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25 Things You Need To Know About The Future by Christopher Barnatt

01/05/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy 25 Things You Need To Know About The Future in the USA - or Buy 25 Things You Need To Know About The Future in the UK

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pub: Constable Robinson. 398 page indexed illustrated small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84901-697-1.

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I like books like this one, ‘25 Things You Need To Know About The Future’ by Christopher Barnatt. Even if you keep up with all the science journals, the advances and where things are going to end up with all sorts of technology and such is rarely encased in a single issue. This is where books are so handy and you can hardly miss what this one is about by its title.

Principally, the subject matter divides between shortages, technology developments, power sources, computing and humanity. Each of the twenty-five chapters, assesses where we are and where we are going to do with it.

There are a lot of useful facts included that should make you think. If you wondered about the importance of oil, Barnatt points out how much is used from anything from travel to diet in getting something into your home, although I do wonder why he didn’t factor in bulk movement. If you want to gauge something, a box of breakfast cereal costs the equivalent of half a galleon of petrol. I wouldn’t recommend giving up on cereal although it probably gives a good argument to bulk buy. It’s fun cross-connecting things from across the various things here as genetic manipulation to sort out insect pests would actually reduce the amount of oil-based pesticides out there. There’s also a sharp warning about global warming has a geometric 1:10 effect on reducing crop production so use that as ammo against the luddites who are against GM foods. Something I didn’t know was that GM foods are readily available and eaten in the US but not in Europe or the UK yet. About time we started catching up.

What is especially worrying is the current reduction in our resources are becoming and this should be required reading for everyone. There are a lot of solutions noted in this book and although some of them are being carried out, they aren’t moving as fast as they should. None of these solutions are sticking plaster solutions but likely to keep us going for a long time. Something that does affect us computer users is the lack of recycling obsolete machinery in our own countries. Instead, we send it to places like India who don’t recycle toxic material correctly and are putting their own people in danger. Saying that, when we want said rare metals back, we’re going to end up paying premium rates for something we essentially gave away for free. A good argument for proper recycling in our own countries.
In ‘Resource Depletion’, Barnatt makes a strong argument for why DVD players/recorders should be made easier to replace their drives in the same way it is to change them in computers. It wouldn’t be as though the manufacturers wouldn’t be able to make some profit from the component itself as they already make it. Having tried to replace a DVD drive myself a couple years back, it would only take a difference in the interior base where the DVD drive sits to make this possible.

A lot of us have been eyeing up the possibilities of 3D printing and Barnatt points out there are three processes available at present but all expensive and still slow. I suspect there will be a major breakthrough in changing speeds and bringing the price down for home use in the next decade and these gadgets can also work with a wide-range of materials. There’s an especially interesting chapter on nanotechnology that could benefit from some developments as well. If you’re using nanotech in your stories, learn the limitations and what it can really do before using it as a solution to everything.

Going back to genetic modification, I survive because without it, people like me with Type One diabetes without ‘human’ insulin – no humans involved, just an easy solution of adding the right gene to E. coli – would be limited to pork or beef insulin and its potential damage to the fatty tissues. There is already work in neutralising the bacteria in mosquitoes that would remove malaria in the neatest way possible.

One subject that I didn’t know very much about was Vertical Farming and growing plants in skyscrapers. Considering there are so many of these buildings around, I do wonder how long before their owners consider this as a means to make them self-sustaining. Mind you, I doubt if they’ll go for window boxes.

When it comes to energy for the future, we’re already seeing the move towards wind, tide and solar although I was surprised at the magnifying mirror technique that was being used. If anything, the biggest problem with all these energy sources is storage for later use. I have to confess to a little worry about solar power satellites beaming energy down but only because they’ve been used as weapons or accidentally going wrong in Science Fiction so hope suitable safeguards are included. Fusion reactors have still got a long way to go but can understand why the discovery of water on the Moon and the possibility of the hydrogen isotope tritium being there is so important. Carbon nanotubes potentially makes the space elevator, as envisaged by Arthur C. Clarke, possible but I can’t help wonder if it would be more sensible to use it for manned movement upwards but just to collect solar energy instead.

When it comes to computing, if you needed to be more informed about cloud computing and storage and using programs directly off the Internet than this is all explained. I still think there is a place for people to have programs that work off-line but I can understand why some people might choose this option now.

What is probably the most significant change in the near future is the changes in medicine, especially recognising genetic markers for various diseases and able to do something about them. Considering how far things have gone since the first human genome analysis and that later ones are done faster and the price is coming down. If genetic conditions can be remedied then not only is the quality of life going to change for a lot of people and it does make economical sense, always something to remember when you compare costs for long term care. Just as important is distinguishing which people have adverse effects to some drugs and to find them the alternatives.

Something that goes back to 3D printing is applying the technique to Bioprinting. Already blood vessels have been grown this way. It was fascinating to learning here that using three different cell types, that the tissue itself will reassemble itself into the right pattern. We’ve already seen the manufacture of organ shapes this way with the patient’s own cells added and grown over it as a replacement for donor transplants so this is another major step. The history of that in this chapter should be required reading because it was so out of the box.

Barnatt examines the changes in cyborg technology although I would have put ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’ as the best example of people being influenced by it than the Borg or Cybermen. The possibilities of incorporating such technology for long-term astronauts is something that has been considered in Science Fiction, some of Cordwainer Smith and John Varley’s stories probably being the best examples, but it’s nice to see some thought being given to this in the real world.

The length of this review alone should tell you that this is a fascinating book. Although I’m not entirely sure how radical these things are to those of you writing Science Fiction, they will, if nothing else, give you sufficient grounding on where the sciences are going and the kinds of things people in the future will take for granted. Read and deliberate.

GF Willmetts

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This book has 68 votes in the sci-fi charts

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