The Next Fifty Years - 1


Longevity Index

This Dangerous Business of Forecasting
    Night before last, I put up a link to a forecast for the year 2000, written in 1950. Tonight, I'm going to post my forecast for 2052, written in 2002. This is certainly a tongue-in-cheek exercise, with little likelihood of a high level of accuracy.  In 1976, when I forecast the future of computing, and especially in 1979, when I extended the forecast through the year 2000, I could be fairly accurate with the hardware predictions, but I didn't have a clue concerning the development of the Internet (even though it existed at the time), nor was I accurate about how, and how much we would use computers today. If I had forecast Year-2000 technology in 1950, I wouldn't have guessed at the revolutionary progress that we would make in computers. I would have had bases on the moon, on Venus, and on Mars, and rotating-wheel space stations in orbit. I anticipated genetic control and manipulation, but would have thought that we would have been far beyond where we actually are. The same thing would have been true of robots. I also predicted autonomously controlled vehicles by now, and that hasn't happened yet.

    In 1952, housing was very similar to housing today. I think that housing in 2052 will also be similar to present-day housing. For one thing, houses dating from 1952 are everywhere today. Given that situation, people aren't going to want to drastically change houses in old neighborhoods. In fact, there's a lot of interest in restoring old houses. I believe that today's houses... including many from 1952... will be prevalent in 2052. Houses are one area in which we like to re-create what we remember from our childhoods.

Modern Homes
    Back in 1932, several ultra-modern houses were built side-by-side with flat roofs in the little hamlet of Willoughby, Ohio. There were going to be the wave of the future. Nobody ever built another one like them. Today, they're considered tacky.

Mass-Produced Homes
    In 1948, our neighbors behind us put up a Lustron home, built out of ceramic-coated steel. We were told that it would look just as good 50 years later as it did then, and I think that it does. Lustron homes would be mass-produced, and would be much cheaper than conventionally constructed homes.
    That's the only Lustron home I've ever seen.
    Even split-levels aren't the rage they were 40 years ago.
    The big changes in construction over the past 50 years have taken the form of pre-constructed doors, windows, roof trusses, bathroom shells, and so forth, that have streamlined and standardized the construction process. Labor-intensive lath and plaster disappeared around 1950, replaced by sheet rock. Most of the changes seem to be directed toward reducing labor costs at some increase in materials expenses..
    Construction costs in the areas with which I'm familiar haven't gone up faster than inflation, but are just about even with it.

 The Houses of 2052
    Way up ahead in 2052, I'm guessing that most houses will be built of brick and vinyl-clad wood, with some constructed of other materials, such as gunite. I think they will take the form of ranch-style, colonial, federalist, Cape Cod, English Tudor, and so forth. In short, I think they'll fit right into the neighborhood.
    Among the differences from today's construction:
    (1)  Underground utilities,
    (2)  Fiber-to-the-curb? (Extremely high bandwidths)
    (3)  Solar electric roofs, using low-cost organic semiconductors? Fuel cell batteries?
    (4)  Well insulated and energy efficient.
    (5)  Heating entirely with heat pumps?
    (6)  Natural-gas fuel cells? ( I would suppose that most homes will still be on the grid.)
    (7)  Greater emphasis upon water conservation, recycling?

    (1)  Appliances will continue to become more energy efficient.
    (2)  Clothes driers might be heated with heat pumps.
    (3)  Appliances may be networked.
    (1)  I certainly expect to see more labor-saving automatic machinery such as vacuum sweepers, floor moppers, scrubbers, and polishers, and lawn care equipment. I would expect that lawn care equipment will be visually equipped, and will handle lawn mowing, edging, trimming, fertilizing, seeding, leaf mulching, and perhaps, lawn aeration
    (2)  We may be treated to anthropomorphic robots in the form of
           Companions, and
           Household robots that can make beds and, possibly, strip them and wash their linens
           Household robots that can transfer food from our freezers to our microwave ovens, and ready it for meals.
           Household robots that can wash, dry, and put away dishes.
           Household robots that do much more than I'm describing here.
    (3)  a continuing penetration of semi-autonomous devices into industrial/commercial applications. This has occurred over the past fifty years, and it may reasonably be expected to continue to occur.
    The most important drivers for this will be a continuing erosion in the cost per computation, coupled with mass production of robotic components such as sensors, "robotic muscles", robotic platforms, and
a host of pieces and parts that will render robots cheaper and easier to construct.
    By 2052, we could see the superior robots that Hans Moravec predicts, and calls "humanity's children".

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