Most of us take our vision for granted. As a result, we take the ability to read, write, drive, and complete a multitude of other tasks for granted. However, unfortunately, sight is not so easy for everyone.
Cataracts account for about a third of these. The National Eye Institute reports that more than half of all Americans will have cataracts or will have had cataract surgery by the time they are 80, and in low- and middle-income countries, they’re the leading cause of blindness.
But now, people with vision problems may have new hope.
A Welcome Sight
Soon, cataracts may be the thing of the past, and even better, it may be possible to see a staggering three times better than 20/20 vision. Oh, and you could do it all without wearing glasses or contacts.
So what exactly does having three times better vision mean? If you can currently read a text that is 10 feet away, you would be able to read the same text from 30 feet away. What’s more, people who currently can’t see properly might be able to see a lot better than the average person.
This development comes thanks to the Ocumetics Bionic Lens. This dynamic lens essentially replaces a person’s natural eye lens. It’s placed into the eye via a saline-filled syringe, after which it unravels itself in under 10 seconds.
It may sound painful, but Dr. Garth Webb, the optometrist who invented the Ocumetics Bionic Lens, says that the procedure is identical to cataract surgery and would take just about eight minutes. He adds that people who have the specialized lenses surgically inserted would never get cataracts and that the lenses feel natural and won’t cause headaches or eyestrain.
The Bionic Lens may sound like a fairy tale (or sci-fi dream), but it’s not. It is actually the end result of years and years of research and more than a little funding — so far, the lens has taken nearly a decade to develop and has cost US$3 million.
Musk is just one of the people in Silicon Valley to take a keen interest in the “simulation hypothesis”, which argues that what we experience as reality is actually a giant computer simulation created by a more sophisticated intelligence. If it sounds a lot like The Matrix, that’s because it is.
One popular argument for the simulation hypothesis, outside of acid trips, came from Oxford University’s Nick Bostrom in 2003 (although the idea dates back as far as the 17th-century philosopher René Descartes). In a paper titled “Are You Living In a Simulation?”, Bostrom suggested that members of an advanced “posthuman” civilization with vast computing power might choose to run simulations of their ancestors in the universe.
This argument is extrapolated from observing current trends in technology, including the rise of virtual reality and efforts to map the human brain.
If we believe that there is nothing supernatural about what causes consciousness and it’s merely the product of a very complex architecture in the human brain, we’ll be able to reproduce it. “Soon there will be nothing technical standing in the way to making machines that have their own consciousness,” said Rich Terrile, a scientist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
At the same time, videogames are becoming more and more sophisticated and in the future we’ll be able to have simulations of conscious entities inside them.
“Forty years ago we had Pong – two rectangles and a dot. That’s where we were. Now 40 years later, we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year. And soon we’ll have virtual reality, we’ll have augmented reality,” said Musk. “If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality.”
It’s a view shared by Terrile. “If one progresses at the current rate of technology a few decades into the future, very quickly we will be a society where there are artificial entities living in simulations that are much more abundant than human beings.”
If there are many more simulated minds than organic ones, then the chances of us being among the real minds starts to look more and more unlikely. As Terrile puts it: “If in the future there are more digital people living in simulated environments than there are today, then what is to say we are not part of that already?”
Reasons to believe that the universe is a simulation include the fact that it behaves mathematically and is broken up into pieces (subatomic particles) like a pixelated video game. “Even things that we think of as continuous – time, energy, space, volume – all have a finite limit to their size. If that’s the case, then our universe is both computable and finite. Those properties allow the universe to be simulated,” Terrile said.
“Quite frankly, if we are not living in a simulation, it is an extraordinarily unlikely circumstance,” he added.
So who has created this simulation? “Our future selves,” said Terrile.
Not everyone is so convinced by the hypothesis. “Is it logically possible that we are in a simulation? Yes. Are we probably in a simulation? I would say no,” said Max Tegmark, a professor of physics at MIT.
“In order to make the argument in the first place, we need to know what the fundamental laws of physics are where the simulations are being made. And if we are in a simulation then we have no clue what the laws of physics are. What I teach at MIT would be the simulated laws of physics,” he said.
Harvard theoretical physicist Lisa Randall is even more skeptical. “I don’t see that there’s really an argument for it,” she said. “There’s no real evidence.”
“It’s also a lot of hubris to think we would be what ended up being simulated.”
Terrile believes that recognizing that we are probably living in a simulation is as game-changing as Copernicus realizing that the Earth was not the center of the universe. “It was such a profound idea that it wasn’t even thought of as an assumption,” he said.
Before Copernicus, scientists had tried to explain the peculiar behaviour of the planets’ motion with complex mathematical models. “When they dropped the assumption, everything else became much simpler to understand.”
That we might be in a simulation is, Terrile argues, a simpler explanation for our existence than the idea that we are the first generation to rise up from primordial ooze and evolve into molecules, biology and eventually intelligence and self-awareness. The simulation hypothesis also accounts for peculiarities in quantum mechanics, particularly the measurement problem, whereby things only become defined when they are observed.
“For decades it’s been a problem. Scientists have bent over backwards to eliminate the idea that we need a conscious observer. Maybe the real solution is you do need a conscious entity like a conscious player of a video game,” he said.
For Tegmark, this doesn’t make sense. “We have a lot of problems in physics and we can’t blame our failure to solve them on simulation.”
