Let’s go back to a simpler time. It is the early or late 90s. You are eight years old, waking up early to catch the latest action-filled episodes of your Saturday morning cartoons; TV shows that portray what technology may look like in the future. In Japan, popular anime shows like Outlaw Star, Mobile Suit Gundam, and Cowboy Bebop. These shows would pull viewers in, giving us a taste of the future for breakfast.
They would show us worlds where humans and cyborgs were almost unidentifiable from each other, where trips to space were as simple as catching a bus, or where artificial intelligence and robotics were used to better humanity (and used for epic battles in space).
You may know these tropes as commonplace in many of the TV shows that you watched as a child, and still watch today. However, the most exciting aspect of watching something so futuristic was the hope that you might have access to this technology one day in the near future. Well, we are here to tell you, the “future” is now.
We are living in your favorite childhood science-fiction show.
The world has seen staggering technological changes. Just look at computing. ENIAC, the first computer ever invented, was about 1,800 square feet (167 sq mt) when it was built in 1946 and weighed almost 150 tons. Now, a little over 50% of all households in the world have access to a computer. Computing power has grown at such a rate that we might have actually “broken” Moore’s Law. But that is the topic for another article. Artificial Intelligence has already made its way into our lives, affecting our daily choices as well as the tools that facilitate those choices.
3D printing (also called additive manufacturing)), autonomous driving, smart devices, renewable energy, biomimicry, IoT, virtual reality, and space tourism are all either commonplace or may become so soon. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Like we said before, the future is now. All these technologies and much more are changing our lives, for better or worse, and things will probably not be stopping anytime soon.
We are living in a time where science and technology are spawning societal innovation and changes in how we live and interact with each other. Over the next few decades, the technologies we just mentioned will mature, and will drastically reshape economics, politics, and overall human well-being. Most excitingly, we will likely see an influx of tech that sounds like something directly out of your favorite science fiction shows.
Self-healing construction materials, implants that let you stream visuals directly into your brain, living robots, tactile VR, “smarter” AI, floating farms, and trips to colonized planets could all be commonplace in the following decades. Today we will look at the ideas, inventions, and concepts that will likely shape our world and our place in it.
Living robots could be used to save patients and the planet’s oceans.
Designed using a supercomputer, researchers from Tufts University created the world’s first living robots. The biologists on the team repurposed frog STEM cells and created entirely new life-forms. These millimeter-wide “xenobots” have the ability to swim towards a designated target and pick up a payload. Oh, and they can heal themselves too. Living programmable organisms will be more commonplace in the future and will serve a variety of purposes. In the case of Xenobots, they could be used to target medicine to a specific area of a patient or be used to clean plastics out of our oceans.
3D printing will change what you design, eat, and wear.
Another obvious entry on our list. If you have learned anything over the past year from us, it is that 3D printing will change everything. Equally as disruptive as AI, additive manufacturing offers designers, engineers, factories, and start-ups the opportunity to produce prototypes rapidly or fully functioning parts at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional manufacturing methods. And that is just the beginning. Of course, 3D printing is changing the way we build homes, design cars, and products, but its applications could go even further.
Both private institutions and academics have 3D printed functioning organs that could be used for transplantations. We can even 3D print foods and vitamins, specially formulated for your biological needs and health requirements. Additive manufacturing will even play a role in the creation of rockets that will get us to the Mars and the colonies stationed there. As 3D printing costs continue to plummet, you expect to see it everywhere.
Artificial neurons on silicon chips will be more commonplace.
Recently, scientists have figured out how to attach artificial neurons onto silicon chips. Why is this cool? Silicon-neuron chips could by used to mimic our nervous system, copying their electrical properties. Technology like this could be implanted to treat various conditions such as certain types of heart failure and Alzheimer’s as it requires so little power.
Lab-created meat options will not only taste delicious but will better the environment.
