What world-changing scientific discoveries might we see by 2025? Will we have more energy technologies that move us away from fossil fuels? Will there be cures for cancer and other diseases? How will we get around and communicate?
To make some predictions, the Thomson Reuters IP & Science unit looked at two sorts of data: current scientific journal literature and patent applications. Counting citations and other measures of buzz, they identified 10 hot fields, then made specific forecasts for each.
"A powerful outcome of studying scientific literature and patent data is that it gives you a window into the future—insight that isn’t always found in the public domain," says Basil Moftah, president of the IP & Science business, which sells scientific database products. "We estimate that these will be in effect in another 11 years."
Prevailing opinion says dementia could be one of our most serious future health challenges. The World Health Organization expects the number of cases to triple by 2050. Thomson Reuters is more optimistic in its report. It says a focus on pathogenic chromosomes that cause neuro-degenerative disease will result in more timely diagnosis, and earlier, more effective treatment. "In 2025, the studies of genetic mutations causing dementia, coupled with improved detection and onset-prevention methods, will result in far fewer people suffering from this disease," it says.
One to warm the hearts of climate activists: By 2025, solar power will be the world's largest single source of energy, the report says. "Solar thermal and solar photovoltaic energy (from new dye-sensitized and thin-film materials) will heat buildings, water, and provide energy for devices in the home and office, as well as in retail buildings and manufacturing facilities," the authors write.
Type 1 diabetes typically strikes at an early age and isn't as prevalent as Type 2 diabetes (which comes on in middle age). But cases have been rising fast nonetheless, for reasons that aren't fully explained. The report gives hope that kids of the future won't have to give themselves daily insulin shots. It expects "genomic-editing-and-repairing" to fix the problem before it sets in. "The human genome engineering platform will pave the way for the modification of disease-causing genes in humans, leading to the prevention of type I diabetes, among other ailments," it says.
From the first three ideas, you may have noticed the report has a largely positive bent. This continues with the fourth idea: No more food shortages and no more food-insecure people. The innovation? Lighting. "In 2025, genetically modified crops will be grown rapidly and safely indoors, with round-the-clock light, using low energy LEDs that emit specific wavelengths to enhance growth by matching the crop to growth receptors added to the food’s DNA," the report says. "Crops will also be bred to be disease resistant. And, they will be bred for high yield at specified wavelengths."
When you choose how to get around in 2025, there will be a new option: small electric aircraft. The report says advances in lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen storage will make electric transport a reality. "These aircraft will also utilize new materials that bring down the weight of the vehicle and have motors with superconducting technology. Micro-commercial aircraft will fly the skies for short-hop journeys," the authors write.
By 2025, the Internet of things will be a reality. Everything will be connected—from the fridge in your kitchen, to the remotest farmer in Africa. "Thanks to the prevalence of improved semiconductors, graphene-carbon nanotube capacitators, cell-free networks of service antenna, and 5G technology, wireless communications will dominate everything, everywhere," the report says.
Floating garbage patches? Not in the future. The report expects packaging made from plant-derived cellulose to dominate by 2025. "Toxic plastic-petroleum packaging that litters cities, fields, beaches, and oceans, and which isn’t biodegradable, will be nearing extinction in another decade. Thanks to advancements in the technology related to and use of these bio-nano materials, petroleum-based packaging products will be history."
By 2025, we'll have sophisticated personalized medicine. "Drugs in development are becoming so targeted that they can bind to specific proteins and use antibodies to give precise mechanisms of action," the report notes. "Knowledge of specific gene mutations will be so much more advanced that scientists and physicians can treat those specific mutations. Examples of this include HER2 (breast cancer), BRAF V600 (melanoma), and ROS1 (lung cancer), among many others."
Kids born in 2025 will be tested at the DNA level, and not just once or twice, but continually using nano-probes inserted in the body. "In 2025, humans will have their DNA mapped at birth and checked annually to identify any changes that could point to the onset of autoimmune diseases."
Beam me up, Scotty? Not quite. But the report says research into teleportation will be underway. "We are on the precipice of this field’s explosion; it is truly an emerging research front. Early indicators point to a rapid acceleration of research leading to the testing of quantum teleportation in 2025."
Will all of these changes come to pass? Probably not. We know from history that exciting research doesn't always make it to the market. A host of things—politics, money, monopoly power—get in the way. However, Moftah believes we should be positive about the future: "[The predictions] are positive in nature because they are solutions researchers and scientists are working on to address challenges we face in the world today. There will always be obstacles and issues to overcome, but science and innovation give us hope for how we will address them."
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