How can the hypothesis be put to the test? On one hand, neuroscientists and artificial intelligence researchers can check whether it’s possible to simulate the human mind. So far, machines have proven to be good at playing chess and Go and putting captions on images. But can a machine achieve consciousness? We don’t know.
On the other hand, scientists can look for hallmarks of simulation. “Suppose someone is simulating our universe – it would be very tempting to cut corners in ways that makes the simulation cheaper to run. You could look for evidence of that in an experiment,” said Tegmark.
For Terrile, the simulation hypothesis has “beautiful and profound” implications.
First, it provides a scientific basis for some kind of afterlife or larger domain of reality above our world. “You don’t need a miracle, faith or anything special to believe it. It comes naturally out of the laws of physics,” he said.
Second, it means we will soon have the same ability to create our own simulations.
“We will have the power of mind and matter to be able to create whatever we want and occupy those worlds.”
Enjoy this CGI 3D Animated Short Film and winner of over 50 film festival jury and audience awards including Best Short Film, Best Sci-Fi Film, Best Animated Film, Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Design. During the construction of the universe, a young member of the Cosmos Corps of Engineers decides to break some fundamental laws in the name of self-expression.
Flying warehouses, robot receptionists, smart toilets… do such innovations sound like science fiction or part of a possible reality? Technology has been evolving at such a rapid pace that, in the near future, our world may well resemble that portrayed in futuristic movies, such as Blade Runner, with intelligent robots and technologies all around us.
But what technologies will actually make a difference? Based on recent advancements and current trends, here are five innovations that really could shape the future
1. Smart homes
Many typical household items can already connect to the internet and provide data. But much smart home technology isn’t currently that smart. A smart meter just lets people see how energy is being used, while a smart TV simply combines television with internet access. Similarly, smart lighting, remote door locks or smart heating controls allow for programming via a mobile device, simply moving the point of control from a wall panel to the palm of your hand.
But technology is rapidly moving towards a point where it can use the data and connectivity to act on the user’s behalf. To really make a difference, technology needs to fade more into the background – imagine a washing machine that recognises what clothes you have put into it, for example, and automatically selects the right programme, or even warns you that you have put in items that you don’t want to wash together. Here it is important to better understand people’s everyday activities, motivations and interactions with smart objects to avoid them becoming uninvited guests at home.
Such technologies could even work for the benefit of all. The BBC reports, for example, that energy providers will “reduce costs for someone who allows their washing machine to be turned on by the internet to maximise use of cheap solar power on a sunny afternoon” or “to have their freezers switched off for a few minutes to smooth demand at peak times”.
A major concern in this area is security. Internet-connected devices can and are being hacked – just recall the recent ransomware attack. Our home is, after all, the place where we should feel most secure. For them to become widespread, these technologies will have to keep it that way.
2. Virtual secretaries
While secretaries play a very crucial role in businesses, they often spend large parts of their working day with time-consuming but relatively trivial tasks that could be automated. Consider the organisation of a “simple” meeting – you have to find the right people to take part (likely across business boundaries) and then identify when they are all available. It’s no mean feat.
Tools such as doodle.com, which compare people’s availability to find the best meeting time, can help. But they ultimately rely on those involved actively participating. They also only become useful once the right people have already been identified.
By using context information (charts of organisations, location awareness from mobile devices and calendars), identifying the right people and the right time for a given event became a technical optimisation problem that was explored by the EU-funded inContext project a decade ago. At that stage, technology for gathering context information was far less advanced – smart phones were still an oddity and data mining and processing was not where it is today. Over the coming years, however, we could see machines doing far more of the day-to-day planning in businesses.
On the downside, much of the required context information is relatively privacy-invasive – but then the younger generation is already happily sharing their every minute on Twitter and Snapchat and such concerns may become less significant over time. And where should we draw the line? Do we fully embrace the “rise of the machines” and automate as much as possible, or retain real people in their daily roles and only use robots to perform the really trivial tasks that no one wants to do? This question will need to be answered – and soon.
But how would you feel about receiving a diagnosis from an artificial intelligence? A private company called Babylon Health is already running a trial with five London boroughs which encourages consultations with a chatbot for non-emergency calls. The artificial intelligence was trained using massive amounts of patient data in order to advise users to go to the emergency department of a hospital, visit a pharmacy or stay at home.
The company claims that it will soon be able to develop a system that could potentially outperform doctors and nurses in making diagnoses. In countries where there is a shortage of medical staff, this could significantly improve health provision, enabling doctors to concentrate on providing treatment rather than spending too much time on making a diagnosis. This could significantly redefine their clinical role and work practices.
An increasing number of mobile apps and self-tracking technologies, such as Fitbit, Jawbone Up and Withings, can now facilitate the collection of patients’ behaviours, treatment status and activities. It is not hard to imagine that even our toilets will soon become smarter and be used to examine people’s urine and faeces, providing real-time risk assessment for certain diseases.
If AI systems can address these challenges and focus on understanding and enhancing existing care practices and the doctor-patient relationship, we can expect to see more and more successful stories of data-driven healthcare initiatives.
4. Care robots
Will we have robots answering the door in homes? Possibly. At most people’s homes? Even if they are reasonably priced, probably not. What distinguishes successful smart technologies from unsuccessful ones is how useful they are. And how useful they are depends on the context. For most, it’s probably not that useful to have a robot answering the door. But imagine how helpful a robot receptionist could be in places where there is shortage of staff – in care homes for the elderly, for example.
