Future technologies

June 19, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Baby Peem - ThailandSo many pet topics; so little time to blog! Apart from carrying on about the surveillance society, I’m always curious to read about predictions for the future. Usually they’re dark prophecies of civil unrest, but I came across an article focusing on future technologies that have a positive spin to them. Here’s a run down:

  • Robots – can you believe that the “father of robotics”, Joseph Engelberger, is now in his 80s! he wants to see robots developed as “life support partners” to help and care for the elderly. Considering the huge numbers of Baby Boomers verging on retirement, robots that could help comfort a senior citizen is a great idea. Regular ThinkingShift readers will know my mother has been very seriously ill and the prospect of a nursing home doesn’t thrill any of us. Wouldn’t it be great if in the future intelligent robots could dispense medication; assist the elderly to walk; or do other task-specific things. Apparently, Australian universities are at the forefront of robotics research.
  • Mind-controlled interfaces: I remember when I first saw Minority Report, I found the ‘touch and move’ interactive computer screens amazing. Now it seems Microsoft is getting us closer to this fantasy – they’ve recently unveiled a coffee-table shaped computer that allows users to touch and move around objects on the screen. I wonder if the next step forward might be controlling a computer screen with your thoughts. Seems this may not be far off – Emotiv Systems, a start-up company, has designed a bicycle-helmet style controller that monitors brain signals and converts thoughts into game movements. So gamers can sit back, relax and electrical activity in the brain will cause avatars to zoom left, right, up, down on the screen. Aside from games, this mind-controlled technology could allow the disabled to use their minds to overcome physical impairment.
  • Personal networking: no more business cards to collect. Future technology will allow us to meet and exchange information purely by touching skin. Sounds a bit creepy at first and let’s hope there’s no nasty electric zap! Major Japanese mobile provider, NTT DoCoMo, has transmitted data at rates of 10 megabits per second over skin.
  • Smart buildings: as you walk into a room, the glass automatically adjusts to provide the best light for occupants or the right temperature; robots live in walls and absorb impurities from the air; solar cells are embedded in window glass. Smart paints are already here: you can you buy kitchen and bathroom paints that prevent mildew, such as Perma-White or paint your house in Ecopaint, from Millennium Chemicals, which absorbs smog-producing molecules, specifically nitrogen oxides.
  • Smart fabric: a suit that never gets dirty or creases? Or jeans that self-cleanse? or a jacket that can give you directions if you’re lost? The future will see clothes with nanotechnology embedded in the fibre. Companies are already producing smart fabrics: Burton ski wear has teamed up with Motorola to create the Audex jacket with embedded Bluetooth systems for control of phones and iPods, with speakers and microphone; and DuPont has launched tops containing Kevlar to protect against knife attacks (mmm….the latter might be particularly useful for knowledge management practitioners who fear that stab in the back from senior management). Obviously, the armed forces would greatly benefit from smart clothing – jackets that diagnose wounds or treat injuries. MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies is developing battle suits with muscle-enhancing properties, light-refraction for near-invisibility and sensors for constant medical feedback.
  • The magic of nano: nanobots might be able to build whatever we need, including food, from ambient atoms and molecules; they could cruise our bodies and blood vessels on the look out for disease, healing wounds and zapping unhealthy fat levels. Also on the drawing board is a “utility fog”, a cloud of networked nanobots running errands in the air around us, whether related to health or business.

Can you imagine what the world of the future will be like for Peem – a baby born just days ago in Thailand, nephew to my lifelong friend Lalida. Perhaps Peem will never have to worry about the spectre of cancer; his clothes might protect him from UV rays; nanobots will take care of his health. And when he sees photos of first generation mobile phones; or the original Internet topology; or any computer from 2007 – he will perhaps mutter ‘how quaint’, much as we do when we look back on early technologies.

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Entry filed under: Future trends, Technology.

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