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19 November 2014

Century of the Photon: 9 predictions for 2065

Looking into the proverbial crystal ball is a risky endeavor.

  • "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. X rays will prove to be a hoax." William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, president of the British Royal Society 1890-1895.

  • "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM 1914-1956.

But we humans seem to find the urge to do so to be irresistible on certain occasions, particularly anniversaries. At the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste recently, optics and photonics experts offered a few guesses as to what may happen over the next 50 years.

What new capabilities will technology offer us two-thirds of the way into the Century of the Photon? Fast-forward to 2065, when …

  1. Solar energy provides 50% of the world’s still increasing energy demand.
  2. A second laser fusion power station has just been completed.
  3. More than 90% of humanity has Tb/second photonic communications connections.
  4. Room-size 3D holographic displays strain the photonic internet.
  5. Lighting has become smart and personalized as a result of coming to understand the interaction of various wavelengths with human biology.
  6. Genomics, proteomics, or metabolomics, all affordably optically determined, define customized therapies on an individual basis.
  7. The completed super-resolution brain map, quantum computing, early detection with eye exams, and photonics neuro-therapy promise end to dementia.
  8. The count of planets with “life signatures” is now at 1,849 -- no communication as yet.
  9. Networked hyperspectral home food inspection sensors immediately identify local e coli and other contamination, preventing 100% of food poisoning.
For the here and now, they also considered some concerns facing the scientific community in particular – challenges that need to be solved.

  1. We face a worrying lack of translation of scientific advances into useful outcomes. Knowledge is important, but application is what makes a difference in people’s lives.
  2. While basic science is a key element of the innovation infrastructure, by itself, it is not sufficient -- public funding programs need to reflect that symbiosis.
  3. Science increasingly is measured by criteria that are taking it away from innovation, for example, journal publication’s impact factor with its inverse relationship to practical application of the research reported.
  4. There is a growing scientific illiteracy in the public and politicians in many nations. The science, technology engineering, and mathematics (STEM) community needs to continue its concerted efforts to raise awareness of the need to support education and advances for the benefit of individuals and human society as a whole.
Want to help address the challenges? Get involved with the International Year of Light in 2015, support the National Photonics Initiative in the U.S., find out what Photonics21 is doing in the EU, look into other options where you live -- and post a comment about what you’re doing to raise awareness of photonics and gain more support for science.

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