Robots equipped with AI such as voice and face recognition could interact with visitors to check who they wish to visit and whether they are allowed access to the care home. After verifying that, robots with routing algorithms could guide the visitor towards the person they wish to visit. This could potentially enable staff to spend more quality time with the elderly, improving their standard of living.
The AI required still needs further advancement in order to operate in completely uncontrolled environments. But recent results are positive. Facebook‘s DeepFace software was able to match faces with 97.25% accuracy when tested on a standard database used by researchers to study the problem of unconstrained face recognition. The software is based on Deep Learning, an artificial neural network composed of millions of neuronal connections able to automatically acquire knowledge from data.
5. Flying warehouses and self-driving cars
Self-driving vehicles are arguably one of the most astonishing technologies currently being investigated. Despite the fact that they can make mistakes, they may actually be safer than human drivers. That is partly because they can use a multitude of sensors to gather data about the world, including 360-degree views around the car.
Moreover, they could potentially communicate with each other to avoid accidents and traffic jams. More than being an asset to the general public, self-driving cars are likely to become particularly useful for delivery companies, enabling them to save costs and make faster, more efficient deliveries.
Advances are still needed in order to enable the widespread use of such vehicles, not only to improve their ability to drive completely autonomously on busy roads, but also to ensure a proper legal framework is in place. Nevertheless, car manufacturers are engaging in a race against time to see who will be the first to provide a self-driving car to the masses. It is believed that the first fully autonomous car could become available as early as the next decade.
The advances in this area are unlikely to stop at self-driving cars or trucks. Amazon has recently filed a patent for flying warehouses which could visit places where the demand for certain products is expected to boom. The flying warehouses would then send out autonomous drones to make deliveries. It is unknown whether Amazon will really go ahead with developing such projects, but tests with autonomous drones are already successfully being carried out.
Thanks to technology, the future is here – we just need to think hard about how best to shape it.
Scientists, technologists, engineers, and visionaries are building the future. Amazing things are in the pipeline. It’s a big deal. But you already knew all that. Such speculation is common. What’s less common? Scale.
How big is big?
“Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley, Silicon Dock, all of the Silicons around the world, they are dreaming the dream. They are innovating,” Catherine Wood said at Singularity University’s Exponential Finance in New York. “We are sizing the opportunity. That’s what we do.”
Wood is founder and CEO of ARK Investment Management, a research and investment company focused on the growth potential of today’s disruptive technologies. Prior to ARK, she served as CIO of Global Thematic Strategies at AllianceBernstein for 12 years.
“We believe innovation is key to growth,” Wood said. “We are not focused on the past. We are focused on the future. We think there are tremendous opportunities in the public marketplace because this shift towards passive [investing] has created a lot of risk aversion and tremendous inefficiencies.”
In a new research report, released this week, ARK took a look at seven disruptive technologies, and put a number on just how tremendous they are. Here’s what they found.
Deep learning is a subcategory of machine learning which is itself a subcategory of artificial intelligence. Deep learning is the source of much of the hype surrounding AI today. (You know you may be in a hype bubble when ads tout AI on Sunday golf commercial breaks.)
Behind the hype, however, big tech companies are pursuing deep learning to do very practical things. And whereas the internet, which unleashed trillions in market value, transformed several industries—news, entertainment, advertising, etc.—deep learning will work its way into even more, Wood said.
As deep learning advances, it should automate and improve technology, transportation, manufacturing, healthcare, finance, and more. And as is often the case with emerging technologies, it may form entirely new businesses we have yet to imagine.
“Bill Gates has said a breakthrough in machine learning would be worth 10 Microsofts. Microsoft is $550 to $600 billion,” Wood said. “We think deep learning is going to be twice that. We think [it] could approach $17 trillion in market cap—which would be 35 Amazons.”
2. Fleets of Autonomous Taxis to Overtake Automakers
Wood didn’t mince words about a future when cars drive themselves.
“This is the biggest change that the automotive industry has ever faced,” she said.
Today’s automakers have a global market capitalization of a trillion dollars. Meanwhile, mobility-as-a-service companies as a whole (think ridesharing) are valued around $115 billion. If this number took into account expectations of a driverless future, it’d be higher.
The mobility-as-a-service market, which will slash the cost of “point-to-point” travel, could be worth more than today’s automakers combined, Wood said. Twice as much, in fact. As gross sales grow to something like $10 trillion in the early 2030s, her firm thinks some 20% of that will go to platform providers. It could be a $2 trillion opportunity.
Wood said a handful of companies will dominate the market, and Tesla is well positioned to be one of those companies. They are developing both the hardware, electric cars, and the software, self-driving algorithms. And although analysts tend to look at them as a just an automaker right now, that’s not all they’ll be down the road.
“We think if [Tesla] got even 5% of this global market for autonomous taxi networks, it should be worth another $100 billion today,” Wood said.
3. 3D Printing Goes Big With Finished Products at Scale
3D printing has become part of mainstream consciousness thanks, mostly, to the prospect of desktop printers for consumer prices. But these are imperfect, and the dream of an at-home replicator still eludes us. The manufacturing industry, however, is much closer to using 3D printers at scale.
Not long ago, we wrote about Carbon’s partnership with Adidas to mass-produce shoe midsoles. This is significant because, whereas industrial 3D printing has focused on prototyping to date, improving cost, quality, and speed are making it viable for finished products.
