1) What technologies that have become viable within your lifetime are you most thankful for, and why?
Let's see; we're talking from the mid-Fifties on. My first instinct is to answer the microwave oven. Seriously. It's not the most important thing in the world, but I use it all the time, and it makes daily life a lot easier. There are other "new" technologies that I use frequently -- the ATM, the personal computer -- and they make life easier in some ways, but I don't love
them the way I love my microwave oven.
Also trivial, but of personal importance to me, is the VCR. (I'm thinking of the DVD as just a refinement of the basic concept, just as the CD is just a refinement of the LP.) How else would I have a chance to watch Murders in the Zoo
or The Trial of Billy Jack
without the ability to record these things when they show up on some cable station or other?
More seriously, the ability to create insulin which is identical to human insulin, via recombinant DNA technology, has made the treatment of diabetes (which is going to be an extremely
serious challenge to any health care system in the future) safer and more effective. (As a nice side effect, it's one more tiny little nail in the coffin of the idea that human happiness depends on the death of animals.) I could name a lot of other medical stuff, of course. (Not exactly "new," but the way in which aspirin has evolved from something you take for a headache into something you take in order to prevent heart attack and stroke is truly amazing. It's the nearest thing to an actual "wonder drug.")
You didn't ask, but I'll tell you anyway, that the "new" technology which I hate with a passion is the cellular phone, and all its mutant offspring. The telephone is, at best, an extremely annoying necessity; there was no need to have people carry it around 24/7, so it can annoy me even more.2) What technologies on the horizon (i.e., in development now) do you think will make your list before you die, and why?
Let's ask the clever folks at Popular Science
Their "Best of What's New 2008" consists of 100 technological innovations that they thought were worthy of notice.
Here's one that stood out for me.Link
Zoning laws often forbid tall wind turbines. The Windspire captures breezes at 30 feet and below with a design in which blades run up a pole’s length and spin around it. Contoured airfoils make the Windspire the first vertical-axis turbine that can start in slow winds without help from a motor or inefficient scoops or wings.
The other "green tech" innovations are pretty cool, too, so I'd say this is a promising trend for the near future.3) What technologies touted as the "next great thing" do you think are likely contenders for "Great Flops of the 21st Century"?
Things I don't expect to live to see include real
artificial intelligence, truly effective "virtual reality," disease-eradicating nanobots, discovery of extraterrestrial life, and other science fiction dreams. I hope I'm wrong.
Sadly, I think the big disappointment iin practical
technology is going to be fusion power.Link
at a ceremony in Brussels last week, governments representing more than half the world's population - from China, the European Union, India, Japan and the US, among others - signed up to spend about $5 billion to build ITER, the world's largest nuclear fusion machine. It should be the first fusion machine to deliver more energy than it consumes, and the optimists heading the programme say it will turn fusion power into a major energy source by mid-century.
Most scientists and engineers working on ITER are more wary. "The current timetable is very, very, very ambitious," said one veteran last week. "I think it will be 100 years before we have commercially viable energy."
However, reserach on this scale is likely to pay for itself after we all all dust.
If commercial fusion is viable, it may well be a century away. Scientists should say so and politicians should invest in it anyway. The climate-changing gases we are pouring into the air today persist for centuries. We need to search for solutions on a similar timescale.