The Top 25 New Fields for Millennials

One word. Plastics.

“One word. Plastics.” Career advice from the 1967 movie The Graduate.

by Ryan Allis

In the 1967 movie The Graduate, Mr. McGuire advises young Benjamin to go into the field of plastics for his career.

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it.

If plastics was the hot area to work in during 1967, what career fields should the young people of Gen Y (those born since 1980) pursue? What are the biggest opportunities of the next 40 years?

Well, here’s a list of 25 new technologies we will see blossom during The Innovation Age from 2015-2050. Especially if you’re part of the Millennial Generation, learn as much as you can about these new fields. Staying up to date with them will be essential to both your future and your ability to contribute to creating a better world.

Here’s the list…

  1. Clean Energy – The biggest challenge of Generation Y is creating a world that is both environmentally sustainable and prosperous for all human beings. Energy sectors including solar, wind, biofuels, bioenergy and carbon capture, fusion power, and battery storage (including plutonium & strontium batteries) will be big from 2015-2050. If you want to make a huge impact in the world, dedicate your life to the science and commercialization of renewable energy.
  2. Nanotechnology – Nanotechnology (a subset of the field of materials sciences) is enabling substantial innovations in areas ranging from carbon nanotubes to graphene-based water desalination to 3D printing with claytronics. To learn more about nanotech, check out MIT Professor Jeffrey Grossman’s nanotechnology videos within the course Understanding the Science for Tomorrow.
  3. Cloud Education – Companies like Coursera, Udemy, Udacity, CodeAcademy, and SkillShare and non-profits like Khan Academy and EDx are enabling anyone around the world with self-motivation and a cloud connection to receive a Harvard, Stanford, or MIT-quality education.
  4. Water Desalination – Recent research at MIT from The Grossman Group has used graphene to create a highly energy-efficient manner of removing salt from water. As the human population grows, ensuring access to clean water for all of us is critically important to enabling both human health and geopolitical stability.
  5. Converged Phones & Desktops – Wonderfully, your smartphone will soon also be your desktop PC. You’ll simply plug your phone into an HDMI monitor to turn it into a full desktop computer. Once smartphones are powerful enough to run Excel, there will be no reason to have a separate computer unit for the larger monitor. The Ubuntu Edge Project is perhaps the best example so far of this concept of “frames” and desktop-ready phones.
  6. Quantum Computing  – In 2013, Google purchased a DWAVE II Quantum Computer and in partnership with the NASA Ames Research Center, created the Quantum Artificial Research Center (QUAIL). Unlike binary computers, in which bits must be in either the 1 state or the 0 state, quantum computers use superposition to enable all states between 0 and 1, enabling faster computation of some key computer processes.
  7. Cloud-Connected Devices – In the future, cloud-connected chips and sensors will be in everyday devices. These devices will be interlinked, creating an “Internet of Things.” It won’t just be your television, tablet, and phone that are connected. Also connected will be your thermostat, car, fridge, pacemaker, and teddy bear. Field-of-vision smart phones may someday even be able to be installed non-invasively through our capillaries and connect into our optic nerve.
  8. Contact Lens Smartphones – Dr. Babak Parviz is in charge of Project Glass at Google. Before Project Glass, Dr. Parviz was working on contact lens smartphones at the University of Washington. Someday, you’ll be able to surf the internet and communicate with your friends with an electronic contact lens. Companies like Innovega are working hard on creating a communication device that can be worn directly in your eyes.
  9. Data Storage – Recent work at Harvard has enabled the storing of data within DNA, storing 700 terabytes on data into a single gram of DNA. In 2012, IBM announced it could store a bit of data on just 12 atoms. Data storage is being revolutionized nearly yearly as more and more data is able to be stored and analyzed and as more people and more devices join the cloud.
  10. Humans and Technology Combining – Pacemakers, cochlear implants, bionic eyes, and synthetic organs already exist. Electronic devices and synthetic materials have already begun to merge with the human body. This trend will accelerate in the years ahead, enabling rapid advances in human health while also bringing up both critical ethical issues and human rights issues. To learn more, check out The Singularity is Near and The Transcendent Man.
  11. Artificial Intelligence – In 2011 IBM Watson beat prior champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in Jeopardy. Now, IBM is using the Watson technology to help doctors diagnose patients. In the next forty years, AI-enabled machine-learning robots and devices will have many applications as humans and technology continue to merge.
  12. Synthetic Biology – Biology once was solely the domain of nature. Now, humans have learned how to edit the code of life, with applications ranging from synthetic algae smartfuels, to synthetic food that can feed billions, to altered stem cells that can extend life. To learn more, check out the book Re-Genesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves by Ed Regis.
