The Next Next Things

Sunday, January 4, 2009

With its power to send knowledge around the globe at lightning speed, information technology has vastly changed our world -- unleashing the Internet along with a global economy of knowledge workers and even, some would say, sparking the fall of communism and the rise of terrorism. Computer power has increased exponentially since 1980, when machines less sophisticated than your cellphone filled entire rooms. And we can expect similar mind-boggling advances in the coming decades.

For a sense of what's in store, take a look at the breakthroughs on this page. Some of them may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but they're closer to reality than you may think. And they're just a small sample of the countless innovations bursting onto the scene as scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs work together to transform business, society and even what it means to be human.

These forecasts are taken from the TechCast Project, an online database where 100 experts predict the technological and scientific breakthroughs to come. To learn more, visit

-- William E. Halal, author of "Technology's Promise," professor emeritus at George Washington University and president of TechCast LLC

Space Tourism

2012 +/- 2 years

Richard Branson is steadily moving toward the first flight of his Virgin Galactic tourist spaceships, and competitors are rushing to realize their own plans for trips to the moon and to space hotels. Just a few years ago, the very idea of space tourism seemed laughable, but now it looks ready to launch. Will it unleash a wave of pioneers like those who tamed the Wild West? Or will our neighbors' extraterrestrial vacation photos make us yawn just as their snapshots of sand castles and sunny beaches do?

Intelligent Cars

2014 +/- 4 years

Imagine calling your car and instructing it to pick you up at a precise location and then take you somewhere else, like a chauffeur. This car wouldn't just drive itself; it would also navigate traffic, pay tolls, avoid collisions and park itself. Unfortunately, you'd still be the one to pay any speeding tickets.


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