What do the inventions of the future look like?
- Self-sustaining space colonies and unlimited fusion energy would bring humanity to a new point in our evolution.
- Flying cars and robot butlers could be the next paradigm shift in our tech appetite for change.
- Death and consensus reality might soon become obsolete.
The future holds unparalleled visions of progress and intrigue for the curious. It is within this phantom time that's yet come to past where we manifest our hopes, dreams and even worst fears. One certainty that seems to us like an inevitability, is the continual forward march of technological progress. Young people of today know only of a time of unprecedented exponential technological growth.
While we've had our fair share of inventive breakthroughs in the past that have changed the world, the dazzling and world shaking inventions of the future will change the world in even stranger and greater ways.
There's no telling what the futuristic inventions of the world hold, but we can start by taking a few wild and speculative guesses.
Personal robot assistants
Our robot butlers have been a collective dream for nearly the past century. Years before any actual valid science in the realm of robotics or machine learning even existed, the cartoonish and fictionalized representation of the robot butler was stained into cultural memory.
Whether it was the cartoon Jetsons or Asimov's breakthrough science fiction, we've always had a special place in our hearts for these anthropomorphic household serfs. While industrial robots have been on the scene for decades, the world of commercial personal robots has been a disappointing affair of either vaporware or highly specialized products released like the robot vacuum.
Smart devices like Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri are steps in the right direction and revolutionary tech in their own right. But the invention and proliferation of an all purpose general AI robot assistant as ubiquitous as the smartphone is where the real future is at.
Fully immersive virtual reality
Plug in, boot up and never come out.
The invention of a fully immersive virtual reality is eschaton for technological geeks and futurist freaks. A type of technology like "full-dive VR" would be unprecedented. Capable of simulating reality to a perfect fidelity, the chasm between real and unreal would begin to lack meaning for most people. The cultural and philosophical quandaries raised by this type of technology hasn't even begun to be explored yet.
For adherents of this technology would be able to create the most intense simulations that could keep the mind busy for eternity. Why go out for a night on the town in consensus reality when you could be swimming the Saturnine waters in Godlike bliss.
The age old foe that's haunted life forever. Death and our eventual defeat of it has been immortalized in our first poetic epics and the thwarting of it is now seriously being considered by many of our leading minds.
One of the weird ways we've thought about overcoming death is by literally freezing ourselves. Cryonics is the "science" of freezing a human corpse with the hopes that we could one day revive the person. Most of the scientific establishment considers this pure quackery. But this hasn't deterred some of its fiercest proponents. Not to mention, when it comes to death there's really nothing to lose in trying our hand as a last ditch effort.
President of the largest cryonics organization in the world, Dennis Kowalski, once put it this way: "There's no guarantee you'll be able to be brought back, but there is a guarantee that if you get buried or cremated, you'll never find out."This so-called quackery could be a game changer for the thousands already frozen if methods become available to revive the dead. Yale scientists just recently were able to restore brain function to pigs after they'd been declared dead for hours.
Exoskeletons are by no means new technology. Research and development for military purposes have been exploring and creating the technology since the 1960s .
Their potential for changing the lives of millions in the near future is a very likely possibility. Some experts believe that they'll be used more in everyday tasks for industrial companies, where workers require extra strength in jobs that can't be automated yet by robots. Other types of exoskeletons will be able to help senior citizens walk around and have less need for physical assistance or other low-tech walking solutions.Reporters at The Verge have already checked out a motorized medical exoskeleton by SuitX which has allowed a paralyzed man to walk while wearing the suit.
We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters. – Peter Thiel
Where the hell is our flying car? Often the refrain of many critics lambasting the out of touch futurist predictions we've heard for years. But that may change. Maybe… Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, a number of companies such as Uber, have announced their intention to create an air taxi fleet.
This has jump started a new era of innovation and actual work being done to create flying cars. In actuality, these current prototypes often resemble oversized quadcopter drones.
Flying cars, whether they be roaring drones or speculative fiction Blade-runner hover cars have the possibility to really shake up the landscape and infrastructure of our world. The advent of automobiles has turned half the world into a paved parking lot. The possibility of reversing this urban sprawl and car created detritus could be a huge boon to civilization and the future of transit.Current hackneyed ideas like putting 20th century roller coaster wheels on cars through single lane tunnels… isn't going to cut it.
Augmented reality and other sorts of overlay vision technologies seem to have outshined the old dream of a three-dimensional hologram. But the technology is still being worked on in certain corners of the tech world.
