One day last year, I was at a small gathering of colleagues and acquaintances. Someone who had apparently wandered in as a guest of someone else came up to me and said, “You’re a science fiction writer, huh?”
“Yes, I am,” I admitted.
“Okay. So predict something.”
I said, “I’m not in the business of predicting. I’m in the business of storytelling.”
I won’t repeat the whole ensuing conversation here, but the fellow was quite upset with me for refusing to tell him what year he would finally have a jetpack, a flying car and a steak dinner in a pill. I did tell him that he could have a wall-sized 3D TV in his home right now, but he wasn’t interested in that. It wasn’t science-fictiony enough.
Nevertheless, from time to time, I do engage in a bit of speculation and extrapolation, because the trend lines are so obvious. And here are the obvious trend lines:
1) Batteries are going to get better. Much better. Various researchers have demonstrated that a battery made of doped graphene layers can recharge much faster and last 10 times longer. Obviously, this will have an impact on everything from smartphones to hybrid automobiles.
2) The efficiency of solar panels will be increased by a variety of new technologies, including carbon nanotubes, multiple lenses, and being able to use light beyond the visible spectrum. Combined with more powerful batteries and more efficient chips, some devices may go days or even weeks before recharging.
3) Chips are going to get smaller and more powerful. Well, duh. That part is obvious. As die-sizes shrink, chips always become faster, but the real advances will come from multicore processors with cores specialized for different tasks, each core brought online only as needed. Add outsourcing of heavy-duty tasks, and personal devices could have petaflops available as needed within 10 years. While most of us may never need that much power, having the headroom still means increased functionality for everything we do use.
4) Memory cards will continue to expand in capacity and speed. The hard drive as we know it will disappear, replaced by solid-state units. The ubiquity of small memory chips will have profound effects. Devices will have large specialized software libraries preinstalled. Your stove will have a touchscreen to access its library of recipes, including the appropriate programming for the oven or the burners.