According to ARK, 3D printing may grow into a $41 billion market by 2020, and Wood noted a McKinsey forecast of as much as $490 billion by 2025. “McKinsey will be right if 3D printing actually becomes a part of the industrial production process, so end-use parts,” Wood said.
4. CRISPR Starts With Genetic Therapy, But It Doesn’t End There
According to ARK, the cost of genome editing has fallen 28x to 52x (depending on reagents) in the last four years. CRISPR is the technique leading the genome editing revolution, dramatically cutting time and cost while maintaining editing efficiency. Despite its potential, Wood said she isn’t hearing enough about it from investors yet.
“There are roughly 10,000 monogenic or single-gene diseases. Only 5% are treatable today,” she said. ARK believes treating these diseases is worth an annual $70 billion globally. Other areas of interest include stem cell therapy research, personalized medicine, drug development, agriculture, biofuels, and more.
Still, the big names in this area—Intellia, Editas, and CRISPR—aren’t on the radar.
“You can see if a company in this space has a strong IP position, as Genentech did in 1980, then the growth rates can be enormous,” Wood said. “Again, you don’t hear these names, and that’s quite interesting to me. We think there are very low expectations in that space.”
5. Mobile Transactions Could Grow 15x by 2020
By 2020, 75% of the world will own a smartphone, according to ARK. Amid smartphones’ many uses, mobile payments will be one of the most impactful. Coupled with better security (biometrics) and wider acceptance (NFC and point-of-sale), ARK thinks mobile transactions could grow 15x, from $1 trillion today to upwards of $15 trillion by 2020.
In addition, to making sharing economy transactions more frictionless, they are generally key to financial inclusion in emerging and developed markets, ARK says. And big emerging markets, such as India and China, are at the forefront, thanks to favorable regulations.
“Asia is leading the charge here,” Wood said. “You look at companies like Tencent and Alipay. They are really moving very quickly towards mobile and actually showing us the way.”
6. Robotics and Automation to Liberate $12 Trillion by 2035
Robots aren’t just for auto manufacturers anymore. Driven by continued cost declines and easier programming, more businesses are adopting robots. Amazon’s robot workforce in warehouses has grown from 1,000 to nearly 50,000 since 2014. “And they have never laid off anyone, other than for performance reasons, in their distribution centers,” Wood said.
But she understands fears over lost jobs.
This is only the beginning of a big round of automation driven by cheaper, smarter, safer, and more flexible robots. She agrees there will be a lot of displacement. Still, some commentators overlook associated productivity gains. By 2035, Wood said US GDP could be $12 trillion more than it would have been without robotics and automation—that’s a $40 trillion economy instead of a $28 trillion economy.
“This is the history of technology. Productivity. New products and services. It is our job as investors to figure out where that $12 trillion is,” Wood said. “We can’t even imagine it right now. We couldn’t imagine what the internet was going to do with us in the early ’90s.”
7. Blockchain and Cryptoassets: Speculatively Spectacular
Blockchain-enabled cryptoassets, such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Steem, have caused more than a stir in recent years. In addition to Bitcoin, there are now some 700 cryptoassets of various shapes and hues. Bitcoin still rules the roost with a market value of nearly $40 billion, up from just $3 billion two years ago, according to ARK. But it’s only half the total.
“This market is nascent. There are a lot of growing pains taking place right now in the crypto world, but the promise is there,” Wood said. “It’s a very hot space.”
Like all young markets, ARK says, cryptoasset markets are “characterized by enthusiasm, uncertainty, and speculation.” The firm’s blockchain products lead, Chris Burniske, uses Twitter—which is where he says the community congregates—to take the temperature. In a recent Twitter poll, 62% of respondents said they believed the market’s total value would exceed a trillion dollars in 10 years. In a followup, more focused on the trillion-plus crowd, 35% favored $1–$5 trillion, 17% guessed $5–$10 trillion, and 34% chose $10+ trillion.
Looking past the speculation, Wood believes there’s at least one big area blockchain and cryptoassets are poised to break into: the $500-billion, fee-based business of sending money across borders known as remittances.
“If you look at the Philippines-to-South Korean corridor, what you’re seeing already is that Bitcoin is 20% of the remittances market,” Wood said. “The migrant workers who are transmitting currency, they don’t know that Bitcoin is what’s enabling such a low-fee transaction. It’s the rails, effectively. They just see the fiat transfer. We think that that’s going to be a very exciting market.”
Zurich, Switzerland-based Climeworks asks, What if we could remove carbon dioxide directly from the air? Well, with a little help from technology, that is exactly what the company is doing.
The world’s first commercial carbon capture facility opened in Zurich, Switzerland on June 3, perched beside a waste incineration facility and a large greenhouse. Climeworks is a spin-off company from the Swiss science, technology, engineering, and mathematics university ETH Zurich. The startup company built the facility and Agricultural firm Gebrüder Meier Primanatura, which owns the huge greenhouse next door, will use the heat and renewable electricity provided by the carbon capture facility to run the greenhouse.
The technology behind carbon dioxide collection
The carbon capture plant consists of three stacked shipping containers that hold six CO2 collectors each. Each CO2 collector consists of a spongy filter. Fans draw ambient air into and through the collectors until they are fully saturated, while clean, CO2-free air is released back into the atmosphere, a process that takes about three hours.
