The march of technology has been constantly picking up pace throughout the ages. In the past 100 years humans have discovered flight, space travel, and computers. The next 100 years are even more difficult to predict. Will it be a “great big beautiful tomorrow?”
One of the most recent advances in technology is the advancement of bionics. Direct paths of communication have been opened between neurons and electronics, clearing the way for the cyborgs of science fiction. One woman received a robotic limb which receives instructions directly from her brain. The bionic eye is awaiting FDA approval. The eye even opens the door to enhancements, like built in ocular zoom.
There have also been significant advances in nanotechnology, or microscopic robots. One example is a “spray on Wi-Fi” which basically amounts to an antenna that can be sprayed on any surface. Chamtech Enterprises developed a liquid filled with millions of nano-capacitors that, with a router, can potentially set up broadband Wi-Fi hot spots anywhere at low cost. Elsewhere, metalloprotein, the molecule that life forms use to convert energy into usable forms, is being studied to develop micro-scaled batteries. Ultimately, scientists hope to be able to convert seawater into hydrogen, which can be used as fuel.
Smart cars are also a developing field. Self-parking cars are already on the market, and self-driving cars are under development. This would not only change the act of driving, but change traffic patterns. With synchronized automobiles, traffic lights would no longer be necessary, and traffic patterns can be controlled through a computer that maximizes efficiency. Volvo has a version of this called the “road train” concept where several vehicles can follow a leader, such as on road trips.
Technology advances exponentially. Moor’s law is the idea that the number of transistors on a 1-inch diameter of silicon doubles every 18-24 months. Translated, most people use this to indicate that computing power doubles every 18 months, a trend that has held up for over 40 years. Not only do the computers get more powerful, they become smaller in the process. Today, even modest personal computers have more processing power and storage space than the 1976 Cray-1 supercomputer (it could process 160 million flops and had 8 MB of memory). There is a molecular limit to how small silicone transistors can be, but scientists keep finding ways to burst through perceived ceilings. How far can we go?
If computers become smarter (so to speak) than humans, we can reach what is called the “technological singularity.” At this point, computers and robots will be able to design and build other computers and robots better than what humans can produce. In the words of I.J. Good, “thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.” The main condition of the singularity is that technological change and advancement will become so rapid that the future becomes unpredictable. That is where the term “singularity” comes from; the event horizon of a black hole that you cannot see beyond.
Will humans soon be able to merge with computers? We will be linking directly to the internet through our brains? Will computers become conscious and develop artificial intelligence? Will humans become obsolete? Time will tell.
Wired, 7 Massive Ideas that Could Change the World: http://www.wired.com/business/2013/01/ff-seven-big-ideas/
Forbes, First Bionic Eye for U.S. Market Awaits Approval From FDA: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jenniferhicks/2013/01/29/first-bionic-eye-for-us-market-awaits-approval-from-fda/
Time, Soldier Receives Double Arm Transplant: http://healthland.time.com/2013/01/30/soldier-receives-double-arm-transplant-and-eager-to-live-independently/
How Stuff Works, How Moore’s Law Works: http://computer.howstuffworks.com/moores-law.htm
The Wilson Quarterly, The Technological Imperative: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40258945?uid=3739616&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21101730549747
Vernor Vinge, Technological Singularity: http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/vinge/misc/WER2.html
Discovery, Drones to Watch Over U.S. Highways: http://news.discovery.com/tech/robotics/drones-watch-over-us-highways-130130.htm
Tech News Daily, 10 Ways Smarter Cars Will Make You Love Commuting: http://www.technewsdaily.com/16097-hold-for-10-ways-smarter-cars-will-make-you-love-commuting.html
Discovery, 2012: Science Fiction Dreams That Came True: http://news.discovery.com/tech/biotechnology/2012-science-fiction-became-fact-121226.htm