We don’t have to look back too far to understand the power that technology has had in shaping our world. Within a generation we’ve seen space stations built, computing speeds quicken exponentially, and the internet boom. In fact, technological advances now happen so rapidly that our current way of life may seem hopelessly outdated within another decade.
In that spirit, it can be a fascinating exercise to look ahead. What cutting edge technologies being developed today will be commonplace tomorrow? In what ways will these technologies radically alter our world?
Here’s our look at 9 future technologies that may soon make our present reality unrecognizable:
Most of the energy we produce today comes from finite resources – namely, fossil fuels. But as those resources become exhausted – and as the environmental consequences of exhausting them become an increasing concern – developing new, renewable sources of energy will be paramount. Of course, industries such as wind, solar, and biofuel are already booming; but those are just the tip of the iceberg. One burgeoning renewable source that has the power to revolutionize the production of electricity is atmospheric energy. There is always free electricity in the air and clouds all around us. This is most evident in a thunderstorm or during the polar auroras, such as the Northern Lights. Capturing and controlling this electricity can be a challenge, but if we could tap directly into the Earth’s own electrical field – to quite literally pluck electricity from the air – the potential for the technology to contribute to our energy mix is great. One company working to make the development of atmospheric energy viable is SEFE, Inc.. They already have 4 patents approved, 3 pending, and 19 more on the way. You can view a corporate video showcasing SEFE’s mission here. (Editor’s Note: SEFE, Inc. is a major sponsor of Revmodo.com)
Sometimes its the smallest things that make the biggest impacts. That’s certainly the case with nanotechnology, which is essentially the manipulation of materials on the atomic and molecular levels. The many applications of nanotech are almost too many to count. Nanoelectronics have the potential to revolutionize computing, not only by making computing speeds faster, but by making electronic devices smaller. Machines the size of cells may one day navigate through our bodies like artificial immune systems. Nano devices may one day be able to manipulate our genetic code– or perhaps even merge with it. Nanotechnology will allow us to invent new materials with a vast range of applications– everything from better-flying golf balls to more effective sunscreens. As of 2008, over 800 nanotech products had already been made publicly available, and new products were hitting the market at a pace of 3-4 a week.
A lot of hubbub was made over the recent release of Google Glasses, but even if the invention might seem silly now, the technology behind it– augmented reality–has the potential to radically alter our world and how we interact with it. You’ve heard of virtual reality, which is a computer simulated environment. Augmented reality, on the other hand, is a fusion of computer-generated sensory input with the real world. Rather than create a simulated world, augmented reality has the power to actually enhance our perception of the real world. The technology also has the potential to make it possible to control information in the world, and in real time, much like you can currently control information using a touchscreen device. Basically, augmented reality brings us one step closer to fusing our technology with reality, such that technology and reality may one day be pragmatically indistinguishable. Check out this eerie sci-fi short film showcasing what this technology may soon become.
As said already, the development of renewable energy will be paramount as we move into the future. Technologies like wind, solar and hydro already present excellent ways of producing renewable electricity, but what about producing fuel? Biofuels have been useful for this purpose, but many biofuels also have the negative impact of competing for agricultural space with our food supply. But what if we could somehow convert solar energy directly into a liquid fuel? That’s the idea behind the development of solar fuel– a fuel that can be produced with technology that mimics how plants produce energy through photosynthesis. A solar fuel would also revolutionize how renewable energy is stored. Essentially, it would allow us to keep the sun’s energy in liquid form. One company working to make this vision possible is Joule. Their technology is capable of creating a fuel using only sunlight, carbon dioxide and non-potable water as inputs. They also believe they will soon be able to produce this fuel at a price competitive with gasoline.
Few technologies have the power to transform medicine more than the engineering of stem cells. Not only have stem cells been genetically programmed to attack diseases like HIV or cancer, but stem cells are now being used to generate living tissue. The ultimate goal of such a technology would be for regrowing replacement organs. Once perfected, it may be possible to extend human life indefinitely. Imagine if each of your organs could simply be replaced, like a car part, any time it began to malfunction.
Wireless devices are pretty ubiquitous today; Is anything connected by a wire anymore? Well, technically: while we can beam information around wirelessly, our electrical devices must still, by and large, receive their power from hardwired connections. But imagine being able to beam energy from a power source directly into a device without the need for a wire, much like how your laptop can pick up a wireless internet connection. The technology for wireless energy transfer already exists, but it has yet to be perfected. There still exists a problem of efficiency; too much energy is lost when it is beamed. As the technology develops, however, we might imagine a world where nothing needs to be plugged in anymore. Perhaps even more incredible, the technology could revolutionize space exploration. Not only could power be beamed to satellites, space stations, and space ships from Earth, but power collected in space could be sent back to Earth too.
The vast majority of the energy contained on Earth originates from the Sun. Our ability to harness that power depends on how efficiently we can harvest it. Solar technology is becoming ever-better at capturing the Sun’s energy, but all Earth-based solar collectors are limited because the atmosphere deflects a great deal of the Sun’s energy. But what if we could assemble vast arrays of solar panels in space? Not only could we arrange them to always be pointing at the Sun, but there would be no atmosphere to get in the way of all that energy. Also, it wouldn’t require covering any of the Earth’s surface with solar panels. That’s the idea behind space-based solar. Of course, the technology is limited by our ability to assemble and maintain such vast arrays in space. There is also the problem of energy transfer, which is pending the development of wireless energy transfer (mentioned on this list already). Nevertheless, it’s possible that such technology could one day meet all of our energy needs.
Teleportation isn’t just the stuff of science fiction. It’s real, and it’s already here. Or at least, quantum teleportation is here: which is the instantaneous transfer of a quantum state from one location to another. The bizarre phenomenon that makes this possible is called entanglement, a mysterious link known to exist between certain particles even though they are separated by space. The key to the technology is controlling this phenomenon. It’s no easy task, but Chinese researchers recently teleported a photon’s state nearly 100 kilometers. Once perfected, the technology will revolutionize computing and communication speeds. Obviously, there’s nothing faster than instant communication. It’s almost anti-intuitive to imagine.
The first image you probably conjure up when you think of artificial intelligence is the Terminator, or maybe HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s true that the development of artificial intelligence raises some big philosophical and ethical questions, but there’s little doubt that the technology is inevitable. The processing power of computers continues to grow at an astounding rate. As a result, we’re able to analyze data using increasingly complex computer models, and solve problems in ever-more ingenious ways. So far, we’ve yet to create a machine with artificial consciousness, or self-awareness. But this, too, is likely inevitable. At least one engineer believes that artificial consciousness will emerge by 2045. It’s unlikely that artificial consciousness will emerge from a computer console, or a disembodied app. Rather, true machine consciousness will likely come out of the field of robotics. Of course, this could mean there will finally be a robot maid for every household in America. Or it’ll mean the invention of the Terminator. I guess we’ll just have to find out.