Get smarter, faster. Subscribe to our daily newsletter.
Futuristic inventions and emerging technologies that will change the world
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.
- 10 Ways Technology Will Transform the Human Body in the next ... ›
- How Illustrators of the 1800s Imagined the Distant Future — Our ... ›
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
It's hard to stop looking back and forth between these faces and the busts they came from.
- A quarantine project gone wild produces the possibly realistic faces of ancient Roman rulers.
- A designer worked with a machine learning app to produce the images.
- It's impossible to know if they're accurate, but they sure look plausible.
How the Roman emperors got faced<a href="https://payload.cargocollective.com/1/6/201108/14127595/2K-ENGLISH-24x36-Educational_v8_WATERMARKED_2000.jpg" ><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTUzMzIxMX0.OwHMrgKu4pzu0eCsmOUjybdkTcSlJpL_uWDCF2djRfc/img.jpg?width=980" id="775ca" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="436000b6976931b8320313478c624c82" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="lineup of emperor faces" data-width="1440" data-height="963" /></a>
Credit: Daniel Voshart<p>Voshart's imaginings began with an AI/neural-net program called <a href="https://www.artbreeder.com" target="_blank">Artbreeder</a>. The freemium online app intelligently generates new images from existing ones and can combine multiple images into…well, who knows. It's addictive — people have so far used it to generate nearly 72.7 million images, says the site — and it's easy to see how Voshart fell down the rabbit hole.</p><p>The Roman emperor project began with Voshart feeding Artbreeder images of 800 busts. Obviously, not all busts have weathered the centuries equally. Voshart told <a href="https://www.livescience.com/ai-roman-emperor-portraits.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Live Science</a>, "There is a rule of thumb in computer programming called 'garbage in garbage out,' and it applies to Artbreeder. A well-lit, well-sculpted bust with little damage and standard face features is going to be quite easy to get a result." Fortunately, there were multiple busts for some of the emperors, and different angles of busts captured in different photographs.</p><p>For the renderings Artbreeder produced, each face required some 15-16 hours of additional input from Voshart, who was left to deduce/guess such details as hair and skin coloring, though in many cases, an individual's features suggested likely pigmentations. Voshart was also aided by written descriptions of some of the rulers.</p><p>There's no way to know for sure how frequently Voshart's guesses hit their marks. It is obviously the case, though, that his interpretations look incredibly plausible when you compare one of his emperors to the sculpture(s) from which it was derived.</p><p>For an in-depth description of Voshart's process, check out his posts on <a href="https://medium.com/@voshart/photoreal-roman-emperor-project-236be7f06c8f" target="_blank">Medium</a> or on his <a href="https://voshart.com/ROMAN-EMPEROR-PROJECT" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">website</a>.</p><p>It's fascinating to feel like you're face-to-face with these ancient and sometimes notorious figures. Here are two examples, along with some of what we think we know about the men behind the faces.</p>
Caligula<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NDk4Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MzQ1NTE5NX0.LiTmhPQlygl9Fa9lxay8PFPCSqShv4ELxbBRFkOW_qM/img.jpg?width=980" id="7bae0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce795c554490fe0a36a8714b86f55b16" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Caligula, left
Nero<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ2NTAwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ2ODU0NX0.AgYuQZzRQCanqehSI5UeakpxU8fwLagMc_POH7xB3-M/img.jpg?width=980" id="a8825" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9e0593d79c591c97af4bd70f3423885e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="992" data-height="558" />
One of numerous sculptures of Nero, left
A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.
Scientists regenerate damaged spinal cord nerve fibers with designer protein, helping paralyzed mice walk again.
- Researchers from Germany use a designer protein to treat spinal cord damage in mice.
- The procedure employs gene therapy to regenerate damaged nerve fibers that carry signals to and from the brain.
- The scientists aim to eventually apply the technique to humans.