solar cells very cheaply on a large scale will offer us the best hope we have for providing low-carbon energy on a big enough scale to satisfy the needs of a growing world population aspiring to the prosperity we’re used to in the developed world, he said.

One of the biggest predictions for the UK, however, comes from Will Hutton, executive vice-chair of the Work Foundation, who suggested that in 2035, there is a good prospect that Britain will be the most populous, dynamic and richest European country – the key state in a reconfigured EU. 

“Our leading universities will become powerhouses of innovation, world centres in exploiting the approaching avalanche of scientific and technological breakthroughs,” Hutton said. “A reformed financial system will allow British entrepreneurs to get the committed financial backing they need, becoming the capitalist leaders in Europe. And, after a century of trying, Britain will at last build itself a system for developing apprentices and technicians that is no longer the Cinderella of the education system.”

What I’m keen to find out though, and am expecting with great relish, is whether Back to the Future II’s Black & Decker Hydrator invention will pop up before 2045. This kitchen device turns raisins back into grapes and stale pizza into a freshly delivered snack. We may even see many kitchens kitted out with a 3D printer that can turn out a fairly respectable pizza. After all, NASA is already experimenting with 3D printed food for missions to Mars and beyond

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