PROBE series

Sciences 2100 till 2300

What science levels can we expect 100 years from now ?
And further down in this future: 200 years, 300 years ?

Is that completely unpredictable?

Let us face it: we can not predict details with any degree of precision.
Yet there are three instruments for concerted futurologic assessments (CFA’s):
1. extrapolations that are based on historic experiences
2. laws of nature
3. economic laws

The influence of CFA instruments 2. and 3. can be tested in the context of historic experiences.

An uncertainty factor – that may always cause unexpected developments – is a major war.
Unfortunately this is a factor that can still not be excluded, even when most people
are hoping it will not occur. Influences of major wars can hardly be predicted.
Let us all hope that will not be needed.

Another uncertainty factor is the influence of unexpected inventions.
This will be looked at in more detail. Have we seen such inventions in the past?
What range of possibilities is there?

The futurologic assessments described here, will look at the STE status, which stands for the
Science-Technology-Economy status. There are large differences between countries in this world,
but modern democratic industrial states have a comparable level of economy, technology and science.
They may lead this world to a predictable future of affluence and co-operation between countries.
The futurology stated here does not express any political or other societal preferences,
nor does it imply a preferable future – that is more the terrain of politicians.

Here we just try to ‘calculate’ future technologies which seem likely, based on the CFA instruments above.
The background of futurology should start with a broad understanding of the current STE status
and how it evoluted from the past. Given that analysis, the next step is to make an initial futurologic extrapolation.
Next the influences of CFA instruments 2 and 3 are considered in order to ‘fine-tune’ that extrapolation.

Brief historic analysis 1800 – 2000

During this period there were many technological changes, but some of them played a major role. The first step that initiated the industrial revolution in the 19th century, was the invention and use of the steam engine. The production of coal, iron and the use of steam engines in this STE that was different from the 18th century changed the economy completely. After some time, coal was a source of cheap energy. To achieve that, the efficiency of steam engines had to be improved considerably. One element in that STE was the efficient large-scale production of steel. This was possible after the invention called the Bessemer process for steelmaking (1855).  The availability of coal, iron, steel, and the use of steam engines to provide power for industrial processes and for transport by rail and by ships, brought the major changes to the economies of Europe and the USA in the period from 1800 thru 1900.  The affluence that followed these economic changes enabled hundreds of inventions in the period between 1850 and 1900.

The steam locomotive was invented and entered the STE in the first decade. This was the start of a better on-land infrastructure for massive transport and enabled people to travel easier and cheaper. The first steam engines had a very low efficiency, and therefore the cost of the energy used was still very high. Many inventions in the steam engine increased the efficiency by a large factor, making its use much cheaper. Two decades later, the construction of railways on a large scale in Europe and in the USA had started. These ideas were taken to other fields of technology: in the third decade of the 19th century both the first combustion engine and the first electric motor were invented and taken into first production.  Two decades later, the knowledge and use of electricity led to the invention of the telegraph, by which messages could be transferred over a long distance for the first time. Before 1870 there was another invention in this same field of activities: the phonograph (1858) which was later developed to the gramaphone that was improved and used until the invention of compact discs about 100 years later. In the 5th decade it became clear that coal was not the only source of potentially cheap energy. Fossil oil was discovered and chemically analysed. The process of refining and creating practical fuels from it in refineries had started in the sixth decade. It boosted the STE to high levels. In the next decade, the invention of dynamite by Nobel made it possible to carve into rocks and mountains so as to facilitate te building of cheaper infrastructures for e.g. railways even further. The building of large electric power plants started in the ninth decade of the nineteenth century. And to conclude this brief list of inventions that changed the Western STE completely, the invention of x-rays should maybe be mentioned. The world in 1900 was completely different from that in 1800, but what were the main elements? What could we do in 1900 that was still impossible in 1800?  Before we answer that question, let us look at how science has changed in the 19th century.

Two major fields of science that influenced the STE in the 19th century  are physics and chemistry. To start with the latter: chemistry had only just been founded in the year 1800. Chemistry was essentially founded between 1770 and 1792 by Lavoisier. He introduced the laws of conservation of mass and proved there is no such thing as phlogiston (which was thought in the hermetic teachings of alchemy to be released in each fire). Thus, chemistry was still in its infancy in 1800, but the knowledge in this field has grown rapidly in the 19th century. In 1900 chemistry was already an extensive science, even more so by the  the advances in physics – e.g. thermodynamics and kinetic theories – from which chemistry profited.

to be continued…