10 Science Fiction Technologies Becoming Reality in the Near Future

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Nobody can accurately predict the future, unless you’re a god or someone who’s built a time machine (or both). Since most of us aren’t either, we’re limited to educated guesses. But if you want to bet on the future, you’re safest with possibilities whose prototypes are already existent today. Like the following, which might be right around the corner.

10. Cars that Drive Themselves

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Anyone who follows Google’s attempts to make the world a sci-fi fan’s dream knows by now that they’ve expanded from search engines to phones to glasses, and now to cars. Instead of having humans control their cars, Google developed computer software. Their initial results were impressive, with cars able to drive 1000 miles without human control and 140,000 miles with occasional human handling.

There are tons of other manufacturers bent on making the best autonomous automobiles. Since the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Grand Challenge of 2004, the first ever competition for autonomous vehicles, the research progress has been promising. Audi made a car that can climb Pikes Peak without a driver, and new technologies allow you to control your car with just thought and eye movements. Then there’s Google co-founder Sergey Brin claiming you’ll actually be able to purchase their cars in 2017.

But before self-driving cars become available on the market, tons of tests measuring their ability to perform in all situations — communicating with other vehicles, detecting various speed limits and potential hazards (e.g. a sociopath suddenly throwing a kitten in front of your car) and countless other factors — need to be done to ensure a failsafe experience before letting the steering wheel out of your hands.

9. Biofuel and Seawater-powered Aviation

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Airlines have been looking into alternative ways to fuel their carriers for years. Boeing and South African Airways have their eyes on Solaris, a tobacco plant. The partnership are recruiting tobacco farms for their program, which is set to conduct its first test flight as early as 2015. This seems like a win-win for all participants — not only does it lower production costs and create jobs, it will also reduce carbon emissions.

Speaking of the sea, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory has found an alternative way to power their jets. They’re working on a liquid hydrocarbon fuel made from the endless stretch of water that surrounds them. This is done by extracting both carbon dioxide and hydrogen in water, and processing them to produce hydrocarbons. The cost is estimated at $3 to $6 per gallon. In about 10 years specialized defense ships might just be manufacturing their own fuel, although not without a number of catches.

8. Drone Delivery

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Drone delivery started when Amazon introduced Amazon Prime Air, a system that boasts delivery of your orders in 30 minutes. Technologically, all is seemingly ready for the company. The problem is regulatory, as Amazon has yet to receive approval from the FAA. And perhaps rightly so, since there are a number of factors to consider. How are these “octocopters” going to deliver items to an apartment address? Are they just going to drop orders in front of your building where they could be easily stolen? What if a package gets knocked down during flight?

Cynicism aside, it seems drone delivery is a popular concept. Google X (Google’s special projects lab) revealed that it’s working on Project Wing, the original purpose of which was to deliver defibrillators to heart attack victims using air vehicles. While Prime Air boasts of delivering products in half an hour, Project Wing aims for delivery in minutes. Google X had issues trying to assimilate the project with the systems of 911 and emergency services, so for now they conduct ongoing test flights and strive for a safe and fully-functional drone delivery system. You do have to appreciate Google’s determination to make science fiction stuff a reality, at least when their products are innocuous.

7. Autonomous Fine-tuning Products

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Imagine a device that could detect when it’s becoming more or less efficient, and could adjust its functions to your preference. This kind of technology doesn’t exist yet, but Elliott Hedman says it might be the future of product design.

Hedman is the founder of mPath, a design consultancy firm whose clients include Best Buy, Lego, and — surprise — Google X. They’ve developed a technique for design research combining stress sensors with traditional observation techniques. It focuses on a user’s emotional state when using a product, which could be detected by skin conductance. The variations in perspiration, which is triggered when you are aroused psychologically, affect conductivity, and tracking this helps you track arousal level when using specific aspects of a product. Using the data collected would allow manufacturers to pinpoint what specific aspects appeal to users and what doesn’t work.

Products that fine-tune themselves might be farther off, but there are hints of it happening in the app world. Leo’s Pad, released by Kidaptive, is a toy that gathers huge amounts of data on the user’s progress and uses it to adjust difficulty settings. It also dispenses tips relative to the kid’s progress with the app. Even our toys are going smart.

6. Insect-eating World

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Insects are eaten and enjoyed by a surprising number of people around the world. And that number is projected to rise in the future. In an article published in Mosaic, Emily Anthes wrote about her experience with insect eating and its current place in the international community. A recent conference organized in part by the United Nations called “Insects to feed the world” implied that chowing down on insects  is indeed a “viable solution for the protein deficit problem.”

Anthes, who bravely took part in an experimental insect tasting, ate a noodle dish swarming with insects on her first day. It had “another, hidden ingredient: fat extracted from the larvae of black soldier flies (or, to put it less delicately, maggot fat). The whole dish has been stir-fried in it.” Yummy.

Before you get too grossed out, consider the fact that people in Asia, Africa, Australia and South America have been treating edible insects as savory cuisine for probably their entire history. In fact, insect eating has also been mentioned in the Bible and other ancient texts. And then there’s the nutritional value. The Entomological Society of America claims that insects contain more protein and are lower in fat and calories than traditional meat.

