According to the Doomsday Clock, it’s 100 seconds to midnight. Created in 1947, the clock is a symbolic representation of how close humanity is to destroying the world. The furthest it has ever been from midnight was seven minutes, which is where it started when fear of nuclear war was the inspiration behind the project. The closest it has ever been is where it is right now. According to the group of scientists and experts who run the project, we’re on death’s door! But maybe these new technologies can help turn back the hands to those glory days of 11:53.
10. Fusion Power
The world has been waiting for fusion power for decades. We have fission power in abundance. It’s the power all of our nuclear reactions generate. But the downside of fission is that it’s potentially dangerous and produces a lot of waste. And while it’s efficient, it’s nowhere near as efficient as fusion.
We know fusion can happen, and we can even create fusion right now. But we can create and sustain fusion and trying to do so uses more power than it creates. It’s what powers the sun, after all, and that seems pretty reliable.
Fusion creates four million times the energy that fossil fuels create. It can also produce 4 times the power of a fission reaction without the risk of a meltdown and no waste production. Because it’s hydrogen fueled, it would produce nearly limitless power and, arguably, could power the world for mere pennies compared to current power costs.
With abundant clean, cheap energy, you can see how fusion could change the entire world. All we need to do is figure out how to make it with less power than we put into it. Maybe the ITER reactor that is being built to produce fusion at a net gain will pay off when it’s finished. We can only wait and see.
The oceans are a dump. Most of us know this. They’re so full of trash we have to distinguish between the country-sized garbage patches that float in them. Some researchers suggest there are about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic afloat out there. That’s just the plastic. So what’s the solution? It could be Seabins.
A Seabin is, in very simple terms, a floating trash can. Water passes over the top of the bin and trash flows in with it. A filter in the bottom allows water to continue to pass through but catches the trash. It’s not a complex machine by any means. But the impact is dramatic. A Seabin can collect upwards of 1.4 tons of trash per year, including pieces of plastic as small as two millimeters. A trial bin used in Portugal was found to collect almost 10 kilograms of trash per day. This included a significant number of nylon filaments from fishing nets.
The bins have been installed in many coastal cities, including ones on the Great Lakes. The benefits are very fast to accumulate and the bins, if widespread, would significantly reduce not just plastic waste but things like cigarette butts and even oil.
8. Plastic-Eating Bacteria
A Seabin can reduce trash in the ocean, but not destroy it. And there’s still lots of plastic waste on land. So what can we do to tackle that pollution issue? Bacteria may be the key, and in specific, bacteria that have been adapted to eat plastic.
Back in 2016, Japanese scientists first discovered bacteria that had evolved on its own to eat plastic. Since that time, several others have been discovered around the world. Turns out that, with all the trash humans have dumped in the last century, the quick lifespan of most bacteria has allowed it to reproduce generation after generation and evolve to adapt to what we’ve been giving them.
Since the initial discovery, enzymes produced by these bacteria have been studied and even more powerful versions have been isolated that can eat through plastic six times faster than previously witnessed.
Evolution is typically a very long process, but researchers are speeding this up considerably. Bacteria that normally would have taken years to completely degrade some plastic are now able to do it in days. Plants are already being designed to facilitate this plastic recycling on a mass scale and could begin operation in the near future. What had been an issue since plastics first appeared in the 1950s and has been growing steadily since then could be seriously ameliorated and reduced within the next decade or two as this technology progresses.
It’s been estimated that by 2030 you’ll be walking down the streets with microscopic robots running through your bloodstream doing whatever it is you’re hoping they do without making you a supervillain. The concept of nanobots has existed for years in fiction, but the downside to that is that it’s almost always portrayed in a decidedly negative light. For instance, Star Trek’s Borg. But in the real world, science still hopes nanobots will be used to make us healthy and not an army of intergalactic robo-zombies.
In late 2020, the first xenobots were produced. A year later they were self-replicating. A xenobot is basically a living robot, a biological creation that can reproduce and, hopefully, not destroy all life in the galaxy.
The intended goal for these xenobots and nanobots is to do things like detect and eliminate cancer and other diseases. In your body, these little machines could find cancer cells or virus cells as they reproduce and just destroy them before they get out of hand.
It’s also been theorized that nanobots could help humans and machines interface in such a way that, theoretically, maybe you could upload your mind into the cloud or another artificial storage. It’s all on paper now, but the science is progressing quickly.
6. Lab Grown Meat
Livestock farming is not exactly good for the environment, but often no one explains why. They’ll say things like “cows produce gasses” and you’re left to fill in the blanks while childishly giggling about what that implies. In case you were wondering, livestock farming produces 7.1 gigatons of greenhouse gasses, or about 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gasses, which are the ones directly linked to human activity. That’s a sizable chunk. Finding an alternative could do a lot to save the environment and curb climate change.
One solution that shows potential is lab grown meat. And while there are hurdles to producing it at scale and for a reasonable price, it’s also possible those can be figured out as the technology improves.
