We know that science is constantly progressing behind the scenes, though most of us have no idea just how far it has come in the past few years. Many technologies that were once considered ‘futuristic’ and only existed in the realm of science fiction are now a reality – from invisibility cloaks to mind-controlled prosthetics to advanced autonomous weapons.
10. Realistic Holograms
Holograms have actually been in use for a while in the form of holographic paper – a printing technique that uses light waves to create a three-dimensional look. They’re most commonly used as an anti-counterfeit measure for things like bank notes, tickets, ID cards, and product tags, among other uses.
More recently, however, holograms have taken a much more advanced form, thanks to innovations in fields like augmented and virtual reality. Technologies like MIT’s tensor holography are now capable of using artificial intelligence and machine learning to render truly realistic holographs, which could in turn be interacted with in a variety of ways to make them more immersive.
Once it’s fully realized, hologram technology could be used for a variety of purposes. Imagine being able to conduct a fully holographic conference call, with the participants located in completely different places around the world. It could also be used for monitoring remote objects in dangerous locations, like offshore drilling rigs, massively reducing the risks associated with the job.
Nanobots, also called nanorobots or nanomachines, have been a science fiction staple for as long as one can remember. These microscopic machines, capable of performing complex tasks at a cellular or molecular level, have been imagined as tiny medical assistants, self-replicating repair machines, and deadly weapons. In real life, however, nanobot technology has always been something that belongs in the distant future, until recently.
In the past few years, many teams working in the field around the world have made significant strides in a variety of applications. In 2018, researchers from Hong Kong were successfully able to develop bots that can work at a cellular level to kill tumors. These were essentially reprogrammed strands of DNA loaded with chemotherapy drugs, specifically designed to seek out and destroy tumors that may someday turn into cancer.
In January, 2020, another group of researchers from Tufts University went a step further and developed the first living nanobots in history. Built with stem cells taken from frogs, these tiny machines – also called xenobots – can move, heal themselves, and even clump together to make new bots all on their own.
8. Lethal Autonomous Robots
Lethal autonomous robots is an umbrella term for weapons that can operate without human intervention. Using technologies like artificial intelligence and advanced remote sensors, these weapons of the future could be programmed to make targeting decisions entirely on their own, completely bypassing the need for soldiers on the ground.
Worryingly enough, weapons with autonomous abilities have already started showing up on battlefields around the world. Both Russia and Ukraine have deployed autonomous weapons in their ongoing war, and a UN report alleged that Turkey had used their autonomous Kargu-2 drones to hunt down Libya’s soldiers during the Libyan civil war. Currently, nearly every major military power is working on its own lethal autonomous capabilities, despite strong opposition from rights groups and scientists seeking to limit the technology.
7. Thought-Controlled Prosthetics
Prosthetics that can be instinctively controlled with your brain have only been imagined in science fiction, though some breakthroughs in recent years might just make them a reality sooner than we think.
Ongoing research at the University of Michigan is responsible for many of those breakthroughs. In 2020, researchers from the university developed a technique to amplify faint signals from the amputated nerves to control a robotic hand in real time, complete with intuitive, finger-level control of the prosthetic. The approach involves tiny muscle grafts, machine learning algorithms, and electrodes implanted in areas of the brain that control movement and process the sense of touch from a natural limb. Based on that study, another team from the same university developed something called the Regenerative Peripheral Nerve Interface (RPNI) – a small muscle grafted at the end of the severed nerve.
6. Invisibility Cloak
True invisibility cloaks have been featured in all kinds of fictional settings, possibly because they provide an easy mechanic to advance the story in a particular direction. If invented, they’d render many types of weapons systems obsolete, especially the ones that rely on visual confirmation.
In 2019, a Canadian company specializing in military camouflage called Hyperstealth Biotechnology unveiled their own attempt at the concept – a material they call Quantum Stealth. Unlike other early prototypes of invisibility cloaks attempted so far, the material bends light around itself to make the object seem invisible to the naked eye, and it even works on infrared and ultraviolet imagers. It’s primarily targeted for military use, as the material could be deployed as a cloaking measure for battlefield equipment, making it near impossible to be targeted from the air.
5. Reading Dreams
Reading dreams isn’t the sort of thing you’d imagine scientists can do yet yet, at least not in the way most of us imagine. Of course, you’d be wrong, as there have already been some decisive breakthroughs in that field. As of now, it isn’t just possible to see and hear – with considerable accuracy – the contents of someone else’s dreams, but also to alter them towards a particular theme.
In a breakthrough study from Japan published in the Science journal, they revealed a technique to use MRI scans to show images of the subject’s dream with 60% accuracy. In another study done by researchers at MIT, the scientists developed a device called Dormio, that could deliver specific audio signals just before you fall asleep and change the content of your dreams.
4. Seeing Through Walls
The Xaver 1000 is a portable scanner developed by Camero-Tech – a military-tech firm based in Israel. It’s actually an imaging device that uses AI and complex imaging techniques – like its own ‘Sense-Through-The-Wall’ technology – to detect people and animals behind obstructive surfaces, like walls.
The scanner works in a wide variety of situations, especially in cases that involve hostages and require a thorough mapping of the scene before any action by law enforcement. The device has a lot of military uses, too, as it’s immensely useful in close-quarters terrains like urban areas and dense buildings. It could also prove to be useful to save lives during natural calamities or other disasters.
3. Self-Healing Material
Self-healing materials are another major innovation that would revolutionize the field of prosthetics, though that’s not their only application. As the name suggests, researchers have made many breakthroughs in the field in the past few years, to the extent that we may be very close to developing a truly-self-healing material that can mimic organic materials like skin.
In 2008, researchers at PSL university in France developed a synthetic kind of rubber that can maintain and recover its properties even after being broken repeatedly. Building on that concept, chemical engineers at Stanford University designed a polymer that could repair itself even after being completely separated with a scalpel, retaining 98% of its original property. The best part is that it can be healed again and again, which hasn’t been possible to create in the lab until now.
2. Mind-Reading Tech
Reading dreams is one thing, but what about reading an active, waking brain? Mind-reading tech could lead to military applications like mind control, or it could even be used for targetted advertising by big corporations. On the other hand, being able to read the mind has many potential applications in medicine, especially in cases where the patient is unable to communicate due to injury or disease.
Surprisingly, it’s not too far in the future, as we already have many technologies that can – to an extent – digitally replicate the inner contents of your head. In an article published in Nature in 2022, researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands developed a technique to convert brainwaves into photographs. They took fMRI scans of the subjects and fed the results into an AI algorithm, which was then able to replicate it on a screen almost identically.
1. Reverse Aging
Aging is a problem that has afflicted humanity for a pretty long time. Most people would agree that it’s an unnecessary feature that causes problems and ultimately death, though even our best scientists and doctors over the centuries haven’t been able to find a cure for it.
As of now, we have no technology that could do that for humans, though it might be possible for rats. In a 13-year-long study conducted by Dr. David Sinclair – a professor at the Center for Biology of Aging Research at Harvard Medical School – researchers were able to reverse or accelerate the aging process among mice. In his studies, Sinclair had figured out that aging happens because of the loss of critical information in our cells’ genetic makeup, and not just due to accumulated damage over the years.
His team demonstrated it in their experiments, where they successfully restored epigenetic information stored in the cells to either restore the mice to an earlier, younger state – complete with restored eyesight and younger muscles – or speed up their aging process prematurely.