In January I wrote a couple of blogs about how drones and 3D printers would soon transform our lives and that policy makers need to think about the implications now rather than playing catch up later. Since then there have been a steady stream of articles about the two technologies which suggest both are going to be transforming our lives sooner rather than later.
The Dutch and Chinese are both 3D printing houses, while surgery has reconstructed part of a person’s face using 3D printing after a motorbike accident.
Both Facebook and Google have plans to use solar powered drones to provide internet access to more of the world’s population, a data stealing drone was revealed at a security conference in Singapore and the BBC revealed it has its own Drone journalism team.
Given that I was on the right path with those two bits of technology, I thought I’d draw up a list of 8 technologies that will change the world that policy makers really need to be thinking about now.
Typically called exoskeletons, these have been the stuff of science fiction up until now, such as Sigourney Weaver using one to fight off an Alien. Now they are a reality, with the company ActiveLink producing something remarkably similar to Sigourney's kit.
More stylishly, there are exoskeletons that look little more than body suits. Currently of great interest to the military, soon they’ll be on building sites, helping people with restricted mobility and, perhaps, worn on a night out by those wanting a little more help if trouble comes their way.
Sensors have been around for thousands of years. However, combined with wireless communications and miniaturisation they are beginning to be installed everywhere. Fridges, cars, toys, smoke alarms, mattresses - you name it, it’ll soon have a sensor in it. A single Rolls Royce aeroplane engine currently has about a 100 to measure everything from pressure to vibrations. Party clothes could have sensors which make them flash in time with the music. At the other end of seriousness sensors in objects could help spot dementia. The uses are only limited by imagination.
Graphene is 100 times stronger than steel and conducts electricity better than copper. It’s problem, up until now, has been the ability to produce it in large quantities cheaply. However that problem is close to being solved with a report in April that scientists have been able to make it with a kitchen blender.
Graphene has the potential to revolutionise many industries. Batteries will last longer and recharge much faster. Plastic will be able to conduct electricity by embedding grapheme into it to produce things like flexible touch screen displays. Its strong and light-weight nature makes it ideal for replacing the metal in cars, aeroplanes and other vehicles.
Augmented reality is when the real world is superimposed with graphics, audio and other
enhancements in real time. This has been talked about a lot with google glass, but more likely it will start with people using it on their smartphones, such as being able to point to a building using the camera and it will give you what information it can find from the internet about it. But the applications will soon go far beyond that, architects can produce walk through models of buildings, the police can use facial recognition software to get immediate information on anyone they encounter, and anyone can get instant translation if someone is speaking in a language they don’t understand. The possibilities are huge.
- Using DNA sequencing to make life choices
The most high profile example so far of this technology is from Angelina Jolie. She has the BRCA1 gene, which means she has a high risk of developing the breast cancer that killed her mother. Last year she had preventative surgery to remove that risk. The cost of DNA sequencing has fallen from the millions of pounds to a few thousand over the last decade and will fall further. It is only a matter of time before having your DNA sequenced is commonplace. Tie this in with the knowledge of genetic based diseases and many people will be facing choices like Angelina’s and basing their lifestyles on their genetic make-up. This will impact heavily on the NHS as people look for preventative surgery and other measures, as well as throwing up a host of ethical dilemmas.
- Computers which can read your mind
Brain-computer interfaces, as they are technically called, are still in their infancy. However the concept has been proven and there are many successful examples already, mainly in the medical field, to assist people with paralysis in moving their limbs and even controlling a robot arm to drink a cup of coffee.
Each one will have not just technological implications but social and policy implications as well.
However this is another area where the potential is simply huge. A car could tell if you were drowsy or angry and adjust the driving accordingly, or even pull over. Shops could read people’s moods as they wandered around, websites could track people’s interest levels as they navigate a website, Instagram or Flickr could show you pictures related to the mood you were in. Computer games will never be the same again and the police or any public official may soon be able to tell accurately if a person is lying.
Many of these new technologies you’ve probably heard of, some you might have tried. This is because I’ve specifically chosen ones that are already on their way, that aren’t science fiction but already a reality somewhere in the world. Each one will have not just technological implications but social and policy implications as well. Taken together, the next decade or so is going to be an exciting time, but we should ensure technology helps us to be happier, freer and safer, and it won't happen by chance.
Oliver Reichardt is Director of Fellowship at the RSA, you can follow him @OliverReichardt
Engage with our research