The containers are closed and then heated to 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit), after which the pure CO2 gas is released into containers that can either be buried underground or used for other purposes. And re-purposing the CO2 is what is so darned neat about the facility.“You can do this over and over again,” Climeworks director Jan Wurzbacher told Fast Company, according to Futurism. “It’s a cyclic process. You saturate with CO2, then you regenerate, saturate, regenerate. You have multiple of these units, and not all of them go in parallel. Some are taking in CO2, some are releasing CO2.”
What is carbon capture and storage?
Basically, carbon capture and storage (CCS) involves three phases. Capture – Carbon dioxide is removed by one of three processes, post-combustion, pre-combustion or oxyfuel combustion. These methods can remove up to 90 percent of the CO2.The next phase is Transportation – Once the CO2 is captured as a gas, it is compressed and transported to suitable sites for storage. Quite often, the CO2 is piped. In Climeworks facility, it is collected in containers on-site to be used in a variety of industries.
Carbon storage diagram showingmethods of CO2 injection.
U.S. Department of Energy
Storage of CO2 is the third stage of the CCS process – This involves exactly what the word implies, storage. Right now, the primary way of doing this is to inject the COs into a geological formation that would keep it safely underground. Depleted oil and gas fields or deep saline formations have been suggested.Again, Climeworks is re-purposing the captured pure CO2. They are selling containers of carbon dioxide gas to a number of key markets, including food and beverage industries, commercial agriculture, the energy sector and the automotive industry. This atmospheric CO2 can be found in carbonated drinks, in agriculture or for producing carbon-neutral hydrocarbon fuels and materials. Futurism is reporting that Climeworks says that if we are to keep the planet’s temperature from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), we will need hundreds of thousands of these carbon capture facilities. But at the same time, this does not mean we should stop trying to lower greenhouse gas emissions. All over the planet, technology is being used to find innovative ways to capture carbon and use it for other purposes. One example – researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), have found a way to turn captured carbon into concrete for use in the building trade.
One day, not too soon — but still sooner than you think — the smartphone will all but vanish, the way beepers and fax machines did before it.
Make no mistake: We’re still probably at least a decade away from any kind of meaningful shift away from the smartphone. (And if we’re all cyborgs by 2027, I’ll happily eat my words. Assuming we’re still eating at all, I guess.)
Yet, piece by piece, the groundwork for the eventual demise of the smartphone is being laid by Elon Musk, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and a countless number of startups that still have a part to play.
And, let me tell you: If and when the smartphone does die, that’s when things are going to get really weird for everybody. Not just in terms of individual products but in terms of how we actually live our everyday lives and maybe our humanity itself.
Here’s a brief look at the slow, ceaseless march toward the death of the smartphone — and what the post-smartphone world is shaping up to look like.
The short term
People think of the iPhone and the smartphones it inspired as revolutionary devices — small enough to carry everywhere, hefty enough to handle an increasingly large number of daily tasks, and packed full of the right mix of cameras and GPS sensors to make apps like Snapchat and Uber uniquely possible.
But consider the smartphone from another perspective. The desktop PC and the laptop are made up of some combination of a mouse, keyboard, and monitor. The smartphone just took that model, shrank it, and made the input virtual and touch-based.
So take, for example, the Samsung Galaxy S8, unveiled this week. It’s gorgeous with an amazing bezel-less screen and some real power under the hood. It’s impressive, but it’s more refinement than revolution.
Samsung Galaxy S8.Business Insider
Tellingly, though, the Galaxy S8 ships with Bixby, a new virtual assistant that Samsung promises will one day let you control every single feature and app with just your voice. It will also ship with a new version of the Gear VR virtual reality headset, developed in conjunction with Facebook’s Oculus.
And as devices like the Amazon Echo, the Sony PlayStation VR, and the Apple Watch continue to enjoy limited but substantial success, expect to see a lot more tech companies large and small taking more gambles and making more experiments on the next big wave in computing interfaces.
The medium term
In the medium term, all of these various experimental and first-stage technologies will start to congeal into something familiar but bizarre.
Microsoft’s Alex Kipman recently told Business Insider that augmented reality could flat-out replace the smartphone, the TV, and anything else with a screen. There’s not much use for a separate device sitting in your pocket or on your entertainment center if all your calls, chats, movies, and games are beamed into your eyes and overlaid on the world around you.
Apple’s AirPods keep the Siri virtual assistant in your ears.Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
At the same time, gadgetry like the Amazon Echo or Apple’s own AirPods become more and more important in this world. As artificial-intelligence systems like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Samsung’s Bixby, and Microsoft’s Cortana get smarter, there will be a rise not just in talking to computers but in having them talk back.
The promise, though, is a world where real life and technology blend more seamlessly. The major tech companies promise that this future means a world of fewer technological distractions and more balance, as the physical and digital world become the same thing. You decide how you feel about that.
The really crazy future
Still, all those decade-plus investments in the future still rely on gadgetry that you have to wear, even if it’s only a pair of glasses. Some of the craziest, most forward-looking, most unpredictable advancements go even further — provided you’re willing to wait a few extra decades, that is.
Assuming the science works — and lots of smart people believe that it will — this is the logical endpoint of the road that smartphones started us on. If smartphones gave us access to information and augmented reality puts that information in front of us when we need it, then putting neural lace in our brains just closes the gap.
