Looming disasters, and other tech predictions, for 2014 and beyond

Dec 24, 2013 07:07 am | Computerworld
by Patrick Thibodeau

More than most years, 2013 might be remembered for some ominous predictions of doom for the earth and its inhabitants.

The threat of solar storms received much attention from prognosticators, as did abrupt climate change -- the earth's atmosphere passed the 400 parts per million in carbon dioxide mark in 2013.

Also, life extension became part of the tech discussion in 2013 and promises to become more of one in the years ahead.

High-speed machine-to-machine trading, long a topic, is gaining ever more attention as transactions near the speed of light.

Some of the biggest (and smallest) predictions for next year and beyond follow.

The end of the power grid

The National Intelligence Council, in its Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report, released this year, said geomagnetic storms "pose substantial threat" to electronics and the power grid.

This was a big year for warnings about solar storms. The last "solar super-storm," occurred in 1859, and the next one has a good chance of arriving within your lifetime.

In 1989, a solar storm knocked out the Quebec power grid, impacting 6 million customers.

Historical records suggest a return period of 50 years for Quebec-level storms and 150 years for very extreme storms, such as the 1859 so-called Carrington Event, according to a report by insurer Lloyd's earlier this year.

Scientists at the Idaho National Laboratory recently demonstrated in tests that "geomagnetic disturbances have the power to disrupt and possibly destroy electrical transformers, the backbone of our nation's utility grid."

Extreme solar events are memorable, even without electronics. In 1859 Mother Nature "lit up its own chandelier in order, as it might be, to reveal the wickedness going on at the dead hour of night," The Memphis Daily wrote after brilliant lights in the nighttime sky, flashes, and red glows startled the city.

It prompted the fire department to muster on the mistaken belief that there was a large fire.

Things that may go boom next year

"Bitcoin will explode. KABOOM!" predicts Rob Banagale, CEO and co-founder, Gilph, Inc., a messaging security provider, via the National Venture Capital Association.

"OpenStack will implode," said Jason Bloomberg, author Agile Architecture Revolution, in his 2014 predictions at ZapThink. "It will succumb to a kind of innovation paralysis," he said.

In 2013, scientists confirmed the existence of the largest volcano on the planet, and among the largest in the solar system. Tamu Massif is in Northwest Pacific Ocean and is as large as the state of New Mexico. It is, fortunately, inactive.

Google thinks about life extension, as did Edison