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Right now is such an exciting time to be alive, as science and technology hurtles humanity forward at such incredible rates. Who would’ve thought ten years ago that we’d have one touch access to all the information in the world, on our phones!? At this rate, what are we going to see in another ten years?
With any luck, it’ll be one or more of these four incredible technologies that will very likely change the world.
Equipped with an array of radar, laser and optical scanners, autonomous – or self-driven – cars are already at an advanced stage of research where they are fully functional. Trials so far have been incredibly successful – on real, busy roads with other motorists.
Surely, computer controlled cars are accident prone? Not at all it would seem. Google’s efforts at a self-driving car, which having racked up hundreds of thousands of miles on Californian roads, has caused only one accident to date. The accident occurred while being driven manually by a human!
Why is safer? With all those sensors, the computer is able to see everything simultaneously and assess far more information than the typical human can. It makes decisions faster than a human, doesn’t check it’s mobile phone, and doesn’t bring emotions to the table. It turns out autonomous cars are far more considerate drivers than humans.
Benefits to Humanity:
Given that human error and lapses of concentration are the main causes of traffic accidents, the benefits of autonomous vehicles absolutely cannot be underestimated. Not only will they save thousands of lives, but the time spent driving can be regained to pursue more fulfilling goals. That hour long drive every day to work just turned into 300 hours a year you could be learning a foreign language (Chinese, I suggest, given the way the world is going…) Check out the TED video to learn more:
The Mind Reader
This popped up in my Google+ stream a few weeks back, and as someone who used to keep a meticulous dream diary of 4 or more dreams a night for a few years running, I find it to be simply unbelievable.
Here it is. Researchers from Gallant Lab placed someone in a MRI machine for a few hours, and played back a video sequence which you can see on the left. They recorded the brain activity, and then reconstructed what the user was seeing (on the right) using only the brain scans, without reference to the original video. They literally read the persons mind.
How does it work? The images on the reconstructed scene are computationally merged using thousands of hours of YouTube footage. First, you show a small sample sequence to the subject, and record the brain activity. Once you’ve done that for thousands of clips, you have a library of visual responses. Compare the recorded activity with the library, chose a few closely matching clips and merge them, and this is what you get. The interesting thing is that the visual responses are the same for everyone, so as the vast library of samples increases, the accuracy of playback also increases. Presumably, the researchers will have to watch a few thousand hours of pornography at some point if they want a truly complete library that can show most people’s every waking thought!
Benefit to Humanity:
Tricky. Do we really want to go there? Personally, I’d love to be able to record my own dreams, but I doubt I’d want those getting into the wrong hands. The very real concept of government agencies reading your thoughts is quite, quite terrifying.
Robotic Learning Babies
Couldn’t do this article without mentioning a robot, could I? iCub is the latest poster child of the robot world, and represents a new generation of combined Artifical Intelligence robotics that are able to learn from their surroundings. It’s teetering on the edge of uncanny valley with it’s child size appearance, and it learns just as a small child might – repeating facial gestures, remembering objects, and now even crawling and shooting a bow. What?! Did I just say it’s shoots a bow and arrow? Indeed – surely it’s only a matter of time before the robot revolution becomes painfully realistic.
Benefits to Humanity:
Better childcare classes for potential young couples perhaps? Doubtful. I suspect this is more a demonstration of learning algorithms than an attempt to actually create a usable (is that the right word?) robot child, but scale this up to adult size and suddenly you have a generic robot able to learn any task a human can do, rather than previous generation robots that were built for a specific task… then, we can start worrying about the eventual replacement of millions of human workers. Let’s not think about what happens when the firmware update introduces the radical iConsciousness.
Imagine strapping on a robotic exoskeleton and suddenly gaining super strength! Already done. Seriously, while these might not have filtered down to consumer level yet, strap-on exoskeletons are already in wide scale use in the military, so this isn’t so much of a future technology as right here, right now. Take a look:
While that’s only a tethered prototype, these HULC machines are in use today:
Benefit to Humanity:
On a military level, one human able to do the job of two or more soldiers is pretty incredible. For consumers, I could eventually see these as just another power tool to keep in the garage, but in the more immediate future they’ll have a significant impact on those with a disability of the legs or arms. How long will it be before these things get even bigger though?
I must admit, I’m a technology freak. Nothing excites me more than the future and all the exciting new technologies it holds for us. But I think it’s also important to look at all this with a bit of perspective and ask ourselves this critical question – can we play Quake on it?
What exciting new technologies (real ones, not “I wish we had these”) are you waiting for? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credit: ShutterStock 1