The World In 2014–Science, Technology and Culture


Every year at this time, besides the personal planning I do for the coming year, I relax and read the Economist’s Double Holiday Issue and look through their special report The World In 2014.    I am taking notes on the various articles during the next few days to see what The Economist predicts will be the most significant global events that will take place in the coming year.   The reason why I’m doing this is not just to gain an understanding of these events before they happen, but to preserve a record so that next year at this time, I can look back and see how well the events were (or were not) predicted.

Here are the articles at the end of The World In 2014 that cover various trends in science, technology and culture.

A.  SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

1.  Clone Not Alone

The movement to revive extinct species will take on momentum in 2014.    The project of bringing back the Pyrenean ibex, or bucardo, from extinction using the same process used to clone the sheep Dolly back in 1996, will continue in the coming year after being halted in 2003.    The new effort will use the more recently developed technology of writing genomes called “synthetic biology.”

2.  Comet Clues

In January, the European Space Agency probe Rosetta will approach its goal after traveling for 10 years, the comet with the unwieldy name 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.    By May it will fly closer to its goal, and then launch a small craft named Philae which will land and then drill down into the interior, and anchor itself to the surface.   So as the comet approaches the sun, there will be a probe traveling alongside the comet while one sits on its surface.    Samples  if frozen gases from the comet may provide clues about how the early solar system formed.

3.  Moore No Moore

The so-called “Moore’s law” predicted that the number of transistors that could be etched onto a given surface area of silicon would double every two years.   However, as a number of increasingly-expensive technologies must be developed for each generation of ever-smaller transistors, the shrinkage in the transistors will no longer cut the transistors’ cost, thereby reducing the economic impetus for such shrinkage to continue at the same pace.

4.  Reusable Rockets

Elon Musk, SpaceX’s boss, predicts that a Falcon first stage rocket could return to its launch site by the end of 2014.  This may become be a game-changer for the future of space travel as it allows the private sector to enter into an arena that had previously been the province of national governments.

5.  RNA Reaches New Acceptance

The Human Genome Project that concluded two decades ago did not bring the medical advances that had been predicted because it was not understood at the time that the real significance lies with RNA.   It was once thought that the RNA was just the workforce that put proteins together.    In reality, their role is far more significant:   rather than being the “labor force” of the cell, they are its “management”, in that they control what a cell does, from birth to death and everything in between.   This understanding will begin to shed light on disease in 2014.

B.  CULTURE

1.  Internet–taking TV from the Boob Tube to YouTube

The following trends will increase the role of online video in our culture:

  • Faster broadband will make it easier to watch videos delivered online
  • People will buy more internet-enabled “smart” television sets
  • Sony and Intel will launch “over the top” services which deliver television programs over the internet.
  • Video subscription services like Netflix and Amazon are investing in their own high-quality “TV” shows
  • YouTube is trying to launch its own “channels” with professionally produced shows

This has increased the phenomena of “binge-watching”, that is, watching all of the episodes of a single season in single sittings.   It will increase the development of more serialized dramas, and more content that is crowd-sourced.

Young people often opt for cell-phone only coverage with no land line, and in a similarly way, they are opting for online-video service and broadband rather than cable pay-television.

2.  Enter the Engineers

The penchant for dystopian literature in science fiction will give way to more optimistic fare in 2014.    An example of this at the end of 2013 was the popularity of the movie of Gravity, about astronauts coping with the dangers of space through a combination of personal bravery and problem solving.    Neal Stephenson is coming out with an anthology of sci-fi work that exemplifies this new optimism.

3.  Independent Museums

In America the long-standing tradition has been for private art buyers to leave their collections to a local museum (aided by the tax system that allows these gifts to be tax-deductible).    However, the new trend has been for some rich patrons to build their own museums.    Private museums are becoming increasingly influential, such as the first museum of contemporary Western art built by Indonesian-businessman and collector named Budi Tek, which opens in Shanghai in May 2014.

4.  Bard Birthday

Shakespeare was born in 1564, 450 years ago, and there will be many celebrations not just in Britain but in the entire Anglophone world as well.    I’m planning to celebrate his birthday by fulfilling a life-long dream of reading all of his works, his plays and his poetry!   I’ve read various individual plays and seen productions on TV and in movies throughout my life, but with the aid of Harold Bloom’s book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, I intend to read all the plays in roughly the order they were written.   It’s a once-in-a-lifetime project to commemorate a genius that has occurred only once in the history of mankind!

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