Augmented reality is essentially a computer interface that appears before you in the real world. Imagine waking up, putting on an augmented reality device, and building an entire fantasy world in your own living room. Microsoft recently debuted their own foray into augmented reality with the Hololens. The goggles create high-definition holograms before the user, so engineers can tinker with digital versions of their plans on their very desk. Google Glass was a prototype of what's to come, plus the creepy camera-in-your-eye that will hopefully be reconsidered in future versions. Augmented reality will blend your digital life with your real one seamlessly.
Stem cell research has seen its share of controversy, since the most plentiful source of the magic biological material is found in the tissue of aborted fetuses. Simply put, stem cells can adapt to whichever environment they're placed in. UK surgeons recently conducted their first stem cell sight correction procedure on an older woman with macular degeneration. The eye cells known as retinal pigment epithelium were derived from mere stem cells grown in a research lab. The cells are simply placed beneath the retina, and voila. A potential cure for blindness. Ten more patients are due for trial this coming month, furthering the potential for stem cell research to save millions of lives.
We're seeing some very early examples of gene editing already, most notably at a genomics institute in China, where geneticists have developed gene-edited micropigs. The genetically-modified pets only grow to a mere 30 lbs. when fully mature. Geneticist Jens Boch says the animal's health and general well-being are paramount to their research, and designing a pig was by a public request. Don't be surprised when dogs and cats are the next to get the gene treatment, and in a decade or so, why not humans?
Back in 2002, Andre Geim, a physics professor at the University of Manchester, discovered a wonder material that will probably replace the metal and silicon we use every day. That super material is graphene, and at 1 atom thick, fully flexible, and nearly indestructible, it's a physicist's dream. What's more, the wonder material can use sunlight much like solar panels at a whopping efficiency of 60%. Compared to the average 20% efficiency our solar panels produce today, graphene could make solar energy a viable option in our energy crisis. The material even holds the record for conducting heat and electricity, making it a likely candidate to replace silicon in future computer chips.
Thanks to modern technology, we've made astronomical strides towards space discovery and exploration. It was only recently that NASA announced the discovery of water on Mars, revealing regional deposits of sediment and ice emplaced 450 million years earlier. What's more, SpaceX founder and Tesla owner Elon Musk predicts that humans will have to relocate to a new planet if we expect to survive. Whether or not such extreme action will occur in the next ten years is irrelevant, but the space colony conversation is only going to become more viable as technology advances.
Quantum computing is still technically in its infancy, and even now, its abilities are remarkably powerful. In fact, Google and NASA just invested in their own brand-new quantum computers. The Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab is working with the organizations to install a D-Wave 2X, the most powerful quantum processor of its kind with over 1,000 qubits. The fragility of the machine requires temperatures colder than space to operate, ideally 15 millikelvin. The supercomputer will allegedly solve highly complex optimization problems for both Google and NASA, including how to organize and understand the billions of bytes of data collected by the organizations over the years. How powerful are quantum computers compared to our regular old ones? Consider this. Classical computers rely on two numbers, 1s and 0s, or bits, to perform calculations. Quantum computers rely on a hazy form of physics known as quantum mechanics, in which another factor is introduced into the equation, known as a quibit. With bits and quibits working together, multiple calculations can be performed at the same time, making quantum computers exponentially faster and more powerful than their predecessors.
Where to begin? Sci-fi's favorite subject is officially science. Many are worried that AI is becoming advanced enough to begin taking our jobs, and that fear isn't so far-fetched. Recently, Target's Chief Technology and Strategy Officer announced plans to deploy a fleet of robot workers. They've partnered with startup accelerator Techstars to begin developing the robots. In 2 years, they say, they'll open a "concept store" with robot employees and very few human workers. Companies are even testing security guard robots, like the K5 Security Robot in Silicon Valley. The robot never gets tired and works for $6.25 per hour, a quarter of what human patrols cost. It patrols continuously, but has no offensive measures. Knightscope, the company behind the robot, says it's purely meant to monitor and alert humans and is completely unarmed. Should we be afraid? Stephen Hawking thinks so.
We've already discussed augmented reality, which blends real life with digital objects. Virtual reality is an entirely different ball game, transforming your whole consciousness into a digital world. Since Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook purchased VR firm Oculus Rift back in 2014, the public has been eagerly awaiting a mainstream version of this entirely new form of media. For now, virtual reality is limited to sight and hearing, and users can't feel the virtual world they're inhabiting. That's set to change soon, though, as Tokyo-based H2L have launched a kick starter for an armband virtual reality controller embedded with haptic sensors and an array of electronic muscle stimulators that will make VR players feel their virtual world as well as they can see and hear it. The UnlimitedHand measures arm and hand movements that respond with electric pulses that trick your muscles into feeling a wide variety of sensations. The armband will be built on an open-source platform, so any VR producer can build their experience with the wristband in mind.
