In an Internet of Things (IoT) world, we are more connected than ever before, and one of the big questions facing the satellite industry is what its future will be in this uber-connected world. Via Satellite decided who better to answer this question than an actual futurist who looks into what the digital world might look like. KD Adamson, a futurist, author, keynote speaker and presenter, painted a vision of the future and what it means for satellite.
Adamson admits futurists like herself believe the world is going to change more in the next 20 to 30 years than it has in the last 200 years. The reason for this is the exponential growth of connected technologies, which means we are seeing change much more quickly than we are used to.
So, what will be the big technology changes and how could they possibly impact the satellite industry? Adamson points to quantum computing as something that could have a major impact over the next few years.
“For a start, it is going to render any type of security pointless because it will break world-class encryption in a second. It also introduces the concept of things being able to be in two places at once, a quantum effect called ‘tunneling,’ which hypothetically opens up time travel as a possibility, which I know sounds like science fiction,” Adamson said. “In fact there are already some working models of quantum computers. DWave [is] shipping a quantum computer now, which costs about $10 million and stands 10 feet high. But as that technology develops — and it could come in the next four to five years — it could … accelerate a range of other tech,” she said.
Another change Adamson highlights is nuclear fusion, which is something Lockheed Martin is working on. “They reckon in the next three to four years, [Lockheed Martin] will have a working prototype of a compact nuclear fusion reactor about the size of shipping container. You are talking about limitless emission-free energy. This has been talked about for a long time, but the exponential growth of computing power means that just because something wasn't possible 18 months ago doesn't mean it won't be possible tomorrow.” she said.
Adamson believes the moves toward quantum computing and ultimately nuclear fusion has the potential to completely change the world order. Access to free energy coupled with computing power many magnitudes more powerful than today would have major geopolitical impacts. “You can only imagine what that would begin to do in terms of balance of power for countries as well as quality of life for people,” she said.
In terms of how it will specifically impact space, Adamson says we are now starting to see the beginning of a democratization of space. She thinks what will accelerate this will be commercial potential and sustainability issues.
“Commercially it makes a lot more sense for us to move our dirty stuff off-planet. I think the satellite industry will have a huge role to play in that. Whether it has got the vision, that is another question,” Adamson said. She wonders if the existing incumbents can shift their priorities and open up enough to make different partnerships than the ones they have at the moment.
Adamson believes space has always been the frontier for humans, but once you start to mine asteroids, space becomes an ocean between two countries rather than a frontier. She points to an interesting trend over the last few years where there has been a proliferation of new companies trying to create markets in off-planet structures and 3D or 4D printing space. She says these companies are coming up with ideas and trying to create momentum around an industry that will deliver services to space operations.
“Instead of a frontier, space will become a waypoint and you will start to look at satcoms the way we look at terrestrial communications now. The exponential growth in technologies sees falling costs, which levels the playing field and democratizes access. I think we might see big players move more into creating platforms, and others can build applications on top of that,” Adamson said.
She cites the examples of the maritime and oil and gas industries, where you could make an interesting parallel, “A really smart offshore operator should be looking at talking to satellite companies like Intelsat and Inmarsat about what happens off-planet. How can we take our expertise supporting operations in harsh conditions at sea and apply that to a zero-gravity environment? Is there an opportunity to be grasped? It is not as far-fetched as it sounds. What you need in companies now are people who are far-fetched,” she added.
Adamson thinks one of the most intriguing prospects about the future is how space could open up to many more people, She notes that, in the past, if you were going to do something in space, you would need to be a customer with exceptionally deep pockets, usually a government. That is no longer the case.
“SpaceX is probably the most visible example of the creation of a new kind of commercial market space that will grow to support asteroid mining and develop a whole new space supply chain. Commercial opportunities will drive the move off-planet and those will include space tourism. Once you change the opportunity, you change the customer base,” she said. “You don’t need to be a government to be investing in space anymore. You just need the vision, and space has always been attractive to people with that."
While we mainly talked about a future involving space companies, Adamson gave many other interesting possible future insights. One of the most interesting could impact a business such as Starbucks.
“There are apps that can connect to your smartphone. You put a couple of little sensor pads on your head, and what it does is stimulate your brain to either make you calm or to make you feel a bit buzzy as if you have had a couple of cups of coffee. The prototype of one called Thync has been available at consumer electronics shows for a couple of years. You might think this is just another fascinating app idea, but if I was Starbucks, I would be watching this very closely. Something like this could fatally undermine the culture whereby you need coffee in the morning. Why would you go and buy your Starbucks espresso shot if you could sit down with your smartphone for 10 minutes and have the same result?” she said. VS