  13. Climate Engineering – David Keith & Andy Parker at Harvard are making substantial progress within the field climate of engineering. For an interesting take on the possible future effects of climate engineering gone wrong see  “The Fate of An Engineered Planet” in the Scientific American, January 2013. One promising option for removing CO2 from the atmosphere is Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). The Swedish firm Biorecro is one of the leaders in this new field of BECCS.
  14. Brain Connectome – We are now beginning to understand how the neurons of the brain connect and work together to enable learning and memory. Take a look at the research from The Connectome Project, a $38.5M project. In 2013, the U.S. government announced $100M in funds for brain mapping research in a new effort called The BRAIN Initiative. Young genius David Dalrymple, while at MIT and Harvard, has worked on unraveling the neuron connections for the nematode worm. To learn more about this field of both mapping the human brain and recreating the human brain see the book How to Create a Mind by Ray Kurzweil.
  15. Brain Aging – 2011 research from Dr. Gary Lynch at UC-Irvine has explored the connection between Ampakines and amplifying the electricity between neurons to enable you to think like you were young again.
  16. Clean Transportation – Elon Musk’s Tesla has been a pioneer in the field of electric cars, creating the first new profitable American car company in decades. Elon’s new idea of the Hyperloop could enable fast, clean transportation that takes you from San Francisco to LA in under 30 minutes (or SF to NYC in 1 hour) at speeds of up to 4,000 mph using magnetic levitation.
  17. Personalized Medicine & Gene Sequencing – Following the completion of the Human Genome Project and the full sequencing of human DNA, companies like 23&Me have advanced the field of personal gene sequencing. For just $99, you can get your DNA partially sequenced, enabling you to better understand your ancestry and risk of diseases.
  18. Robotics – Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro has created a robot twin called Geminoid. Geminoid uses motion capture sensors and sophisticated actuators to replicate every move down to the smallest twitch. The company Boston Dynamics has also created a number of advanced robots in partnership with DARPA.
  19. Self-Driving Cars – Both Tesla and Google are working on building a self-driving car. In Masdar, UAE (the “City of the Future”) electronic automated transport cars (called Podcars) are used underground to enable rapid transport as part of their initiative to build a zero-carbon city.
  20. 3D Printing – Five years ago, 3D printers were out of reach except for large companies. Today anyone with $1300 can purchase a Cubify 3D printer and print thousands of objects on-demand, ranging from forks, to artwork, to iPhone cases, to jewelry. Companies like 3D Systems and Bespoke System are even 3D printing artficial limbs and jaws.
  21. Private Space Exploration – Companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are working hard on enabling commercial space travel. By 2025, anyone with $100,000 will be able to go into space. By 2050, anyone with $5,000 will be able to take the trip. According to my friends at the Mars Climate Modeling Group at NASA Ames, we’ll embark on our first human mission to Mars around 2025 and be an interplanetary species within our lifetime.
  22. Natural User Interfaces (NUI) – Natural user interfaces include touch, voice, hand gesture, and thought. The iPhone brought multi-touch interaction to the masses beginning in 2007. Siri brought voice interaction to the masses in 2010. LeapMotion is bringing hand gesture interaction to the masses now in 2013. Finally, Emotiv is bringing thought control to computer interfaces now in 2013. The NUI revolution in computing is just beginning, and will be as big of a shift in human-computer interaction as the move to Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) in the 1980s.
  23. Wearable Computers & HUDs – Wearable devices and Heads-Up Displays are becoming more and more common. Entrants range from Basis and Pebble watches, to the self-quantifying JawBone Up and Nike’s FuelBand, to the cloud-connected HUDs like Google GlassGlassUp, and Oakley’s Airwaves.
  24. Cybersecurity – In a world of Government-driven cyberattacks (like the U.S. Stuxnet attack on Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010), the world of cybersecurity will be a very, very large market in the decades ahead.
  25. Government 2.0 – Imagine every Federal Government agency having a real-time Geckoboard dashboard in its lobby, enabling transparency and a focus on results and efficiency in government. Imagine a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in which you submit your digital birth certificate, a picture, and digital social security card via an iPhone app and then have your new license FedEx’d to you overnight. These changes will be coming to Washington in the next two decades. The work that U.S. CTO Todd Park and U.S. CIO Steve VanRoekel are doing to open up access to data and create accountability and transparency in government is just the beginning.

Technology is accelerating. Understand it. Prepare yourself. And be sure to position your life’s work within a field that has the promise to bring great benefit to humanity.

If you know of any additional new areas of science and technology that you think we should add to this article, please let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading and sharing!