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What Does the Future Hold? Here Are Some Innovations And Problems To Expect

Hologram rock stars. Extraterrestrial data farms. The coming decades promise startling innovations—and new problems too.

The Male Pill

The Pill may not be just for women soon. The U.S. National Institutes of Health is set to test male-hormone-halting gel that’s rubbed onto the back and shoulders.

Postdeath Performance Contracts

A holographic image of Roy Orbison, who died in 1988, toured in 2018. Amy Winehouse (died 2011) and Frank Zappa (1993) will hit the circuit as virtual entertainers in 2019. Performers’ contracts will more routinely include language covering who controls and profits from posthumous performances.

Wastewater on Tap

El Paso, Texas, will launch a system that treats sewage water and chan­nels it directly to residential drinking-water taps. The city has already cut individual water use by over 40% since 1985 through initiatives like paying residents to abandon green lawns.

Video-Game Super Bowls

The business of e-sports—competitive video ­gaming—is poised to exceed $1 billion. The Overwatch League, formed in 2017, sold franchises for $20 million apiece to Comcast and other corporations, per ESPN; expansion teams may cost $30 million to $60 million.

A Cure for Baldness

Japanese researchers in 2016 said they had developed a way to use stem cells to regenerate hair follicles, with human clinical trials possible in 2019. RIKEN, Japan’s largest research institute, is working with two companies in hopes of offering a treatment by 2020.

Return of the Woolly Mammoth

A Harvard team is using gene editing to resurrect the woolly mammoth and passenger pigeon by inserting DNA from the extinct species into living animal-cell cultures.

Endangered Coffee

Rising temperatures, bringing drought and disease and killing pollinating insects, are forecast to make nearly half the globe’s land used to grow high-quality coffee beans unproductive by 2050.

Data Servers in Space

Cloud Constellation’s SpaceBelt plans to host off-planet data storage by the early 2020s in a constellation of low-earth-orbit satellites. Space storage could keep highly sensitive data far away from the Internet—and potentially from earthly regulators.

Half the World Will Be 'Water Stressed'

The U.N.’s 2018 World Water Development Report estimates that 3.6 billion people (almost half the global population) live in areas that are potentially water-scarce at least one month of the year.

Eat the Beetles

Studies say the market for edible bugs will be worth up to $1.2 billion by 2023. Around 2 billion people already eat crickets, mealworms and other insects.

The Last Weasel in New Zealand

To save its iconic kiwi birds and other species, New Zealand plans to kill every nonnative rat, weasel, possum, feral cat and other invasive predator on the entire 104,000-sq.-mi. island nation by 2050.

Green Funerals

By one estimate, a traditional 10-acre cemetery contains enough buried wood to build 40 homes and enough embalming fluid to fill a swimming pool. Eco-friendly “conservation burials,” on the rise in developed countries, feature bio-degradable coffins and formaldehyde-free embalming.

Robot Bordellos

Houston officials have been politicking to stop a brothel staffed by humanoid sex robots from opening. Robo-bordellos are open for business in Barcelona, Turin, Moscow and Toronto.

Global Sand Shortages

Sand, used in concrete and glass and as a barrier against rising seas, is one of the world’s most overexploited natural resources. Shortages have already given rise to piracy that destroys islands.

Correction, Jan. 28

The original version of this story misstated the area of New Zealand. It is roughly 104,000 square miles, not 104 square miles.

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