10 bits of future tech we wish existed right now
22nd Dec 2013 | 12:01
Tech's boldest pledges examined
While nobody really wants a front row seat to the End of Days extravaganza, wouldn't it be nice to stick around for another hundred years or so? You know, just to see what the tech's like?
As our favourite pastime continues to improve at an exponential rate it really makes one wonder what in store come the few decades. Sadly, not even the inherent promise of Moore's Law can save us from the inevitable big, dark nap that awaits us all.
That means, notwithstanding some miraculous cure for aging and disease, we're going to be missing out on some pretty neat stuff 50-60 years from now. Some will leave you praying for reincarnation, while others have you digging the hole yourself.
1. Invisibility cloaks
In lacking the magical touch of Lady Galadriel, humans have found the small matter of creating invisibility garments a little more challenging than the Elvish did. However, a group of students at Zhejiang University in China made the most recent breakthrough, using a process called topological optimisation.
By creating a computerised replica of a cloak made from Teflon they've been able to feed predictive data to the garment, based on the environment. That creates a topology that minimises the distortion of light as it passes by, hence a pretty darn decent invisibility cloak. Will they get good enough to completely shield ourselves from the world within 50 years? Unlikely.
2. The Mission to Mars
As we continue to find new and interesting ways to destroy this perfectly good planet, attentions seem certain to turn to whether we can repeat the feat on some other poor landmass. Eric C. Anderson, co-founder and chairman of commercial space company Space Adventures reckons we'll be on our way to Mars within the "next 30 to 60 years" with "a few million" living there in a century. "That should be really exciting, to be alive during that stage of humanity's history," he said.
Unfortunately, none of us will be. There's also the small matter of terraforming Mars and the creation of a retainable atmosphere to make it even remotely habitable for humans.
3. Total Immersion Virtual Reality
While the world is super excited for the Oculus Rift gaming headset to bring us a modicum closer to the Virtual Reality gaming environment we'd envisioned as kids, we're still hoping for the 'Better Than Life' game from Red Dwarf. You know the one, where Lister eats caviar vindaloo and Cat dates a reverse mermaid?
According to the Google futurologist Rey Kurzweil, virtual will compete with reality once computers become small and powerful enough to be implanted into our brains, leading to a merger of human and computer mindpower. Pretty soon after that we'll be able to experience games through our own nervous systems rather than a heads-up display. Nanobots will dance around our bodies replacing real senses with those from the virtual environment we're inhabiting. Kurzweil reckons those blood cell-sized computers are 25 years away. Seems optimistic, but we'd sure like to give that a go before we're granted eternal rest.
4. We will all travel in tubes
"Get the scientists working on the tube technology," decreed Jack Black while outlining his vision for a dystopian, government-free society in Tenacious D's City Hall. Space X founder and, real-life Tony Stark, Elon Musk has heeded the call with his solar powered Hyperloop train that would whiz commuters around the US at 800 miles per hour in an elevated, steel vacuum tubes. He wants San Diego to San Francisco by 2029 and reckons it'll only cost about $6 billion with tickets cheaper than an airfare.
The tech logic, by all accounts, is sound, but getting the funding and pushing through the regulatory and political minefield limits the chances of this happening anytime soon, if ever. Meanwhile California pushes on with plans to build a $70 billion+ high-speed train line that's four times slower than Musk's Hyperloop.
5. Proper artificial intelligence
Recently, we got wind of a computerised hand in Japan that could beat its human master at 'Rock, Paper, Scissors' 100 per cent of the time.
As infuriating as this would be to encounter (given our own practically flawless record), we shouldn't be worried about AI taking over quite yet. The fast-fingered cheat isn't self aware like a Terminator or Cylon, it's just quick enough to see us coming. And, as some researchers are, pointing out there's nothing approaching the presence of common sense from our silicon companions just yet.
Future thinkers point to the coming Technological Singularity when predicting the rise of the machines - the moment that human intelligence is surpassed by artificial intelligence. Ray Kurzweil reckons this happen in around 2045. Once we pass the critical mass, or so the theory goes, machine intelligence will grow at an exponential rate, computers will gain consciousness and start self-replicating and making decisions for themselves. If he's correct (most folks think its 2045 is very optimistic), then we're not sure even we want to be around.
6. The big, bold cashless society
The idea of giving up the almighty pound practically had millions of Brits belting out the Dad's Army the at the top of their lungs, a few years back. Can you imagine the reaction if we were forced to ditch it a unilateral 'Republican Credits' sort of currency like Bitcoin? Regardless of the multitude of ways companies like Google, Square, PayPal, Visa, Apple, Barclays and more are giving us ways to give up those scraggly bits of paper forever, our isn't going anywhere.
We're attached to our cash. Who wants a society where the government has a record of every single transaction? How would the elderly cope? What about off-the-clock businesses? Where we have to pay babysitters by bumping phones together? And how are we going to pay strippers… Ahem, how are people (not us) going to pay strippers?
7. Space elevators
Forget Richard Branson's sub-orbital flights. By the year 2100, renowned futurologist, he of wispy hair, Machio Kaku believes a space elevator made from grapheme (one of the only substances on earth that's stronger than diamond) will be able to cart us on a great big lift stretching beyond the earth's atmosphere.
The key to this, he believes, is nanotechnology, allowing us to create miles of graphene. Sadly, we won't be able to enjoy this Jack and the Beanstalk and 2001: A Space Odyssey mash-up.
8. The Star Trek Warp Drive
Now this might sound like an obvious one, but believe it or not, there are some dudes at NASA who think they've uncovered a potential formula for travelling at faster-than-light Warp Speed.
The researchers reckon by compressing the space in front of the craft and expanding the space behind the craft they could potentially create a bubble in which they could travel 10 times faster the speed of light. That would allow us us to reach other star systems in less than the 67,000 years it would presently take.
At the moment the warp bubble hypothesis is based around a mathematical loophole, so NASA is taking "very specific and controlled steps to create a proof of concept." Even if it does turn out to be possible, they've still got to figure out a way to power the thing…
9. Broken heart? Print a new one
More often than not we meet our end because one part or another has had enough of how poorly we treat it. The old ticker is often the culprit. However, what if, when one heart uses up its finite number of beats, you could replace it like a car engine? What if… we could rebuild ourselves? A group of researchers reckons it'll soon be possible to 3D print a fully functioning heart made from the patient's tissue, that can be transplanted with no risk of rejection.
"We think we can do it in 10 years - that we can build, from a patient's own cells, a total 'bioficial' heart," said Stuart Williams of the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute, likening the quest to putting a man on the moon.
10. The Biostamp tatt and the password pill
Ah the password; the lovely hackable, forgettable, confusable password. How you mock us with your identity-validating necessity. How we wish someone could come up with a decent idea to make you go away forever. Motorola, bless it, is trying its best with its recently-unveiled Biostamp electronic tattoos. These temporary stamps contain silicon circuits containing our digital identities and could be used to unlock our gadgets.
The electronic stamps only last about three weeks though, so aren't that practical at present. If that's not enough for you, Motorola is also touting a pill that carries a chip and gives off signals from the stomach. Are passwords that annoying that we'd consider taking a pill just to be rid of them? Blimey. May we rest in peace!
- Speaking of the future, here is what Google Glass will be like in 2020