Sfetcu, Nicolae (2022). Future of Science – Science of Science, DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.13183.69285, in Telework: https://www.telework.ro/en/future-of-science-science-of-science/
What will science look like in the near future? First, very closely coupled with, even dependent on, technology. Second, three factors will strongly influence the development of science and technology; globalization, global warming, and the escalation of conflicts at the level of nations. A period of accumulation in science, without spectacular qualitative leaps in the natural and formal sciences, but with a lot of new theories that will appear in the field of social sciences and an unprecedented development of technologies. The new paradigm of the scientific and technological revolution has made rapid progress, and the world has entered a new era of innovation with profound changes. Current emphases are on outer space and genetic control. Creative scientific research and development will become the main activity of humanity.
Keywords: science, predictions
Future of Science – Science of Science
What will science look like in the near future? First, very closely coupled with, even dependent on, technology. Second, three factors will strongly influence the development of science and technology; globalization, global warming, and the escalation of conflicts at the level of nations. A period of accumulation in science, without spectacular qualitative leaps in the natural and formal sciences, but with a lot of new theories that will appear in the field of social sciences and an unprecedented development of technologies.
The explosive development of information technology in recent years creates new opportunities and directions for the development of science and research. Megadata (big data, massive data), obtained through data mining and the use of analytics for their processing, has allowed the accelerated development of a relatively recent field: metascience, also known as metaresearch, the science of sciences or research of research. Metascience (the science of sciences) is computational research that studies the traces that researchers leave in big data with clearly defined cases. With the help of the obtained information, metascience intends to analyze the quality of scientific research and find new, more effective and safer methods of scientific research and investigation. Metascience appeared about 60 years ago, and it developed at the moment when, among the scientific communities, the idea of a “replication crisis” appeared as a result of the impossibility of reproducing some scientific studies and research, especially in the field of medicine. The main issues studied in metascience are research methods (including possible biases), research reporting, reproducibility, evaluation and incentives for research, seeking improved ways of conducting, communicating, verifying, evaluating and rewarding research. Metascience has already found many applications in research methodology improvement, causal evidence, journalism (the science of publications), ways of reporting studies and research, reproducibility of experiments, evaluation of studies and research, and in scientometrics. A subfield of the science of science is scientific data science, applied to the analysis of research papers particularly through fraud detection and citation network analysis. Helping in this endeavor is also Popper’s theory of demarcation between science and non-science, based on the general criteria of scientific methodology, the nature of probability and the methodology of social sciences.
Interdisciplinary research between natural, social and technical sciences will accelerate, integrating the scientific knowledge system and developing new disciplines, becoming the norm. Many scientists believe that we are currently entering a new generation of scientific research paradigm, characterized by intelligent units, human-machine symbiosis and iterative optimization of the scientific research environment, with automatic generation of scientific hypotheses and intelligent integration of research results.
Socially, new concepts are emerging, such as anthropocentrism, Society 5.0 or post-humanism, in which people are shaped by science and technology. A human-computer symbiosis is predicted, with the level of artificial intelligence developing at an exponential rate, and an increasingly blurred distinction between humans, biological machines and intelligent robots. Society will thus become more and more complex, with a high degree of self-regulation but also increased tensions between various interest groups.
The ethics of science and technology will continue to play an important role, with an emphasis on normative ethics, which will become a mandatory structure.
In the natural sciences, the problem of quantum gravity and the problem of space-time singularities are increasingly discussed, dark energy and dark matter indicating the need for a new physics. Ad hoc hypotheses introduced to solve problems have failed. Cumulative anomalies in this domain show that singularities must be associated with reaching the limits of the physical validity of general relativity.
Socially and geopolitically, the European Union is faced with particularly serious situations, unprecedented since its establishment, having to face new dangers, threats and challenges by assuming increased responsibilities. For this, a complex crisis management mechanism is needed. The development of these capabilities is necessary for the Union if it wishes to remain an important actor on the international stage. And all these activities must be developed in a contemporary security environment that undergoes increasingly unpredictable mutations, in the context of a conflict that threatens to break out at any moment, with the tendency to escalate in the Extended Black Sea Region, an area with large fossil resources.
