A devastating earthquake hits the west coast of the United States
Experts had been warning for years that it wasn’t a matter of “if” – but “when”.
The earthquake is centred on the Los Angeles basin, and is of sufficient magnitude to cause over $100 billion worth of damage. Many thousands of buildings are destroyed and there is widespread damage to roads, infrastructure, energy and water supplies. Hundreds of people are killed, while thousands more are injured.
This disaster comes as California is already going through a fiscal crisis – plunging the state into virtual bankruptcy.
Internet has a greater reach than television
In the previous decade, a rapid and irreversible shift towards web-based news outlets saw the decline of traditional print-based media such as newspapers and magazines. This growth has accelerated further in recent years – such that even television is now having less reach than the Internet when it comes to news reporting. Television and the Internet are in fact now converging together as one. Improving bandwidth and the continued growth of mobile technologies are driving much of this change.
Multi-touch surface computing is available to the mass market
These devices have been available in leisure and entertainment venues for a couple of years already – but are now cheap enough to be affordable to the mass market. The use of multi-touch technology is increasing substantially during this time. For example, sales of touch screen phones will rise from 200,000 in 2006 to over 21 million in 2012.
Holographic Versatile Disc (HVD) replaces Blu-Ray
These ultra-high density discs are capable of holding 500Gb of data – equivalent to over 100 DVDs. They work by analysing micro-holograms in 3D, rather than just markings on the surface. This allows data to be far more densely packed than conventional optical technology. The price of storage per gigabyte is falling dramatically thanks to this and other breakthroughs – from around $1 per gigabyte in 2006, to less than 10 cents now. This is yet another example of the trend of exponential progress (rather than linear) seen in countless forms of technology.
HVD itself is in danger of becoming obsolete, before it has even been properly established, as solid state flash drives are increasingly being used for digital transfer, some with even higher capacities, along with read and write speeds faster than any optical disc. The new SDXC card format specification for example has already reached the 2TB mark.
Speech-to-speech translation available in mobile phones
This has been available in high-end devices for a year or so now, but has spread to the mainstream and is becoming a fairly standard feature now.
Batteries that charge in seconds
A new manufacturing process for lithium-ion batteries has led to smaller, lighter batteries that can be charged in just seconds. Mobile phones, laptops and other digital devices benefit tremendously from this. Electric cars, too, can take advantage of this greatly improved technology, which now offers far greater convenience. Uptake of green vehicles therefore begins to increase significantly from this point onwards. Solar and wind power generation efficiency is also boosted, as the batteries can be used to store surplus energy.
Sales of professional and personal service robots are booming
This decade sees a significant increase in the number of robots entering mainstream society. Between 2008 and 2011, sales of both professional and personal service robots more than double – from 5.5 million to over 11.5 million. They are most popular in Japan, Korea and the Far East, but are now beginning to spread to western homes too. Some robots clean carpets or mow the lawn; others help busy professionals entertain children or pets; other machines feed and bathe the elderly and incapacitated. Some robots are becoming very sophisticated…
Completion of the ISS
Assembly of the International Space Station has been completed. It is by far the largest man-made structure ever put into orbit – measuring 306 ft wide, with a mass of 227,267 kg and a living volume of 26,500 cubic feet.
World’s first commercial spaceport
A new chapter in space exploration begins with the opening of Spaceport America – the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport. This offers sub-orbital spaceflights to the paying public.
Costing almost $225 million, the facility is built on 27 square miles (70 km2) of state-owned desert near Upham, an uninhabited part of New Mexico.
Among the various companies involved is Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Travelling at over 2,600mph (4,200km/h), the spacecraft carry up to six passengers at a time, to a height of approximately 68 miles (110km), using a single hybrid rocket motor. When maximum altitude is reached, the engines are switched off, and the passengers can experience up to six minutes of zero-G whilst looking down on the Earth.
The ships use a feathered re-entry system, feasible due to the low speed of re-entry, and are designed to re-enter the atmosphere at any angle, for maximum safety. In the next decade, a new generation of ships will be developed capable of reaching much higher orbits – and a few years after that, flights around the Moon will become possible.
Initially, the flights are very expensive (around $200,000 each). However, competition and innovation between the companies involved will bring down the costs – making them affordable to the majority of people by mid-century.