Norton UK Blog
Myth or Magic: The Future of Tech
The tech and science world is a very interesting place. Between sending brave explorers to Mars, the constant evolution of robot tech, and Elon Musk’s supersonic train, our world is shaping up to take on the veneer of a sci-fi film.
But how realistic is it really? Will robots really be filling our jobs and slowly but surely taking us over? Will flying cars shepherd us from point A to point B instead of an airplane? And what about genetic engineering and cloning? Today, we’re taking a quick look at some of the evolving tech that fascinates us.
Is a robot rebellion coming?
The robot apocalypse is a staple of the sci-fi genre. In 2015’s Ex-Machina, a young coder played by Domhnall Gleeson falls for a sentient robot girl. In I Robot, Will Smith is a hardened police officer who’s wary of the droids who have integrated into human society. One of the droids, Sonny, goes rogue and a robot uprising begins.
But the world of film aside, is a robot rebellion really coming? Certain internet users certainly seem to think so. The debate stems into three parts: if AI can reach human or better intelligence; if AI could pose a real threat; and if they would actually want to take us over.
While we don’t have the intel to answer those questions, we can see what maths has to say. According to an experiment in the University of Wisconsin-Madison by Giulio Tononi and his colleagues, it’s unlikely that sentient machines will ever exist.
Tononi and his colleagues developed a complicated mathematical framework for consciousness. At its most basic, the maths suggests that integration for consciousness would require a loss of information, so the “brain” in the robot would constantly be leaking information. This would eventually destroy the “brain”.
The work is incredibly complex and we’ve barely touched on the basics, so if you’d like to read more, you can check out their Integrated Information Theory here.
Are invisibility cloaks a weapon of the future?
Another staple of fantasy films that’s crossed over to reality is the invisibility cloak. Work on invisibility cloaks or very advanced camouflage has been ongoing for years now, but the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology has made a serious leap forward with a cloaking device that’s capable of hiding any object that can fit inside a one-inch diameter.
More interestingly, the cloaking device is made from common materials so could potentially be mass produced. Now, the KIT are not the first group to create an invisibility device, as many prototypes have come before it, but the catch is that the other cloaks can only hide tiny objects or don’t always work quite as they should.
The military will likely come calling, though the KIT team only want to use their invisibility device to get students excited about science.
KIT has a point—if our teachers had shown us an actual working invisibility cloak, we’d have been pretty excited for physics class too!
A further breakthrough in invisibility tech in September 2015 saw researchers at the University of California create an ultra-thin invisibility cloak. The very cool thing about this cloak is that it’s scalable so will be able to cover both large and small objects.
Possibility: A definite.
Will hypersonic trains and flying cars replace planes, trains, and automobiles?
Unlike a few of the items on this list, hypersonic trains and flying cars are very much on their way to reality. Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and Paypal, is the man behind the Hyperloop, a hypersonic train that’s intended to ferry passengers from LA to San Francisco in thirty minutes.
If you’re having trouble visualising it, think of it as being a giant bullet-shaped tube moving at enormous speeds between two destinations. It’ll also be weather-resistant, as an added bonus.
For years, detractors have suggested that the Hyperloop is too ambitious, but it’s been making moves of late to shuttle right towards reality. Two fortune 500 companies, Aecom and Oerlikon, have gotten involved with the company and are willing to back it. As well as sourcing backers, Musk secured 5 miles of test track in California.
By all accounts, the Hyperloop is coming.
As for flying cars, the tech isn’t quite so inventive as the Hyperloop and already mostly exists. Now, while the tech isn’t quite flying cars in the vein of Harry Potter’s flying Ford Anglia, it’s still interesting, and centres on an airplane/car hybrid, like the Aeromobil in the video below.
The Aeromobil is definitely more interesting than your regular commute. Granted, it might still be a while before the next step—hover cars—make the jump from film to real life. In the meantime, you can get your hands on a hoverboard somewhat akin to the one Marty McFly got round on in Back to the Future.
The Hendo Hoverboard uses opposing magnetic fields to levitate, though that means it can only work on certain metal-covered surfaces. The Hendo Hoverboard still needs to work on the stability and control, as even super-smooth pro skateboarder Tony Hawk had trouble keeping his balance.
Possibility: Very likely
Clones, clones, clones
There’s a cult TV show on BBC America called Orphan Black, in which a British grafter living in Canada finds out that she’s one of many clones. Much mayhem, science, and government conspiracies ensue.
While the science in the show converged with real life, don’t expect to find multiple genetic doubles of yourself walking the streets of your city anytime soon.
Right now, it’s illegal to clone people, as well as being a very morally grey area. But what are the chances of actual clones?
Well, to cut right to the chase: cloning doesn’t currently exist for humans, but it has been used in plants and certain vertebrates. In nonhuman forms, cloning is done in a lab with a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer.
Dolly the sheep was made with this technique and was born in Scotland in 1996. While the process sounds pretty easy (implant a SCNT embryo into a surrogate mother and nine months later, a clone baby is born), it’s a difficult process that is highly prone to failing.
Dolly took 277 goes, and her lifespan was only half as long as a regular sheep.
Cloning, no pun intended, is still very much in its infancy and it will likely be quite some time before a person is successfully cloned. Plus, there’s also still the whole matter of it being highly illegal.
Possibility: Probable eventually, but not until it’s no longer illegal.
Homes you can run from your smartphone or devices
The concept of smart homes is a fun one. You’ve seen the basics on TV for years now: clap your hands and the lights turn on or off. Over the last few years the tech has evolved and now companies like Nest and Honda are doing huge work into houses so smart they’ll one day be able to run themselves.
Honda’s smart houses are intended to be so eco-friendly that they’ll power themselves. Nest’s home automation products are self-learning, sensor-driven thermostats, smoke detectors, and security systems that you can run from your smartphone, wherever you are.
And those are just the beginning: expect plenty more gadgets and tech-things that you’ll soon be able to install in your house and run from your phone or devices. Check out this article from CNET for a peek into some of the coolest smart home tech available right now.
Possibility: An absolute.
Exoskeletons for injured/paralysed people
Mark Pollock is an Irish adventurer who was paralysed in a fall four years ago. With help from a team of UCLA scientists, Pollock was able to “voluntarily control his leg muscles and take steps in a robotic exoskeleton.”
Pollock is blind and was paralysed from the waist down, so the device could be a revolution in medical treatment. Even more impressive is the ‘voluntary control’ part, where Pollock had enough control to work with the robotic device, alongside the help of non-invasive spinal stimulation.
The exoskeleton is a battery-powered bionic suit—which might make you think of Iron Man, though it’s even more impressive as Pollock and the suit worked in tandem to move together.
Possibility: An absolute.
While current science and tech is very cool, we’re looking forward to seeing how the world shapes and grows around us. Sentient robots may not be coming, but hover boards, flying cars, and exoskeletons are plenty to look forward to.
Of course, until a point in the future where this tech becomes cheap enough to be mass produced, you’ll have to settle for your computer and smartphone—but that’s not a bad compromise to make either!