In this geopolitical context, dominated by a deep energy crisis, it is worth noting the tendency of some states towards an autarkic economy, in which the state does not participate in international economic life, with the risk of a sharp economic decline.
At the level of formal sciences, information has become the main factor for obtaining an advantage, be it social, economic, political or military. The data collection is primarily based on big data resources, online or by direct collection. Processing this data is a sensitive operation, using various machine learning techniques, of which learning association rules looks for interesting relationships between the selected big data.
Cognitively, a new paradigmatic approach to perceptible reality as a whole, with specific application to information-driven DNA dynamics, leads to a triadic genomic configuration that hosts, in addition to parental hereditary inheritance, a highly complex guidance matrix of transcendental origin, capable of controlling the specific way in which protein synthesis is carried out.
OECD identifies 40 key emerging technologies that will have a significant impact in the future and divides them into four groups: digital technologies, biotechnology, energy and environmental technologies, and advanced materials technologies. Emerging Technology Trends identifies 10 emerging technologies: robots, automated systems and automation; advanced materials and manufacturing; energy production, harvesting, storage and placement; biomedical sciences and human enhancement; quantum computing; mixed reality and digital simulation; technologies for food and water safety; synthetic biology; space technology; climate change adaptation technologies.
Thermal batteries store the thermal energy available at a given time and release it when we need it. One way is to induce a substance to undergo thermal transition through a transition front, through the delta enthalpy of fusion or vaporization. Encapsulated thermal energy batteries use substances with high volumetric heat capacity, such as water, concrete and wet sand, for storage. A sand battery prototype has been built in Finland to store renewable solar and wind energy as heat for later use in district heating and possibly further power generation. Finnish engineers used for this purpose 100 tons of sand encapsulated in a 1 x 7 meter steel container, heated by wind and solar energy (resistive heating). The heat was then distributed locally to heat the buildings.
Xenotransplantation (heterologous transplantation) involves the transplantation of living cells, tissues, or organs from one species to another. Human xenotransplantation offers a potential treatment for end-stage organ failure, although it still raises many new medical, legal and ethical issues, but has the potential to revolutionize surgery. A procedure that has already been successfully used several times is the transplantation of a heart from a pig into a human after specific genetic editing (removal of some animal genes and addition of some human genes). Also, xenozoonoses are one of the biggest threats to rejections because they are xenogenetic infections. Xenografts have been a controversial procedure from the start: proponents of xenotransplantation say the potential benefits to society outweigh the risks, but certain religions, such as Buddhism and Jainism, oppose it by advocating non-violence towards all living creatures. However, in the near future we may see xenotransplants.
Hydrogen can be used as the fuel to power aircraft as an energy source, powering a fuel cell to generate electricity for propellers. Liquid hydrogen storage requires a pressurized tank with minimal surface area for minimal thermal insulation weight, leading to a longer and wider fuselage, but a hydrogen aircraft would require 2.8 times less fuel weight. The efficiency of a hydrogen-powered aircraft would be a trade-off between the larger wetted surface area, the lower weight of the fuel, and the added weight of the tank, which varies with the size of the aircraft. Hydrogen fuel cell aircraft would have zero emissions in operation. There is a £15m project (Fly Zero) in the UK for a hydrogen-powered aircraft, run by the Aerospace Institute of Technology in collaboration with the UK government. The medium-sized plane could carry 279 passengers.
Digital twins are virtual representations of humans, designed to simulate the human system. The concept of a digital twin in the healthcare industry was originally proposed and first used in product or equipment forecasting. It is thus possible to build personalized patient models, continuously adjustable based on monitored health and lifestyle parameters, resulting in a virtual patient for testing to predict individual patient responses. With the help of digital twins, human beings can have their whole bodies digitally scanned for signs of illness and injury, which would improve health and ease doctors’ burdens. To this end, the US company Q Bi has built a scanner that will measure hundreds of biomarkers in about an hour, from hormone levels to fat accumulation in the liver and markers of inflammation or any type of cancer, building a 3D digital avatar of a patient’s body that can be tracked over time and updated with each new scan.
