When it comes to futuristic technology like hover-boards and android butlers, they always say, "Don't hold your breath." Well, hold your breath: NASA is apparently working on warp drive. No dilithium crystals required.
It's hard to imagine a pulsating warp core in the middle of a NASA shuttle, much less slicing through outer space at 10 times the speed of light—but that's the idea. And remember: Only a century ago, airplanes seemed impossible. Thirty years ago, nobody could imagine cell-phones, much less Bluetooth. And ten years ago, iPads would have seemed like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
What other inventions might lie on the horizon? Here's some technology that engineers—pro, private and amateur—are currently working on:
Holodeck: Fess up—you wanted a holodeck from the moment you saw one on Star Trek NG. You probably wanted to live in a holodeck, for at least a few days or weeks, making literally anything happen. A stroll on Venus? Done. Ancient Persian palace? Presto. Well, Microsoft is trying to do just that, and they're filing an actual patent at the actual U.S. Patent Office. In a few years, World of Warcraft may look like Oregon Trail.
Jetpacks: For ages, people have daydreamed of becoming jetpack pilots. Curiously, these personal aviation devices always look pretty much the same: There's a trim guy wearing a metal backpack composed of two rockets and a handheld throttle. (And note that he always wears a cool-looking helmet). Whether it's The Rocketeer or the police of Minority Report, pop culture has always envisioned roughly the same gear. And what do you know? "Rocketman" Dan Schlund came up with almost exactly that. But there's a snag: Individual flight is one of the most nail-bitingly scary ideas in the technology business, especially when you take "wing suits" and hang gliders into account. Still, if NASA has its way, we may be commuting by Puffin Personal Air Vehicle any decade now.
Phasers: At least one guy invented a functional phaser, which could pop a balloon with its laser stream. It may not replace bean-bag guns and rubber bullets, but we can only hope that law enforcement of the future can harmlessly "stun" suspects. Or, in the case of Borg invaders, vaporize them.
Space Tourism: The most ambitious commercial project of the 21st Century may be space tourism—the chance for bored billionaires to fly into space, enjoy zero-gravity luxury in Earth's orbit, and return to terra firma in time for their next corporate merger. The most promising company is Virgin Galactic, which is already soliciting Forbes subscribers to "book your place in space." (And yes, it's Virgin as in Virgin Records). The company even claims eco-friendly construction and propulsion. Just a few concerns: (a) If eccentric billionaires end up in space, who's to say we'll want them back? (b) How are you supposed to drink a martini in space? Out of a Ziplock bag? (c) Is it smart to cash in on science in such a cavalier way? Don't we all remember a little movie called Jurassic Park? (d) Come to think of it, what about space tourism with dinosaurs? Just sayin'.
What other inventions might make their debut?