Future holographs won't require the addition of a special set of eyeglasses, which current VR and AR applications are limited to. The invention of a seamless 3D hologram could potentially allow for the uninterrupted perception of talking to someone thousands of miles away, and make it seem like they were right there in your living room.
One current problem facing any potential long-term space trip is the fact that we can't generate an environment with artificial gravity. The ability to do this would allow us to bypass many of the pitfalls of living in a zero gravity environment for long stretches of time.
Theoretically it would be possible to generate artificial gravity through centrifugal force. We would need large scale rotating spacecraft, like the one seen in 2001: Space Odyssey. Many fictional space opera shows bypass this problem by conceptualizing some gravity generator device.
In the 1970s, NASA funded a group of researchers to come up with a feasible design for space colonies. They had to do it within a budget constraint of $35 billion or less. These ideas are still with us today and still stir up our imaginations. Three concepts that came out of this study are referred to as: the Bernal sphere, Stanford torus, and O'Neill cylinder.
The colonies would reside in the Lagrangian point called L5. This seems like a safe place to put it as it's situated in a healthy balance between the earth, our moon and the sun. Each colony would be self-sufficient and have dedicated agricultural areas.
In the case of the O'Neill cylinder, it would be 5 miles wide and 20 miles long. With three strips of land interspersed with sealed windows, the colony would be able to generate its own gravity.
Space habitats like these would allow us to live beyond Earth and prepare us for more further out journeys into our solar system and beyond.
The burning of fossil fuels and even new and novel ways of generating power through renewable energy could one day be a thing of the past. To go beyond collecting solar energy and instead generate power through our own fusion reactor would dramatically shift the way we power our civilization.
Since the 1950s, research has gone into the development of fusion. If it were created we'd have an unlimited source of energy. Scientists have figured that just one kilogram of deuterium extracted from water, could per day create enough electricity to power nearly a million homes.It's going to be a challenge, but some recent advancements have made the promise of unlimited energy look like a future reality.
Famous inventors and scientists submission to the daily grind
- Albert Einstein worked as a patent clerk for seven years.
- In between painting and inventing, Leonardo da Vinci made war machines for the Duke of Milan.
- Isaac Newton was almost forced to forget mathematics and become a farmer.
Many of the greatest inventors and scientists weren't able to work on their craft and subjects all the time. They were subject, like many of us, to the usual mundanities of everyday life. This meant working a full-time day job oftentimes not even close to their main inventive pursuits. Even so, they were able to create some of the greatest inventions of all time.
Here are some of the most surprising jobs of famous inventors and scientists.
Benjamin Franklin is one of the most famous inventors, statesmen, and philosophers of the early American era. Not only was Franklin a productive inventor, he also worked a number of interesting and challenging day jobs.
Throughout his life he worked as the Postmaster of Philadelphia and would later go on to become the Ambassador to France. Of course, no one can forget that he was one of the Founding Fathers of America as well.
As an inventor, his famous kite experiment immortalized his inventive genius into almost mythical proportions. Franklin would go on to create a number of inventions both patented and sealed away in his own personal papers.
Leonardo da Vinci
The archetype of the Renaissance Man, Leonardo da Vinci embodied the spirit of his era. Scientist, inventor, painter, polymath, and overall curious spirit, we still can't get enough of Leonardo's genius. For a man of so many talents and aspirations, it comes as no surprise that he had a number of interesting odd jobs. For 17 years he was in the service of Duke Ludovico Sforza of Milan. It was here where he worked as a military engineer, crafting death machines, and defensive fortresses.
Amongst his many conceptions, were early ideas of a tank, crossbows, helicopters, and even scuba diving gear. Few of what he invented was created in his time, but would go on to inspire many inventors of the future. Aside from his contributing inventions and advances in both science and the medical field, da Vinci is one of the most accomplished and revered artists of all time.
There has never been a scientist like Jane Goodall. A renowned figure who dedicated most of her life to pursue of knowledge of our closest relatives. The greatest expert on chimpanzees, Goodall's 55-year study on the social and primitive dynamics of wild chimpanzees is an unmatched study. Yet throughout the years, she wasn't always a great apes scientist.
Her first job was as a secretary working for her aunt who ran a children's orthopedic clinic. Her job was to take down notes shorthand and type them out. Eventually she'd go on to become a secretary at the Registry Office at Oxford University. Finally, making her way to Africa she remarked on her final job before studying the great apes full time:
"When invited to Africa, I earned money by being a waitress in a hotel around the corner from my home in Bournemouth — very hard work indeed. And the last job prior to my career was to be secretary for Louis Leakey at the Natural History Museum in Nairobi. So the boring secretarial course was certainly worth it in the end!"
