Technological advancement in the past 5 years is said to be much more than the preceding 50. The sheer speed at which man’s problems are being solved, and his whims are being attended to via technology is getting scary, especially as a lot of solutions available to only a select few are now being commercialised. This speaks to a bright future, tech wise.
Below are a few technological trends that will potentially drive a culture shock, and then worldwide adoption, as man strives to the best version of himself as he possibly can.
Cloud Computing & Wireless Tech
I was puzzled when I saw the new 12-inch Retina Macbook, earlier this year, and it’s utter lack of expansion ports. My first reaction, much like everyone else, was annoyance that Apple dared to take away ports from a device, only to try to sell them back to the consumer, by way of USB hubs and dongles.
One second thought, if that was the case, the anomaly would have been implemented across all their devices. This bold move, instead, speaks of the direction Apple is trying to steer the rest of the IT market – a completely wireless existence for devices. I suspect though, that this is why, even though a 16GB iPhone doesn’t make any sense in the real world, especially not with the introduction of 4K video, it points to the fact that the expectation is for users to begin to make more and more use of the cloud for their storage, processing, etc. Services like iCloud Drive, Google Apps for Business, Dropbox & Office 365 will see increased usage by teams all around the world, and eventually for the domestic user.
The study of electromechanical devices that function as part of living organisms, as Bionics are often defined, is a superset of many of the tropes in Sci-Fi. Many inventions lauded as nothing short of magical in 80s/90s Sci-Fi have become commonplace in today’s world, and moving forward, there will be exponential development in this department. Here are a few in the works, that have gotten me really excited already:
1. Bionic Optics: The development of contact lenses with LEDs embedded will change a lot from visual impairment to augmented reality applications to even more immersive video games. Babak Parviz, a University of Washington assistant professor of electrical engineering is quoted as saying, “Looking through a completed lens, you would see what the display is generating superimposed on the world outside”, and a lot of work has to be done to make these electronic components both safe and biocompatible. Asides from contact lenses, infrared retina implants are also in the works, and are expected to see significant development and commercialisation in 2016.
2. Bionic Limbs: Brain implants are being developed, which can read a paraplegic man’s intentions and transmit that information to robotic arms to carry out the actions. Also, with cuff electrodes around nerve bundles in their arms, amputees gain feeling from sensors in their prosthetic hands. Researchers at Case Western Reserve University and the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center are developing a system that turns sensor information into stimulation patterns, which travel up the nerves to the brain. Truly exciting stuff!
3. Spine Implants: Bionic implants have being developed that send electric impulses to counteract pain impulses sent via the spine. It works with a completely upgradeable software system, so scientists can remotely deliver updates, as more cures are discovered/invented.
Wearable tech will completely change the way the average joe perceives and interacts with technology, almost as dramatically as the introduction of the smartphone did. Companies like Apple, Google & Samsung are dedicating a sizeable amount of their capital into wearable tech research and by next year, they will build on the foundations laid by version 1.0 products like Google Glass & Apple Watch, which have been a little underwhelming so far, although it’s still early days.
Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, which enables these objects to collect and exchange data. The idea is to convert otherwise inert physical objects, and make them responsive, and in some cases, pro-active, as they transmit data between each other. Imagine going to bed at night, and your smart blanket is regulating your core temperature irrespective of the temperature outside. Imagine waking up the next morning, and as soon as you stand up, your blanket sends a message to your window blinds to open up, and to your coffee maker to start the morning’s brew. Imagine your entire house sensing your absence, and dimming all the lights, and disabling sockets, to reduce your carbon footprint. Of course, concerns have been raised, about the security of such a situation, because these devices are no longer dead, but have become nodes on a network, and any skilled hand with malicious intent could use them to harm their owner. Scary.
I also imagine the IoT playing a huge part in scenarios like music composition and performance (remote collaboration), as well as in car-to-car communication, to reduce accidents caused by human error.
Additive manufacturing, as it is fondly called, is the chief enabler of many of the aforementioned items. As this technology is made more accessible, man’s ability to solve problems for himself will increase. For example, not having to wait months for a kidney transplant, when you can dial in your specifications, and have one printed for you that turns out to be a perfect match. Enabling the quick/cheap manufacture of the bionic implants I mentioned earlier, which would be implemented in a modular system, such that many of the parts are user replaceable. Unending possibilities.