Futurist Ray Kurzweil has been predicting our cyborg futures for a long time now.Tech Insider
Musk has said this is because the rise of artificial intelligence — which underpins a lot of the other technologies, including voice assistants and virtual reality — means humans will have to augment themselves just to keep up with the machines. If you’re really curious about this idea, futurist Ray Kurzweil is the leading voice on the topic.
The idea of human/machine fusion is a terrifying one, with science-fiction writers, technologists, and philosophers alike having very good cause to ask what even makes us human in the first place. At the same time, the idea is so new that nobody really knows what this world would look like in practice.
So if and when the smartphone dies, it’ll actually be the end of an era in more ways than one. It’ll be the end of machines that we carry with us passively and the beginning of something that bridges our bodies straight into the ebb and flow of digital information. It’s going to get weird.
And yet, lots of technologists already say that smartphones give us superpowers with access to knowledge, wisdom, and abilities beyond anything nature gave us. In some ways, augmenting the human mind would be the ultimate superpower. Then again, maybe I’m just an optimist.
Flying cars, that perennial dream for futurists that always seem to be at least five years away, may be a little closer to reality than we realize. A lot of prototypes have been showcased recently, and a lot of money is being tossed around. More people than ever seem to buy into the crazy notion that in the near future we’ll be buzzing between rooftops in private, autonomous drones. Today, Munich-based Lilium Aviation announced an important milestone: the first test flight of its all-electric, two-seater, vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) prototype.
In a video provided by the Munich-based startup, the aircraft can be seen taking off vertically like a helicopter, and then accelerating into forward flight using wing-borne lift.
The craft is powered by 36 separate jet engines mounted on its 10-meter long wings via 12 movable flaps. At take-off, the flaps are pointed downwards to provide vertical lift. And once airborne, the flaps gradually tilt into a horizontal position, providing forward thrust.
During the tests, the jet was piloted remotely, but its operators say their first manned flight is close-at-hand. And Lilium claims that its electric battery “consumes around 90 percent less energy than drone-style aircraft,” enabling the aircraft to achieve a range of 300 kilometers (183 miles) with a maximum cruising speed of 300 kph (183 mph).
In many ways, electric-powered aviation is still in its infancy. Electric cars with thousand-pound batteries generally max out at 300 miles per charge. The most sophisticated electric aircraft today can barely muster an hour aloft at 99 mph — and that’s without vertical take-off and landing. But Patrick Nathen, co-founder of Lilium Jet and the startup’s head of calculation and design, said their battery technology will get the job done.
“It’s the same battery that you can find in any Tesla,” Nathen told The Verge. “The concept is that we are lifting with our wings as soon as we progress into the air with velocity, which makes our airplane very efficient. Compared to other flights, we have extremely low power consumption.”
Safety is a major emphasis at Lilium, Nathen added. While the startup is working toward having its aircraft piloted autonomously, it intends to use human pilots in the meantime. There will be parachutes on board, and something called the “Flight Envelope Protection System” will prevents the pilot from performing maneuvers or flying the aircraft beyond safe flight parameters.
The plan is to eventually build a 5-passenger version of the jet. So anyone who dreams of a minivan version of the Jetsons’ flying car, this craft is for you. And naturally, Lilium envisions its aircraft used in dense, urban areas in an on-demand capacity. Pull out your smartphone, book a seat, and make your way to the nearest launchpad, which can be found at street level or on a nearby rooftop. Like Uber, but for flying cars (even though Uber is already working on its own version).And before you dismiss this as another luxury mode of transportation for the super-rich, Nathen insists the goal is to get the cost low enough so everyone can use it. A 55-minute taxi ride from Midtown Manhattan to JFK airport, with a fare of $55, becomes a breezy 5 minute flight in a Lilium jet, for as low as $6.
If it seems fantastical, it’s probably because it is. Flying cars, of course, are ridiculous. Wild-eyed inventors have been pursuing the idea for decades, with little to show for it. Many have gone broke, and some have died, trying to turn their fever dreams into reality. The fact that flying cars act as a stand-in for some distant, unattainable future isn’t a mistake. There are many things about flying cars that make them impractical, unworkable, and even wrongheaded. The problem is that these aircraft don’t solve any problems for normal human beings, nor do they even gesture toward a meaningful impact in the distant future. But that hasn’t stopped many from trying. And with better materials, autonomous navigation systems, and other technical advances, dozens of well-heeled investors are convinced that we’re on the cusp of seeing flying cars — or at least small, electric, autonomously flown commuter planes — take to the skies.
“We are right now at the magical point,” Nathen said. “We have without a doubt started at the perfect time… This is why you can see a lot of different projects from all over the world.”
2016 was an incredible year for technology, and for humanity.
Despite all the negative political-related news, there were 10 tech trends this year that positively transformed humanity.
For this “2017 Kick-Off” post, I reviewed 52 weeks of science and technology breakthroughs, and categorized them into the top 10 tech trends changing our world.
I’m blown away by how palpable the feeling of exponential change has become.
I’m also certain that 99.99% of humanity doesn’t understand or appreciate the ramifications of what is coming.
In this post, enjoy the top 10 tech trends of the past 12 months and why they are important to you.
Let’s dive in…
1. We Are Hyper-Connecting the World
In 2010, 1.8 billion people were connected. Today, that number is about 3 billion, and by 2022 – 2025, that number will expand to include every human on the planet, approaching 8 billion humans.