Through the process of photosynthesis, trees reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere. A new technology (Direct Air Capture) could fulfill the same role as trees, absorbing carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in caves deep underground, or using it in combination with hydrogen to produce synthetic fuels. Carbon dioxide removal is achieved when the ambient air comes into contact with chemical media, usually an aqueous alkaline solvent, or adsorbents. Direct air capture was suggested in 1999 by Klaus S. Lackner and is still under development. For now, it can only be used to capture some emissions from distributed sources, such as some rocket launches. There are direct air capture plants that are in operation, but current designs require a huge amount of energy to operate.
Genomics focuses on the structure, function, evolution, mapping and editing of genomes, the complete sets of DNA of an organism, aiming at the collective characterization and quantification of all genes of an organism, their interrelationships and influence on the organism. Advances in genomics have sparked a revolution in discovery-based research and systems biology to facilitate understanding of even the most complex biological systems, such as the brain. Genomic medicine is based on genomic data collected on large populations, studying response to drugs and diseases. The first tools for the medical interpretation of the human genome are being developed, and the creation of a precision medicine research platform. Synthetic biology aims to create partially synthetic bacterial species, and population genomics makes large-scale comparisons of DNA sequences between populations to improve our understanding of microevolution.
Energy is an area of greatest interest in the current crisis, looking for new solutions for energy production and storage. In the current context of mitigating global warming by transitioning to green energy by moving away from traditional fossil fuels and adopting energy alternatives, energy production is an essential social activity. One possible source for which solutions are already being sought is the exploration of means of producing combustible hydrogen from water and through the enzymatic decomposition of biomass. Solar energy is an essential source of renewable energy. Active solar techniques include the use of photovoltaic systems, concentrated solar energy and solar water heating to harness the energy. The large amount of solar energy available makes it a very attractive source of electricity. Experts predict that solar energy, along with wind and hydropower, will soon overtake coal as the dominant source of electricity worldwide. Solar energy will drive about a fifth of electricity generation in some countries in the near future.
Quantum computing can be built on quantum mechanical phenomena such as superposition, interference, and entanglement by designing quantum computers. It is expected that these computers will soon be able to solve certain computational problems substantially faster than classical computers. Quantum circuits, quantum Turing machine, adiabatic quantum computation, etc. are used as quantum computing models. based on the quantum bit (“qubit”) which can be in two quantum states, 1 or 0, or in a superposition of these states. Technologies considered are transmons, ion traps, and topological quantum computers. For now, there are problems with maintaining the quantum states of qubits due to quantum decoherence. What makes the difference between classical and quantum computers is the speed of work, much higher in the quantum case.
Disappearance of some species: Threats are increasing due to pollution and climate change, by destroying the habitat of many animals. Currently, 19% of species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species are already affected by climate change. An increase in temperature of 1.5 °C to 2.0 °C may lead to a significant decrease in the geographic range of many insects, plants and vertebrates. There are projects using cloud technology and artificial intelligence to identify animals in images to the species level so that scientists can more easily map the range of a population, identifying endangered species.
The problem of food for mankind: The past 6 decades have seen giant leaps in innovation in agriculture and food processing. But the planet will have to generate more food in the next 35 years than it has ever produced in all of human history. Genetically modified crops and foods can help with this, but with risks, as they can transfer genes of other organisms from their ecosystems.
The problem of plastic materials: Non-recyclable plastic is now everywhere. Over the past 70 years, humans have produced more than 8 billion tons of plastic. Currently, attempts are being made to replace plastic with products based on materials such as flax, mushrooms and shrimp shells fibers. New recycling technologies will emerge that will increase the current percentage of recycling. A global treaty on plastic pollution is currently being drafted. On March 2, 2022, UN Member States voted to resume the Fifth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5.2) to establish an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) with a mandate to promote a binding international agreement on legal opinion regarding plastic materials.
And since today’s most acute issues are those related to justice and geopolitics, a help in clarifying our ideas can be Plato’s book Republic, whose central theme is justice, argued with the help of several Platonic theories, including the allegorical myth of the cave, the doctrine of ideas, the dialectic, the theory of the soul and the project of an ideal city.
The new paradigm of the scientific and technological revolution has made rapid progress, and the world has entered a new era of innovation with profound changes. Engels stated that the development of science is directly proportional to the amount of knowledge left by the previous generation. Therefore, in its most general form, science processes geometrically. Current emphases are on outer space and genetic control. Creative scientific research and development will become the main activity of humanity.
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