Three predictions for our techie future

I have an old shoe box where I place mementos for posterity. Several articles in this month’s issue are worth clipping and dropping in there so that my heirs can have the pleasure of marveling at our prescience or laughing at our lack of it.

Our cover story about the possibility of autonomous airliners captures the mix of hand flying and automation that’s out there today. Our reporting suggests that breaking this equilibrium could prove to be difficult for many years to come, even with all the public exhilaration over the power of artificial intelligence. Will that signal prove to be wrong? Maybe. For all we know, we’re actually riding on a figurative and invisible seesaw that will suddenly spring upward to full autonomy of flight much sooner than expected. In that case, it could be me in seat 10A who unfolds the hard copy of “Pilot AI in command” while the plane’s AI-in-command tells us we’re ready for takeoff.

In the opinion piece, “What’s next? A personal air vehicle revolution,” former NASA scientist Dennis Bushnell offers a bold prediction about the nascent PAV market. He believes that these tiny electric aircraft are actually the seeds of a coming profound shift in where we live, how we work, the infrastructure we need and the impact we have on our planet. It’s a fascinating read and a tightly crafted argument. My heirs generations from now will either see Bushnell as akin to Gene Roddenberry who, in Star Trek, predicted Zoom, 3D printing, the Apple Watch and more, or laugh and climb into their transporter.

Moriba Jah’s column, “Homo machina: Embrace the human-AI synthesis,” makes the case that we’re heading toward merging ourselves with artificially intelligent machines, and he offers ideas for how we can do that in a manner that’s not scary, but empowering. This prediction is admittedly the boldest among the three articles discussed here. It is, though, another tightly made case. Humans do not seem to be innately opposed to permanently changing their bodies. To me, the wild card here will be the power of culture. When I was young, you were in the U.S. Navy if you had a tattoo, and Mr. Clean was the only man I saw with an earring.

It’s hard to know what societies will make of implanting artificial neurons in us, if that’s the idea.

About Ben Iannotta

Ben keeps the magazine and its news coverage on the cutting edge of journalism. He began working for the magazine in the 1990s as a freelance contributor and became editor-in-chief in 2013. He was editor of C4ISR Journal and has written for Air & Space Smithsonian, New Scientist, Popular Mechanics, Reuters and Space News.

Three predictions for our techie future