2019

Computers break the exaflop barrier

An exaflop is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (a million trillion) calculations per second – also known as a quintillion. The world’s fastest supercomputers are now capable of this speed; a thousandfold improvement over machines of only a decade earlier.

This exponential growth will continue, so that by 2029, computers will surpass the zettaflop barrier – a thousand times faster than an exaflop computer of 2019, and a million times faster than a petaflop computer of 2009. One of the many applications resulting from this trend will be the ability to accurately simulate an entire human brain and its neurons in real time.

Personal computers in 2019 are becoming ever smaller, lighter and more compact – with laptops, netbooks and other mobile devices far outnumbering desktops. Physical hard drives are becoming almost redundant, with most storage now being done online using “virtual drives” housed in remote servers, aided by the tremendous growth in broadband speeds and 5G wireless communications.

Web applications have reached startling levels of power and sophistication, especially where search engines are concerned. These not only find keywords in a search, but also interpret the context of the request. Users can enter complex, often highly specific questions (such as “I’d like to see a comedy at the cinema after 9pm, then have an Italian meal for less than $20”) and receive detailed answers and recommendations. Furthermore, these results are often customised to their own personal tastes and interests. This emerging form of AI – which effectively acts like a personal assistant – means the web as a whole now offers a far more productive and intuitive experience.

Automated Freight

Automated freight transport

Autonomous rapid transit systems have already been in place at certain airports, and on the metro systems of cities. By this date, significant numbers of driverless trucks have begun appearing on the roads. They are capable of travelling hundreds of miles by themselves, negotiating traffic and other obstacles, and utilising advanced GPS technologies. They have a number of advantages over human drivers – such as being able to run 24 hours a day without getting tired, never being absent, and not requiring a salary or training. The trucks can also detect mechanical or software faults.

These automated vehicles will eventually include cars, taxis and other types of road vehicles, and will become widespread by the late 2030s.

The Aral Sea disappears from the map

As recently as the 1970s, the Aral Sea was the world’s fourth largest lake, with an area of 68,000 km2.

However, Soviet irrigation projects diverted the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers which fed into it. By 2004, the sea had shrunk to 25% of its original surface area, and a nearly fivefold increase in salinity had killed most of its natural flora and fauna. By 2007, it had declined to 10% of its original size, splitting into three separate lakes, two of which were too salty to support fish. The once prosperous fishing industry had been virtually destroyed, and former fishing towns along the original shores became ship graveyards.

The Aral Sea was also heavily polluted, largely as a result of weapons testing, industrial projects, pesticides and fertilizer runoff. Wind-blown salt from the dried seabed damaged crops and polluted drinking water, while salt- and dust-laden air causd major public health problems in the Aral Sea region. The retreat of the sea also caused localised climate change, with summers becoming hotter and drier, and winters colder and longer.

Although a dam project in 2005 saved what little remained of the northern part of the sea (the Small Aral), the much larger southern part of the sea (the Large Aral) continued to shrink, and by 2019 had evaporated entirely.

Aral Sea

Global oil demand exceeds 100m barrels per day…

... while new discoveries are continuing to decline. As the decade draws to a close, it becomes painfully obvious to all that so-called “Peak Oil” has been reached. And with 60% of all recoverable oil in the Middle East, conflict looms for much of the region.

2020

2019

Dusk til Dawn SSveter SSveter