The Next Fifty Years - 5
Military developments over the past fifty years have led to a far more effective utilization of air power. (Of course, desert warfare is a whole lot different from jungle warfare.)
One burgeoning development in military technology is the use of telerobotics. As someone who supported the Joint Services Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Project Office and then the Joint Services Unmanned Ground Vehicle Project Office, I consider it a tribute to the government's inability to get anything imaginative done (except under desperate circumstances) that we haven't had these capabilities decades ago. But it's finally here, and the military plans to convert a large fraction of its forces to remotely-teleoperation. This certainly makes sense in terms of keeping people out of harm's way, and of allowing the sacrifice of unmanned equipment in a way that we wouldn't countenance if human beings had to be sacrificed along with the equipment.
Terrorists versus telerobots
Terrorists are willing to sacrifice human lives to complete their missions. Governments will able to sacrifice expendable equipment to accomplish similar missions.
Although the transition will be gradual, telerobotics might be expected to slowly transition to semi-autonomous weapons. (Shades of Keith Laumer's "Bolos" and Fred Saberhagen's "Berserkers"!) I'm going to arbitrarily suppose that teleoperation will expand through 2020, with semi-autonomous operations building up beyond that time. But all you can really say is that semi-autonomous ground vehicles will be given greater and greater ability to autonomously negotiate routine cross-country terrain as fast as these capabilities can be developed, so that teleoperation can become intermittent rather than continuous. It's hard to imagine where this will be by 2052.
As this technology diffuses throughout the world, we can probably expect to see, first, teleoperated weapons fighting each other, and later, semi-autonomous weapons wielding the cudgels against each other. That will be a lot easier on human populations than hand-to-hand combat. Of course, if the robotic weapons break through the enemy's defenses, then harm could be inflicted upon people as well as equipment.
I hope and expect that there will be continuing emphasis upon improvement sin non-lethal weapons.
Spread of missiles, nuclear weapons
Pandora has opened the box, and nuclear bombs and the missiles to deliver them are going to spread to every country, at the beck and call of every power-mad dictator who pops up around the world. It seems to me that we need some kind of global organization (e. g., the U. N.) that can police the world. Of course, the question then becomes: how do we police the global organization? What happens if a power-mad clique gets control of the global organization?
Everybody's getting into the act
Worldwide participation in the exploration of space is currently mushrooming. Many countries are developing satellite launchers, and other countries are eyeing manned space flight and a return to the moon.
Lunar and Martian colonies?
A land rush could develop over the next twenty or thirty years, as countries race to stake claims, and plant colonies on the Moon, on Mars, and possibly on asteroids and L5 habitats. There's gold in them thar' hills, and you know what that does to the human psyche! We now know that Mars has water. Comets have water, also, along with other volatiles that could supply a space station at one of the Lagrangian points in deep space
Need for a Martian transportation network... e. g., roads
A key requirement on Mars is the construction of a transit system that can move minerals from wherever they may be found to a common manufacturing site on Mars. A lot of what happens there may be accomplished by semi-autonomous robots. Semi-autonomy is virtually de rigueur for teleoperation on Mars because of the long propagation delays between the Earth and Mars. Manned Mars missions may occur, but humans won't be able to do much by themselves on Mars.
Planting terrestrial life on Mars
Another key issue is that of what will be required to introduce terrestrial life forms to Mars, if we should decide to do so (after thoroughly surveying Mars to make sure that we don't wipe out indigenous Martian life). (According to my calculations, liquid water can exist near the Martian equator when its atmospheric pressure is at its maximum. Water boils at a temperature of about 46 degrees Fahrenheit at a pressure of 10 millibars., so liquid water could exist on the Martian surface between 32 degrees and 46 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Asteroids contain a king's ransom in valuable and accessible (once you get there) minerals. This might get underway between now and 2052.
There's a lot of interest in trying to develop space elevators for low-cost access to space. Is it feasible? Will it happen? Will it happen before 2052? If it did, it would certainly revolutionize humanity's expansion into space.
Huge space telescopes, and huge ground telescopes
There are plans afoot to launch various large space telescopes that could visually detect planets around other stars, and conceivably, could actually make out surface features on such planets. These will probably be interferometric telescopes in order to achieve the resolution requisite to such exquisite observations. By 2052, we might see telescopic capabilities that would boggle our present-day imaginations.
A huge ground-based 100-meter telescope called the OWL, for Overwhelmingly Large Telescope, is under consideration by the UK. The OWL might have the resolution visually detect Jovian-class planets around the nearest stars.