A voice from the future – what 2018 may have in store for STEM

  Last updated January 9, 2018 at 4:24 pm

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An interesting quirk of science is that we tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.


While it may be difficult to know what lies around the corner, there are a number of dedicated professionals who spend their time trying to work out what the future may hold.


Credit: Milos Kreckovic


Robert Hickson is a Strategist and “Futurist” who specialises in providing scientific and strategic advice by monitoring trends and developments in science and technology.


Hickson has provided us with predictions of the advances we could see in 2018 as well as something we’d all like to happen but will probably not come to pass…next year, at least.


The sure thing


“Rocket Lab will successfully launch a micro satellite in 2018 (if it doesn’t before Christmas 2017)” says Hickson.


Rocket Lab is a New Zealand-based company that is on a mission to remove the barriers to commercial space by providing frequent launch opportunities to low Earth orbit.


Being a true professional, Dr Hickson was quick to point out that he considers this as having “a high probability of happening” and not something that will “definitely occur”. But as a resident of NZ, Dr Hickson is proud to represent Australasia in the billion-dollar micro-space race.


Globally, the space industry had an estimated A$440 billion turnover in 2015 and it’s expected to reach A$1.3 trillion  by 2030. Of that, the small satellite market is expected to be worth A$9.2 billion by 2020.


There’s a huge number of applications for the data gathered by low-earth orbit micro satellites. They offer high-resolution imagery and mapping capabilities which have commercial applications for monitoring land-use, natural resources, environmental impacts, forestry management, agriculture and load more.


With Australia also working on its own micro satellites the race is on for victory in the Trans-Tasman space race.


You are likely to see…


“An Artificial intelligence (AI) system that doesn’t embarrass its designers (i.e. may not win, but won’t lose badly) in multi-player no-limit Texas hold ’em poker.”


This year has seen some of the most impressive advances in Artificial Intelligence, including the roll-out of self-driving cars, matching kidney donors, selecting medicines for better treatments, and even giving film critic Roger Ebert back his voice.


Earlier this year, the thing that caught Hickson’s eye was when AI proved that it could beat top poker players one-on-one.


Professional poker player Daniel McAulay, explained to Wired that the AI’s ability to hold different plays in its memory made it stand apart from human contenders. “It splits its bets into three, four, five different sizes,” he explained. “No human has the ability to do that.”


The current game theory used to win one on one poker matches falls short when trying to compute multi-player tactics and winning moves. Given that there are a number of research teams working on this challenge, AI’s increasing aptitude is something to watch out for in 2018.


Unfortunately, you probably won’t see this in 2018


“A large scale, cost-effective carbon capture plant begins operation” is one of the least likely headlines in 2018, according to Hickman.


Direct air carbon capture has been described as a machine that does what trees do, but on steroids – capturing thousands of times more carbon than nature can.


The downside? They are incredibly expensive to deploy.


The Southern Hemisphere summer of 2016/2017 broke 205 weather records, which shocked climate researchers. Even though we desperately want 2018 to be part of the climate change solution Hickson warns that interventions such as carbon capture come with their own “moral hazard” by “potentially sanctioning continued use of oil and coal”.


But as long as the world has Elon Musk I’m sure we’ll be heading in the right direction, right?


For more articles on cutting-edge technology, innovation, science and risk check out Hickson’s blog at https://sciblogs.co.nz/ariadne/.



About the Author

Andy Stapleton
Andrew Stapleton is a scientist and science communicator based in Adelaide. He is a presenter and producer of the popular podcast Publish, Perish or Podcast, posts weekly science articles on his website and has written for Australasian Science, Cosmos Magazine and ScienceAlert.


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