Born in the early 1800s, John Deere grew up and worked as a Blacksmith before going on to invent one of the most revolutionary pieces of farming equipment, a steel plow. The invention would go on to become such a great success, that John later founded the business we know today as John Deere and Company.
To this day, they're still at the forefront of developing farming equipment and other assorted machines. John would later spend his time working on civil and political issues. At one point even serving as the Mayor for the town of Moline.
Famed science popularizer and theoretical physicist wasn't always pondering the mysteries of the universe. During World War Two when his father was in a Japanese internment camp, his father was working as a gardener. He went along with him and started working mowing lawns, watering plants and throwing down some fertilizer.
On the subject of this time in his life, Kaku remarked:
"As a child I basically had a choice of two paths: One, my father wanted me to take over the gardening business. And two, I wanted to become a physicist. After that gardening job, I decided I would much rather work with my mind."
The first woman to win a Nobel Prize for work on radioactivity — as well as the first person and only woman to win the Nobel Prize a second time — once worked as a governess taking care of a family in a little factory village north of Warsaw.
With a limited education and some scientific training from her father, Curie was largely self-taught. Working in difficult and poor laboratory conditions during her early years, she would eventually go on to expand on the works of Henri Becquerel in the field of radioactivity. Her research would led to the isolation of the chemical element polonium, named after the country of her birth.
One of the most famed men of the scientific sphere — Isaac Newton, the inventor of calculus who developed the laws of motion, gravity, and classical mechanics — and so on — was once led by his mother to become a farmer. After his mother had divorced for the second time and Isaac was around 16 years old, Isaac quit school and was supposed to work as a farmer.
That didn't quite go as planned. Newton would go on to develop one of the first practical telescope, develop the theory of the color spectrum and advance the sciences into an entirely new paradigm of inquiry.
The ever-prevailing need for day jobs and other more menial pursuits seemed to have even dragged Albert Einstein down. In 1902, Einstein started working as a technical expert for the Federal Office for Intellectual Property in Bern, or more commonly known as the patent office.
Einstein jokingly referred to this profession as his "cobbler's trade." This turned out to be a good job for the scientist as it was undemanding work that let him focus on his more lofty scientific pursuits. At the time of his work, his schedule was said to be eight hours of regular work, eight hours of scientific work followed by a healthy eight hours of sleep. Which in the case of the latter was often exchanged for writing his manuscripts and letters.
Einstein referred to his time working at the patent office as "that worldly cloister where I hatched my most beautiful ideas."
Samuel Morse gives his namesake to the famous technology we now know as Morse code. Born in a relatively modest household and regular upbringing, Morse was fond of art and painting. He excelled in portraiture and at the time was even commissioned to paint a few famous figures. Some of these works include portraits of John Adams and James Monroe.
While painting was his mainstay of work and life, he also dabbled in the realm of electromagnetism. After his wife died, he was inspired to work on a long distance device which would turn out to be the single wire telegraph.
Robert Fulton invented one of the first successful steamboats. He also built the famous boat commissioned by Napoleon Bonaparte, the Nautilus. Born to a family of Irish Immigrants in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he was sent to a Quaker school at the time he was 8 years old.
Fulton started off as an apprentice jeweler where he painted little portraits on lockets and rings. Eventually he'd begun work in Europe where he developed early conceptions for inland water transportation. On top of the Nautilus he created and gifted to the French in 1800, Fulton also developed early torpedoes in 1804.
- Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, was considered to be one of the first computer programmers.
- Inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, was also a socially-conscious man.
- The Wright Brothers took the sky with minimal funding and support.
Human existence and technology goes hand in hand. Indeed, we are an inventing and thinking animal. All of us are inventors in our own right. Some of the greatest inventions of all time have radically changed the world and our lives. From igniting fire to developing the microchip, we shape our environment and our lives as we see fit through our inventive genius.
Throughout history some women and men have exceeded all expectations and had truly inventive spirits. We look toward them as trailblazers, icons, and as people we inspire to be.
Here are a few select biographies about luminaries who helped shape the modern world.
Alexander Graham Bell: The Life and Times of the Man Who Invented the Telephone
We all remember Alexander Graham Bell as the man who created the telephone. What a lot of us don't know is that Bell was a polymath in his time and an exceptionally gifted scientist who was verse in a number of fields. He was an expert in aviation, solar power, laser communication (before most scientists even considered this science valid) and even expressed interest in new and efficient ways of educating children
On top of being such a great scientist, Bell also was concerned about human carbon-emissions and the potential to raise the Earth's temperature. Bell had a wide range of interests and was also a gifted teacher, who actually went on to teach Helen Keller to speak. Bell championed civil rights at the time, women's suffrage and was an early environmentalist. The biography hits upon all of these moments and interests in Bell's life and makes for a compelling and quick read for a figure we often overlook as just the man who invented the telephone.