The insect eating trend is undeniably growing, but advocates admit that the concept is still in its infancy. The biggest obstacle is getting people to overcome their disgust of worms and flies and other bugs, but in a future with a constantly growing population and diminishing resources, it might not seem very icky at all.

5. Immediate Health Diagnosis Anywhere

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In the 2014 Nokia Sensing X Challenge, a competition for groundbreaking healthcare technology, the DNA Medical Institute bagged the $2.25 million grand prize for their rHEALTH device. Unlike other digital fitness trackers popping up like mushrooms these days, rHEALTH measures not only vital signs but also biomarkers. The sophisticated technology was backed by grants from NASA, the National Institutes of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And with more funding coming their way, it seems that this portable diagnostic tool will be made available commercially in the next few years.

With a single drop of blood, it could reliably detect cell counts, HIV, vitamin D levels and a host of other protein markers. Heck, it can detect anything from a simple ailment such as the flu to something we’re actually scared of, like Ebola, in as short as a few minutes. This is easily done, much like testing for your own blood sugar level, allowing you to do this in your own bathroom or under the shade of a coconut tree in Hawaii. It’s your pick, although who wants to dampen a Hawaii trip with a diagnosis of Ebola? It would complicate the return flight home, to say the very least.

4. Forgetting Pill

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Everything that we do, from building a supercomputer to the simple act of remembering, is governed by chemical reactions in our brains. Proteins are needed to form the memory circuits in our brain, and as recently as the late 1990s it was widely believed that this circuitry remained intact once formed. Karim Nader proved this theory wrong with a discovery on how our memories aren’t as accurate or as stable as we think they are.

Nader discovered that the very act of remembering changes our memories. Every time we try to recall a memory, we alter its cellular representation in the brain. What happens is protein synthesis, which is needed to stabilize the memory circuits. So what happens if these proteins are blocked?

Scientists have identified a protein, PKMzeta, which is required to re-consolidate memory. Block it with a certain drug, and the memory will stop existing in your head. This is all still theory — neuroscientists still have to figure out the menu of drugs that will only selectively block certain receptors in the brain so a specific memory will be affected, rather than accidentally wiping out half of your childhood years. But if they do figure it out, there will surely be a market. It’s like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind once again.

3. Suspended Animation

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Suspended animation has long been a dream of both sci-fi fans and the medical field. Clinical trials on humans have been conducted, with emergency preservation and resuscitation having been applied by surgeons at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Presbyterian Hospital.

After success with pigs, surgeons planned to do the first human trials on humans suffering from cardiac arrest brought on by traumatic injury. The process requires exsanguination, the draining of all blood from your body, because sometimes cutting edge science resembles a low-budget horror movie. A very cold saline solution is then pumped throughout your entire body. This basically stops all cellular activity, making you quite dead, but the cells can survive without oxygen for a couple of hours. The surgeons will use this time to repair the trauma, then pump the blood back in.

The surgeons hope the human heart will restart on its own, as was the case with the pigs. If it doesn’t, they could try to resuscitate it. If the technique is consistently successful, it could be a groundbreaking achievement in the field of bringing the dead back to life. Perhaps someday it will be effective for a couple of decades instead of a couple of hours, allowing the use of suspended animation for space travel.

2. The Age of the Cyborg

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Yep, it seems that the United States Military wants to bring Iron Man to life. It’s been developing TALOS, or the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit. The suit’s designed to assist special ops soldiers in battle, enabling the wearer to lift heavy loads, protect them from bullets, give them access to extensive information and advanced displays, and seal wounds, among other benefits. Currently being developed by MIT and other researchers, U.S. Special Operations Command hopes to have the system join them in battle no later than August 2018.

Exoskeletons can also have peaceful purposes. FORTIS, a load-shifting exoskeleton, is used by the U.S. Navy to help ease workloads, a great help in industrial situations. Then there are paralyzed and injured patients who have benefited from the technology. One company even received a grant to develop exoskeletons for injured children, who will presumably proceed to raise havoc on thousands of elementary school playgrounds.

1. Conquering the Human Brain

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We’ve already discovered the brain’s on and off switch for our own consciousness. We’ve also been able to successfully map the brain activity of a living creature for the first time. Then there’s the Human Connectome Project, which is analyzing the networks of neurons that make your brain work, along with countless other projects revolving around your cranium.

The obvious implications of further research and discovery would be finding the cause of — and hopefully cures for — neurological disorders. Someday we just might cure autism or schizophrenia, and we could probably achieve much more than that. Greater understanding of how the mind works will ultimately lead us to modify it. Militaries are testing human brain modifications to enhance performance, such as allowing soldiers to stay alert despite a lack of sleep. International researchers claim to have conducted a successful brain-to-brain interaction, or a very crude form of telepathy. Now who’s to say we won’t be able to upload our brain into a computer in the future, and vice versa? We’re getting pretty speculative now, but one thing’s for sure — the future is going to be exciting.

TopTenz loves the technology of the future.

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