Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly 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 ... ›
All this from a wad of gum?
- Researchers recently uncovered a piece of chewed-on birch pitch in an archaeological dig in Denmark.
- Conducting a genetic analysis of the material left in the birch pitch offered a plethora of insights into the individual who last chewed it.
- The gum-chewer has been dubbed Lola. She lived 5,700 years ago; and she had dark skin, dark hair, and blue eyes.
Five thousand and seven hundred years ago, "Lola" — a blue-eyed woman with dark skin and hair — was chewing on a piece of pitch derived from heating birch bark. Then, this women spit her chewing gum out into the mud on an island in Denmark that we call Syltholm today, where it was unearthed by archaeologists thousands of years later. A genetic analysis of the chewing gum has provided us with a wealth of information on this nearly six-thousand-year-old Violet Beauregarde.
This represents the first time that the human genome has been extracted from material such as this. "It is amazing to have gotten a complete ancient human genome from anything other than bone," said lead researcher Hannes Schroeder in a statement.
"What is more," he added, "we also retrieved DNA from oral microbes and several important human pathogens, which makes this a very valuable source of ancient DNA, especially for time periods where we have no human remains."
In the pitch, researchers identified the DNA of the Epstein-Barr virus, which infects about 90 percent of adults. They also found DNA belonging to hazelnuts and mallards, which were likely the most recent meal that Lola had eaten before spitting out her chewing gum.
Insights into ancient peoples
The birch pitch was found on the island of Lolland (the inspiration for Lola's name) at a site called Syltholm. "Syltholm is completely unique," said Theis Jensen, who worked on the study for his PhD. "Almost everything is sealed in mud, which means that the preservation of organic remains is absolutely phenomenal.
"It is the biggest Stone Age site in Denmark and the archaeological finds suggest that the people who occupied the site were heavily exploiting wild resources well into the Neolithic, which is the period when farming and domesticated animals were first introduced into southern Scandinavia."
Since Lola's genome doesn't show any of the markers associated with the agricultural populations that had begun to appear in this region around her time, she provides evidence for a growing idea that hunter-gatherers persisted alongside agricultural communities in northern Europe longer than previously thought.
Her genome supports additional theories on northern European peoples. For example, her dark skin bolsters the idea that northern populations only recently acquired their light-skinned adaptation to the low sunlight in the winter months. She was also lactose intolerant, which researchers believe was the norm for most humans prior to the agricultural revolution. Most mammals lose their tolerance for lactose once they've weaned off of their mother's milk, but once humans began keeping cows, goats, and other dairy animals, their tolerance for lactose persisted into adulthood. As a descendent of hunter-gatherers, Lola wouldn't have needed this adaptation.
A hardworking piece of gum
A photo of the birch pitch used as chewing gum.
These findings are encouraging for researchers focusing on ancient peoples from this part of the world. Before this study, ancient genomes were really only ever recovered from human remains, but now, scientists have another tool in their kit. Birch pitch is commonly found in archaeological sites, often with tooth imprints.
Ancient peoples used and chewed on birch pitch for a variety of reasons. It was commonly heated up to make it pliable, enabling it to be molded as an adhesive or hafting agent before it settled. Chewing the pitch may have kept it pliable as it cooled down. It also contains a natural antiseptic, and so chewing birch pitch may have been a folk medicine for dental issues. And, considering that we chew gum today for no other reason than to pass the time, it may be that ancient peoples chewed pitch for fun.
Whatever their reasons, chewed and discarded pieces of birch pitch offer us the mind-boggling option of learning what someone several thousands of years ago ate for lunch, or what the color of their hair was, their health, where their ancestors came from, and more. It's an unlikely treasure trove of information to be found in a mere piece of gum.
The non-contact technique could someday be used to lift much heavier objects — maybe even humans.
- Since the 1980s, researchers have been using sound waves to move matter through a technique called acoustic trapping.
- Acoustic trapping devices move bits of matter by emitting strategically designed sound waves, which interact in such a way that the matter becomes "trapped" in areas of particular velocity and pressure.
- Acoustic and optical trapping devices are already used in various fields, including medicine, nanotechnology, and biological research.
Sound can have powerful effects on matter. After all, sound strikes our world in waves — vibrations of air molecules that bounce off of, get absorbed by, or pass through matter around us. Sound waves from a trained opera singer can shatter a wine glass. From a jet, they can collapse a stone wall. But sound can also be harnessed for delicate interactions with matter.
Since the 1980s, researchers have been using sound to move matter through a phenomenon called acoustic trapping. The method is based on the fact that sound waves produce an acoustic radiation force.
"When an acoustic wave interacts with a particle, it exerts both an oscillatory force and a much smaller steady-state 'radiation' force," wrote the American Physical Society. "This latter force is the one used for trapping and manipulation. Radiation forces are generated by the scattering of a traveling sound wave, or by energy gradients within the sound field."