Lab-created meat does not sound as weird as you think. There are technology start-ups out there hard at work, creating lab-grown meats that feel, taste and bleed just like the real deal. People like Dr. Yuki Hanyu, from IntegriCulture, have created foie gras using chicken liver cells, it’s made into a product that you can actually purchase right now. Additionally, Memphis Meats has created mouth-watering cell-based beef meatballs and fried chicken. If seafood is more your taste, Finless Foods is currently working on sushi dishes based on the highly coveted bluefin tuna. Foods like these could help reduce greenhouse gas production, overfishing, and the land needs of livestock. It is also more humane, since it eliminates the need to farm and kill animals. Instead, we could just grow the parts we wanted to eat.
Traveling to the nearest star may be much easier thanks to warp drives.
Warp drive technology sounds especially “sci-fi” thanks to its popularity in the genre. Nonetheless, it is theoretically possible, and NASA is looking into it. Why should you be excited and a warp-drive? In 1994, Mexican physicist Miguel Miguel Alcubierre described a device that would allow us to move faster than light by taking advantage of a physics loophole. Dubbed the Alcubierre warp drive, the ship would literally warp time and space around the craft, pulling us closer to our intended destination. At the moment, it is only a speculative idea. But who knows, someday it may become reality.
Concrete that is ‘alive’, that can clean the environment, and that can heal itself.
Using a deceptively simple combination of sand, gel, and bacteria, researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have created what they have dubbed as “living” concrete. As described by the team of researchers in their published paper, “Engineered living building materials represent a platform technology whereby biology can be leveraged to potentially deliver multiple functionalities to infrastructure materials by design.”
This living concrete would be able to heal its own damaged cracks, remove dangerous toxins on its own and glow on command. Materials like this could help us build better cities and homes in developing areas.
Trains will make their comeback.
Another Musk driven project, Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, is a high-speed underground transportation system that is currently being tested in America. It will be fast. A Hyperloop trip from New York to Washington D.C. would only take 29 minutes, rather than the 2 hours 56 minutes it takes at the moment. Richard Branson’s Virgin is also getting in on the action too. These “trains” work with passenger pods that are accelerated, using electric propulsion, through a low-pressure vacuum tube. The pod would float along the track using magnetic levitation and glide at airline speeds for long distances, thanks to ultra-low aerodynamic drag. Would you take a ride?
You will be able to download your brain into a computer.
Just this past month, Elon Musk updated us on his secretive Neuralink project. Calling it a Fitbit for your brain, using a simple and painless procedure, the Neuralink team would install a brain interface into our minds. This device would translate our thoughts and commands, allowing us to control devices around our home by just thinking action. Neuralink also has more ambitious plans like using the device to cure blindness, deafness, paralysis, memory loss, and prevent stroke. Eventually, Musk wants the device to be used to help humans achieve symbiosis with artificial intelligence.
Your car will probably be able to heal itself too.
Damaging your car sucks, and as cars become more complex, you can expect to pay a hefty price for repairs. However, self-healing cars could put an end to all of this. In 2017, Lamborghini and MIT’s Terzo Millennio unveiled the idea for a stunning concept supercar that could, in theory, heal itself. Even wilder, the car’s whole body would be used for energy storage. Similar to the way the human body reacts to injury, if small cracks developed from a collision, the car’s body would go into self-repair mode, preventing the cracks from growing and doing more damage to the car. Much of this is still hypothetical; however, the current research into self-healing polymers could one day lay the foundation for this type of vehicle.
Flying cars will appear in our cities.
Flying taxis are expected to make their official debut in the next few years. However, we have already caught glimpses and of the flying vehicles, and we are excited. Flying taxis could become an important means of public transportation. For example, the Uber X Hyundai electric VTOL planned for 2023 will transport passengers around and out of Dallas, Los Angeles, and Melbourne. It will have a range of 60 miles (100 km) and recharge in 5-7 minutes. Companies like Google and Toyota are also working on small, flying vehicles.
The IoT will create smarter cities.
