Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Vision of the Future part 1

Being as interested in science as I am, I almost constantly fantasize about the future. Most of my fantasies are of vast galactic empires composed of hundreds of different intelligent species. Everything is so vast that entire planets are devoted to agriculture or mining or manufacturing. Terraforming is common enough to be run by private industries and faster-than-light travel is ubiquitous. I realize, of course, that these fantasies are way out there, but they are fun, and keep me looking forward to tomorrow.
Cover for Asimov's classic Foundation trilogy

I'm certainly not the only one imagining the far future for entertainment. Science fiction has been doing it long before I was even born. I respect science fiction more than I do most generas, especially the early authors, like Isaac Asimov who wrote the Foundation trilogy. The forefathers of this genre, like Asimov, created fantastic civilizations spanning our galaxy, which is pretty cool in and of itself, but they went farther than that, they attempted to stay within the realm of scientific possibility (at least as far as they knew). You may think that scientific plausibility would be a prerequisite for anything claiming to be science fiction, but sadly, it's not. Arthur C. Clarke once said "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"and he is right. The problem that I see with recent science fiction televisions shows, like Warehouse 13, however, is that they take this principal and manage to pass magic off as science. In Warehouse 13, the heros go around collecting "artifacts" that have been imbued with some magical powers that have managed to shape history in some way. The show never attempts to explain how this is possible, and because they don't, the show better fits the genre of fantasy.
Warehouse 13

Science fiction is fiction, so things in your created universe don't have to be possible by what we can do today, obviously. What science fiction does need however, is an attempt at explanation. If you don't try to tie science into your science fiction story, then it's just fiction.

Enough with the fictional future, what might we see in the real future? I spend most of my time imagining how things will be thousands of years from now, but I'm still young, and I do it mostly for fun. We are fairly certain that it is impossible to go faster than the speed of light, and I don't really see much point in trying either. Even if we could force a ship beyond the speed of light, the slowing of time would still get you. As you go faster, time slows down for you. So say we gain the technology to approach the speed of light, this means that the trip would take maybe a week (just a guess, it depends on how fast you're going) for whoever was in the ship to reach Alpha Centauri, the closest star to our own, but it would take more than 4 years for everyone else. This would become a serious problem once we start going to stars that are farther and farther away. What we really need is a way to cross vast areas of space without this time dilation. For example, if we could warp the third dimension in respect to a space ship, we might be able to travel thousands of light years in mere days. Much like a wormhole would. I do believe that someone will, one day, figure out a way around the universal speed limit, and hopefully, the time dilation problem.
Wormhole diagram

FTL is only a small part of my future universe. There are so many fantastical things that can be possible, with the proper scientific advances. I imagine that nanotechnology will be able to bring about some pretty great things, largely in the realm of medicine. It may be possible to have nanobots that could differentiate between cancer cells and all other cells, thus we could essentially cure cancer using guided cell destruction. Even more advanced nanobots might even be able to repair our cells for us. Who knows what could come of this? Perhaps these machines could repair nerve cells, making it possible to cure paralysis. Or maybe we could even regrow limbs. Some people believe that we will be able to do these things within 20 years, but I'm not so optimistic. Science grows through incremental steps, and it takes a long time. We do currently have nanotechnology, but not in the form that most people think of. When you say "nanotechnology" you probably think of small robots running around and replicating themselves, but that's not all there is to nanotechnology. We actually do use a form of nanotechnology in various cosmetics. In my fantasy universe, this technology can do almost anything, but I imagine that it will take a long time to get to this point. I predict that we will get distracted or run up against some serious problems with trying to make self replicating robots that can destroy cancer cells or repair the human body, and we will most likely give up for a while. I am hopeful, however, that we will one day figure it all out.
Representation of a nanobot

I have much more to say about our future as a species, but I'll save it for tomorrow in part 2.

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