Description of the Seven Horizons

The Seven Horizons Project is a response to frustrations experienced by the researchers who created it. We got tired of people murkying the discourse by commingling the wildest predictions with technologies already on the market.  Sometimes in the same sentence. The present and near future are challenging enough without confusing them with science fiction.

We got equally tired of being b.s.-ed even by Nobel Prize winners who swore to us that their product was much more imminent that it really was.

Finally, it got old, being told by the ignorant that technological developments that actually existed were unlikely.

Thus, this Wiki lists a broad range of emerging technologies, explains what they are, and then gives readers our best understanding of where they are in the pipeline.  Complete with notes on where our information comes from.  We then invite you to add your own entries.  And update and improve ours.

Our aim is to have the technological future begin to make some sense.  Not just information technology, but the bio, robotic, neuro and nano revolutions, too.  This has nothing to do with mumbo-jumbo predictions, but facts.  Uncovered by a network, and based on a visionary premise:  That Seven Horizons buys us time.  It gives us time to shape our worlds before innovation is sprung upon us.  For as Cicero wrote, “It was ordained at the beginning of the world that certain signs should prefigure certain events.”

Each emerging technology is placed in one of seven horizons, indicating how close they might be to actually entering our lives. These are:

The First Horizon“The Future Is Already Here.”

This is the horizon that honors novelist William Gibson’s observation, “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.”  In this horizon, the technology is already on the market, but most people are still unaware of it.  It is available, but not ubiquitous.  The artificial-intelligence-equipped Barbie that actually talks back and forth with your child while collecting information about her.  Or modafinil, the FDA-approved prescription pharmaceutical that shuts off the human trigger to sleep while enhancing cognition. ·

Second Horizon“Commercial.”

This is the commercial ramp-up stage where the MBAs usually live. The stuff has been demonstrated to work.  The business model is thought to be in place.  The crank-up process to commercial delivery is in full swing. The biological stuff, for example, has cleared stage-three clinical trials. We’re just waiting for the factory and the advertising campaign and the company organization to be finished. It’s real and near.  Robots that can anesthetize you, for example. Typically 1-4 years to reaching the public, barring some implosion, history shows.

Third Horizon – “Engineering.”

This is the stage where the venture capitalists usually live. The stuff works in the lab, and they’re figuring out if they can achieve major production in a fashion that makes billions. Lots of money changing hands. Vaccines against addiction, such as to cigarettes, for example.  Driverless cars.  Typically, 4-10 years to reaching the public unless some deal-killer emerges. ·

Fourth Horizon – “Scientific.”

This is the stage where discoverers and researchers are demonstrating the innovation is possible. They have proof of concept. But it is not guaranteed yet that it can be safely and economically brought to market, or when. Organ and limb regeneration belongs in this category. Memory pills. Typically, 10-15 years to reaching the public if everything goes right.  But the vast chasm between the scientific and engineering horizons is not known as “The Valley of Death” for nothing.

Fifth Horizon – “Informed Speculation.”

This is where you will typically find organizations such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), with which Garreau has had long association. In this horizon, it is not clear whether the technology will work, but a lot of money is being thrown at it. Synthetic Telepathy helmets that allow mind-to-mind communication via a computerized helmet, for example.   Typically, 20-plus years to reaching the public, depending on how bad the Department of Defense wants it.  The Internet, for example, took more than 30 years to go from DARPA’s Fifth Horizon to the First Horizon of the World Wide Web.

Sixth Horizon – “Blue Sky.”

Essentially, science fiction for which a credible pathway to reality exists. This is where the dreamers live.  For example, we know for a fact that plant genes can be spliced into mammals.  Serious people are thinking about how to modify human skin so as to allow people to generate energy from the sun via photosynthesis.  But who know what that means. Depending, for example, on where you put the first conceptual marker on cell phones, typical minimum time from “Blue Sky” to consumer, 50-years-plus, if ever.

Seventh Horizon – “Bullshit.”

Maybe we should call this “Questionable,” to be polite.  But we are pretty imaginative people, and this is the stuff about which we have extremely strong doubts, at least within a generation or three, absent some wildly unanticipated breakthroughs in fundamental science.

Yes, we know, on Oct. 9, 1903, the New York Times wrote:

“The flying machine which will really fly might be evolved by the combined and continuous efforts of mathematicians and mechanicians in from one million to ten million years.”

On the same day, on Kill Devil Hill, N.C., in his diary, a bicycle mechanic named Orville Wright wrote:

“We unpacked rest of goods for new machine.”

Nonetheless, we need a place to call bullshit.  Seventh Horizon is it.  For example, Beam-Me-Up-Scotty remote transfer of humans is Seventh Horizon.

Joel Garreau, founding director, The Seven Horizons Project