Unlike when I was connected 20 years ago at 9,600 baud via AOL, the world today is coming online at one megabit per second or greater, with access to the world’s information on Google, access to the world’s products on Amazon, access to massive computing power on AWS and artificial intelligence with Watson… not to mention crowdfunding for capital and crowdsourcing for expertise.
a) Google’s 5G Solar Drones Internet Service: Project Skybender is Google’s secretive 5G Internet drone initiative. News broke this year that they have been testing these solar-powered drones at Spaceport America in New Mexico to explore ways to deliver high-speed Internet from the air. Their purported millimeter wave technology could deliver data from drones up to 40 times faster than 4G.
b) Facebook’s Solar Drone Internet Service: Even before Google, Facebook has been experimenting with a solar-powered drone, also for the express purpose of providing Internet to billions. The drone has the wingspan of an airliner and flies with roughly the power of three blowdryers.
c) ViaSat Plans 1 Terabit Internet Service: ViaSat, a U.S.-based satellite company, has teamed up with Boeing to launch three satellites to provide 1 terabit-per-second Internet connections to remote areas, aircraft and maritime vehicles. ViaSat is scheduled to launch its satellite ViaSat2 in early 2017.
d) OneWeb Raises $1.2B for 900 Satellite Constellation: An ambitious low-Earth orbit satellite system proposed by my friends Greg Wyler, Paul Jacobs and Richard Branson just closed $1.2 billion in financing. This 900-satellite system will offer global internet services as soon as 2019.
e) Musk Announces 4,425 Internet Satellite System: Perhaps the most ambitious plan for global internet domination was proposed this year by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, with plans for SpaceX to deploy a 4,425 low-Earth orbit satellite system to blanket the entire planet in broadband.
In December, the World Economic Forum reported that solar and wind energy is now the same price or cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity in more than 30 countries.
“As prices for solar and wind power continue their precipitous fall, two-thirds of all nations will reach the point known as ‘grid parity’ within a few years, even without subsidies,” they added.
This is one of the most important developments in the history of humanity, and this year marked a number of major milestones for renewable energy.
Here’s 10 data points (stories) I’ve hand-picked to hammer home the historic nature of this 2016 achievement.
a) 25 percent of the World’s Power Comes From Renewables: REN21, a global renewable energy policy network, published a report showing that a quarter of the world’s power now comes from renewable energy. International investment in renewable energy reached $286 billion last year (with solar accounting for over $160b of this), and it’s accelerating.
e) Coal Will Never Recover: The coal industry, once the backbone of U.S. energy, is fading fast on account of renewables like solar and wind. Official and expert reports now state that it will never recover (e.g., coal power generation in Texas is down from 39% in early 2015 to 24.8% in May 2016).
j) Tesla’s Gigafactory: Tesla’s $5 billion structure in Nevada will produce 500,000 lithium ion batteries annually and Tesla’s Model III vehicle. It is now over 30 percent complete… the 10 million square foot structure is set to be done by 2020. Musk projected that a total of 100 Gigafactories could provide enough storage capacity to run the entire planet on renewables.
3. Glimpsing the End of Cancer and Disease
Though it may seem hard to believe, the end of cancer and disease is near.
Scientists and researchers have been working diligently to find novel approaches to combating these diseases, and 2016 saw some extraordinary progress in this regard.
Here’re my top 10 picks that give me great faith about our abilities to cure cancer and most diseases:
a) Cancer Immunotherapy Makes Strides (Extraordinary Results): Immunotherapy involves using a patient’s own immune system (in this case, T cells) to fight cancer. Doctors remove immune cells from patients, tag them with “receptor” molecules that target the specific cancer, and then infuse the cells back in the body. During the study, 94% of patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) saw symptoms vanish completely. Patients with other blood cancers had response rates greater than 80%, and more than half experienced complete remission.
b) In China, CRISPR/Cas9 used in First Human Trial: A team of scientists in China (Sichuan University) became the first to treat a human patient with an aggressive form of lung cancer with the groundbreaking CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique.
c) NIH Approves Human Trials Using CRISPR: A team of physicians at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine had their project of modifying the immune cells of 18 different cancer patients with the CRISPR-Cas9 system approved by the National Institute of Health. Results are TBD.
f) New Treatment Causes HIV Infected Cells to Vanish: A team of scientists in the U.K. discovered a new treatment for HIV. The patient was treated with vaccines that helped the body recognize the HIV-infected cells. Then, the drug Vorinostat was administered to activate the dormant cells so they could be spotted by the immune system.
g) CRISPR Cures Mice of Sickle Cell Disease: CRISPR was used to completely cure sickle cell by editing the errant DNA sequence in mice. The treatment may soon be used to cure this disease, which affects about 100,000 Americans.
h) Eradicating Measles (in the U.S.): The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that after 50 years, they have successfully eradicated measles in the U.S. This is one of the most contagious diseases around the world.
i) New Ebola Vaccine Proved to be 100% Effective: None of the nearly 6,000 individuals vaccinated with rVSV-ZEBOV in Guinea, a country with more than 3,000 confirmed cases of Ebola, showed any signs of contracting the disease.
j) Eradicating Polio: The World Health Organization has announced that it expects to fully eradicate polio worldwide by Early 2017.
4. Progress on Extending Human Life
I am personally convinced that we are on the verge of significantly impacting human longevity. At a minimum, making “100 years old the new 60,” as we say at Human Longevity Inc.
