There is a large amount of hype about scientific or technological advances – most science reporting is actually a form of science fiction, where the purported advances never happen. We know this by looking back at past reporting, and seeing what percentage occurred as predicted. Very few.
Yet, there are some things much-talked about that do seem to have a significant chance of occurring, and do seem to have the potential for a significant impact. Two in particular are
1. Incrementally improving self-driving capabilities for cars.
2. More engaging or quicker learning methods.
In both cases, these are already happening, and the technologies for making them happen moreso are largely already here or near at hand. It’s more a question of doing it, and working through the bugs.
Both of these areas have very significant consequences.
Take 1. Self-driving capabilities have already been expanded, even in cheaper cars, with automatic transmissions and cruise control. The marginal innovations are largely being seen, currently, in luxury cars and specialized (industrial) automobiles – but it seems reasonable that these will eventually end up in wider usage.
Because much of the increases in self-driving capabilities are dependent on software, and because computer processing and memory are increasing significantly, it is reasonable to expect these capabilities to continue to increase as long as the computer factors are getting better.
It is difficult to think through exactly what consequences fully self-driving cars would have. Consider taxation. A large amount of municipal revenues comes from parking tickets and speeding tickets. Self-driving cars will probably not need to park in places where it will cost money, and won’t speed as much.
Of course, a fully self-driving car may not happen. This is because 98% of what cars do is fairly ‘easy’, programmatically, but the other 2% is difficult to handle by a computer program. Rather, what seems clear is that cars will get incrementally more self-driving capabilities.
2. is a fulcrum or magnifier technology. It can significantly increase other breakthroughs, by increasing the rates at which people learn relevant things.
A few examples of these are Google, StackExchange, and the Khan Academy. These are all already having a significant impact on the speed at which people can learn things.
Of course, at any given time, society is going both ways on various indicators of well-being. For example, better learning technologies, but also more ways to distract people with long-term sub-optimal entertainment. It is difficult, in the midst of things, to see which aspect will have the bigger effect in the long run.