What would the future be without the toys, tools and technology to definitively herald in a new age? An unchanging world would be uninspiring and unexciting if tomorrow was exactly like today. Although the 21st century through the mind’s eye of Jules Verne and Issac Isamov, two of history’s greatest dreamers and visionaries, has not yet come to pass, there have been a number of ground breaking scientific developments that indicate that we are well on our way to that fantasy world of flying cars and autonomous robots. Although some of these pioneering new endeavours still require successive rounds of improvement and some will initially only be the preserve of the most well-heeled, it is assured that all will profoundly alter our lives as we know it. Standing at the cusp of tomorrow, it is both exciting and encouraging to take stock of the new technologies in development now that will undoubtedly be a part of our future.
1. Medical Nanobots
We have all heard that the difference between poisons and pills is the dosage. Likewise, how well a pill works to alleviate an ailment depends on the timing and amount of delivery.
The administration of drugs through the digestive system, intravenously or topically has been long been in use but has never been completely perfect. That’s where the premise for nanobots was born – microscopic robots that are introduced into a patient’s body to deliver a timely and accurate dispersal of medicines to the afflicted part of the body or cancerous tumour. Nanobots can function alongside a patient’s own white blood cells, hunting down and destroying bacteria, pathogens and cancers.
Before you cringe at the thought of little mechanical bugs crawling around in your body, the current reality of nanobots is very different from Hollywood’s portrayals. Nubots, made from DNA is the favoured vehicle these days, as are virus and bacteria based nanobots. These function exactly as one would imagine a convention metal constructed machine except that the building material is organic.
However with a litany of medical trials and approvals to be obtained, it would still be another 8 – 10 years before anyone sees the first application in humans.
2. Computer–Brain Interfaces (BCI)
Elevating ourselves into god-like omnipotence by increasing our ability to multitask and project our consciousness across many different projects, tasks and activities, Man and his tools are the elixir to divinity, if not yet immortality.
The tools in this case ar known as brain–computer interface (BCI), mind-machine interface (MMI), direct neural interface (DNI), or brain–machine interface (BMI), whose roots began with the discovery of electrical activity in the human brain in the 1920s.
Since then, there have been two branches of study: the first to restore disability via prosthetics that can be controlled by the brain, and the second which, is to use brain signals to control peripheral devices such as in Neurogaming where users interact with the gaming console without the use of a joystick or controller.
In a slightly disconcerting vision of things that may come to pass, transmission of brain waves through the Internet to manipulate devices was demonstrated in a study in 2014. Naturally, the military has thrown its financial weight behind its development and we might, one day, be able to control multiple devices over long distances in a form of technology enabled telekinesis.
(Reference: Brain–Computer Interface (BCI) – Kennedy and Yang Dan | Photo: Ars Electronica)
3. Screenless Displays
Tony Stark had one, R2-D2 could pull one out of its pocket and even the Avengers had them as a standard in their control room. The screenless display that materialises in front of the user out of thin air and can be controlled like a giant invisible iphone is the ultimate computer upgrade.
There are currently three categories that engineers and scientists are working on:
Visual Image – This is the most familiar variation that, is most frequently and dramatically recreated in Hollywood movies. The 3 Dimensional images are projected onto the air in front of the viewer by a projector and can be viewed from all angles and is interactive.
Retinal Display – As the name suggests, images reach a viewer’s retina directly. No medium is needed, no projection devices required. Strictly for your eyes only, the target audience can be controlled, depending on whose eyes the images are shared with. Absolutely approaching cloak-and-dagger proportions, this technology seems to be most fitting for undercover agents receiving their orders. Currently, there are contact lenses that can approximate this function.
Synaptic Interface – Taking it a step further, images are directly projected into a viewer’s brain. Aside from privacy concerns, there are practical applications for the visually impaired arising from this technology. Though proven to be possible to realise, this is still very much a work in progress.
4. Graphene Material
Graphene is a nano material made from carbon atoms in an array that does not occur naturally, this high- tech substance has very high electrical and thermal conductivity, is extremely strong, elastic, light weight, and transparent, in addition to other unconfirmed properties that are yet to be determined upon further experimentation.
Prof Andre Geim and Prof Kostya Novoselov, researchers from the University of Manchester invented graphene in 2004. Although already in use for some limited commercial applications, cost efficiency of production has so far been its greatest stumbling block
5. Sunscreen Pill
Ensuring adequate protection of one’s skin against damaging ultraviolet rays is common knowledge these days. However, it is often a hassle or even infeasible to continually reapply sunscreen lotion in certain circumstances. In this day and age where quick fixes are impatiently demanded, a sunscreen pill seems like a godsend.
Currently, these pills are made from a cocktail of vitamins and strong antioxidants that are absent in our normal diet. These help to mitigate damage done by the sun’s rays. Sunscreen pills have, in clinical trials, shown the promising effects of easing sunburn and on top of preventing it to a limited degree. However, at this stage, the pills cannot replace traditional sunscreen lotion completely and it is advised to be used in conjunction with the creams.
(Reference: The Guardian)
6. Sex Robots
An oxymoron of the wired world is that how it simultaneously engenders and endangers communication links between between people.
The next invention is a perversion of Man’s desire to control the world that he lives in. Having tamed the animal kingdom and Mother Nature, the next challenge is to control one’s spouse. Forget the unpredictable, time honoured avenues of financial dominance, mail order brides or emotional blackmail. To fully customise your spouse, life-like mannequins and soon, androids can be tailor-made to suit any preference, in any gender.
Realdoll is a company that makes plastic companions to anyone who can pony up US$ 12,000 to take one home for a ride. The current top end models are fully anatomically correct, can be heated up to human body temperature an even possess some very rudimentary artificial intelligence (AI) that allows it to interact with its owner in the same way that Siri on the Iphone can.
As can be expected, these surrogates are on the market for those looking for a love-in rather than for displaying clothes. The future of the industry looks rosy. Research is being done to create better AI to respond to real people naturally, and we can expect to see autonomous movement and reactions with the development of sensors.
If you thought that being glued to the computer screen was a sign of the breakdown of civilisation, try being glued to the hip.
7. Alternative Energy
Fossil fuels, the catalyst for humanity’s development in the last 150 years is problematic. It pollutes the environment, getting expensive to extract and, most crucially, running out. Solar power, wind and geothermal power are alternative energy sources that we have all heard about. Not content to see the lights just go out one day, scientists have been working on a plethora of other energy solutions.
Kymogen Wave Energy Generator – A low cost, clean method of producing energy from the constant power of oceanic waves is the promise of the Kymogen Wave Energy Generator. A flywheel connected to a floating platform spins as the motion of the waves rises and falls. A generated electricity can then either be stored, or connected to the main power grid.
Orbital Solar Energy Harvesters – Solar power is nothing new but the wireless power transmission of energy from a solar energy collecting satellite is ground breaking. So far, tests have been successful at transmitting 10 kilowatts of electricity, wirelessly over a distance of 500 meters.
8. Smart pipes
Future technologies don’t always have to be the flashiest to be the most useful. Smart pipes is an invention using state of the art nanosensors to monitor water flow in the public water system and arrest any leakages. Leaking pipes in the U.S.A alone costs between US $12.5 and US $92 million a year in water wastage. With portable water predicted to be the next most valuable resource in the coming decades due to changing weather conditions, protecting what we have now in anticipation of a drier future makes good sense.
As the future advances inexorably towards us, some prefer to take a longing look behind but with all the exciting technological developments that awaits us, we prefer to look into forward as time overtakes us.