This year, hundreds of millions of dollars were poured into research initiatives and companies focused on extending life.
Here are five of the top stories from 2016 in longevity research:
a) 500-Year-Old Shark Discovered: A Greenland shark that could have been over 500 years old was discovered this year, making the species the longest-lived vertebrate in the world.
b) Genetically Reversing Aging: With an experiment that replicated stem cell-like conditions, Salk Institute researchers made human skin cells in a dish look and behave young again, and mice with premature aging disease were rejuvenated with a 30% increase in lifespan. The Salk Institute expects to see this work in human trials in less than 10 years.
d) Funding for Anti-Aging Startups: Jeff Bezos and the Mayo Clinic-backed Anti-Aging Startup Unity Biotechnology with $116 million. The company will focus on medicines to slow the effects of age-related diseases by removing senescent cells (as mentioned in the article above).
e) Young Blood Experiments Show Promising Results for Longevity: Sakura Minami and her colleagues at Alkahest, a company specializing in blood-derived therapies for neurodegenerative diseases, have found that simply injecting older mice with the plasma of young humans twice a week improved the mice’s cognitive functions as well as their physical performance. This practice has seen a 30% increase in lifespan, and increase in muscle tissue and cognitive function.
A 14-year-old girl who said before dying of cancer that she wanted a chance to live longer has been allowed by the high court to have her body cryogenically frozen in the hope that she can be brought back to life at a later time.
The court ruled that the teenager’s mother, who supported the girl’s wish to be cryogenically preserved, should be the only person allowed to make decisions about the disposal of her body. Her estranged father had initially opposed her wishes.
During the last months of her life, the teenager, who had a rare form of cancer, used the internet to investigate cryonics. Known only as JS, she sent a letter to the court: “I have been asked to explain why I want this unusual thing done. I’m only 14 years old and I don’t want to die, but I know I am going to. I think being cryo‐preserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up, even in hundreds of years’ time.
“I don’t want to be buried underground. I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they might find a cure for my cancer and wake me up. I want to have this chance. This is my wish.”
Following the ruling, in a case described by the judge as exceptional, the body of JS has now been preserved and transported from where she lived in London to the US, where it has been frozen “in perpetuity” by a commercial company at a cost of £37,000.
The girl’s parents are divorced. She had lived with her mother for most of her life and had had no face-to-face contact with her father since 2008. She resisted his attempts to get back in touch when he learnt of her illness in 2015.
The judge, Mr Justice Peter Jackson, ruled that nothing about the case should be reported while she was alive because media coverage would distress her. She was too ill to attend the court hearing but the judge visited her in hospital.
Jackson wrote: “I was moved by the valiant way in which she was facing her predicament. It is no surprise that this application is the only one of its kind to have come before the courts in this country, and probably anywhere else. It is an example of the new questions that science poses to the law, perhaps most of all to family law … No other parent has ever been put in [the] position [of JS’s father].”
He added: “A dispute about a parent being able to see his child after death would be momentous enough on its own if the case did not also raise the issue of cryonic preservation.”
Since the first preservation by freezing in the 1960s the process has been performed only a few hundred times. The body has to be prepared shortly after death, ideally within minutes. Arrangements then have to be made for the body to be transported by a registered funeral director.
“The scientific theory underlying cryonics is speculative and controversial, and there is considerable debate about its ethical implications,” Jackson said. “On the other hand, cryopreservation, the preservation of cells and tissues by freezing, is now a well-known process in certain branches of medicine, for example the preservation of sperm and embryos as part of fertility treatment. Cryonics is cryopreservation taken to its extreme.”
The judge said the girl’s family was not well off but that her mother’s parents had raised the money. A voluntary UK group of cryonics enthusiasts, who were not medically trained, had offered to help make arrangements.
Co-operation of a hospital was required. “This situation gives rise to serious legal and ethical issues for the hospital trust,” the judge observed, “which has to act within the law and has duties to its other patients and to its staff.”
The hospital trust in the case was willing to help although it stressed it was not endorsing cryonics. “On the contrary, all the professionals feel deep unease about it,” the judge said.
The Human Tissue Authority (HTA), which regulates organisations which remove, store and use human tissue, had been consulted but said it had no remit to intervene in such a case.
“The HTA would be likely to make representations that activities of the present kind should be brought within the regulatory framework if they showed signs of increasing,” Jackson said.
The HTA said: “We are gathering information about cryopreservation to determine how widespread it is currently, or could become in the future, and any risks it may pose to the individual, or public confidence more broadly. We are in discussion with key stakeholders … and the possible need for regulatory oversight.”
The government may need to intervene in future, Jackson said: “It may be … events in this case suggest the need for proper regulation of cryonic preservation in this country if it is to happen in future.”
Inquiries made of American authorities revealed that there was no prohibition on human remains being shipped to the US for cryonic preservation, providing certain provisions were made.
During the course of the 14-year-old’s case, the father changed his mind and told the court: “I respect the decisions [my daughter] is making. This is the last and only thing she has asked from me.”
A child cannot make a will and the court had to decide where the girl’s best interests lay. The judge concluded that allowing the mother to make a decision about her daughter would be in her best interests. The girl died peacefully knowing that her body would be frozen, the judge recorded.
The Department of Health said: “Cases such as this are rare. Although there are no current plans for legislative change in this area, this is an area we will continue to keep under review with the Human Tissue Authority.