Unlike things like Impossible Meat, which is a meat substitute made from plant matter, cultivated or lab grown meat is literal meat. When it says chicken, it really is chicken with one major difference – the chicken never existed. Instead, it takes cells from a real chicken and then grows them in a lab. The same way medical science may soon grow you a new kidney or lung that you need to live, these companies can grow a hamburger.
Singapore is already on board with cultivated chicken, and if more countries put in place regulations, we could all still enjoy a hamburger without ever having to kill another cow or produce all that waste.
5. Carbon Capture
You’ve probably heard the term “carbon footprint” at some point, usually in the context of reducing it. Your carbon footprint refers to the amount of greenhouse gasses that we produce with our everyday actions. Reducing it will help save the world, they say, but let’s be honest. At a grassroots level is a nice idea, but major corporations need to be the ones taking the lead because major corporations are causing the most damage. It’s a bit disingenuous to expect the average Joe to take up the burden of saving the world without the help of major polluters reducing their footprints. Enter carbon capture technology.
Carbon capture works by capturing the carbon dioxide produced as industrial waste. It can also be pulled from the air. From there you have a couple of options which are use or storage. If storage is the plan, the CO2 is condensed and then stored, typically deep underground in old aquifers or depleted oil and gas reservoirs. It makes sense in a way since most of those reservoirs probably contributed to the creation of CO2 in the first place.
Carbon can also be reused for other applications. It can be used in steel production, nanotubes, biofuel, concrete, all kinds of things. It’s believed carbon capture can achieve the 14% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that the world is aiming for by 2015. It may be the only practical method of reducing the harmful gasses in the atmosphere and curbing the effects of climate change.
4. Passive House Technology
Passive House, sometimes known by the cooler German name PassivHaus, is a technology applied to the building of houses that has some remarkable benefits. It’s a method of designing a home to be energy efficient that is almost bafflingly effective. It can reduce heating and cooling energy by up to 90%. Reduced energy costs obviously save you money as a homeowner, but in turn mean we need less energy overall, which reduces reliance on greenhouse gas-producing energy sources so it’s a net win for the world and everyone in it.
The major drawback to Passive House tech, which has been around for quite a few years but still isn’t catching on well outside of places like Germany, is that people just don’t believe it’s plausible. Tell someone they can heat their home with no energy and they don’t buy it. But the process involves the use of things like heat exchanges, triple glazed windows, and what they call “mega insulation.” It’s a method of building a home from the ground up, rather than something you apply to an existing home, although renovations can be made to certain buildings.
A properly built Passive House doesn’t actually require a heating system. A heat exchange for air and windows are able to supply nearly all heating needs. A small heater can be used if the weather gets too cold. The exterior or envelope of the building, the windows, the insulation and the ventilation system must all meet exacting standards. When they do, the efficiency of the system is optimized, and it works, as has been born out in thousands of homes built to the standard.
At 90% less energy consumption for heating and cooling, the Passive House concept could drastically reduce energy consumption and waste production if it was widely adopted.
Graphene is an extremely simple material. It’s pure carbon, with the atoms held together in a hexagonal lattice.While that may not sound like much, the implications for what graphene can do for the world are stunning. For instance, how about energy from thin air? Graphene membranes are able to filter hydrogen atoms and strip away their electrons, producing power from ambient air. If this technology is refined and scaled up, an electric car could power itself just by running out in the open.
The filtration ability can be applied to more than just air. Graphene is able to filter water, both salt and freshwater, to produce clean drinking water. Water molecules pass through, but the graphene is able to catch pollutants and salt molecules, meaning the potential for widespread clean drinking water around the world is much higher.
Graphene-based paints are impervious to rust and can even be used to hold powerful acids. Products coated in graphene can last far longer, reducing waste from production and disposal as a result.
Star Trek: Discovery put a lot of stock into something called the mycelium network, a subspace fungal network connecting the entire universe. It sounds utterly mad but, of course, it’s based on the real world mycelium network that exists not in space but on Earth. And, as it happens, mycelium is pretty amazing.
We already see the benefits from fungus all the time; penicillin came to us thanks to fungus. Also, many delicious cheeses and just regular mushrooms we eat. But there’s a lot more that fungus can do with incredible implications. One of the biggest is as a building material.
Today, concrete accounts for 8% of CO2 emissions. Mycelium bricks, made from mycelium and agricultural waste like corn husks, are just as durable and naturally fireproof. They also self-repair and produce far less waste. Plus, they are biodegradable if you ever need to tear a building down.
Additionally, fungus can eat plastic like we mentioned earlier, and even feed on nuclear waste, cleaning up dangerous waste products.
1. Artificial Intelligence
Of all the tech that the world has to look forward to, none is as promising or terrifying as AI. Pop culture has conditioned us to believe AI is the first step in the two-step process of human annihilation. But it may not be so. AI just might save us all.
Artificial intelligence is better at spotting cancer than human doctors. It can sequence DNA faster than humans. It’s helped identify compounds for making new medications. The potential benefits really range across almost every field of human endeavor and can result in everything being easier, faster, and more efficient. Or it’ll turn on us and kill us all. We’ll see.