Mobile computers and alternative energy are nifty, but to really get a sense of what the future will look like, you have to think more concretely. Some of the most interesting, worldchanging developments under way are in the realms of material science and engineering. The materials out of which the world around us will be rebuilt and the techniques by which the work will be done are both in line for some profound changes.
We've noted before some of the new developments in making building materials more environmentally sound. But how about making them more aesthetically appealing, too? A German company called LitraCon has developed a method of embedding light-transmitting glass fibers in concrete. Without reducing the structural strength or insulative capacity, the glass fibers give the concrete the ability to conduct light -- not making the concrete transparent, but translucent. Although the article at Optics.org and the LitraCon site don't discuss environmental effects, I would suspect the results to be, on balance, positive, as a greater amount of natural light transmission would lead to a somewhat reduced need for artificial (hence power-consuming) lighting.
One material science revolution which is well underway is the development of 3-D printing, often referred to as "fabbing" or "stereolithography." Most 3-D fabrication technologies focus on the smaller end of the scale, making machine components or (in the not-so-distant future) consumer products. But what if you wanted to make something big? Can you print out a house?
Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis at USC says yes. Using a process he calls "Contour Crafting," large-scale structures can be efficiently and inexpensively built layer-by-layer. The Contour Crafting page has links to a number of articles about the process, as well as some video; be sure to check out the animation of a complete homebuilding process (32MB WMV). While some of the press about the idea has emphasized the "built without human hands" element, the goal for Dr. Khoshnevis is a system which could quickly build stable, long-lasting buildings in less-than-ideal circumstances, such as in disaster areas or (a bit down the road) on Mars. Ultimately, the system should be able to construct a 2000-square-foot building in under one day.
(Thanks to both gmoke and Ming the Mechanic for heads-up on Dr. K.)