There's no doubt in a technophile's mind that 3D printers will become as commonplace in homes as microwaves and televisions. Imagine finding a set of cutlery that you love online. Rather than ordering it and waiting for it to arrive on your doorstep, simply click the "download" button, and in a matter of minutes, your 3D printer pops out your very own forks and knives. Too easy, right? For now, 3D printers are limited by their ability to only print using one material at a time, mostly plastic. But Makerarm has developed a super-3D printer of sorts that can do everything from 3D printing to laser cutting. It can draw as well as print ink, fabric, and metals. Makerbot claims can make anything. Its precision joints and high-powered lasers create objects with remarkable detail, using high-quality machinery usually reserved for higher-end 3D printers. The device is on Kickstarter, where early adopters can nab a pre-order for $999, though the price will jump to $2199 for the whole bundle of tools. Remember how expensive the first PC was? Expect similar price drops for most new technology.
Drones, oh drones. Perhaps the second-most controversial item on this list, next only to AI, drones have made many headlines, from their military use to Amazon's plan to deploy them for same-day delivery. Engineers are experimenting with all the ways drones can be employed. DARPA created a mini-robotic "fly on the wall" for the military that can stealthily survey enclosed spaces underwater. The robotic flies demonstrated their ability to pollinate crops last year, and can now swim underwater. The RoboBee weighs only 100 mg, so it must crash-land into the water to break through the surface. DARPA plans on using the tiny robots in search & rescue missions, and probably for spying on enemies. How will they affect your life? Your next pizza delivery man might become a flying robot as the technology gets cheaper and easier to use.
Nanotechnology seems like a magical idea. Create robots so tiny, they can't be observed by the human eye. Program those robots to kill bad cells, seek out disease, and even enhance our own bodies. Seem impossible? Google Chief Robotics Engineer Ray Kurzweil has some insane (and grounded) theories on how nanotech will change our lives. According to the award-winning scientist and inventor, the 2030s will be dominated by nanomachines in our brains, which will turn is into "godlike" creatures. Nanobots able to access parts of the brain we can't would allow people to be funnier, smarter, sexier, and even more loving. He explains that, by then, our brains will connect to the cloud, giving us access to the entire world's wealth of information at the drop of a dime.
Technophiles have thrown around the term "Internet of Things" for a while now, and the technology is now ready for the massive project. Essentially, the Internet of Things refers to a world in which every object in our lives, from toothbrushes to cars to microwaves to underwear will contain tiny computer chips, allowing them to communicate with each other. Ran out of clean socks? Your drawer will automatically let your favorite online store know so you'll get new ones delivered immediately. The "Smartest Building in the World," or the Edge Building in Amsterdam, is the ultimate manifestation of the Internet of Things. Pull up to the office and the parking lot will direct you to a free space. The Edge app finds you a work space, which are shared by each employee and range from standing desks to "concentration rooms". When you enter your assigned room, the temperature and lighting will adjust based on your preferences. All in all, the building is packed with over 28,000 sensors and boasts the title of "Greenest Building in the World" with a sustainability score of 98.4%. Imagine your home and office connected as much as this early example. What kinds of challenges will we even deal with when everything is made to be so easy?
Average life expectancy sat at about 54 years just a century ago. Now? That number is at a whopping 80 years. We have all kinds of technologies to thank for such an extreme increase, from vaccine adoption to advanced sanitation methods. Those technologies will only become more advanced as we push that expectancy number higher and higher.
Numerous companies are trying to fight aging with new technology today. BioViva USA, Inc. has begun treatment on a person using gene therapy, intending to reverse the aging process. Using gene therapy methods developed around the world, the company has become the first to actively attempt to cure aging. CEO Elizabeth Parrish announced that the subject has resumed their life and is doing just fine. In one year, the company will evaluate the effectiveness of their treatment. Calico, Google's own anti-aging project, invested $1.5 billion in research, hoping to drastically lengthen the lives of humans.
The other great breakthrough in ensuring our life longevity? Driverless cars. Based on a research report by McKinsey & Co., self-driving cars will become the greatest health achievement of the century with an accident reduction rate of a whopping 90%. Besides saving literally billions of lives, the upcoming technology could free as much as 50 minutes a day for users, adding up to a global one billion hours, and generate up to $5.6 billion in digital media revenue for those looking for entertainment during their drive to work. Parking troubles, traffic, and more will all be problems of the past in just a few years.
GM wants to beat other car companies to the punch by allowing employees to test their new self-driving cars as early as next year. Users can use an app to summon their car and choose a destination. The rest is taken care of by the company's self-driving system. While Google and Audi have been testing their self-driving autos over millions of miles, GM has made much less of a splash. They're hoping this publicity stunt will help people come around to the idea of self-driving cars, hopefully cornering a market before the race even starts.