Technological advancement is a strange thing. On one hand, it’s moving far faster than we’re ready for. On the other… where are the flying cars! Amiright?
One thing that seems certain with technology is that regardless of how fast or slow it progresses, we’re never ready for the changes it brings and we’re largely unable to anticipate how it, and we, will interact with secondary enabling technologies.
The mobile phone is an excellent example of this. Although the technology developed from the shoe-sized box to the pocket-sized smart-phone over about a decade, we were still not ready for the social changes that happened when smart phones were married with social media.
So, with all kinds of technology quickly maturing, what other surprises might be in store for us? Well, here’s a countdown of five technologies that are far more developed than you probably realize. We can only imagine how they might change our world.
5. Robot Servants
Regardless of how old you are, you’ve grown up with some awareness and expectation of robots. Whether it’s Rosie the maid from the Jettson’s cartoon, Robot B-9 from Lost in Space, the Terminators, Johnny-five, the Blade Runner Replicants, Wall-E, each generation since WWII has lived with the promise and fear of robots. And yet, we still don’t have them except as moving hands in manufacturing industries. Where are the humanoid robots that can vacuum, do the dishes, and wash the car?
Well, they might not be as far away as they seem. Japan and Korea are well known to have been working on robots for some time and with a respectable degree of success — we’ve all seen them on the news. But did you know that the US military has robot dogs that are quite amazing in their ability to navigate the environments and may be generally available within a few years for carrying objects and helping around the home?
Going one step further, we now have the first robot given citizenship of a country. October 2017, Sophia, a seventh generation robot from Hanson Robotics, was given citizenship in Saudi Arabia, where it addressed the assembly saying that it wants to work towards friendship and compassion between humans and robots.
During the Q&A it still seemed fairly robotic and it’s language processor could take some advice from Amazon Alexa (something that, in itself is interesting, as the voice recognition was developed by Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc.).
Sophia may not be the paragon of burgeoning artificial intelligence that the creators are suggesting, but it is a good example of how close we’re getting to having humanoid robots walking among us.
Sophia does, however, beg the question, just how close are we to a true general artificial intelligence?
4. General Artificial Intelligence
For some, Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) cannot arrive fast enough. For others, if it ever arrives it will be too soon. So, how close are we?
Well, most experts suggest that if it’s possible, we’re still decades away. Although the truth is no one really knows, as no one fully understands what technical breakthroughs are required to achieve AGI. However, in recent years there have been some interesting experiments by the big tech companies that have given rise to at least a little concern by the opponents of AGI.
- Microsoft’s attempt at training an AI using Twitter in 2016 went horribly wrong when it started spouting hateful bigotry within 24 hours of being turned loose on the internet — a warning for new users of this social media, perhaps? It’s also a great warning of what could go wrong for us if we mess this up.
- Google has been busy with AI development, working on a general gaming AI that can learn and game just by watching. Furthermore, in 2017 they developed an AI that could make new AIs. When given the task of creating an object recognition AI for visual systems, it produced one superior to any human attempt.
- The Google AI project Deep Mind has also surpassed it’s own record at the Japanese game of Go. The newest Go AI beat the reigning world champion (the previous AI) 100 games to 0 by a system of iterative trial and error. This is a clear example of how AIs could dramatically improve from one generation to the next.
- In 2017, a Facebook AI invented it’s own language as part of learning for another task. This sufficiently worried researchers that they shut it down.
So, these recent attempts to develop a general AI would seem to each come with a particular warning. Of course, being human, we will push ahead anyway. The real challenge, it seems, will be for us to figure out when an AI is truly self-aware. Hopefully, we build a positive rapport with them by that time, or we may still be sitting committees when our obsolescence knocks on the door.
3. Genetic Manipulation
Since the advent of biotechnology in the early 1970s, the promise of genetic manipulation to correct and cure genetic problems such as inherited diseases and cancer has been left unfulfilled despite amazing advances in the technology. Now, a new technique called CRISPR (Clustered Regular Interspersed Short Palindromic Repeats), discovered about ten years ago and developed to a practical application only five years ago, may finally make the dream real.
The tools and techniques of CRISPR have been released for use among all scientists and has led to rapid developments of the technique even in the short time since it’s initial development. Who knows, we might be coming to the end of genetic diseases.
2. Artificial Womb
We’re currently in the middle of the largest gender war in the history of our species. Moreover, technology of various kinds is changing our definitions of gender, and indeed, our definition of ourselves. But we’re not done yet because in order for:
- women to be truly free of the household (if they want to be)
- men to have reproductive freedom for the first time in history
- humans to colonize space
we need to develop artificial wombs.
Estimates for the development of artificial wombs for humans place the technology 30-50 years away, depending on funding and social importance. However, researchers have taken important steps forward in being able to bring extreme-preterm lambs to full term in what could be called an artificial womb. Already, the second lamb has now been born using this techniqe.
Admittedly, the artificial womb looks more like something you’d store your lunch in, but it is a huge step toward actual artificial wombs — and the next gender war.
1. Flying cars
Since the 1950s we’ve been waiting… and waiting… and waiting. But no flying cars.
Finally, with the development of drone technology, increased computing power, and better electric batteries and power systems, it seems the dream may finally be just around the corner.
A wide variety of companies have flying cars in development. A few are even ready for sale this year, although these are more flying and less car. Still some of the designs are proving to be very interesting. with everything from personal electric air transportation, to hybrid plane/cars, to drone-transportation services.
Now we just need the glacial pace of Western politics to speed up and get on this before they fall too far behind (in England they’re still planning to build a high speed rail system by 2035! – by then, we won’t even need rail). What they’ll need to do is decide on regulations for piloting, safety, whether all such vehicles should be autodrive, and how to control the borders.
Let’s hope they can sort out the details quickly, because I, for one, am looking forward to a world of personal flying cars!
We’re entering a time of great advancement, and great change. I’ve listed five technologies that will change our world in the coming decades, but there are many more. If this was interesting to you, why not explore other alternate futures by signing up to my newsletter.
Insight and longevity,
Edwin H Rydberg