Elena Scotti/FUSION
Elena Scotti/FUSION

The future is formless.

Some futures that decades ago we once saw as just over the horizon—artificial intelligence, colonizing Mars—have still yet to arrive. In other cases, the future seems to have taken a sharp left turn.


Despite often getting it wrong, we cannot help but try to figure out what shape the future might take. We want to anticipate its configuration, to sketch its outline. So every Friday at Real Future, we'll be sharing a few of our favorite future predictions. Here are five we found mildly plausible this week.

1. No plastics!

Rather than manufacturing new tastes and smells, biotech startup Ginko Bioworks "designs biology." When a French fragrance firm wanted the scent of roses for its perfume, it hired Ginko to engineer microbes to grow rose oil rather than painstakingly squeeze it from flower petals or come up with a synthetic equivalent. Because living cells use resources like energy much more efficiently than man-made manufacturing, Ginko CEO Jason Kelly told Forbes that one day we will likely grow everything we consume. “Our view is that biology is a uniquely powerful technology in manufacturing," he said. "At the end of the day, as a society, we need to stop manufacturing everything and grow everything.”

2. Growing all our food in farm boxes

Freight Farms

The startup Freight Farms, The Wall Street Journal reports, has figured out how to use freight containers and LED lights to grow acres’ worth of produce in a very small space. Its containers are already used on traditional farms to supplement the typical growing season, but eventually we could see a whole lot more of our food grown this way. In addition to taking up less space, Freight Farms aims to produce food without pests or pesticide for less than the wholesale cost of their conventional alternative. If it succeeds, the Journal writes, "boxed farming could go a long way to feeding a growing population with shrinking arable land."

3. UberPooling everywhere

The biggest threat to the auto industry might actually be carpooling, according to venture capitalist and tech industry analyst Mary Meeker's 2016 Internet Trends report.


“Shared private rides [are] becoming urban mainstream,” the report says, referencing UberPool’s growth to account for 20 percent of Uber’s total rides. In San Francisco, the report notes, it has grown to 40 percent of total rides. This might explain why manufacturers like Toyota are so eager to cozy up to ride-sharing companies. (And now that we're all about sharing the backseat, the term "ride-sharing" finally makes sense.)


4. Jetpacks will really be a thing!

What modernist sci-fi future is complete without whizzing around with a rocket strapped to your back? This particular aspect of the Jetsons' future may actually arrive soon. Thanks to advancements in aviation technology, several companies are close to bringing a jetpack to market. It may be a while, though, before jetpacks become much more than billionaires' playthings: for now, they cost as much as $250,000 for only a few brief minutes of flight.


5. Uploading your photos to bacteria


Back in 2012, scientists synthetically manufactured DNA in the lab and encoded into it a full-length book on science—proving that DNA was capable of acting like a living hard drive, storing much, much more data than a piece of hardware ever could. In a paper published this week in the journal Science, researchers showed that you can upload data into already living organisms, too. Using Crispr, Harvard researchers uploaded a whopping 100 bytes of data into living, growing bacterial cells. "With synthetic engineering," Popular Mechanics wrote, "it's not hard to imagine certain specially designed hard-drive bacteria with vastly expanded regions of their genetic code, able to rapidly upload vast amounts of data."

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