17th-century British scientist Robert Boyle was many things: the father of modern chemistry, a founding member of the Royal Society, an inventor, the discoverer of the eponymous gas law, an alchemist, an experimenter on his own body fluids, and a friend to necromancers who offered him sex with demons. Now we can add “clairvoyant” to that colourful list.
Last week the Royal Society displayed for the first time a remarkable document: Boyle’s 24-point wish list for the future of science.
The list, which dates back to the 1660s, was found among his private papers and predicts the inventions of GPS navigation, flight, organ transplants, commercial agriculture and hair dye, among other things.
We were inspired and began to wonder, what could the next 400 years hold? So we asked several of today’s prominent scientists to emulate Boyle and write their own wish lists.
David Eagleman, neuroscientist and fiction writer
- Download consciousness into a computer to live forever;
- Travel to extra-solar planets in a reasonable amount of time;
- Determine how to get by on zero sleep.
Steve Jones, geneticist
- Understand the science of human emotions broadly enough to put an end to war;
- A universal abandonment of religious belief as science triumphs over myth;
- A healthy old age followed by an instant death;
- The end of the need for grief;
- The ability to grow fingers as well as we can fingernails;
- An insight into why snails vary so much genetically from place to place.
Sean Carroll, physicist
- Understand dark matter and dark energy, which together comprise 96 per cent of our universe;
- Understand consciousness and intelligence, so that we could mimic it in computers.
Seth Shostak, SETI astronomer.
- Discover not only abundant biology throughout the cosmos, but at least one instance of extraterrestrial intelligence within the next 100 years;
- Invent regenerative therapies to cure problems related to aging such as hearing and vision loss and the degeneration of skin tone;
- A population ten times that of Earth now living in orbiting space colonies within 200 years;
- The ability to control local climate and alter Earth’s topography.
Jim Al-Khalili, physicist and broadcaster.
- The convergence of nanoscience and biology enabling nano-robotic surgery and drug delivery to specific locations within cells in the body;
- Learn whether string theory really lives up to its promise of being a “theory of everything”;.
The realisation of a true quantum computer;
- Crack the mystery of life itself: discover how something so unlikely could have emerged by chance on Earth three and a half billion years ago.
Lastly, here are a few of Boyle’s original suggestions: some have come true, while some we’re still holding our breath for:
- The Prolongation of Life;
- The Recovery of Youth, or at least some of the Marks of it, as new Teeth, new Hair colour’d as in youth;
- The Art of Continuing long under water, and exercising functions freely there;
- The Cure of Wounds at a Distance;
- The Cure of Diseases at a distance or at least by Transplantation;
- The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions;
- The Emulating of Fish without Engines by Custome and Education only;
- The Acceleration of the Production of things out of Seed;
- Freedom from Necessity of much Sleeping exemplify’d by the Operations of Tea and what happens in Mad-Men.