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Millennials will oversee the next scientific revolution

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Neil Conway/ flickr

Spencer Schneier
 Technology Editor

The common line of thinking is that easy access to computers, the rise of the internet and the prominence of mobile computing have created a generation fundamentally altered by technology.

Those who make this point are right, but they are missing the full picture, settling for the tip of the iceberg as the story.

From the rise of renewable energy to the growth of the Internet of Things to space travel, humanity is advancing technologically at a rate faster than any point in its history. To stop at social media and smartphones as the defining technologies of the millennial generation is missing the point.

For example, scientists are rapidly closing in on unlocking some of the fundamental secrets of the human genome. Such advancements are going to potentially allow for cures for everything from cancer to even aging, a notion that previously seemed best left for sci-fi and the movies.

It is exceedingly possible that millennials could live well into their triple digits. If this seems implausible, consider that for the better part of the last century, the average lifespan of Americans has been increasing at a steady rate. Also consider that the double helix structure of the human genome was not discovered until 1953.

Genetic research, combined with increased access to healthcare for all, will lead to a dramatic increase in the lifespan of millennials.

That is not the only field in which dramatic shifts seem possible, if not likely.

There is currently a space race of sorts among private companies seeking to expand humanity’s reach beyond Earth.

Companies such as SpaceX have plans in place to establish permanent human settlements on Mars within the next 50 years. Millennials will be the first generation to step foot on another planet and could possibly become the first generation to achieve multi-planetary status, a huge milestone for civilization.

For those who are incredulous at these claims, obviously none of them can be guaranteed. But to the notion that technology doesn’t seem to be evolving quickly enough to allow these things, let’s think a little bit about what an exponential curve looks like.

The progress of an exponential curve, when one zooms in really close, can look linear. It can also appear linear if one is only looking at the early stages of it. The thing that people often miss, however, is that once an exponential curve takes off, it does so at a shockingly fast rate.

Building on that notion, humanity has been advancing at a faster rate technologically than ever before in its history. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, technology has improved at increasingly faster rates, to the point that we now have computers that would’ve been state of the art 70 years ago that fit on our wrists.

If we are on an exponential trend technologically, the minute we hit the inflection point things are going to get weird, fast.

Artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and the ability to manipulate matter at the atomic level, quantum computing and the considerably large increase in computational power that will come with that, will all be huge innovations.

Individually, any of those things would be a revolutionary technology that could alter the lifestyle of millions, if not billions. Together, these technologies could allow for some exponential outcomes. Artificial intelligence has been covered in these pages, but nanotechnology is a particularly notable field.

Nanotechnology will allow humans to control individual molecules, and eventually atoms, at a level of precision previously unmatched. While we have the ability now to manipulate matter, it is not even close to the power we would have once nanotech begins to bear fruit.

One expert likened the different to playing with legos with boxing gloves on, versus using one’s fingers to snap the pieces in place.

With boxing gloves, you could generally put them into shapes and formations you like, but with your fingers they can be snapped into place with extreme precision. This is the power that nanotechnology could provide.

Things like the internet and iPhones are very important, but that is not where it is going to stop for the millennial generation.

We will get to go to Mars, live exponentially longer, understand our universe better and solve more problems than any generation has in human history.

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