Big data is the name of the game. Smart cities driven by an Internet of Things system would be a tightly woven interconnected ecosystem changing with each new input of data. In this smart city, sensors on phones, apartments, cars, and buildings would be used to optimize people’s living experiences, prevent traffic, limit waste, and provide sustainable solutions for all. Data would be collected in real-time, and the city, your phone, car, and smart device would all respond accordingly.
Exoskeletons will make you feel like Iron Man.
Exoskeletons are becoming more common than you think. The Mach I like technology is making its way into factories and into the military. In 2018, the automaker Ford debuted EkoVest partnered with Esko Bionics exoskeletons for employees. This upper body wearable is designed to support workers’ arms while they perform repetitive overhead tasks. The goal of the exoskeleton is to reduce fatigue and injury to workers that undertake continuous repetitive tasks. The military is also working hard on creating exoskeletons that will protect soldiers and dramatically improve their performance. All we need now is Jarvis.
Floating farms will supply the growing demand for food in 2050
The world is going to need more food. There is no escaping it. According to the United Nations, by 2050, there could be two billion more people in the world, creating a demand for 70% more food. In correlation, there will be more people in urban areas. To combat this, architects and designers have proposed smart farming solutions across our future cities’ skyline and floating in our rivers and oceans. According to architect Javier Ponce of Forward Thinking Architecture, 78ft (24m) tall, three-tiered structure with solar panels on top of the structure to provide energy would be able to grow a varie
ty of veg over an area of 12 acres (51,000 sq mt), using not soil but nutrients suspended in liquid. The bottom layers of these towers could even be used to house fish farms. A single unit of this structure measuring 1150 x 656 ft (350 x 200 mt) would be able to produce an estimated 8.1 tonnes of vegetables and 1.7 tonnes of fish a year.
Li-Fi would make your online gaming experience much smoother.
We have been experimenting with Li-Fi over the past few years for obvious reasons. Light-Fidelity could be the next step after that wi-fi that you have in your home. It uses light to transmit data rather than wi-fi’s radio waves, allowing it to transmit data at blindingly fast speeds theoretically. Because the visible light spectrum is around 10,000 times larger than the radio spectrum, there’s a lot more bandwidth potential . There have already been some small scale Li-Fi projects, but expect more wide-spread adoption in 2022.
Artificial Intelligence will be one of the most disruptive human-made creations in history.
AI is nowhere near the robots and machines portrayed (and often vilified) by science fiction, but that doesn’t mean we won’t get there some day. SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk has been very vocal about his concerns about AI, going as far as to say that humans risk being overtaken by artificial intelligence in less than five years. He’s not alone. Though a little less dramatic, tech leaders like Eric Schmidt and Sataya Nadella have shared similar sentiments about AI. The general idea is that we need to develop AI responsibly. To understand their fears, you should be aware of the three types of AI; Artificial Narrow Intelligence, Artificial General Intelligence, and Artificial Super Intelligence; respectively, ANI, AGI, ASI.
Currently, we live in a world with Narrow AI. Think of your smart speakers, data-driven automation, the recommendation algorithm in Netflix, or household robots. This type of AI is great at doing one specific type of task. It won’t be passing the Turing test anytime soon. The next steps up are where things get cool and scary.
Artificial General Intelligence can be defined as a machine’s ability to perform any task that a human can. In short, AGI would rival and potentially equal our intelligence but for only a short period of time. Eventually, it would upgrade itself learning from us and its experiences at an exponential rate, eventually leading to an Artificial Super Intelligence, the moment where it vastly surpasses human capabilities.
Currently somewhere between Narrow AI and General Intelligence, AI will change every single industry. Notable impacted industries included medicine, cybersecurity, space travel, transportation, and entertainment. Could you imagine an AI-powered-Gundam? Anime space battles, here we come.
Which technology do you believe will have the biggest impact on our lives? Did you know that and an AI system just beat a US Air force pilot in a simulated dogfight?