When tiny particles encounter this radiation, they tend to be drawn toward regions of certain pressure and velocity within the sound field. Researchers can exploit this tendency by engineering sound waves that "trap" — or suspend — tiny particles in the air. Devices that do this are often called "acoustic tweezers."
Building a better tweezer
A study recently published in the Japanese Journal of Applied Physics describes how researchers created a new type of acoustic tweezer that was able to lift a small polystyrene ball into the air.
Tweezers of Sound: Acoustic Manipulation off a Reflective Surface youtu.be
It is not the first example of a successful "acoustic tweezer" device, but the new method is likely the first to overcome a common problem in acoustic trapping: sound waves bouncing off reflective surfaces, which disrupts acoustic traps.
To minimize the problems of reflectivity, the team behind the recent study configured ultrasonic transducers such that the sound waves that they produce overlap in a strategic way that is able to lift a small bit of polystyrene from a reflective surface. By changing how the transducers emit sound waves, the team can move the acoustic trap through space, which moves the bit of matter.
Move, but don't touch
So far, the device is only able to move millimeter-sized pieces of matter with varying degrees of success. "When we move a particle, it sometimes scatters away," the team noted. Still, improved acoustic trapping and other no-contact lifting technologies — like optical tweezers, commonly used in medicine — could prove useful in many future applications, including cell separation, nanotechnologies, and biological research.
Could future acoustic-trapping devices lift large and heavy objects, maybe even humans? It seems possible. In 2018, researchers from the University of Bristol managed to acoustically trap particles whose diameters were larger than the sound wavelength, which was a breakthrough because it surpassed "the classical Rayleigh scattering limit that has previously restricted stable acoustic particle trapping," the researchers wrote in their study.
In other words, the technique — which involved suspending matter in tornado-like acoustic traps — showed that it is possible to scale up acoustic trapping.
"Acoustic tractor beams have huge potential in many applications," Bruce Drinkwater, co-author of the 2018 study, said in a statement. "I'm particularly excited by the idea of contactless production lines where delicate objects are assembled without touching them."
Australian parrots have worked out how to open trash bins, and the trick is spreading across Sydney.
- If sharing learned knowledge is a form of culture, Australian cockatoos are one cultured bunch of birds.
- A cockatoo trick for opening trash bins to get at food has been spreading rapidly through Sydney's neighborhoods.
- But not all cockatoos open the bins; some just stay close to those that do.
Dumpster-diving trash parrots
In a study about these smart birds just published in Science, researchers define animal culture as "population-specific behaviors acquired via social learning from knowledgeable individuals."
Co-lead author of the study Barbara Klump of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz, Germany says, "[C]ompared to humans, there are few known examples of animals learning from each other. Demonstrating that food scavenging behavior is not due to genetics is a challenge."
An opportunity presented itself in a video that co-author Richard Major of the Australian Museum shared with Klump and the other co-authors. In the video, a sulphur-crested cockatoo used its beak to pull up the handle of a closed garbage bin — using its foot as a wedge — and then walked back the lid sufficiently to flip it open, exposing the bin's edible contents.
Major has been studying Cacatua galerita for 20 years and says, "Like many Australian birds, sulphur-crested cockatoos are loud and aggressive." The study describes them as a "large-brained, long-lived, and highly social parrot." Says Major, "They are also incredibly smart, persistent, and have adapted brilliantly to living with humans."(Research regarding some of the ways in which wild animals adapt to the presence of humans has already produced some fascinating results and is ongoing.)
Clever cockie opens bin - 01 youtu.be
The researchers became curious about how widespread this behavior might be and saw a research opportunity. After all, says John Martin, a researcher at Taronga Conservation Society, "Australian garbage bins have a uniform design across the country, and sulphur-crested cockatoos are common across the entire east coast."
Martin continues, "In 2018, we launched an online survey in various areas across Sydney and Australia with questions such as, 'What area are you from, have you seen this behavior before, and if so, when?'"
Word gets around
Credit: magspace/Adobe Stock
Although the cockatoos' maneuver was reported in only three suburbs before 2018, by the end of 2019, people in 44 areas reported observing the behavior. Clearly, more and more cockatoos were learning how to successfully dumpster dive.
As further proof, says Klump, "We observed that the birds do not open the garbage bins in the same way, but rather used different opening techniques in different suburbs, suggesting that the behavior is learned by observing others." One individual bird in north Sydney invented its own method, and the scientists saw it grow in popularity throughout the local population.
To track individual birds, the researchers marked 500 cockatoos with small red dots. Subsequent observations revealed that not all cockatoos are bin-openers. Only about 10 percent of them are, and they are mostly males. The other cockatoos apparently restrict their education to a different lesson: hang around with a bin-opener, and you will get supper.
Thanks to the surveys, the researchers consider the entire project to be a valuable citizen-science experiment. "By studying this behavior with the help of local residents, we are uncovering the unique and complex cultures of their neighborhood birds."
The few seconds of nuclear explosion opening shots in Godzilla alone required more than 6.5 times the entire budget of the monster movie they ended up in.