The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution
Computing has been on our minds for centuries in one form or the other. This cross generational biography of computer innovators starts with a woman named Ada Lovelace, who attended the legendary polymath Charles Babbage's legendary salons where he was building a calculating machine called the Difference Engine. Lovelace also happened to be Lord Byron's daughter and is considered by many to be the first computer programmer.
Author, Walter Isaacson explores how these theoretical concepts laid down by Lovelace would assist Alan Turing and his innovations on the first computers. There a dizzying amount of lone geniuses, collaborative teams and general cross pollinating scientific advances that led up to the digital age we know today. Isaacson brings all of these characters to life as he digs deep into the men and women that made the digital revolution happen.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin wrote his autobiography up until the year 1757. So it misses out on a lot of the more historical events we know him for. Those including, the Revolutionary War and his time serving in the Continental Congress. Franklin paints an intimate picture of his earlier years. It is the rise of a young man and considered by many contemporaries of his time and historians of today as the first renaissance man of the American era.
Few people of the time or even today can compare to Benjamin Franklin. An autodidact with a wide range of interests, he was scientist, inventor, and one of the great philosophers of the time. The charm of this book comes from the fact that we get to see Benjamin Franklin in the time that he wasn't the famous and mythical man many know him as today. Instead we see the classic story of a self-made man as he faces the tried and trued trials and tribulations of a legend on the rise.
The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World
Thomas Edison is a name synonymous with invention. From the first public demonstrations of the phonograph in 1878 and development of the light bulb, Edison was an emblematic symbol of human ingenuity and invention.
Author Randall Stross does not deny the greatness that Edison possessed, but tries to temper the myth and legend with a more sobering view of one America's most famous inventors. Stross pushes forward the point that Edison, although a technical genius was also a man dedicated to his celebrity and branding.
The Wright Brothers
Written by Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough, the book provides unparalleled insight into the mythical story of the Wright brothers. Wilbur and Orville Wright were two genius and inventive brothers that were the first humans to take to the skies and fly.
Orville was a gifted engineer and Wilbur an all around genius. With barely any money, nothing more than a high school education and no friends in high places – the brothers did the unthinkable and impossible as they learned to fly. Born in Dayton, Ohio the brothers became interested in flight at a young age.
Mechanically gifted they used to make toy helicopters in their youth. When the inspiration hit to learn to fly, the brothers obsessively watched and studied birds while beginning to design an emulation of the flight they witnessed.
McCullough tells the story of their childhood, their relationship to their family and the many early attempts that led to that famous first flight in 1903.
"One small step for man" costs a lot of money. Who's going to help pay the bill for the next bout of space exploration?
It costs about $10,000 per pound, to put a person into orbit and $1,000,000 per pound to send a person to Mars. That's a lot of money, especially in these current times of economic austerity. So how are we going to explore space and build an insurance policy, so to speak, to save Earth from global warming? The acclaimed theoretical physicist Michio Kaku says that help could come not from NASA alone but with help from the private sector. Specifically, he posits that inventor, free-thinker, and all-around Silicon Valley disruptor Elon Musk "has the vision, the energy, and the checkbook" to turn these seemingly far-out ideas into a reality. Michio's latest book is The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth.
The most revelatory answers in life come from complex, diverse populations. Technology can open our eyes to what we're missing and destroy our subconscious biases in one fell swoop.
Being close-minded is like being in handcuffs—you can't let yourself out, someone has to pop the lock for you. That's why diversity matters, says neuroscientist Beau Lotto. Meeting others unlocks our perception. We spend our lives in the cuffs of our own assumptions, but encountering people who think and act differently teaches us so much about ourselves, and what we may have been blind to up until that point. If creativity is the act of thinking differently, then surrounding ourselves with a diversity of people, with diverse life experiences, can radically expand our field of possibility. Technology is another way to do that, says Lotto, and if you leaf through history it's apparent that the most radical technological breakthroughs are the ones that have expanded our perceptions: the printing press gave us books, which let us see other people's stories; the telescope gave us the universe, which gave us curiosity (and humility); the ship gave us mobility, which gave us cultural and material trade. Technology enables us "to see things that we could never have seen before," and it makes the invisible visible, says Lotto. The more layers of meaning we can detect—whether through diversity or technology—the better we're able to think, innovate, and connect. Beau Lotto's new book is Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently.