According to IEET readers, what were the most stimulating stories of 2015? This month we’re answering that question by posting a countdown of the top 30 articles published this year on our blog (out of more than 1,000), based on how many total hits each one received.
The following piece was first published here on September 29, 2015, and is the #1 most viewed of the year.
When someone asks me what I do, and I tell them that I’m a futurist, the first thing they ask “what is a futurist?” The short answer that I give is “I use current scientific research in emerging technologies to imagine how we will live in the future.”
However, as you can imagine the art of futurology and foresight is much more complex. I spend my days thinking, speaking and writing about the future, and emerging technologies. On any given day I might be in Warsaw speaking at an Innovation Conference, in London speaking at a Global Leadership Summit, or being interviewed by the Discovery Channel. Whatever the situation, I have one singular mission. I want you to think about the future.
How will we live in the future? How will emerging technologies change our lives, our economy and our businesses? We should begin to think about the future now. It will be here faster than you think.
Let’s explore seven current emerging technologies that I am thinking about that are set to change the world forever.
1. Age Reversal
We will see the emergence of true biological age reversal by 2025.
It may be extraordinarily expensive, complex and risky, but for people who want to turn back the clock, it may be worth it. It may sound like science fiction but the science is real, and it has already begun. In fact, according to new research published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, Professor Jun-Ichi Hayashi from the University of Tsukuba in Japan has already reversed ageing in human cell lines by “turning on or off”mitochondrial function.
Another study published in CELL reports that Australian and US researchers have successfully reversed the aging process in the muscles of mice. They found that raising nuclear NAD+ in old mice reverses pseudohypoxia and metabolic dysfunction. Researchers gave the mice a compound called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide or NAD for a week and found that the age indicators in two-year-old mice were restored to that of six-month-old mice. That would be like turning a 60-year-old human into a 20-year-old!
How will our culture deal with age reversal? Will we set limits on who can age-reverse? Do we ban criminals from this technology? These are the questions we will face in a very complex future. One thing is certain, age reversal will happen and when it does it will change our species and our world forever.
2. Artificial General Intelligence
The robots are coming and they are going to eat your job for lunch. Worldwide shipments of multipurpose industrial robots are forecast to exceed 207,000 units in 2015, and this is just the beginning. Robots like Care-o-bot 4 and Softbank’s Pepper may be in homes, offices and hotels within the next year. These robots will be our personal servants, assistants and caretakers.
Amazon has introduced a new AI assistant called ECHO that could replace the need for a human assistant altogether. We already have robots and automation that can make pizza, serve beer, write news articles, scan our faces for diseases, and drive cars. We will see AI in our factories, hospitals, restaurants and hotels around the world by 2020.
3. Vertical Pink Farms
We are entering the techno-agricultural era. Agricultural science is changing the way we harvest our food. Robots and automation are going to play a decisive role in the way we hunt and gather. The most important and disruptive idea is what I call “Vertical PinkFarms” and it is set to decentralise the food industry forever.
The United Nations (UN) predicts by 2050 80% of the Earth’s population will live in cities. Climate change will also make traditional food production more difficult and less productive in the future. We will need more efficient systems to feed these hungry urban areas. Thankfully, several companies around the world are already producing food grown in these Vertical PinkFarms and the results are remarkable.
Vertical PinkFarms will use blue and red LED lighting to grow organic, pesticide free, climate controlled food inside indoor environments. Vertical PinkFarms use less water, less energy and enable people to grow food underground or indoors year round in any climate.
Traditional food grown on outdoor farms are exposed to the full visible light spectrum. This range includes Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue and Violet. However, agricultural science is now showing us that O, Y, G and V are not necessary for plant growth. You only need R and B.LED lights are much more efficient and cooler than indoor florescent grow lights used in most indoor greenhouses. LED lights are also becoming less expensive as more companies begin to invest in this technology. Just like the solar and electric car revolution, the change will be exponential. By 2025, we may see massive Vertical PinkFarms in most major cities around the world. We may even see small Vertical PinkFarm units in our homes in the future.
By 2035, even if a majority of humans do not self-identify as Transhuman, technically they will be. If we define any bio-upgrade or human enhancement as Transhumanism, then the numbers are already quite high and growing exponentially. According to a UN Telecom Agency report, around 6 billion people have cell phones. This demonstrates the ubiquitous nature of technology that we keep on or around our body.
As human bio-enhancements become more affordable, billions of humans will become Transhuman. Digital implants, mind-controlled exoskeletal upgrades, age reversal pills, hyper-intelligence brain implants and bionic muscle upgrades. All of these technologies will continue our evolution as humans.
Reconstructive joint replacements, spinal implants, cardiovascular implants, dental implants, intraocular lens and breast implants are all part of our human techno-evolution into this new Transhuman species.
5. Wearables and Implantables
Smartphones will fade into digital history as the high-resolution smart contact lens and corresponding in-ear audio plugs communicate with our wearable computers or “smart suits.” The digital world will be displayed directly on our eye in stunning interactive augmented beauty. The Ghent University’s Centre of Microsystems Technology in Belgium has recently developed a spherical curved LCD display that can be embedded in contact lenses. This enables the entire lens to display information.
The bridge to the smart contact starts with smart glasses, VR headsets and yes, the Apple watch. Wearable technologies are growing exponentially. New smart augmented glasses like Google Glass, RECON JET, METAPro, and Vuzix M100 Smart Glasses are just the beginning. In fact, CastAR augmented 3D glasses recently received over a million dollars in funding on Kickstarter. Their goal was only four hundred thousand. The market is ready for smart vision, and tech companies should move away from handheld devices if they want to compete.
The question of what is real and augmented will be irrelevant in the future. We will be able to create our reality with clusters of information cults that can only see certain augmented information realities if you are in these groups. All information will be instantaneously available in the augmented visual future.
6. Atmospheric Water Harvesting
California and parts of the south-west in the US are currently experiencing an unprecedented drought. If this drought continues, the global agricultural system could become unstable.
Consider this: California and Arizona account for about 98% of commercial lettuce production in the United States.Thankfully we live in a world filled with exponential innovation right now.
An emerging technology called Atmospheric Water Harvesting could save California and other arid parts of the world from severe drought and possibly change the techno-agricultural landscape forever.
Traditional agricultural farming methods consume 80% of the water in California. According to the California Agricultural Resource Directory of 2009, California grows 99% of the U.S. almonds, artichokes, and walnuts; 97% of the kiwis, apricots and plums; 96% of the figs, olives and nectarines; 95% of celery and garlic; 88% of strawberries and lemons; 74% of peaches; 69% of carrots; 62% of tangerines and the list goes on.
Several companies around the world are already using atmospheric water harvesting technologies to solve this problem. Each company has a different technological approach but all of them combined could help alleviate areas suffering from water shortages.
The most basic, and possibly the most accessible, form of atmospheric water harvesting technology works by collecting water and moisture from the atmosphere using micro netting. These micro nets collect water that drains down into a collection chamber. This fresh water can then be stored or channelled into homes and farms as needed.
A company called FogQuest is already successfully using micro netting or “fog collectors” to harvest atmospheric water in places like Ethiopia, Guatemala, Nepal, Chile and Morocco. Will people use this technology or will we continue to drill for water that may not be there?
7. 3D Printing
Today we already have 3D printers that can print clothing, circuit boards, furniture, homes and chocolate. A company called BigRep has created a 3D printer called the BigRep ONE.2 that enables designers to create entire tables, chairs or coffee tables in one print. Did you get that?
You can now buy a 3D printer and print furniture!
Fashion designers like Iris van Herpen, Bryan Oknyansky, Francis Bitonti, Madeline Gannon, and Daniel Widrig have all broken serious ground in the 3D printed fashion movement. These avant-garde designs may not be functional for the average consumer so what is one to do for a regular tee shirt? Thankfully a new Field Guided Fabrication 3D printer called ELECTROLOOM has arrived that can print and it may put a few major retail chains out of business. The ELECTROLOOM enables anyone to create seamless fabric items on demand.
So what is next? 3D printed cars. Yes, cars. Divergent Microfactories (DM) has recently created a first 3D printed high-performance car called the Blade. This car is no joke. The Blade has a chassis weight of just 61 pounds, goes 0-60 MPH in 2.2 seconds and is powered by a 4-cylinder 700-horsepower bi-fuel internal combustion engine.
These are just seven emerging technologies on my radar. I have a list of hundreds of innovations that will change the world forever. Some sound like pure sci-fi but I assure you they are real. Are we ready for a world filled with abundance, age reversal and self-replicating AI robots? I hope so.
Image #2: This “pinkhouse” at Caliber Biotherapeutics in Bryan, Texas, grows 2.2 million plants under the glow of blue and red LEDs. Courtesy of Caliber Therapeutics